Broccoli cheddar and a book for the soul

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There’s nothing like treating yourself to lunch.

I stopped for a while, mostly when I went full-force on Weight Watchers and knew that dining out each day was a surefire way to go over my daily points allowance. Lunches out went from commonplace status to special treat — and that wasn’t a bad thing! Not for my wallet, my waistline, my psyche.

When I stopped worrying about lunches every day, I became more productive at work and in my personal life. The time I once used to read over soup at Panera became a chance to run errands, get gas, swing by the grocery store for random items. All those little, annoying tasks we must fit in somewhere.

But I missed those relaxing breaks. A chance to step away from the desk and into the sunshine; an opportunity to reunite with characters, eat a hot meal and gather my thoughts. I don’t mind eating alone . . . it’s one of my favorite things to do, actually. And where I tend to go on my breaks, I’m just one of many sitting solo.

I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time on Stephanie Perkins’ Isla and the Happily Ever After, a library book I’ve already renewed and will probably have to check out for a third time to make it through. It’s my “lunch read,” and I usually start debating where to take it that day by late morning.

Though I’m still following the basic tenets of Weight Watchers, I have eased up. I have not been tracking, but I feel okay about that. I’ve given myself permission to relax my strict eating — especially as dealing with recent health issues have meant I’m eating only what I can stomach and no more, no less. If that’s just a slice of bread? So be it. I’m not so far down the rabbit hole I can’t recognize that, first and foremost, I need to take care of myself.

Body and mind.

And that’s where the lunches can come in. As work and daily life can get stressful, I’ve returned to treating myself to meals out a few times a week — when I feel the pull to get up and out, soaking up the colors of fall and enjoying the last few warm days before the cold comes bustling in. Sometimes I meet my dad or my sister, but I often head out alone. Lately, with Isla.

And it’s good. Good for the soul.

Almost as good as Panera’s broccoli cheddar soup, you know.


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Powering through a powerful rut

books

Hi, I’m Meg, and it’s been three weeks since my last book review.

Have I stopped reading? Nope. I mean, kind of, but I’m still holding a book in my hands every single day. I’m a bit all over the place and can barely concentrate, but I am most definitely still reading. Even if it’s just a few paragraphs at a time.

After my library sent me a cheery note that my hold had arrived, I made a special trip Saturday to pick up a copy of Stephanie Perkins’ Isla and the Happily Ever After because I’ve been in a rut, cycling through endless novels while committing to nothing, and I thought it would help?

Young adult is a good rut-buster, I think. Melissa discussed this recently and I was nodding along, thinking yep yep yep, because it’s been so long since I finished a non-audio book, friends.

So long. Embarrassingly long.

Why? I don’t know. I have a lot on my mind, yes, what with work and the house and a busy fall and change. But this has happened before, and my beloved novels are typically the place into which I escape and find solace and zone out.

But lately? Something has changed. I am s-s-s-slumped in a big way. Even with my fancy new reading chair and a functioning home library, I’m the pathetic mess who is plunked down in front of the TV with a big bag of Tostitos instead.

It’s bad. I know.

I am a reader through and through — a lit lover to my core. Nothing will ever separate me from books for too long. But for now? For the moment? I’d love your tips on getting back into a reading groove. Better yet: tell me the best book you’ve read lately! Preferably something entertaining and/or funny that will grab me by my shirt collar and refuse to let go.

I trust you. Let’s beat this together.


Fate tied into a bookstore

Time feels fluid in the fall.

Blink and I’m 16, watching open-mouthed as the second tower falls from my silent high school physics class. Again and I’m in my final year at college, sliding hardcovers into long rows at Borders not long before it shuttered. Now and I’m 29, calling into the basement in search of my husband — husband — before making a third cup of coffee.

I get lost in the past sometimes. Perhaps we all do? As Spencer and I worked to install the bookcases in the new space at home, I couldn’t stop thinking about where those shelves had come from — and remembering my bookseller days. For as much as I love my newspaper job (and I do), sometimes I fantasize about going back to shilling novels to the masses.

Silly, I know — but I was happy there. Really, really happy. Part of it was just that time of my life: graduating from college, having the first of my “own” money, making new friends. Being surrounded by words and roasting coffee and folks eager for the latest paperback, the newest hardcover.

That was, of course, nearly a decade ago . . . and the world has changed around us. It would never be the same now. That Borders closed and reopened later as a Books-a-Million, and the bones may be the same — eerily similar, actually — but the soul is not.

