Tag Archives: reading

The Phrase that Pays

4 Aug

Poison Ivy display at the Harvard Museum of Natural History

This week, the Boy and I went to the Harvard Museum of Natural History, and while the animal galleries were fantastic and the glass flowers were pretty unbelievable (really, the flowers don’t look like glass at all), what really caught my eye was a little interactive quiz about poison ivy.

The purpose of the quiz was to show you how poison ivy is a pretty wily plant, but I was more fascinated by the sheer number of rhymes to help you remember what to look for:

Red leaflets in spring, it’s a dangerous thing.”

“Longer middle stem, stay away from them.”

“Side leaflets like mittens will itch like the dickens.”

“Berries white, run in fright!”

“Hairy vine, no friend of mine!”

I said as much to the Boy, who responded, “Well, have you ever had poison ivy? It’s really bad!”

That evening, I was reading some of David Sedaris’ Theft by Finding, and I came across a similar rhyming  warning:

“Beer on wine, you’re fine. Wine on beer, stand clear.”

To which I thought, Huh. I haven’t heard that one. Because I know:

“Wine before beer, you’re in the clear. Beer before wine is not so fine.”

“Hard before beer, you’re in the clear. Beer before hard, you’re in the yard.”

“Wine before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before wine, you’re doing fine.”

I guess sometimes you need all those rhymes to help you remember not to do something stupid. The effects of the latter though are maybe not as itchy.

What’s Your Four?

7 Jul

Summer Reading 2017 - Bring me all of the books!

Have you seen that LitHub story about the book hoarders that’s been floating around the web? Both the Boy and I read it, which got us wondering how many books we actually own. I mean, we have a lot of books, but we also live in a smallish apartment, so there’s not a ton of space to really, you know, have a library.

And then we did a little bit of counting and a lot of estimating….and figured that we have probably close to 1,000 books.


Considering that we have a problem with tsundoku, I’m feeling compelled to make a dent in reading what’s on the shelves. Luckily, it’s summer reading time in this part of the world, and I thought that this year, I’d take part in a little summer reading effort Massachusetts is promoting called Read Four.

Read Four is really targeted toward children and teens to keep them reading during the summer so they don’t fall behind when school starts up again; however, I will take their proclamation, “The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners is challenging all [my emphasis] residents of Massachusetts to read four books this summer,” to heart, so I plan to read as much as I can this summer to stoke my creativity and feel less guilty whenever I look at the bookshelves in my home.

The stack above is what I’m hoping to finish in good time, and it includes the books I started reading at the beginning of summer. I’m actually on my fourth book now: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. I read a book by her sister Nicola earlier this year, but I picked up this book last Christmas during the annual family day-after-Christmas trip to Barnes & Noble. I’m hoping it’s equally as fun and escapist as my first three reads have been: the Sophie Kinsella, Rollergirl and Desperate in Dubai. All three have been breezy and entertaining–the last one particularly was fun for the cultural insight into Dubai, which made me want to go back even more (and also because I spent a fair amount of time looking up the Arabic phrases sprinkled throughout).

So those are my four–or nine, as the case might be. What are your four?


2016 Year in Books

6 Jan

Welcome to 2017! After taking a couple weeks off for holidays and travel, I’m ready to get back to it, which means the weekly blogs are back.

For me, 2016 was a weird year all the way around, and my reading list really reflects that this year. In 2015 I really didn’t read very many books (especially for being a writer), so I’d signed up for a Goodreads Reading Challenge, and decided to go light with just 20 books. That goal was more than I’d read in 2015, and what I thought would be a decent stepping stone into making reading books more of a priority. Totally achievable, right? I could really crush that goal and go way over it! Actually, I just barely made it happen, and finished my 20th book on Christmas Eve.

Number of books isn’t the only thing I’ve been tracking for the past few years. After reading some of Ann Morgan’s “A Year of Reading the World” blog, I wanted to expand my horizons a bit and see just where my influences were coming from. Instead of taking on the world, I thought I’d take on the United States and see if I could read authors from every state (tracked by where they’re born)–perhaps not a task I’d accomplish in a year, but eventually would be nice.

