Saturday, April 24, 2010

Reading Rules

What is good about books about writing is that they keep a writer company. For that purpose, they're very useful. -Martha Grimes

I'm reading a Martha Grimes mystery at the moment. It's the 14th in the Detective Richard Jury series, called The Case Has Altered. I've always been a mystery fan, ever since I was 7 or 8 and got my hands on my aunt's old, yellow-spined Nancy Drew books that my grandmother had kept. Must be something I inherited from Aunt Tonia, since she also introduced me a few years later to Agatha Christie's Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. There are a gazillion mysteries out there, and frankly most of them seem pretty silly - the cat ones, the food ones, the scrapbook ones, things of that ilk. I don't want funny mysteries, really, and I don't want supernatural ones either. I want solid, intelligent, well-written, realistic, but not overly graphic mysteries. And if they're set in the UK then that's a huge plus too. I admit, I've become quite the Anglophile over the years. (Must have been all that listening to The Smiths, The Cure, and U2 in high school!)

Sometimes when I'm in the middle of one of these Jury novels I wonder, why in the heck am I still reading them? When there are SO MANY good books out there I've yet to read, why continue marching my way, slowly, through this series, or the other British mystery writer I enjoy, Ruth Rendell's, works? I suppose it's the same reason I continue to watch every episode of "Bones," even when the writing is uneven and frustrating. It's the characters! I've invested so much emotionally in the characters of Grimes's books - charming, sad Detective Jury, his good friend, amateur detective/man of means Melrose Plant, all the quirky characters in the town of Long Piddleton where Plant lives. They're practically old friends, and it's a pleasant respite to visit with them. Jury and Plant are both spectacularly unlucky in love, and there is usually some subplot about one or the other of them trying and failing to sustain relationships. I continue to hope that in the end (if there is an end?) at least one of them will find true love. (Hmmm, sounds sort of like "Bones" again, doesn't it?)

I can't devour a whole series in its entirety like some readers can. I'll read one and not pick up the next one for a couple of months, at least, so I can prolong the experience. (I do that with other authors' works too, not just mystery series.) That's one of my "reading rules." Everybody has them, I think, if they read habitually. My other hard and fast rule is this: Unless the book is a Book Group pick, then I give it 60-70 pages. If it fails to sustain my interest, or the characters are too annoying, then I turn it back in. Life is too short to read crappy books!

I don't know if I'd call this a rule, per se, but it's definitely a tendency of mine. I have a hard time reading books that everyone and their brother raves about. There are certain books that people who don't make a habit of reading somehow hear about and want.* The Twilight books, the Left Behind books, Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, Tuesdays With Morrie, anything by Nicholas Sparks... all of these come to mind in this category. There are also literary fiction offerings that everyone says you "have" to read: for example, The Kite Runner, The Help, Three Cups of Tea, Memoirs of a Geisha. Haven't read any of these. Okay, you're right, I DID read the Da Vinci Code, but only because my then-boyfriend raved about it and I was young and stupid and would have done just about anything he suggested, okay?

When too many people tell me I "should" read something, my internal bull starts snorting and stamping its feet on the ground. Resistance rears its stubborn head. They may be the best damn books in the world and I may be a ninny for refusing to read them, but I just don't care. Refer to Reading Rule Number 1: Life is too short to read crappy books! And crappy, like beauty, is most definitely in the eye of the beholder.

So what are your reading rules? I'm always interested in why people read what they read.

(*And I admit, even though I know better and all I really care about is that people read and use their public library system, that I'm a terrible book snob.)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Blog First, Think Later

Do you, like me, have all these "shoulds" running into one another in your brain? You know, like, "I should really call X with whom I haven't spoken in weeks," or "I should really organize my important papers." I should clean out my closets. I should dust. I should go see a dermatologist. I should wash the car. I think women are especially vulnerable to the "shoulds." I don't know if it's nature or nurture, but I suspect both. I know that my husband is one of the most blithely unhurried people I know. Not that he doesn't care about things, but that he is able to relax when it's time to relax and get jiggy with it when it's time to get jiggy. I'm more likely to fret when I'm trying to relax, thinking about all the things I need to be doing. And then when I'm doing things I need to be doing, I'm thinking about how much I'd love to relax! It's ridiculous. But I'm sure I'm not alone.

