Last year was the first time I attempted the #30BooksIn30Days challenge and I made it to 22; this time I got to 26!
Books that had been on my nightstand for longer than I care to admit, brand-new books straight from the publisher, books that I’d been eagerly awaiting from the library. Rereads, audio books, book club selections. Fiction, nonfiction, how-tos, and even a screenplay.
I always enjoy a reading challenge and I’m delighted with the way this one went. And, of course, there’s always next year to get to 30!
Another month, another round of book reviews! I finished ten books in August and am getting caught up with my 2020 reading goal (120 books).
I read lots of really great books this month—and admit that I’m also getting better about abandoning books I’m not really into using the 50-page rule (don’t give up on a book until you’re at least 50 pages in . . . until you’re 50 years old, and then you can lower that number by a page a year).
August brought lots of data-heavy titles and some heavy big life stuff (acknowledging privilege, breaking away from overwork, saying yes more, reexamining this country’s beginnings), but this year seems like a good time to dig into those things.
This was such an interesting and delightful read about the subjectivity and trickiness of math on a large scale. I admit I didn’t really grasp all the logic—“I’m an English major; you do the math!”—but I loved it anyway.
I started this pre-COVID and then lost the thread while I watched the world start to fall apart, but I came back to it in August and zoomed through it. A really fascinating exploration of language and how it’s changed rapidly over the last couple of decades in an internet world.
My church recently held a white privilege discussion group that was guided by this book. It was a much-needed perspective on American Christianity, and the ELCA church in particular, and an important read for white congregations.
I love reading books that encourage a break from our hyperconnected worlds—this year especially. A much-needed reminder that work is not the end-all be-all when it comes to how we measure self-worth, happiness, and even success.
What if you said yes to every question or suggestion presented to you? This was a fun read about turning your routines on their head, leaning into a personal experiment, and staying open to new and unexpected opportunities.
This book shook. me. up. It was no surprise, of course, to learn that there are data gaps when it comes to women. But it was stunning to read about the breadth and depth of those gaps; women have been willfully ignored (or carelessly forgotten) when it comes to anything from seatbelt design and pharmaceutical studies to city planning and how we expect people to work.
I strongly recommend this read to anyone who is convinced women have achieved equality with men and to anyone working in planning and leadership roles.
I’ve never read a Washington biography because a 700-page love letter to a founding father has never really piqued my interest. But I loved this short and conversational look at his life—and the myths that we’ve accepted about the first president.
It’s been over a decade since the last time I was a full-time student, but this time of year still gives me the warm fuzzy feelings of back-to-school excitement. New school (or office) supplies, fresh notebooks, a renewed sense of routine . . . okay, maybe that last one is a long shot this year.
Still, even in the midst of a global pandemic and ongoing anxiety about time, September feels like a great time to hit the reset button on the year. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be taking stock of 2020 so far, preparing to make the most of the last quarter, and starting to look ahead to 2021.
Gathering the Supplies
I may not need any #2 pencils or a new set of watercolors, but I did do some online supplies shopping to restock my go-to pens, the 2-by-1 sticky notes I use to mark my favorite lines in books, and even a disco ball (because why the fuck not).
I’ve also been following a recommendation from my favorite feng shui consultant and cleaning my desk each week: When I shut down for the weekend, I pull everything off, wipe it down with lavender-scented cleaning spray, and then put everything (or rather, everything I want to keep) back with intention.
Setting a Curriculum
Like day planners and cookie recipes, when it comes to goal-setting programs I have no brand loyalty and I’m keen on trying them all. I’ve written SMART goals and intuition-led intentions, and I’ve focused on quarterly objectives and on “the one thing” each day.
But this year, I’m really digging the Chalkboard Method. My summer “chalkboard”—it’s actually poster board because chalk gives me the creeps—is part to-do list, part goal tracking, and part manifestation tool. And it’s been working out marvelously, helping me stay on track with everything from networking to paying off a credit card and to seek out dreamy new clients.
Getting Good Grades
Two years ago, my business bestie and I started a new tradition of getting together around this time of year for a couple Get-Shit-Done Days. We hang out in Denver, where we drink coffee and eat cupcakes and admire the mountains and set our laptops up to tackle the big picture things we’ve putting off.
Like everything else this year, our 2020 business retreat is going to look a little different—but we’ll still make the time to dig in and care for ourselves and our businesses and each other. And it’ll make all the difference in preparing for Q4 and beyond!
Are you a grownup who still gets excited for back-to-school season?
What are you doing to take advantage of the rest of this year?
Did I post about time flying by and feeling untethered last time?
