An exciting and complicated and beautiful year

ChampagneI always find New Year’s Eve to be a little melancholy.

Maybe that’s just my own issue — and my own predilection to see the glass as half empty. Though  I consider myself a happy person, it’s easier for me to lean toward gloom-and-doom than sunshine. It’s not something I like about myself, and I’ve worked hard to become more positive since going through Some Issues as a teenager.

Though 27-year-old me is very far from the 14-year-old version. Thank goodness.

Despite some great things that happened in 2012, I’m not sorry to say goodbye to a year that was both exciting, challenging and heart-wrenching. With the death of my uncle in January came my first metallic taste of real, visceral loss. I was lucky to make it to my late twenties before losing an immediate family member, I know, but it didn’t make it any less difficult. We all miss him.

I tried hard not to let that early devastation color the entire year. I made it my mission, actually, to continue moving forward and try to be a better person — a better sister, daughter, granddaughter, girlfriend. I will remember this year as one in which I really grew up — and not just because I ended it with a ring on my finger. I tried to comfort those who needed comforting, aid those in need of help. I tried to be strong when others needed me to be — even if it meant stuffing down my own feelings. We do that sometimes, don’t we? For the people we love.

New York CityBut this wasn’t a dark year. I won’t remember it that way. My sister and I made a memorable weekend jaunt to New York City to see “Newsies,” which was awesome, and I loved getting away — just the two of us! — in the spring. Spencer and I took our first trip together in May, hitting Northern California, and I fell in love with Yosemite National Park — and more in love with him. In June, my entire family took our annual trip to the Outer Banks — and in August, Spence and I went to New York to spend time with his family.

I spent time with loved ones, tried to keep in touch with friends, worked hard. I took my first hot air balloon ride, snapped tons of photos and read lots of books. In December, my sister and I both got engaged — I know, you’re already sick of me talking about it! — and I’m grateful that we’re planning our nuptials at the same time . . . because I’m finding it hard to think about my little sister growing up. My own crush of wedding plans will distract me from the sadness I’ll inevitably feel as we both move out of our childhood home, something that weighs heavy on me.

But on New Year’s Eve, a day we bid goodbye to one year and welcome another, I’m feeling calm — and inspired. Though I’m not sure what 2013 will hold, I know it will be a big and bold and exciting and complicated and beautiful one. I’m not making any formal resolutions, but will plan to try and stare down the challenge I’ve faced for a decade: living in the moment. In 2013, I hope I can slow down and breathe, choosing to take it all in, and find pockets of time to just be.

Now who’s got the champagne?

John Green and the power of reading generously

John Green’s the sort of guy you expect to be profound.

When my boyfriend and I went to see him at the National Book Festival last Saturday, I knew we’d stumbled into something. At 20 minutes to his scheduled speaking time, the giant tent we were all sweating under was rapidly filling. We couldn’t get any closer than the hinterlands to the right of the stage, but that was all right; there was palpable energy before Green, a popular young adult author, took the stage. I was just glad we’d made it.

Spencer laughed, looking around at the crowd of female teens and 20- to 60-somethings alike. When Green appeared, the tent exploded in cheers and screams — and I turned to grin at my boyfriend. I’d told him little about Green beforehand; just that he was the one author I absolutely had to see this year. “I forgot to mention he’s good-looking,” I added.

In person, Green — the author of books like Looking For Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines — is as effortlessly funny, cool and nerdy chic as you’d imagine. He spoke about writing, life and love — all topics the audience savored. One of his best moments came as an audience member asked him about a quote from one of his works: “Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia.” Green explained he couldn’t take credit for it . . . that his now-wife was the mastermind behind that philosophical gem.

Definitely endeared him to me.

Talking about the gifts readers and writers exchange, Green joked, “You give me two gifts. One is money,” he laughed, “and my family appreciates that.” And the other? The gift of our generous reading. That’s what struck me most about that morning — this idea of approaching a work with an open mind. That’s what he most hoped his readers would bring to the table: this generous spirit, especially with The Fault In Our Stars; the willingness to give a book a chance.

