Reading in 2016

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I read some really great books in 2016!! My favorites included Phenomenal, Season of the Witch, The Beautiful Unseen, Big Magic, Cards for Brianna, American Zoo, Always Too Much & Never Enough, and Hope In The Dark.

See them all on Goodreads.

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The Art of Asking and Other Inspiring Recent Reads

art of asking

I read a lot. And I like most of the books that I read. But rarely am I so moved and touched by a book that I have to tell everyone about it over and over. I recently read The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer and I find that I keep mentioning it to people.

Dresden Dolls

I didn’t realize when I picked up the book that the author was one half of The Dresden Dolls, a cult band I loved fifteenish years ago although I was never the devoted fan that Palmer describes in her book. I discovered their music through file-sharing back in the early days of high speed Internet, before I fully understood the legal dos and donts of music downloads. I wanted to see them perform live once, at Bimbo’s when I first moved to San Francisco, but it didn’t happen. Then they split up and I started listening more to folk and pop ballads and things shifted. But it’s interesting to read Palmer’s descriptions of her devoted fans, to realize that I was one step away from a life that included participation in that world, that a breath taken differently here or there could have meant I was being described in her writing.

Crowdsourced Funding

Palmer’s book is about the mutual relationship between an artist and her fans, whether she’s an established musician and best-selling author or just a statue performing on the street (which Palmer did in New York for five years and describes in such loving detail that I am forever changed in the way I watch our San Francisco statues now). Her book is the outgrowth of a TED talk of the same name and it drew attention in large part because it illuminates crowdsourced funding, such a hot topic today.

It captured my interest because of my own recent ups and downs with the choice to fund a project that wasn’t yet finished. I discovered that the pressure of having people already backing the project immobilized me, making it difficult to keep on working through the writing, creating a writer’s block that feels permanent although I know it’s not. I finally chose to offer refunds to my backers to relieve some of the self-imposed pressure of the project. Palmer’s success with crowd funding is lovely to read about, in part because as a reader I get to witness her own ongoing insecurities with the constantly-evolving relationship she has with her fans. She also shares several stories of projects that did and didn’t get funded and did and didn’t get completed and I resonated a lot with the truth in all of these stories.

Help in Abundance

Palmer talks really about how we can identify what we need, ask for help from the “crowd” and get those needs met but only if we are participating in a sort of community where we also give back when others need it as well. She talks about how, working as a statue, she would exchange a flower for a donation and how the donations came from people rich and poor, other street performers and homeless people, children and the elderly and whoever and how the exchange is equally valuable regardless of the monetary value or the participants. And how this is all relevant to other exchanges … how sharing and hearing stories, for example, is part of the community need.

I have noticed since reading the book how often people do actually ask for and receive help within the community around me. Someone gets on the bus and doesn’t have change and people everywhere look up from the immersion in their phones and offer their coins. Friends express that they are going through a tough time and the community comes together to create a safety net to buoy that person up until they can stand on their own again. We spend a lot of time in this life expressing our lack (lack of sleep, lack of time, lack of whatever) but in opening my eyes to what’s around me I’ve noticed there’s really abundance all around me.

Social Media

I’m an active user of social media but I’m not sure I ever fully understood the human connection value of it until I read Palmer’s book. She writes about “the fundamental things that create emotional connections: the making of art, the feeling-with-other-people at a human level”:

“That’s what I do all day on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and my blog. The platform is irrelevant. I’ll go wherever the people are. What’s important is that I absorb, listen, talk, connect, help, and share. Constantly.”

“The net tightens every time I pick up my phone and check in on Twitter, every tie I share my own story, every time I ask a fan how their project is coming or promote somebody’s book or tour.”

I’ve always had an appreciation for the way that people reach out to me via social media and email but reading Palmer’s book made me really stop and want to acknowledge each of those interactions. It made me want to share more, more genuinely, more authentically, in a new way, in a richer way. I thank her for that.

Partnerships and Love

Throughout this book, Palmer shares her struggles with learning to let her husband (author Neil Gaiman) support her financially in her work. She finds that she can easily let strangers help her but it feels different taking money from her love partner. It’s a struggle I think many female artists (and those who don’t call themselves artists, I suppose, and maybe not just females for that matter) deal with in their relationships. Money and love and art … this is life and yet we try to hard to keep them un-entangled to keep them clearer in our heads, which is all just an illusion but one that makes us feel more in control.

Blending Lessons

I can’t seem to put together cohesive thoughts about how much this book impacted me as I read it and as it keeps rippling through my mind. It’s all still forming I think. Palmer writes about how we all take things in, sift through them, put them out in a different way and this is our art. I want to quote her on this but can’t find the part in the book where she wrote it and maybe that’s okay. The idea is that we accumulate all kinds of different material and then we shuffle it and re-form it and give it back to the world in a new way. With some art, the inspirations are clear. I tend to write like this – to draw a lot of clear connections and then share my own insights from them. For others, its changed and distorted a lot from the original input. I remember now that Palmer writes about blender settings. Some people really turn the blender up to level 10 and mash their inspirations into something so new that you could never tell that the smoothie they offer you was once a strawberry and a banana and some ice and some milk. I remember my parents’ old blender and how my favorite button was always “pulse”, hitting it again and again to slowly stir up a little bit of something different while watching the outcome as it shifted.