I'm not going to let this blog be one of those "shoulds." My temptation is to let writing slide in favor of all those chores, or all the time-suckers that are sort of fun, like watching TV or reading. But I know what happens to me when I go for too long without writing. I get nervous, I start doubting myself, doubting whether or not I have anything worth saying. And I put it off one more day. Meanwhile, I start having even more conversations with myself, start writing blogs in my head without getting them down anywhere, and I get twitchier and twitchier. Argh. No bueno.

Today is a day to write. Tomorrow is a day to write. The day after that is a day to write. The point to just to do it, to think later. Make it automatic, like brushing my teeth or drinking my morning coffee. After all, it's elemental to who I am. Why fight it, why run from it, just because I'm afraid? I didn't run away from the challenge of the 5K race this past weekend. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and felt a rush like I'd never felt before when I crossed that finish line. I ran in 38 minutes, which is great considering it's my first time. Training for that race never felt like a "should." It felt like honoring myself.

I think magazines are especially dangerous to women, in that each issue holds out the promise of a better, shinier you inside. Read it and you'll be a better mom, a better wife, a better cook, skinnier, and with expertly applied makeup. I have been the Magazine Queen in my lifetime. But I'm kind of over them now. It feels good at age almost 33 to say, "This is who I am. I am quirky and kind of round and like to wear jeans all the time and have hair that doesn't do anything I want it to." I wish I could have found this self-acceptance earlier, but I guess it doesn't work that way. I still have my days when I do nothing but beat myself up, but I'm getting better about cutting myself some slack. The "shoulds" won't get this woman down for long. Who's with me?

Thursday, April 15, 2010


We planted our garden last Sunday. It was a week earlier than we'd planted last year, but I couldn't wait any longer! My weekends get so hectic in the springtime as it is, and I work every other Saturday. So I took advantage of sunshine and the time I had, and just hoped that it wouldn't frost. So far, so good on that count!

Last year was our first attempt at a garden. We planted cucumbers, tomatoes, one bell pepper plant, basil, and thyme in a raised bed in our backyard. We really knew next to nothing about what we were doing, besides what we gleaned from gardening sites online. And it turned out gloriously. We had more tomatoes than we knew what to do with, and ended up freezing quite a few for stews and soups. I learned that I don't like tomatoes as much as I previously thought I did! A few slices a day are plenty enough for me! But it is beyond satisfying to be able to taste the sunshine in a warm tomato from your backyard. Those grocery store things that call themselves tomatoes are just, well, they're red, and squishy, and they add another layer to your sandwich, but that's about all you can say for them.

With last year's success, we decided to expand our backyard operation. Eric dug a new bed next to the old one, and we've added summer crookneck squash, zucchini, and a jalapeno pepper plant to the mix, as well as chives, cilantro, and rosemary in containers. We're trying to grow some things from seed this year, and we seeded them directly into the ground, which I'm a bit nervous about. I just don't know how that's going to work, you know? At least with a plant, you have the tangible thing in front of you, already beginning its growth. I guess we'll just have to keep a watch on it and hopefully in a couple of weeks we'll see some little green shoots popping up! (Patience isn't exactly my strongsuit.)

Gardening is a true joy, and also a good metaphor for life. My husband and I really don't know what we're doing at all, we just get out there, get our hands dirty, and just see what happens! There's so much to learn, so many websites and books from which to glean knowledge. I guess it's a good thing it's a relatively inexpensive pastime, right? Growing up, I learned from my aunt and grandfather that working in the yard could become a hobby and a passion, and I envied their green thumbs. I never thought I could be a person who grew things. I thought it took some sort of special magic or gift. Instead, like most things in life, it really only takes a desire and some good, honest work.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A List of Things I Can't Get Enough Of

Sweet grandmothers who help their grand kids with storytime crafts

Moms who help clean up after storytime crafts, without being asked

The way one boy in my storytime always comments after a funny story, "That was a funny story!"