Ignoring the hype. Ignoring negative reviews. Coming into a novel with a desire to take it for what it is — and to enjoy it simply on its own merits. If we’re biased from the start, we open a new book and think, “‘I’m going to hate this,’” said Green. “And when we’re finished, we say, ‘Well, I did it! I hated it.’”

I’m guilty of this. After a book generates buzz, either positive or negative, I’ll occasionally pick it up to see what the fuss is all about. I expect it will be terrible and, surprise! It’s terrible. I’ve wasted my time, annoyed myself and often warn others away from it.

But other times? I surprise myself. I pick up something outside the realm of my “traditional” reading and am shocked to find . . . I like it. Like graphic novels. I recently guest-posted at The Estella Society about this very topic: trying something for the first time with the expectation I’ll hate it, and then shocking myself. Having to admit I actually loved it. That’s sort of how I was with audio books, too — hesitant or even disdainful, but now a complete convert.

And I want to be more generous with my reading. I often find myself dissolving so completely in my book snobbery that I’m not capable of expanding into anything new, and I don’t like that about myself — especially when I get on my high horse with others. How often have I recommended Green’s books themselves, especially to those who think they’re “too old” for young adult fiction?

So that’s my goal for the rest of 2012 — and beyond: reading generously. Giving things a chance. Getting out of my little bookish hole to expand, expand! Trying something new without expecting to hate it. That might mean I’ll be selecting books outside my “normal” scope of literary of women’s fiction, but that will make it all the sweeter.

Because as we speak, I’m halfway through three books: The Worst Hard Time (non-fiction about the Great American Dust Bowl); Paper Towns (John Green, young adult!); and The Paris Wife, my current audio, which is historical fiction based on Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage.

See, I’m diversifying. I can feel it!

BBAW: Meet Linda of Silly Little Mischief

Today I’m pleased to welcome Linda, a new-to-me blogger, to write meg! Linda runs Silly Little Mischief, a really fun blog about reading, food and life. I’ve enjoyed perusing her page and getting to know her better through Book Blogger Appreciation Week’s interview segment, one of my favorite parts of the event. (In the past, I’ve interviewed Gwen, Laurel Ann and Jodie.)

Designed to celebrate the effort and passion book bloggers devote to championing reading, authors, literacy and more, BBAW is an annual event bringing together our widespread book-loving community. Find out more at the main page, and get to know Linda below. (My interview is up here.)

1. Hi Linda! Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you’re from and how you entered the world of blogging.

I’m a native Washingtonian. I live about a mile from the home I was raised in, in a suburb of Seattle, WA. I started blogging in 2007 after getting engaged to my then-boyfriend, now husband. Originally I was a bride blogger but knew that I wouldn’t continue the wedding talk past the wedding. I always saw Silly Little Mischief as a place where I would talk about my loves in life — books, foods, and adventures with my husband.

2. I saw on Silly Little Mischief that you’ve read Julia Child’s My Life in France, a book that’s been on my nightstand forever. I’m a huge fan of Child myself. How did you feel about Paris after finishing the story? Did it inspire you to want to cook more, or take a walk through the French countryside?

Reading My Life In France gave me the courage to cook more. I was cooking before reading My Life In France but I limited myself to recipes that were easy, looking to use the skills I already had. Child gave me permission to try above my skills, to look beyond what I could do. My Life In France only fanned the flames of my desire to travel to France but the biggest takeaway for me was that life is about constant learning. Child learned to cook at 37 and despite that she failed sometimes, she kept on trying. I try to emulate her when I’m struggling!

3. It looks like you’re an avid fan of your local library. I didn’t get my first library card as an adult until last year. Why do you think supporting libraries is so important? How many books do you typically check out at a time?

I’ve always been a fan of libraries. I remember being 4-5 years old and bringing home bags of books from the library. My mom would take me 3-4 times a week so I could replenish my stack. I still have the same library card and account number from when I was a tot.