The other wrinkle is that I want to read the books I own. I have a problem with tsundoku, or buying books and not reading them. While I continue to buy books, I’m also working on reading what I own. I don’t have any particular order for reading things (no FIFO or anything like that), but it also means that there’s a constant inner struggle to spend less time buying and more time reading (also less time buying, and more time at the library, but that’s a topic for another day).

Anyway, I did meet my reading goal of 20 books for 2016, so I’m pretty proud of that. I was surprised, however, how much of a slog some of these books were. I had some chick lit and young adult lit that should’ve been a breeze but weren’t. While I have a personal rule that I’m allowed to stop reading after 50 pages or so (there’s not enough time to waste it reading bad books), I think I only used that exception once this year, and that was for Gone Girl. I hated all of its characters and had no interest in reading about what they did, so I put it down. I won’t even keep space in my brain to remember the 50 pages I did read, so I couldn’t tell you much of what it was about.

I didn’t do that for Accidental It Girl, which maybe I should have. This was about a paparazzi (who had shelved a dream of being an art photographer) who accidentally got linked with a big star and became the object of the paparazzi. Turnabout is fair play–though it was also a dull book. The character (whose name I can’t even remember) really had no goal other than to not be photographed all the time, and she didn’t drive the action–most of the action happened to her, making it difficult to root for her. It was also full of a lot of stock characters–the wacky mom who got in the way and didn’t really get her; the helpful roommate; the movie star who was a nice, genuine guy. The only thing that kept me reading was a MacGuffin of a package that the main character’s mom sent that sat in the corner of her bedroom for most of the book, was mentioned all the time, and when finally opened, revealed a reminder that the main character that her true passion was in art photography, and shouldn’t she do that instead of paparazzi-ing?

Needless to say, although I wouldn’t recommend it, it was a good example of what not to do when writing, so at least I got something out of it.

I covered nine states and four non-US countries this year. I seem to really like Ohio (four books) and the UK (five books). Still, I’m making progress on my map coverage–I’m up to 19 states and 10 countries in three years. Not bad. Could be better, but I’m happy enough for the moment.

For the moment, I’ve added just one book to my 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge total. Maybe I can do better than that, but my first read of the year, The Games: A Global History of the Olympics is turning out to be a really slow one. A really good and interesting read, but it’s a little slow-going right now. It might be a book I read alongside some others, just to make progress.

Speaking of progress, if you want to follow along, feel free to check out my book reading tracking doc. Suggestions to fill in my missing geography are welcome!


Read Friday

25 Nov

This week I finished reading a book, which, in the age of tracking everything, means that I needed to log it in my Goodreads account and see how I was doing on my 2016 Reading Challenge.

Not good.

At the beginning of the year, I was really hopeful about reading more books (especially since I have a tsundoku problem and want to rectify it a bit), so I signed up for Goodreads’ annual reading challenge with the optimistic hope of clearing up the piles a little bit…..though really I should have done some sort of “here’s all the books I didn‘t buy” challenge as well, just to make it seem like I made some sort of actual progress.

Anyway, my Goodreads account had said I’d read 14 of 20 books in my challenge.


Quickly log book.

We’re at 15 now!

Realize that I hadn’t logged a couple of books I’d read this year.

Furiously log them.

Remember why I hadn’t logged them: Mostly embarrassing chick lit books that took weeks to read because they were poorly written (is good learning tool!).

Doesn’t matter! Have to hit goal!

Now I stand at 17 books down, three to read within the next month and change.

That’s three books I’ve challenged myself to read during a very busy month–except that there will probably be a few days at the end of the year where there’s nothing to do but read books, and maybe I will also be smart and pick books that I can’t put down, which technically means getting them done quickly.

I can dream.

Or I can put away the computer and pick up the book I’m currently reading and make some progress that I’ll be proud of at the end of the year.