It shouldn’t feel different, but it does.


Bookshelf


I find it hard to go in there, actually . . . though why remains a mystery. I have more books than I could possibly read already — but that hasn’t stopped me before. Part of me feels slightly haunted as I walk the aisles I once knew so well, I guess, looking for familiar faces that have long moved on and away.

For as much as I lobbied for a hometown bookstore, I rarely go in. I talk about it and think about it and plan to, but then I just . . . don’t.

Maybe because I need new memories. In random moments when we’re driving around town, chatting and daydreaming, Spencer and I talk about if we ever would have met without online dating. Though we lived just 20 minutes apart, we moved in such different circles that they rarely would have intersected.

But oddly, we do have mutual friends.

If you had gone to this party . . .
If I’d left work early to . . .
If you’d come into the bookstore . . .

The bookstore is where our lives could have crossed — if only for a moment. Down from New York for an internship the same summer I worked at Borders, Spencer might have found himself in Waldorf looking for a guide or record and seen me there, flush from searching for a Hemingway, Welty or Rowling.

I squint and crane and remember, trying to picture the faces of countless customers I saw each week in the evenings with mass markets in their arms. In the years I asked for Borders Rewards cards and took special orders, gift-wrapped and greeted, I can’t bring up his face among them.

But it might have been there.

Thinking of those happenstance moments — the serendipity — is fun. “Fate” feels like a big word, but it’s easy to believe in sometimes.

Though I once lamented my husband and I don’t have a “meet-cute,” I’ve come to realize that isn’t true at all. There were so many factors that led to us eventually sharing coffee on a windy afternoon, each path a different thread in the tapestry now knitting us together.

When I was brokenhearted and uncertain at Borders, looking for direction and wondering how it would all play out, he could have been there in the maps or movies — a man I didn’t yet know that I would come to know best.

Though cheesy, maybe, the bookcases standing sentinel in our new home are comforting. A reminder of happy days, of a part of my past, the job that really solidified my love for reading and eventually helped me launch this space. And my column. And the rest of my life.

My home library is “real” now! Really real. We’re building it slowly, finding pieces here and there, and I don’t plan to call it finished . . . well, ever, probably.

There’s always another book. Another world.


30 Authors in 30 Days: Patti Callahan Henry on Fikry

Today I’m pleased to host the second stop of 30 Authors in 30 Days, a first of its kind event aimed at connecting readers, bloggers and authors. Patti Callahan Henry writes on a favorite summer read I’m dying to get my hands on: Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

Hosted by The Book Wheel, this month-long event takes place during September and features 30 authors discussing their favorite recent reads on 30 different blogs. There are also great prizes provided by GoneReading.com and BookJigs (see giveaway here). For the full schedule of participating authors and bloggers, visit The Book Wheel.

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Author Patti Callahan Henry on The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle ZevinSummer, more than any other time, has always been a season of reading, stories and books. When I was a child, I was often scolded by the librarians, because I returned my books with sand in the pages. This summer of 2014, I read a book I won’t ever forget: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. It wasn’t just because the book was set in a bookstore, or that the narrator quoted novels, but also because the storyline was intricate, delicate and heartwarming.

There he is, this bookstore owner, A.J. Fikry, brokenhearted over his wife’s death and running a dilapidated bookstore on an island where no one goes anymore. Could it be any more desolate? What could possibly turn this situation, or A.J’s life around? Love, of course. But not the kind you’d think of right away, not the romance we all believe makes things better.

As I traveled across and around the Southeast this summer for book tour, I often thought of this storyline, of how books changed the character’s life, of how important books are to all of us. There are of course the books themselves, but it is also the bookstores that can be such an integral part of our lives. In the novel, Zevin (the author) does a beautiful job of showing us how bookstores bring people together, how community revolves around this place where people meet, share and even fall in love.

When I started to get weary of the road, or believe that I wasn’t making a difference, I would think of this novel and of the character, A.J.’s devotion to the written word, his belief in good books changing us for the better. And it was true, because with every bookstore I entered, no matter what the crowd or the questions asked, my life was a little better every time.

Patti Callahan HenryAbout the author
Patti Callahan Henry is a New York Times bestselling author of ten books, including Between the Tides, And Then I Found You and Driftwood Summer. Patti lives in Mountain Brook, Alabama with her husband and three children, where she is crafting her next story.

