Why I quit making reading lists — and why I’m back

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I didn’t keep track of a single book I read in 2018.

Given how immersed I was in cataloging everything I read up until my kids arrived, that felt strange. Even after I found myself with little energy and less desire to keep up with full-blown reviews, I was updating Goodreads with the audiobooks I’d listened to, at least.

But for 2018? Cold turkey. I was tired. Reading had become less a pleasurable pursuit than a strange struggle to “keep up,” both in the book blogging world and outside it. I felt like I’d created something with write meg! and I needed to crank out content to appease … someone.

Publishers? Readers? Myself?

So I stopped. If it doesn’t give you joy, why do it? And, to be honest, it was all I could do to keep my eyes open until 9 p.m. Once the kids were in bed, I was right behind them. My job is very busy. The house is always a mess. So many responsibilities tug at me day in and day out, and I needed to loosen the hold of those that I could.

Here’s the thing, though: being a reader is part of my identity. I don’t feel like myself without my books. Novels are a vacation. A trip from reality. A chance to escape, to punch out, to be “someone else” for a while.

Without books, I’m … me. Exhausted mom of two.

I wanted to find my way back to reading … but without the self-imposed pressure I’d come to put on myself as a blogger and reviewer. There had to be a better way.

So I rediscovered books in 2018 — just for myself. The kids were sleeping more. Our household was less disrupted. I returned to novels like reconnecting with a best friend — just without the requirement that I evaluate every single one. I was tired of my obsession with counting everything.

Life was stressful enough. I just wanted to read.

So I did. But I didn’t review or catalog. I didn’t set reading goals, nor did I keep a running list of what I’d purchased or finished or borrowed.

2018 became the year of the lost book.

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Turns out … well, I miss my lists.

I am lists. Lists are me.

When I don’t have them? There’s … nothing. A total blank where my favorite reads from 2018 should be.

Did I not read anything compelling last year? Nothing memorable, influential, worthwhile? This can’t be true, especially knowing I give most books the 10-page test — if it doesn’t hold my attention after 10 pages, I quit.

Yet without my trusty spreadsheets and up-to-date Goodreads account, I struggle to think of a single title I loved in the last 12 months.

That just won’t do.

So I’m back. Last week I flipped on the lights of my dormant Goodreads account, shaking the dust from every surface. I’ve finished three audio books since January 1, and absolutely loved Katherine Center’s How to Walk Away. I’m thick in the middle of Michelle Obama’s Becoming and love it so much, I don’t want it to end.

And, of course, there’s my kids’ bedtime reading. The rhyming undercurrents of my daily life.

For Hadley, it’s Five Little Pumpkins. For Oliver, Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night?

I mean, where do they sleep at night?

Do they dream of holes they dug?

Do their moms reach front to backhoe when they give a good night hug?

These are the questions of our era, friends.

And with little readers in the making (and much more reading for me!), I look forward to answering them.

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Year in review: 2014

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Ah, 2014 — you were a beaut.

After the chaos that was planning two weddings in 2013, I went into the new year with a goal of unwinding, enjoying the present and just getting acclimated to my new surroundings. I didn’t know that, by March, we would find our dream home — a foreclosure in need of some TLC — and go to settlement in May, making us the proud owners of two properties.

Having two mortgages? Exactly as fun as it sounds.

But we did it! We made it through. I can look back now and, well, maybe not laugh exactly, but definitely smile because everything that caused stress does not cause stress anymore. We managed to buy our new house, start renovations and fix-ups and secure a renter for our apartment in the fall. Several of those things — especially the renter — were a roller coaster, but everything turned out fine in the end.

As it often does.

For me, 2014 will be remembered as the Year of the House. Spence and I spent many an evening going over budgets and plans, light fixtures and furniture choices — to the point that, by the time we moved in June, I had total decision fatigue. We practically lived at Lowe’s. I simply could not weigh in on anything else, though I’m an adult . . . and we make choices every day.

Isn’t that kind of weird? And slightly sucky? That adulthood means venturing down a fork in the road time and again, wondering if you’ve chosen the right option and praying you have no regrets. For me, decisions as silly as what color to paint our bedroom were almost paralyzing. What should have been fun was often stressful.

But that’s sort of my MO — making enjoyable things difficult. I want to change it. When we learned in September that we have a little one on the way, I had to quickly adjust my thinking — and extreme diet soda consumption — to relax, breathe and trust that everything will work out fine.

As someone who is, by any measure, an anxious person, the idea of our lives changing so completely with the arrival of our baby come June is throwing me for a loop. We are so excited — sometimes I actually feel I will burst with excitement — but there is no denying that taking our family from a twosome to a trio will change everything. Forever.