That has only gotten worse, of course, with continued physical distancing requirements and recommendations to stay home as much as possible . . . and then my unexpected positive test result for the COVID-19 virus itself in late July. (I’m doing OK, just more tired than usual and now extra diligent about my mask-wearing and hand-sanitizing efforts.)
Anxiety and fatigue have made for a roller coaster of emotions, not to mention the effect they have on keeping track of time. Which is why my monthly reading blog post went unwritten in May . . . and in June . . . and in July. You don’t mind too much, do you?
“Present, Centered, and Available for Life” seems like an excellent aspiration, particularly this year. I very much appreciated Felder’s stress-management practices, which are rooted in both spirituality and psychology.
I’ve never really been drawn to video games, but this was a fun and fascinating look at the typography used by popular and niche games alike (and how limited it was by the pixels available in early game design).
Irby’s essays have delighted me before and this collection was no different. Awkward, relatable, and hilarious. I read this one in paperback, but her audiobooks (narrated by the author herself) are a great choice too.
My husband gave this to me as an anniversary gift and I quickly read it cover to cover! The strips are irreverent and witty, and there’s also an adorable children’s book (Nancy’s Genius Plan)by the same writer/illustrator that we gifted to our nieces and nephew.
I was introduced to Toll’s work at a (virtual) conference in the spring and I am smitten with her beautiful books on paying attention to the natural world around us—and how certain herbs, fruits, and flowers can help us access our intuition. Also includes oracle cards!
I distinctly remember a copy of this book floating around our childhood home—and that it was one of my sister’s very favorites. I don’t think I ever read it myself and was glad to check out this Cinderella tale.
I loved this one just as much as the Herbiary. Toll profiles 36 powerful animals and shares rituals, readings, and reflections to access their special energies. I cannot wait for her third installation, The Illustrated Crystallary,to come out next month!
I joined the Fantastic Strangelings Book Club (out of Jenny Lawson’s Nowhere Bookshop in San Antonio) a couple months back and this has been one of my favorites. It’s sort of a Gen X retelling of And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie’s classic mystery.
Before the pandemic lockdown, I’d read another book—that I’ve since forgotten—that mentioned these incredible quilts and I quickly requested it from my library. Once the libraries opened back up, this one became available and it was a great little surprise to read.
I was surprised to find that Lane is actually from St. Louis, not far from my own home in Kansas City, and shares many of his backpacking experiences in the Ozark and Mark Twain National Forest wilderness.
A clever novel styled as a catalog for an Ikea-like furniture store, Horrorstör tells the story of three employees working a special night shift to investigate strange goings-on before management finds out.
One of my new hobbies is trying to keep some plants alive. (I confess that I’ve managed to kill several basil plants and more than one aloe plant.) This was a great place to start and gave me the confidence to actually go to a local nursery and pick out a few new friends!
Watching any facet of American politics today feels terribly, terribly depressing. This look at Millennials in political office certainly doesn’t portray a Utopian future, but it does make me feel a little more hopeful about the years ahead.
To say that this year has been tough is not new or unique, but it sure is true.
I know I’m not alone in struggling with the fear of the pandemic, with the heartbreak of racism, with the weight of work, with the deterioration of mental health. The last time I posted something here, it was tips on maintaining productivity and a little sanity while working from home. It felt like an upbeat cheer for finding success in the midst of a strange time.
But, Reader, that already seems like a very long time ago. Today, I’m just trying to take it day by day without losing my ever-loving mind.
One day at a time
During a recent Zoom call with a business mastermind group, I confessed that I’m still learning—two years after leaving corporate life—to let routines go when they’re no longer serving me. There are days when a checklist from “make coffee” all the way through to “evening gratitude journal” is what I need to feel grounded and productive. But there are also days that seem to require both a long morning hike and an afternoon nap to keep me feeling like a competent human being.
I’m realizing they can both be right. Today can be whatever I need it to be.
With unending uncertainty about the future and so many of my pre-pandemic self-care tricks (impromptu lunch with my sister, book club in a friend’s living room, dinner and drinks with my parents, a weeknight movie) off the table . . . It’s okay to take each day as it comes, doing what I need to feel like the best possible version of myself before I see another headline that makes me want to punch a wall or find another canceled vacation that’s still showing up on my calendar.
Protecting what’s most valuable
That means some days I log nine or ten hours at my desk, and some days I only check my email to make sure I haven’t missed anything urgent and then take myself for a long walk.
And—maybe most importantly—I’m learning to count both those days as wins. I’m trying not to worry about the things I’ve left undone while I’m on a trail or enjoying a novel. My mental health is just as valuable as any item on my to-do list, and not just because it’s a means to staying productive the rest of the time.
What good is it to make it through 2020 if I end the year feeling completely burned out or hollowed out?