Find her books on Amazon and Goodreads, and check Patti out on Twitter and Facebook.

For more information on The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, check out the book on Amazon and Goodreads. Zevin is also on Twitter and Facebook.

I Love Authors


Mind on the book

Books

I miss my books.

In the weeks leading up to and since the big move, I’ve found myself in an unusual situation: I haven’t made time to read. (Notice I didn’t go for the popular “I don’t have time to read” because, you know, we all know about priorities and deciding what’s important to us and so forth.)

Specifically, I’m so full-out, drop-dead-tired at the end of the night that my normal thirty-ish minutes of quality time with a story is . . . well, it just ain’t happening. I’m usually asleep on the couch before I pour myself upstairs, and then I’m out before the bedside lamp even clicks off.

This has happened before, of course, but not like this. Even in the chaos of wedding planning or the aftermath of a death or any of the myriad other times we find ourselves not reaching for books, I’ve continued reading in some capacity — even slowly. But lately? Here in the messy confines of the new house? My mind is too scattered, my attention divided. I’ve started and stopped several stories because I just couldn’t focus on them . . . and I know it’s a personal issue, really. They’re perfectly respectable stories, you know? It’s me. I’m the problem.

Sometimes my husband can get my mind back on the book, if you will. When he wants to stay up reading in bed, I curl at his side with the contented sigh of bookish types everywhere. Old daydreams often had me imagining reading time with my special someone, but Spencer has never been into fiction (though he did inhale the Hunger Games series once). I never thought we’d get that reading time in together, and honestly? In my darkest weirdo heart, it used to worry me that I’d disturb him night after night with something I love so much. I was concerned I’d have to stop my nighttime routines.

That’s why the Kindle is so handy, I think. Even when I don’t really feel like reading, I can flip ‘er on and take in a few pages before I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. I’ve been reading Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.’s Empty Mansions for months at the recommendation of Andi, and I’ve loved it from page one! Huguette Clark is so eccentric and kind and fascinating. But I read, like, three pages each night. At this rate, I’ll finish around Christmas.

Just in time to ask Santa for more books . . . ones I’ll pile atop all my sad, lonely novels in boxes and bags around the house until the new library is ready.

Maybe the Big Guy’s elves can swoop in early and work on that one for us, too.


Where do you fit in reading time?
Are you a before-bedtime reader, a lunchtime warrior
or another sort completely?


Non-fiction to take you away (even if you want to stay put)

photo


With heat pulling my tender strands into frizzy curls already, it’s high time we talk about summer reading.

As a kid, I was the book geek already tearing through her assigned books before the current school year was over. I have fond memories of Dad taking my sister and me to Crown Books, the bookstore that sat where a Panera now resides, to thumb through their children’s and young adult section for the classics. We spent hours wandering the aisles — the first place I remember my parents giving us a tiny bit of independence. (Don’t worry: they were just around the corner, Dad in sports and Mom usually in magazines.)

I miss summer reading. That might be why I love reading review copies: it feels like I’m back in my English program in college, perhaps? With a stack of books I must read? At heart, I can be fairly indecisive about novels — and it often helps if I’m on a schedule. Who doesn’t benefit from a good deadline now and then?

I’ll admit that, you know, going rogue with my reading was definitely exciting post-college; I loved choosing books at random, especially when I worked at Borders, because it felt almost . . . illicit. After being handed a syllabus for so many years, doing what I wanted was exhilarating.

Now I’m tired and often cranky and don’t know what I want. I want someone to tell me what I want. Isn’t it funny how that works?

Anyway. Summer reading. Traveling! Adventure! With no one telling you what you must read, here I go giving you a list of sorts. But it’s a short one. Whether you’re readying for a plane ride or staying perched in your air-conditioned living room through September, don’t we all love a little escape through reading?

Flip-flops and sunscreen optional.


Awesome Non-Fiction
That Takes You Away
(Even If You Want to Stay Put)


Paris LettersParis Letters by Janice MacLeod — Bored by a humdrum advertising gig, Janice scrimps and saves enough to leave her desk job and book a flight for Europe. Falling hopelessly in love with Paris wasn’t part of her plan — and this artist’s journey was just beginning. Enchanting, romantic and fun, I’ve thought of this story often since finishing in the winter. It’s the perfect book in which to lose yourself — and live vicariously through another. (And then you can check out her blog to continue the fun.)