For the better, though! For the better, I know. It’s just . . . wow. Is there anything more life-changing than becoming a parent?

But I digress. We’re talking about 2014 here. This is supposed to be reflective! Not a post about my motherhood fears! (I’m sure those are around the corner but, you know.)


In 2014, I . . .

• bought a house and began transforming it with my handy husband;
• visited San Francisco, Yosemite and Sequoia with my parents in May;
• celebrated my 29th birthday;
• went to many farmers’ markets and continued healthy eating;
• found out we’re pregnant and due in June;
• celebrated our first wedding anniversary;
• hosted our first Thanksgiving dinner;
• read 49 books and recommitted to the library;
• capped off the year with a trip to see our New York family.


In the new year, I’ve decided to forgo any lofty ambitions and hope to learn to take life as it comes. My theme for 2015 will be cutting myself some slack, because I can already see that the months will fly and, before we know it, we’ll have a little person looking up at us — a tiny time thief who will be dearly loved . . . and change everything.


Baby bump - 16 weeks


I’m up for the challenge — and know I’ve married a man who is my teammate and best friend. He’s going to be a fantastic dad, and I can’t wait to see him holding our little guy or gal. We’ve so got this.

And when I turn 30 in July, I’ll be ready.

Hopefully. Um. Maybe.

We’ll cross that bridge later.


write meg!’s 2013 reading honors

Reading honors


So this was a big year for me.

Planned two weddings, moved out of my childhood home, married the love of my life. All that fun stuff. There were a few getaways, some serious weight loss, new friendships and lots of photography.

What there wasn’t much of?

Reading.

I could make excuses all day, y’all, but the long and short of it? My reading was really down this year. Like, really down. Last year I read 71 books, then correctly predicted wedding planning would occupy much of 2013. In 2011, I read 83 books, and finished 2010 with 85 books read.

This year? Fifty. Fifty even.

Still nothing to snort at, I guess, but I feel like I’ve failed literature somehow. Realistically speaking, I was often too consumed with errands to hunker down with a story. And when I radically changed my eating habits in 2013, I stopped going out for lunch — my former devoted reading time — entirely.

But I want to get back on track next year. When I’m not emotionally invested in a story (like now), I really miss that feeling. I love looking forward to the end of the day, when I’ll curl up in bed with my current read and lose myself for an hour or so. I’ve been too tired to do much more than collapse at the end of the day, so . . . I guess I hope to catch up on sleep in 2014, too.

Even with a smaller list than usual, there were some stand-out reads in 2013. Some were recently published; others are from a few years back. All of them were awesome. And so, without further ado . . .


Meg’s Top Five Reads of 2013

Cascade1. Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara

Gripping, moving, absorbing, fantastic . . . all terms I’d use to describe O’Hara’s novel, set in a Massachusetts town slated for ruin. From the atmosphere and setting to the rich, complicated romantic life of Dez, our heroine, I was entranced from the start. It’s a story that has lingered with me long after I turned the final page, and it’s my favorite read of 2013.


The Rosie Project2. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Fans of “The Big Bang Theory” may see shades of Sheldon in Don, our main squeeze, but Don is determined to succeed where his counterpart has failed (or has little interest): finding a “perfect mate” who satisfies his exhaustive criteria. A geeky love story with tons of heart, this was an incredibly fun read that had me cheering for Simsion’s rag-tag group of characters.


Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures3. Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures
by Emma Straub

Described by yours truly as “part family saga, part cautionary tale, part love story,” Straub’s novel of an aspiring small-town actress is as engrossing as it is heartbreaking. I really wasn’t sure how it would pan out — and stayed glue to the narration to find out. Though long, it was a memorable and worthwhile read.


Yes, Chef4. Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

One of two audio books to crack my Top 5, Samuelsson’s memoir of working hard and rising in the culinary world was an eye-opening, interesting experience. Born in Africa and raised in Sweden by adopted parents, Marcus relies on his tenacity and diverse background to gain traction as a chef. He’s humble, devoted and honest — and I loved learning his story.


Wild5. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Strayed’s memoir — another audio — found me at just the right time. Her story of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail solo was very moving, even if the twists and turns in her adventure made my stomach turn. I can’t imagine walking in her footsteps . . . which was what made her introspective, challenging journey so engrossing.


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Most Moving Family Story

As part of my personal goal to read more non-fiction each year, I picked up Kelle Hampton’s Bloom, a memoir about welcoming her daughter Nella — who has Down’s Syndrome — into the family. Knowing readers could judge her, Hampton honestly recounts the difficult days surrounding Nella’s birth and how the family has moved forward and thrived in the years since.