In related news, I also keep track of my reading in this spreadsheet, as I’m also trying to see how geographically diverse my tastes are. Here I track author by birthplace. I have no real set focus for how I choose what I’ll read next–the goal is mainly to read the books I currently own. If I manage to ever do that, than perhaps I’ll put myself on one of those interesting journeys to read books from authors in every country of the world. For now though, I just like seeing where the authors I read come from and wondering whether and/or how birthplace has an impact on writing.

But Jill, why double up on the tracking?

Honestly, the Goodreads challenge puts a little impetus on reading as a goal. It’s my accountability buddy (and if you think an app as a buddy is a sad thing, the app doesn’t mind waiting for weeks while I read a few pages a night. A real buddy might get tired of tapping their foot and rolling their eyes at me). The spreadsheet is just a nice view of the overall picture of where the challenge has taken me, and I like to see it laid out over the years in nice, neat columns. It seems like real progress over time, no matter what my annual reading challenge goal is.

Speaking of which, that challenge is going to take me back to the couch to have a nice read for a couple of hours.

On the Loose!

10 Mar

[Part 1 in a collector’s series]

My day out yesterday was so incredibly exciting that I can’t quite contain it to just one post. I know it sounds crazy, but doing errands was fun. That’s very telling, since driving around Boston can suck the life out of you the second you pull out of the driveway, but yesterday wasn’t so bad.

The first order of business–and my reason for having the car–was to visit the doctor. My left shoulder’s been hurting me since our massive kitchen cleaning earlier this year. Ibuprofen and keeping it in motion wasn’t helping, so to the doctor I went. Further prove I am not Cinderella: Spending hours scrubbing the kitchen floor does not get me a fairy godmother and a trip to the ball; it gets me a doctor who diagnoses a shoulder sprain and a trip to physical therapy.

The doctor’s office means two things:


wpid-img_20150309_102919193.jpg I get a blood pressure reading. Not to toot my own horn, but I have amazing blood pressure. It’s the one thing I’ve got on the Boy. I know it’s a weird thing to get hung up on, but he’s a foot taller than me and so he’s inherently better than me in many different ways. He’s faster, his stride is longer, he can reach the top shelf, etc. It can be frustrating, particularly if he has to walk quickly to get anywhere because that always means I end up jogging. I know I look like a doofus having to trot just to keep up. Lucky for me, one plus side of being short is that my heart does not have to work as hard to pump blood throughout my long body. This happens to be something the Boy worries about, so when I can get an accurate reading, I make sure to tell him. It’s just reminder that hey, you might claim that you’re helping me with my vertical leap when you’re holding something just a little too high over my head to reach, but I’m cool about it. Cool as a low-blood-pressure cucumber.

At any rate, I clocked in at 90/70, which might be one of my best readings ever. Usually my systolic pressure is around 100. Today that’s got me thinking about unusually low blood pressure, but the nurse told me I was fine.


no1officialExtra reading time. I know the doctor makes every attempt to stay on schedule, but Monday mornings have to be pretty crazy since there are likely patients who need to sneak in due to something that happened to them over the weekend. If I have a book with me (and I do have a stack of them at home), I’m cool. I’m currently reading an interesting book on the psychology of officiating. Even though the copyright date on it is 1990, the information is still useful because the basic concepts don’t change. Officials have always needed good communication, focus and confidence, so while yes, we learn new things about the brain all of the time, the older information is still helpful (not to mention the fact that aren’t all that many books specifically dedicated to sports officiating psychology, so to not have to extrapolate information and apply it to my personal needs is nice).

The other great thing about an older copyright date is that you tend to get illustrations like this one. Hey, photos can be expensive, and you need to spice up a non-fiction book somehow. I look at this and think, “I do feel good about staying in shape!” Granted, you probably wouldn’t see me running down the street wearing a “#1 Official” tank top, but this official and I are pretty simpatico.

And thus ends the first hour or so of my day out–there’s more excitement to come, as I wonder while I wander through Target, have an amazing sandwich and have a high school moment! Tune in tomorrow for more!

Report on National Readathon (and/or Cleanathon) Day

29 Jan

I apologize for the Blizzard of 2015 getting in the way of letting you know whether or not Future Jill’s predictions on National Readathon Day were accurate. You can get off your pins and needles today, though, because here’s the full story:

National Readathon Day was supposed to take place on Saturday. Noon to 4, me and the couch and some reading material. A tortilla chip thwarted those plans.