Walk in the WoodsA Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson — Though I’m late to the Bryson fan club, he certainly has a new member. I inhaled most of this book coming back from California and wanted to don hiking boots by the time we touched down. The story of Bryson’s epic journey hiking the Appalachian Trail, A Walk in the Woods manages to weave history, environmental issues and self-discovery into one moving, humorous package. Bryson’s language is evocative; you can almost feel the mosquitoes. (Better him than us.) Full review of this one to come once I’ve collected my thoughts!


The Lost GirlsThe Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett, Holly Corbett and Amanda Pressner — All at a crossroads, three friends climb off the corporate ladder to go and explore the world. Their year-long journey takes them to Brazil, Kenya, Australia and more, and their story of friendship and living for today was inspirational. A heavy dose of armchair travel with this one: you’re all over the place!


Bank of BobThe International Bank of Bob by Bob Harris — Featured in my reading honors for 2013, Harris’ account of traveling to meet those he has assisted with microfinance loans bears mentioning again. A travel writer, Harris has an open mind when he begins making $25 loans through Kiva.org — and his story is heartwarming without drifting into condescension. Funds are paid back by small business owners: hardworking men and women whose lives are changed forever by the money Harris once spent on coffee. We journey with him to Nepal and Morocco, Cambodia and India. The lessons reach far beyond the page.


Any favorite travel reads to recommend?
Just summer books you love?


State of the bookshelves: complicated

When I moved in with Spence last fall, one of the most difficult parts of the process was, beyond a doubt, hauling my books.

All of my books.

So, so many books.

If you’ll remember, friends, Spencer popped over to our local Borders clean when it shuttered in 2011. He brought home several (very large) bookcases, installing them in our living room, and they’re now the focal point of that room.

It’s hilarious to see the empty shelves now, knowing what I know. Knowing how far I’ve fallen.


Bookshelves

The good old days – 2011


Those shelves? No longer empty.

Not even kind of.

I’d take a picture to show you a current view of my overflowing shelves, but I’m not that crazy. Don’t you know everything shared online can live on forever? I don’t want to be haunted by this disarray a decade from now. My once-organized novels have been taken over by paperbacks, review copies, old library books. Stack upon stack upon stack.

We’ve reached critical mass.

Good thing we’re moving.

But having just schlepped hundreds of books up to our second-floor apartment (with the help of my dad and sister) in October, I’m none too eager to repeat the experience. Though my goal was to actually streamline my to-be-read stacks and have fewer novels starting 2014, the opposite has happened. Not even my digital library can save me now.

The other day I thought, Fine. This is it. Some of these MUST GO, but then I realized . . . regardless of whether I’m moving them to the new house or donating them to the library, I still have to carry them. They still must leave the premises.

I’m so tired of carrying things.

When I moved before the wedding, everything was piecemeal until the final push. Every visit to Spencer’s included recyclable bags full of my stuff — things I’d forgotten I even had until I was emptying my childhood bedroom of all its worldly goods. I actually moved my books before I moved much else, mostly because I wanted the place to feel “homey” — requiring my beloved classics, natch — and also because those jokers were heavy. Carting over the heaviest stuff at the beginning, when I had the most strength, seemed a reasonable plan.

I don’t know what we’re going to do this time. For one, the bookcases are actually bolted to the walls in the living room; they’ll have to be removed and the holes patched up for whoever we find to rent our place (please, please let us find renters, Universe). It feels strange to be boxing up my books without having their new home established . . . but, well, our new home isn’t set up for us yet, either. So.

Despite the lug-factor, I’m still contemplating making one big sweep of the shelves to discard what I simply don’t plan to read. Unlike clothing I eventually admit I’ll never wear and can easily donate, it’s so hard to part with books. Everything in my bookcase is there because, at some point, I really wanted to read it. I don’t accept review copies because YAY FREE BOOKS — I have enough problems. And I definitely don’t spend cash on novels that don’t appeal to me. That would be . . . odd.

So what remains? Ones I once fancied. But I simply can’t take all of them with us. I don’t want to take all of them with us. It’s freeing to part with books I’ve had eyeballing me for years because, as they say, there really is no such thing as a free lunch. I don’t feel guilty having them there, per say, but overflowing shelves do make me feel stressed. I don’t need all of them, and I’d rather they go to a better home.

One that isn’t ours.

I have my work cut out for me. Maybe I’ll do a big giveaway or something. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

. . . My loss, your gain.

Let’s reconvene in a few weeks.