Book That Made Me Grateful For My Relationship With My Sister

Lucina Rosenfeld’s The Pretty One. Ladies be crazy!


Book Most Likely to Make You Miss ‘Gilmore Girls’ Like Crazy

Lauren Graham’s Someday, Someday, Maybe, of course! With the trademark wit that made Lorelai Gilmore such a heroine for many of us, Graham’s debut novel follows a young woman trying to make it as an actress in ’90s New York. Funny, poignant, fresh.


Most Inspirational Read

Bank of BobI dare you to pick up Bob Harris’ The International Bank of Bob and not make a mad dash for your wallet. A travel writer who visits some of the most lavish resorts on Earth for a living, Harris can’t help but be affected by the great disparity between the world’s wealthy and its desperately working poor.

He makes microloans, has great success helping others, travels to meet some of them, writes an awesome and influential book to tell us all about it. Bob is humble, funny, self-effacing and hugely inspirational. Loved him, loved the book. Go change the world, y’all.


Most Scandalous — Both In Its Day and, Like, Now

Sex, drugs, discontent . . . just another day in the world of Pamela Moore’s Chocolates for Breakfast. Courtney is a total mess, and it totally works.


Strangest Storyline — In a Good Way,
I Think?

Shine Shine ShineLydia Netzer delivers Shine Shine Shine, a book about astronauts and baldness and young love and abuse and aspiring to more and . . . probably some other things, but I can’t puzzle them all out. Months after finishing, I still can’t decide if I really liked this book or was completely confused by it. Maybe both. Regardless, it’s memorable and certainly different — both excellent qualities in a novel!


Most Confusing and Totally Too Cool for Me (and You)

Choire Sicha’s Very Recent History. Seriously, what the heck was going on? I’d tell you, but I’m still not entirely sure. It was occasionally interesting but often rather dull and disjointed and just . . . not my cup of anything.


Best Use of Bees as Characters

. . . That would be Sarah-Kate Lynch’s Wedding Bees, my friends! As you might have gathered, this modern-day fairytale incorporates honey and its creators in a lovely story of redemption and love. Perhaps a little sticky-sweet at points, but that’s part of the fun.


Happy Reading (And New Year), Friends!


See past reading honors: 20122011201020092008


write meg!’s 2009 reading honors

Around this time last year, I handed out my reading honors for 2008 — an activity I found both fun and crazy! It was my first year blogging and, by proxy, the first year I actually kept track of what I was reading as I finished it. In the latter half of 2008, anyway.

Well, things changed this go ’round — because 2009 was definitely my own year of literature! Not only did I keep a long, running list of every single book I read this year, but I actually managed to review them all, too. Do I sound cheesy and proud of myself? Why yes — and I am!

I spent a fantastic year with all sorts of characters, discovered tons of great new authors and fell in love with my new favorite book series of all time: Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling books (more on that later). And in between? I read 89 books in a variety of genres, which was short of my goal to read 105 novels, but I’m hoping that next year will be an even greater year for the reader in me. Thanks to everyone for their fantastic recommendations this year, and for the great dialogue and conversation I’ve found in the book blogging community! Let’s keep it up in 2010!

But enough shenanigans! It’s time to present my . . .



Top Five Reads Of 2009

north_of_beautifulJustina Chen Headley’s
North Of Beautiful

Gorgeous, moving and effective without ever becoming cheesy or maudlin, Headley’s story of one teenage girl’s rebellion against conventional forms of beauty, the power of art and the experience of falling in love had me in tears — and championing this book to anyone who would listen. Classified as young adult but with universal appeal, this novel is not to be missed.


maladies1Jhumpa Lahiri’s
Interpreter Of Maladies

Lahiri’s pen is deft and masterful; it’s no wonder this collection earned her a Pultizer Prize. Normally I shy away from short stories, finding that they lack the depth and emotional connection I crave from fiction, but reading just one of Lahiri’s works would make any reader change their mind. Fantastically written with the power to completely immerse you in either the dusty streets of India or the snowy winters of Massachusetts, it’s impossible forget the people to whom Lahiri introduces you.


book_thiefMarkus Zusak’s
The Book Thief

Zusak’s story of Liesel Meminger, a young German girl caught in the horrors of World War II and life in Nazi Germany, is impossible to forget. I finished it one perfect spring afternoon and immediately clutched it to my chest, wondering how I’d managed to miss it all this time. Also classified as “young adult” but with a powerful message that transcends genre, I give this one my absolute highest recommendation — with the caution to make sure you have a box of tissues handy. Tears are unavoidable. And trying to forget this story? Impossible.