Libraries bring so much to the community. Not only are there books, but libraries also have computers, classes, author readings, story time for children, book clubs, and homework help. Libraries have something for everyone. When my dad started to loose his eyesight he wanted to buy some adaptive equipment, but wasn’t sure what he needed. Our local library has a selection of adaptive equipment that my dad could check out so he could see what would suit his needs. The closest library to me is situated in a mall. It has the latest books so I can always get my hands on a bestseller. Our community is very multicultural so I love walking through the library and hearing visitors and staff speaking in Hindi, Russian, Spanish, or Cantonese.

It really varies on how many I check out at a given time. I try to place a lot of books on hold so I can just pick up what I want. But if I browse the shelves or go to a larger library, then I can pick up anywhere from two to twenty. I typically have between twenty and fifty library books in my pile at any given time.

4. What’s your favorite genre? Which book would you recommend to readers who might not have explored those types of books before?

I’m a fan of fiction. Such a broad category, I could never select one book for someone. If I was going to recommend a Young Adult book, I would suggest The Fault In Our Stars by John Green or Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson if you didn’t want to use up all your tissues. For Urban Fantasy, I would suggest either Kelley Armstrong’s Women of The Otherworld series or Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series. If you wanted to try Steampunk, I loved The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger.

5. Your recipe for peanut butter cup brownies made my mouth water. What’s your favorite dessert? Do you have any recipes you always reach for when asked to bring things to work or family functions?

My favorite dessert is cookies unless there is chocolate cake. I’m happily addicted to Pinterest so when I need to make something I usually browse my pins till I find something suitable. But I have made these Chunky Peanut Butter Cookies, Salted Caramel Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Brownie Surprise (photo at right, by Linda) for parties and not walked out with a crumb left.

6. What appeals to you most about blogging? Do you see yourself continuing to discuss books five years from now?

I love the community that blogging brings. Books have always been part of my life and I can’t see them going anywhere. I can see myself talking about other things (hopefully some travel) but food and books will always be something I blog about.

7. Did you have any book series you loved growing up? What’s your favorite children’s book?

I read the Baby-Sitters Club, Sweet Valley High and Sweet Valley Twins, and Amelia Bedelia. My favorite children’s book was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by EL Konigsburg. I wanted to run away to a museum or library as a kid.

8. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, which would you choose? Or could you never live on one book alone?

Right now I would choose Ready Player One by Ernest Cline on audiobook. Not only am I in love with the characters and the world that Cline made, but I love listening to Wil Wheaton read it.

That one where I go on about the cherry blossoms again

Yes, I know — I’ve already been downtown to see the cherry blossoms this year, and I really thought I was done with them. Our whole family trekked downtown March 18 to see the early-blooming trees and soak up the festive atmosphere. It was fun and we had a great time, but the day itself was gray and dismal. No sun. No warmth. Though I liked a few of my photos, most were pretty uninspired. Just lackluster.

At the last minute I was able to switch a day off work and ventured downtown again on Friday. At 80 degrees and sunny, the tourists had gotten the memo: get into the city now to see the trees — or forever hold your peace. Saturday and Sunday were predicted to be rainy, wet and ugly, so that Friday marked the last hurrah. (Of course, it didn’t really go down that way . . . but that’s what we all thought.)

The photographic results? Much better this time. It’s amazing what some blue sky can do. Everyone was milling about the Tidal Basin with their iPhones, cameras and tripods, and I was handed a camera (or phone) three times to take pictures for others while admiring the folks on paddle boats and sipping Diet Coke. Mom and I took our Canons out like the intrepid photogs we are, and not even broken Metro escalators, crowds and excessive heat could hold us down.

It was so hot that I actually got sunburned, then spent the rest of the weekend feeling simultaneously hot and cold when the temperatures dropped again. Spence and I went to Fredericksburg, Va., to celebrate our second anniversary on Saturday (yay!), and I was the weirdo bundled in a jacket with a red-hot burn across her face and chest. It was, like, 60 degrees and raining. I probably looked like a wayward, disheveled spring-breaker thrown really, really off course.

Regardless, it was fun.

And I obviously took a liking to the umbrellas popping up in the crowd. They added some drama.

And now you won’t have to hear me go on and on about a bunch of pink trees anymore.

You know . . . until next spring.