Saturday morning, I was in the kitchen, and I noticed a tortilla chip on the floor, so I bent over to pick it up and noticed some other floor junk by a corner of the stove. I’d been cooking and baking a fair amount recently, so maybe some other piece of food had fallen and needed to be picked up.

Or maybe it was a dead mouse.

A dead mouse in the kitchen causes a chain of events:

I say, “There’s a mouse!”

The Boy, who’s sitting at the kitchen table, quickly lifts up his feet and cries, “Where?!”

“It’s dead. It’s here by the stove.”

The Boy comes over to the stove to assess the situation, pronounces that the mouse is indeed dead (because it’s certainly not still sleeping on its side during all this commotion, unless it is one mellow mouse) and proceeds to dispose of it. This involves sweeping it into a dustpan, which [GORE ALERT] leaves a tiny trail of mouse guts and blood on our kitchen floor, and throwing it away.

When he comes back into the house, the proclamation is made: We have to clean up this kitchen.


And suddenly National Readathon Day becomes National Cleanathon Day.

We scrubbed everything–cabinets, windows, oven, garbage cans, refrigerator, and our personal nemesis, the floor. Now, we have a very nice white tile floor that’s got a little off-white pattern on it that hides the dirt a little bit. We discovered that this pattern does an amazingly good job because it was hiding a lot of dirt. A lot. Of dirt. We’d been cleaning with Mop & Glo, which apparently puts glow on the floor but doesn’t do a heck of a lot of mopping, because we both spent a couple of hours on our hands and knees scrubbing the floor with sponges and Mr. Clean, marveling at how dirty the water had gotten in our scrub bucket.

One we were done, the floor–and kitchen–looked fantastic, but man, did my shoulder hurt. Plus, I was too zonked to put in another four hours of conscious living, let alone reading. The readathon would be postponed.

On Sunday, it happened. Me, couch, book, a four-hour block of afternoon. I finished reading Can I Get an Amen? by Sarah Healy, which was an entertaining read–not earth shattering, but as someone who went to Christian schools, I could relate to the environment of a church-centered life and all of the characters that went with it.

When I finished the story, I still had about an hour to go in the readathon, so I thought I’d peruse the readers’ guide that went along with the book, then find something else to read. But the first question turned out to be a slap-in-the-face for me, and I stopped the readathon cold.

I don’t know why, but I still have a lot of hang-ups as a writer, and I know that constant practice, constant putting pieces together and constantly submitting those pieces for publication is really the only way to get to where I’d like to be. Why I won’t let myself do that is something I don’t quite understand, but this year I’ve decided I’m through wallowing. It’s not cute anymore, and it’s been going on so long that people shouldn’t still be sympathetic to my imagined plight. It’s time to make something happen, particularly in terms of finishing up creative writing, submitting it and resubmitting the rejected pieces (I’ve gotten some rejections lately, which is a step, but I need to keep searching for a home for those stories). It doesn’t have to be great or earth-shattering; it just has to be done.

So when I read the first question, which is about how the author got into writing, and the response is, “I never expected to be a writer. That I have managed to become one comes as the most pleasant shock,” followed by a lengthy description of someone who figured out what they wanted to do and then slowly and realistically made it happen, I got pretty disappointed in myself, and I wanted to do something about it, rather than continue consuming other people’s work. Not that reading isn’t important or that I shouldn’t make a more conscious effort to sit down for a longer period of time to enjoy doing it, but that I also need to get to work.

Future Jill got it partly right. I finished the book I’d intended to. I’m curious as to what Future Jill has to say about the result of that experience. I might ask her at some point, but I think already know what she’s going to say.

Future Jill Reports on National Readathon Day

21 Jan

Future Jill sends a report:


Your participation in the first National Readathon Day was both successful and highly enjoyable. You managed to finish Sarah Healy’s Can I Get an Amen? which you’ve been reading a couple of pages at a time. You also made good progress on a second book, but I won’t tell you what it is because I believe that falls under the Spoiler Alert clause in my contract. Let’s just say you were surprised with how much you’re enjoying this book. You also caught up on reading the newspaper.