Second HelpingsMegan McCafferty’s
Second Helpings

The second book in McCafferty’s poignant, hilarious and heartbreaking series had me laughing, crying, jumping up and down and, most importantly, falling completely and totally in love with Marcus Flutie, the fantastic and slightly tortured object of Jessica’s devotion (whether she wants to admit it or not).

I was so in love with the novel, I found it impossible to even summarize — and, for the second time in write meg! history, I actually used a publisher-provided synopsis (the first time was for Sloppy Firsts, the previous novel in the same series!). While I loved Sloppy Firsts, I enjoyed the fruition of all the push-and-pull romantic tension that Second Helpings provided . . . earning it a spot on this very list.


Eva Rice’s
The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets

One of my most recent reads, Rice’s novel following Penelope Wallace, a sort of ugly-duckling-turning-swan growing up in post-war London was delightful, addictive and magical — one of the most enchanting books I’ve read in a very long time. I’m a sucker for a good love story and, though love wasn’t the center of the book, I absolutely adored the romantic entanglements! So much happened in a novel that seemed as light as a feather, and I would have loved to spend time at Milton Magna . . . even if it seemed on the brink of crumbling into nothing. Another fantastic read not to be missed.



Favorite Book Series of 2009

me_mccafferty_booksYeah, this one is going to Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling books. Are you surprised? Yes? Well, you shouldn’t be — especially if you’ve been reading write meg! this year! (Or, you know, just the beginning of this post.) Jessica is my new literary hero and, if she turns her head for more than a second, I’m snagging her enigmatic and very sexy boyfriend Marcus.

I read all five books in the series this past spring — culminating in Perfect Fifths, released in April — and I didn’t believe it was possible to become quite so obsessed with a set of stories. I just really related to Jess and her eternal struggles to find a place in her family, the world, and Marcus’s life — and she seemed so real and frustrating and, you know, awesome. These books are the best. And even though I was worried I would be more focused on the book than on my trip, I took Charmed Thirds with me to London — see it in my airplane seat pocket? So Jess has a special place in my life, considering she and her friends accompanied me on one of my favorite journeys of all time!

McCafferty’s words rang so true to me, in fact, that I actually had a ring made up with one of my favorite quotes (from Marcus, natch): “My thoughts create my world.” If that wasn’t my personal mantra for 2009, I don’t know what was! And if I didn’t look so terrible in hats, Ms. McCafferty, mine would be off to you.



Most Insulting Read

sundays_at_tiffanysYes, friends, insulting — to my own intelligence and yours. This honor goes to none other than James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet’s gem Sunday’s At Tiffany’s, a novel so pedantic and emotionally engineered to “tug at my heart strings” that it made me feel nauseous.

The lack of depth was frustrating enough, but the silly plotline so full of holes, you couldn’t navigate your way around them in a Hummer? Yeah, that was bad. I finished it mostly because it was like looking at a trainwreck, and I wanted the validation of having completing it after many months of it languishing in my TBR stack. You’ve been warned.



Most Delicious Read

sugar_queenIf you don’t want to grab a bag of M&Ms, some Twinkies and a bottle of regular, full-calorie Coca Cola after reading Sarah Addison Allen’s The Sugar Queen, check and make sure you still have a pulse! The story of one young woman’s burying of her past — and feelings — in chocolate isn’t exactly a novel concept, but Allen’s flawless and magical writing totally won me over.

I was championing for Josey from the start and was swept up in the evolution of her sweet romance. Also an excellent read for book lovers, as one of the main characters is constantly pursued by novels — and just the ones she needs to read at a particular moment! Basically just fantastic.



Biggest Tearjerker

after_youJulie Buxbaum didn’t warn me that when I cracked the cover of her novel After You this past summer, I simply would not be able to get myself together for most of the book. I guess I shouldn’t expected an author to caution me, though, so the fault is mine for getting so emotionally invested in these heartbreaking characters!

Ellie travels to London after the death of her best friend Lucy to care for Lucy’s young daughter — and help her bereaved husband, Greg, deal with the messy aftermath that accompanies her sudden passing. Evocative and painfully realistic, I had a difficult time putting this one down — and even more difficult time forgetting it.



Best End Of An Era

princess_diariesMeg Cabot gave us the final installment of Princess Mia Thermpolis’s adventures as an unlikely future monarch in January with The Princess Diaries X: Forever Princess, the last book in her very successful young adult series.