I’d love to hear from you! How are you holding up? What is helping you survive (or thrive!) during this strange and difficult year?
While I’m still on track with my goal of reading 120 books in 2020, I read about half as much in April as I did in March. With a full month of staying at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my anxiety levels were high and my attention span was short.
That said, I finished some great books and started some great books, so you won’t hear me complaining (or at least not in this post).
Hope you’re staying well and I can’t wait to hear what books you’ve been enjoying!
Publishing a book is such a daunting task, and this little volume is chock full of tips, tricks, and advice from someone who knows what she’s talking about. I bought this book at a conference last year and have referred to it several times, and this month I read it cover to cover.
I have a “heart reading” practice each morning in which I read about a chapter or so of a book in the self-help/personal growth/mindset development genre, and I thoroughly enjoyed working my way through this one. Funny, sweet, and full of self-love.
My meditation practice has been on again/off again for a number of years, and I always appreciate a chance to come back to it with words of wisdom from someone like Pema Chödrön. This is a beautiful and practical guide.
This was my book club’s pick for April and it did not disappoint. It is always shocking to learn the neglect that womxn’s health has suffered in medical research, in healthcare teaching and training, and in education. A very handy resource for all manner of questions and concerns.
I admit that I bought this one for its cover, sometime shortly before we were no longer allowed to roam bookstores. A look at why we tend to lose the art of singing, why it’s a valuable tool for mindfulness, and how to get it back.
This gorgeous, heartbreaking, and critical read was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry in 2014 and I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it. Highly recommended reading, especially for anyone living in America right now.
I’ve been working from home full-time for very nearly two years, but this past month has been the most difficult by far. Introvert or not, I’ve gotten pretty stir-crazy without the ability to work for an hour at my favorite coffee shop, attend a lunch-and-learn at Central Exchange, or meet up for an end-of-day drink with my sister.
Fortunately, I’ve collected a few tools that had made it easier me to find success as a solopreneur—and that are frankly saving my sanity during this pandemic.
I read several years ago that the average person uses something like 17 different methods to keep track of their time. Notebooks, calendars, sticky notes, countless apps? I can relate. I still use each of these for various purposes, but Trello has become my hub for tracking client projects, administrative tasks, personal reminders, and more. With the ability to create template checklists, set due dates, and to separate tasks by card, list, or board, it has been tremendously helpful.
Because I don’t keep very consistent hours and work on a wide variety of projects, keeping track of where I’m spending my time can become very hairy very quickly. I’ve been using Timely for about a year and it has made life so much easier! It tracks what files and applications I’m spending time in so that I can see exactly how long I was working on any given project (and, inevitably, how much I’m squandered on The New York Timesspelling bee).
With even fewer events on my calendar and all the days blurring together in quarantine, my schedule has slowly skewed later and later. I often find myself working late at night, and appreciate Boomerang’s help in keeping me looking a little less like a night owl (until I rat myself out on my own blog). With this extension’s help, I can set my Gmail account to only fetch new messages at certain times of the day (rather than seeing a constant influx of new mail) and to schedule sent mail for a more reasonable hour. Lifesaver.
Have I mentioned that I miss being able to leave the house? A Soft Murmur offers enough ambient background noise to break up long stretches of silence (not conducive to my own sense of peak productivity), but not so much distraction as my current Spotify playlist (also not great for productivity). “Coffee shop” sounds are not as good as the real thing, but I’ll take it.
What tools are helping you maintain some sense of productivity (or some sense of sanity) during this period of isolation? I’d love to hear about them!
Well, when the month started, I was ready to relax into some books. I had a week of house sitting ahead of me, my work had hit a slight lull, and the idea of social distancing was surfacing. It seemed like the perfect time to hibernate with some reading.
But once COVID-19 reached official pandemic status (and there were outright orders to stay at home) my anxiety became a force to be reckoned with. I found myself rereading the same page over and over, and I just couldn’t make much progress. Still, I managed to stay on track by knocking out some shorter books from my TBR pile—and I’m hoping to do the same in April.
Stay safe out there, friends! And don’t feel guilty if you’re not “taking advantage” of the extra time you might have. Just surviving is enough!
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been on the sober-curious bandwagon for a little while, which is what led me to this title. It was another great look at our culture of mindless drinking and a window into a community of nondrinkers (Club Soda).
This was our March book club pick and I think we will be returning to the true crime genre! This was a very detailed look at the 1892 murder of Andrew and Abby Borden, Lizzie’s father and stepmother, and the ensuing trial.
I’ve been considering a mindfulness/meditation/silent retreat for at least a couple of years, but of course there are always plenty of reasons not to commit. Which is why I was extra grateful to discover this little book: a DIY mindfulness retreat you can even set up at home.