You dutifully logged your status on Goodreads and managed to avoid looking at too many other people’s bookshelves, as to avoid getting frustrated with yourself by not reading more. And you hashtagged everything you said with #timetoread, even if it was #timetoeatdinner or #timeforacocktail. And you had the 5,111th conversation with The Boy about needing to make more time for reading. Next time, spare yourselves the conversation and just read. You don’t need to make it a four-hour stretch every session, but definitely use this as a catalyst to read a little bit everyday. And maybe consider implementing a quarterly Reading Week, like you had in high school, where all you did during your daily 50-minute English class was read. Perhaps you could even go back and finish The Grapes of Wrath, which you mostly read and loved, but never did turn its final page back then.

Unless that’s your second book of Saturday afternoon. I’m not telling though. You’ll have to read to find out.

2014 Reading Challenge Recap

2 Jan

Throughout 2014 I wanted to tackle my problem of buying books and not reading them. After reading a few people’s geographical reading challenges, I also thought it would be interesting to see where the authors of the books I read came from. So, while I was tracking like a geographical challenge, I wasn’t trying to make sure I covered all 50 states–I just wanted to see how diverse my collection is.

The gist? Well, let’s just say that my other plan of trimming my collection didn’t work very well. I don’t exactly know how many books I acquired this year–a day-after-Christmas family book shopping trip didn’t help, but you know what? That’s OK. While I could use more bookshelf space, I do love owning books. They help create a home.

On the flipside, I’m pleased with the number of books I read–especially given the fact that I went for long periods without reading or had books that took some time to get through–and with the ground I covered. I read a total of 27 books, covering 10 states and seven non-US countries. New York played prominently in my reading this year: Six of my books were authored by people born in that state.

I was kind of surprised to learn where people were born–authors I thought would come from Illinois or New York came from Missouri and Pennsylvania. I was pleased to read a few books from other countries, Iran being a big surprise.

What happens next? Well, I still have a lot of books to read. A lot of books. Including finishing the 9/11 Commission Report (@Wendy: It’s still interesting, but it’s got a lot of notes and for me it’s pretty involved reading, much more than just reading to unwind at the end of the day). I’m still going to track them geographically on a Google Doc because I do like trying to get the larger perspective that authors from not-where-I-live-or-am-from give me. I’ll also try to keep my Goodreads shelf up-to-date, and of course I’ll post here about books and reading from time to time.

I’m excited to see what 2015 has in store–will I finish more books? What areas of the country and world will they cover? Am I limiting myself by who I read, or am I continuing to explore what the world of literature has to offer?

Super Sad True Blog Story

19 Oct

Sometimes, the longer you procrastinate, the easier it is to keep procrastinating. You’re reading this, I don’t need to explain it to you. That’s how it’s been for updating this blog. And in a way, for keeping up on my reading project as well.

July started off so well. I plowed through Douglas Coupland’s Worst. Person. Ever. and had so much fun reading it. Maybe it helps that I love reality TV and its plot has a reality TV background, but the main character is really a horrible person that you can’t help but like. At least for a while.

Right after that I read Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, which was recommended to me by a friend who enjoys young adult literature. I found a cheap copy at a library sale in Portland, Oregon, and had it on the shelf for a few years. Truth be told, I found it to be OK. Sure, I’m way outside the target age range for this book, but I really wondered if I’d like it if I was 12. I wasn’t captivated enough–nor was my inner 12-year-old captivated enough to pursue reading the rest of this series.

And then, in the height of summer, I fell into a drought. I really don’t know what happened. July and August are prime summer reading–I try not to read summer reading previews because they inevitably inform me about a dozen books I really want to read, and I can’t justify reading them when I have shelves full of unread books.