I’ve been accompanying Mia through trials and triumphs since I was Mia’s age — fourteen — in the first novel and, as with many coming-of-age stories, I feel like I really aged right along with her. In a good way. I couldn’t have asked for a more exciting reunion between she and Michael, her first and longtime love, and I cheered and cried when it was all over, desperately wishing I could go back and relive it all again.

The Princess Diaries books are definitely some I would love to share with my own daughter someday, should I have one willing to take my advice on things like, you know, books. Either way, all ten are staying in my bookcase — and in my heart. (Awww!)



Most Gripping

life_as_we_knew_itIt took more than just a few pages for me to get hooked on Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It, but once I did? I was gone, baby, gone — far and away to a time when the moon is dangerously close to the earth, supplies are low and life — as I knew it — was forever changed.

No novel this year had quite the profound affect on me that this one did, and I’ll tell you why: it was life at its more terrifying, and it felt so real that, at times, I had to physically put the book down and walk away. It wasn’t just that it was scary, though it was . . . there was such an emotional, dangerous undercurrent to the story that majorly shook me to the core. Though I knew, logically, I shouldn’t read a book like that before bed, I had to know what happened — even if that meant nightmares of epic proportions. (And I had them.)

There’s no blood and guts, no gore . . . but there doesn’t need to be. This portrayal of the end of the world would have been sullied by any cheap gimics or scare tactics, and Pfeffer certainly knew that. You’d be hard pressed to find a more haunting novel than Life As We Knew It — and that knowledge alone has kept me from picking up its parallel story, The Dead and the Gone. Even three months later, and I’m not sure I can handle a return to dystopia.



Biggest Disappointment

me_mr_darcyJudging by that gorgeous cover and the fun synopsis that accompanied Alexandra Potter’s Me And Mr. Darcy (a trip to London! Jane Austen fans! A real Mr. Darcy!), I had such high hopes for the novel — and was totally let down on basically every front.

My lack of connection to the main character — and my almost disdain for her, if I’m being honest — completely colored my entire perception of the book, and I hated that I finished with way more questions than answers.

It’s been a while since I read this one, and you want to know the scene that sticks out most in my mind? The only scene I can truly recall now, six months later? One where Emily locks herself in the tiny bathroom on the tour bus in England and eavesdrops on a dude’s phone conversation. There’s a mention of how she was able to stop herself from urinating mid-urination so she can hear better. Pure grossness — and totally unnecessary. And now you get to have that image in your head, too, and feel my suffering. You’re welcome!



Most Uplifting

artichokes_heartOn the surface, Suzanne Supplee’s young adult novel Artichoke’s Heart doesn’t seem like it’s going to be an empowering read; it is, after all, a book based around narrator Rosie’s struggles to lose weight, gain confidence and improve her relationship with her difficult but loving mother. But talk about a book that won me over — and brought me to tears.

Rosie is such an inspiring, creative and hilarious main character — a young woman with a tremendous sense of humor and a kind, giving heart. Through all of her struggles and the difficulties she and her mother faced together, I wanted nothing more than to be her best friend and join her on her quest for strength and courage! After I finished the book, I even emailed Supplee to tell her how much I loved the story — a relative rarity for me. (What? I can be bashful! Um, sometimes. Maybe.)



Other books I loved in 2009. . .

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Barrows, Shaffer
Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani
The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Rude Awakenings Of A Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler
Everyone Is Beautiful by Katherine Center
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead by Saralee Rosenberg

Another year in review… on my sick day

Since we’re only five days into the new year and I’m still couch-ridden with my mysterious flu bug, I figured it’s safe to complete a “year in review” survey — hey, all the cool kids are doing it. I got this one from Liz, one of my favorite bloggers. And I like reflecting! To know where you’re going, it really helps to know where you’ve been.

1. What did you do in 2008 that you’d never done before?
Began baking — and successfully completed several baking projects without poisoning anyone!

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Last year I resolved to be more patient, and I think I’m on my way to being a calmer person. I have a tendency to flip out about small things and get easily aggravated, but I’m trying to slow down and be less irritable. I’m sure my family is happy about that! I didn’t really make a resolution this year, but I’m going to keep on the more-patient track.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Many family members had many adorable babies!

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Thankfully, no.

5. What countries did you visit?

Just ours!

6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?

A literary agent! Here’s to trying!

7. What date from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory and why?

I had a lot of memorable experiences last year — some good, some not-so-good. My birthday and my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary rank high on the “good” scale.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Probably finishing two novels. One is being shopped around now; the other needs quite a bit of editing. That’s a goal for the new year: keep writing and working on my stories.

9. What was your biggest failure?

I don’t think I failed at anything in particular. Everything led to something bigger, better or different.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Nothing more than the common cold.

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