Another in the category of sober living! If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’m still drinking—but I still appreciate the chance to reexamine the habit and be more mindful of my imbibing. (Especially that we’re all self-isolating now!)
I read this over several weeks: It’s a pretty dense read and is a fascinating look at the things that, well, spark joy. From circles to rainbows to surprise, why do some things make everyone feel giddy no matter their age, ethnicity, or gender? Warning: This book will make you want to redecorate.
I always enjoy reading books about Kansas City, my hometown, and this one was no different. Not only known as the Paris of the Plains but also home to the Wettest Block in the World, KC was (is?) one hell of a party town.
I picked this one up because a local bookstore was planning an event with the author. That was, of course, canceled along with the rest of April. But I still enjoyed reading this little book on why your brain works the way it does and how to be okay anyway.
I think I will let Michelle Tea’s foreword sum up the brilliance of this 1967 critique/satire/call to action:
“To see the SCUM Manifesto’s humor, to let it crack you up page after page, is not to read it as a joke. It’s not. … The truth of the world as seen through Valerie’s eyes is patently absurd, a cosmic joke. The hilarity in the Manifesto strikes me as fighting fire with fire.”
I love reading essays about life—and all the messy,
complicated feelings it involves. This book genuinely made me both laugh and
cry; I read a copy from the library but expect it’ll join my permanent library
as soon as it’s in paperback.
Thoroughly enjoyed this middle grade novel about a girl who
can pull back the Veil that separates the living from the dead. I was so glad
to discover when I got to the end that the next installment was already
“That the problem was not about being human, but
specifically about being a female human. For centuries, the world divided human
beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It
is only fair that the solution to the problem should acknowledge that.”
I’ve been in a “sober curious” place for a little while, feeling
like drinking has become a habit that might not be where I want to spend my
time/money/energy/health. This was a great examination of drinking culture and recovery
programming—and specifically the impact it has on women.
The story of the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Public Library,
which destroyed 400,000 books and damaged 700,000 volumes. Also part examination
of libraries and part history of the LAPL, it was a fascinating read.
This was actually my book club’s November pick, so I’m really
behind in finishing it. But I’m so glad I didn’t abandon it because, of course,
it is a complete delight. Certainly a classic for a reason!
Since I began building my business in earnest about two
years ago (and made the leap to full-time solopreneurship almost two years
ago), my home office has undergone approximately 67 iterations.
As a serial furniture rearranger and someone with packrat
tendencies, I know it will never be a static environment, but I’ve finally
settled into something that’s working—and a desk space that I love.
Last summer I finally invested in a computer that I can rely
on without worrying about sudden restarts or having to wait forever just for a new
Word doc to open. I stuck with a laptop so I can stay mobile—for
those days that I’d rather spend in a coffee shop or the library—but
added a dock so I can use extra screens. And then I bought two 27-inch monitors
that allow me to easily write, edit, and proofread without straining my eyes (see,
Ali, I hear you!).
And because my work is nearly exclusively performed on a
computer, I try to prioritize ergonomics: a split keyboard, an ergonomic mouse,
and a clamp to keep my monitors at eyelevel will (hopefully) help keep discomfort
and problems like carpal tunnel at bay.
And for focus, I’ve found that wearing headphones can help,
even if I’m only listening to white noise or not actually listening to anything
at all, and these noise-cancelling wireless cans are perfect for the job.
It seems like I slogged through about a million pages of
desks and tables before I found a cheap white table that’s large enough to
accommodate all three screens (and the miscellaneous stuff that inevitably
accumulates wherever I’m sitting for hours at a time) while still leaving some
room for a notebook or a microwaved quesadilla. Plus, I just got this sweet
chair that lets me sit cross-legged without risking weird leg cramps.
I of course need plenty of space to store books, whether they’re
my most reliable resources or my novel-of-the-moment or reflection journals. Ali
and I have several large bookshelves that hold the majority of our library, but
I also use some floating shelves above my desk, a rolling metal cart, and a TV
tray to keep certain titles close by.
My favorite analog office supplies are the narrow
spiral-at-the-top reporter’s notebooks, tiny Post-it Notes, and Pilot P-700
pens. I usually have at least two of each nearby! I often write things down
first—notes from calls, random thoughts, to-do lists and reminders, even first
drafts—and then transfer them to my digital calendars and tools. (Not
efficient, I guess, but that’s the system.)
Winter would be much harder to get through without a “happy
light,” one of those ultra-bright desk lamps designed to help you through the
perils of seasonal affective disorder with light therapy. Light has generally become
an important element of my office; I often have small lamps, string lights, or
candles to keep the space filled with warm light. Not missing the fluorescent
office lights here!
What favorite tools do you always keep at your desk?