So instead, I pulled an unread book off the shelf. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, which surprisingly took me a long time to read. It’s set in the future, and America is falling apart–everyone’s attached to their screens, yet the country is not the superpower it once was. The love story bit is about a middle-aged Russian immigrant and a young woman that he somehow woes into a relationship, which eventually falls apart. While I enjoyed the writing style and the commentary on our society being too engrossed in being connected and produced lackluster commentary at all times, I didn’t buy into the love story. How come a schlubby middle-aged guy who really doesn’t have much going for him, gets the hot young girl?

Even though I enjoyed the writing style and the societal commentary, that factor really made it hard for me to get through the story in a timely manner. By the time I got done with it, we were hitting September, and I thought it was high time I read the 9/11 Commission Report, another book that’s been on my to read list for years. The beginning is riveting–the description of the events of the day, it’s all fascinating. And I say that having lived through it.

However, partway through reading it, I needed to travel to some roller derby tournaments, and let’s face it, the 9/11 report is probably not exactly the best book to bring on a plane. Especially an American Airlines flight that leaves from Boston Logan airport.

Traveling always brings the temptation of an airport bookstore, and I traveled through a couple of airports that sold used books. I couldn’t stop myself from picking up a cheap copy of Lauren Weisberger’s Revenge Wears Prada, the not-so-great follow up to The Devil Wears Prada. It was disappointing, so now I’m looking for the next good book. Somewhere on my shelves, I hope I find it. At least by the end of this month.


June Reading Update

7 Jul

Books read: 1

Books bought: 5 (OK, one was an atlas, but still)

Countries covered: Australia

Blame Canada. I hadn’t planned to buy any books this month–after all, we were moving to a smaller place at the end of the month, and I really didn’t need to add anything else to the pile. But the Boy and I drove from Boston to Saugatuck, Michigan, for a wedding, and we opted to go through Canada. On the way back, we thought about taking an alternate route to get into the U.S., one that we couldn’t figure out because our Rand McNally atlas didn’t include Canadian provinces. No problem, we thought, we’ll just stop at this Indigo chain bookstore and pick one up……along with a few other items. Oh, Douglas Coupland has released a few books since the last time I checked? Better get those! And I’m going to Moose Jaw in August, so let me get that travel humor book about it too.

Of course, my trip’s now been cancelled, but I still have a book of travel essays about the Moose Jaw area. I swear I’ll read it soon.

What I did read this month–and for as short a novel as it was, it took me a painfully long time to get through–was Good On Paper by the Australian Morgan Andrew, which I purchased last year during a trip to Australia.

[Allow me a moment while I pat myself on the back for reading a book within 1.5 years of purchase date.]

I knew nothing about the book– I just wanted something written by an Australian, preferably set in a part of the country I’d been to. It had won some sort of award, was lauded, and it was short. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t really get into it. It was about a freelance editor who’s assigned to work with a writer who’s been in obscurity since his first novel went bust. The book that was released wasn’t apparently the version the author wanted to write, so this time they’re going to try to get it right. There’s some sort of caper and mystery as to how the editor gets the author to finish the job, but it wasn’t very mysterious to me.

Needless to say, I left it on the airplane when I’d finished reading it. Then I opened Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland and was immediately sucked in (look for more in next month’s update). Therein lies the mystery for me: What makes a book enjoyable? And if I don’t enjoy it, how long should I stick with it? I get that we all have different tastes and we’re not going to like the same thing. I’m OK with that–I don’t have to like a book just because it was an award winner. There are going to be people who don’t like my writing. That’s what makes life interesting and reading fun–a book is always a discovery, whether it be a story or writing you love or it be a story or writing style that doesn’t resonate with you.

Since I have so many more books that I want to read than I have time available, I think I’m just going to give a book 25-30 pages to prove itself. I was at ~50 pages, but when that’s almost one-third of the way through a book, that’s a lot of time to give. Another good indicator for me is not wanting to read it–I had a book sitting on my bedside table for a couple of months, and I was only about 30 pages or so into it. If I’m not interested enough to read it day after day, then I should just cut my losses and move on. Donate it, and perhaps it will find a good home.

July is looking more promising though–one week in, and I’ve already read two books. I have to keep up that pace, since we have infinitely less storage now. More on that front in another post though.



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