Perusing the beautiful plants at Pope's nursery

Digging in the dirt, planting stuff

"The Soup" on E!

my Turbo Kick class at the gym

trying new recipes from Food Network and Rachael Ray magazines

Polite children


The way my husband smells

Blue skies

Redbuds in bloom

Anthony Bourdain



Thursday, April 8, 2010

A List of Things I'm So Over

Tiger Woods


"rehab" for "sex addiction" (are we sensing a theme?)

kids texting while they walk

kids pushing books all the way back on the bookshelves (librarian's pet peeve #347)

people who say "I have a question," and then pause for a really long time

competition-based reality shows

especially food-based competition shows

Guy Fieri

people who don't use their blinkers

people who don't say "Hi" back when you say "Hi" to them

my twitching eye


worrying about my weight

comparing myself to others

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mo' Money, Mo' Problems?

I've been reading Ariel Gore's newest book, Bluebird: Women and the new Psychology of Happiness. (Never read her before - she's fantastic! Where have I been?) It's about the positive psychology movement, whether or not it's a bunch of junk and how it can be applied to women's lives. What I like most about the book are the personal journal entries and stories from women who Gore interviewed as subjects. They are thought-provoking and illuminating.

There's a short chapter on money - whether women tend to devalue the role money plays in our lives and happiness. A certain story piqued my interest. A friend of Gore's went to college and noticed that "the kids from upper-class backgrounds seemed to have a wholly different attitude toward money from the kids who grew up poor... what might she learn from her new, entitled friends?"

She discovered that "people who grew up with money welcome money into their lives. People who grew up poor tend to have a lot of negative associations with money - they associate money with money problems."

Whoa. Seems like a simple enough concept. But it hit me right in the gut when I read it.

I have a real chip on my shoulder when it comes to money, and I always have. We didn't have much when I was growing up - I never went to bed hungry or anything, but money was always tight. There were fights about money all the time. After the divorce, my mom and I were on food stamps for a short while. She didn't really know how to handle money and I learned some bad spending habits that took me many years to correct. Despite our constant money struggles, my parents chose to send me to private schools for my entire education. I don't really know how that happened and don't really see the practicality of that choice now, but what's done is done.

I went into a middle school and high school resembling "Beverly Hills 90210," or at least the East Tennessee version. I grew to resent the kids who had money to buy whatever their hearts desired. Kids who crashed their luxury cars, only to have their parents buy them new ones. Kids who went on skiing vacations and didn't have t0 shop for their school uniforms at the annual consignment sale. I had an amazing group of high school friends who never, ever made me feel lass than because of my money situation. But I always knew that I was pretty much the poorest kid in the whole freaking school.

So when I read that section from Bluebird I felt in viscerally. I don't know many people who have worse associations with money than I do. Money makes me nervous, anxious, jealous, disgusted, angry. And since the days of my bad spending habits I've done a 180 degree turn and practically hate to spend money now. I haven't bought a new winter coat in nine years because spending more than $50.00 on one item makes me feel almost ill. Yeah, I've got issues.

In Bluebird, Ariel Gore's friend tried to consciously change her relationship with money by saying all these mantras like, "I am a money magnet. Money flows naturally and easily into my life." She started teaching all of their starving artist friends her theory of "money magnetism." I told Eric about this and he said it sounded like "all that Secret bullshit." I responded, "Well, I buy into that stuff to a certain extent." And I do. It doesn't explain away all of the iniquities and hardship in the world. Sometimes bad stuff just happens. But - there IS some truth to how your view of the world determines your life path. If you play the victim your whole life, things feel out of your control, unlucky things get you down even more, and you can get stuck in a loop of hopelessness and negative emotions. I've seen it happen enough in my own family to believe it.

If I apply this money theory to my life, how does that affect me? I've hated and desired money equally. It's been a temptress, an annoyance, a hassle. But if I look at it objectively, it's also been an ally, a savior, a friend. Me digging myself out of debt has led to a good credit score, which led to a home loan, which led to me and my husband living in our cute little house in the neighborhood we adore. A surprise family inheritance allowed my mother to make some much needed repairs to her home and get herself mostly out of debt. No one in my family, or my husband's, is rich, but we all basically have what we need, which is a blessing.

Maybe I need to start coming up with some money mantras of my own. It couldn't hurt, right? It just might lead to some healing, some letting go of weighty, illogical feelings that could be holding me back. And come next winter, it might also lead to a brand-new coat!