And Other Recent Reads

I’m returning The Art of Asking to the library today. It’s still settling into my head although the poignancy of it will probably get buried beneath the stacks of other writings I consume so regularly. Already there are other inspiring reads that are recent but fading. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness had me momentarily terrified of epilepsy and intrigued by all we do and don’t know about the workings of our neurons. Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty fascinated me as it taught me to understand the language and history of computer programming and how it relates to Indian fiction writing. The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way has me thinking about my own elite high school education and what we do right and wrong here in American learning. And I wonder how these things will and won’t stick with me, work their way into my own philosophy of the world, emerge in my own writing.

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5 Awesome Reasons You Might Want to Read Wind Catcher

wind catcher novel

This fantasy adventure series is steeped in American Indian culture and so much more.

Winner: Mom’s Choice Award — Silver Metal
Winner: Awesome Indies — Seal of Approval
Recipient: Readers’ Favorite — 5 Star Review

Today is the release date for a new YA novel called Wind Catcher that I had the chance to read in advance and want to recommend. Here are the five key reasons you might want to read this book:

1. Father / Daughter Author Team

The book is co-authored by Jeff and Erynn Altabef, a father/ daughter writing team. That’s just cool. It’s rare, it’s unique, it’s special and it leads an original perspective to the novel. Both authors’ voices are incorporated into the story without weakening the plot line in any way.

2. Native American Fantasy

This book is considered a Native American YA Fantasy. It incorporates history and culture from Native American belief systems with fantasy writing and contemporary young adult issues. I’ve never read anything quite like it before, although in a tangential way it reminds me of one of my favorite books, Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy. I think it’s because of the way that spiritual/ psychological issues are tackled through a lens of mystery and fantasy. What’s spirit? What’s fantasy? What’s “crazy”?

wind catcher novel

3. It’s About Choosing

The main character faces a series of choices about where to go with her life, choices that reflect the decisions that teens face when teetering between childhood and adulthood. That’s something that I find super relatable. After all, we all made choices as teens and young adults that shaped a lot of what followed.

WC Release

4. It’s a Good, Fast Read

True to YA format, it’s a book that you can read quickly. I love to immerse myself in a story for a few hours and read it from beginning to end (although admittedly I read quickly). I love to finish a book while traveling on a plane or when I can’t sleep one night. But I don’t want to compromise quality for quickness.

5. It’s a Series

This is the first book in a series called Chosen. That means that if you like this book, you can look forward to the ones that follow. The second book is due out in November 2015.

And Now for the Prizes!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Preposterous Pets, Zooburbia and Animal Madness

belize monkey

I just finished watching a couple episodes of Preposterous Pets, an Animal Planet show about people who have exotic animals as pets. It reminds me of another show I used to watch, Fatal Attractions, which had the same premise but was specifically about people who had been killed by those pets. No matter how amazingly cute the elephant or polar bear or tiger is, it is still a wild animal at heart and one that is large and can harm the human that feels compelled to care for it. Right?

belize zoo

I’m trying to gather thoughts around a bigger topic in my head, here, and the thoughts are still kind of murky and incohesive. When I was in Belize, I kept trying to wrap my mind around the idea that what we were seeing there were animals in the wild. On one of our boat rides, the guides fed a ham and cheese sandwich to a spider monkey sitting in a tree on the bank. When we went snorkeling, we were told not to reach out and touch the animals we were swimming next to but with hundreds of people in the water it was inevitable that someone either wouldn’t listen or would inevitably brush against one of the creatures, potentially harming them with sunscreen and bug spray and human oils. I would say that the animals were in their natural habitat but I’m not sure I could really say that they were “in the wild”.

belize zoo

I’ve just started reading a book called Zooburbia that touches on this topic. It looks at the intersection between wild animals and those that have been domesticated, the animals that live somewhat on their own terms but in a world that’s increasingly overtaken by humans. It’s written by someone who lives here in Oakland, California but the descriptions of what she sees remind me more of what it was like growing up in Tucson, Arizona where coyotes and roadrunners and quail regularly crossed the street in front of us, javalina pigs foraged in our trash cans for food and scorpions and tarantula occasionally crawled down the walls inside our home. They’re all wild and certainly weren’t animals we took in as pets but they were living in our space, making do with the world that we had created that overtook their own.

belize zoo

This all makes me think about the book I mentioned previously, Animal Madness, and the idea that animals of all kinds can suffer from mental illness. And it makes me think about zoos and how I’ve never really been able to figure out how I feel about them. I know that as a human visitor I really enjoy zoos and like the magic of seeing the animals. I’ve never really determined what I think about the morality of having zoos. I guess I think that in an ideal world there would be enough space for the animals to live on their natural land and not be in zoos but I also accept that this isn’t the case in our world and think that perhaps the best we can aim for is to have zoos and sanctuaries and homes for these animals that are kind and compassionate and intellectually stimulating and consider the mental health of the creatures.

belize zoo

In those episodes of Preposterous Pets there was a man who swims with his buffalo, a woman who bathes and diapers her five macaque monkeys, a polar bear living in a backyard … and none of this seems right somehow. The bear that gets taken to a bar where it drinks beer and the monkeys that get sugary candies at the supermarket certainly don’t seem right. And yet, the animals are loved and cared for … so is this better or worse than a zoo? Better or worse than leaving the animals in their natural habitat but then slowly encroaching on that habitat with our own homes. I don’t have an answer. I don’t even have a clear decision about what I think about this. I just know that it’s been on my mind a lot lately, in this sort of vague at-the-edges kind of way, and I intend to keep immersing myself in more related reading and show-watching in order to see where this train of thought might take me.

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Reading: Remembering the Music …

dementia memoir

One of the books I’ve read most recently is Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words: Travels with Mom in the Land of Dementia by Kate Whouley. The book is a memoir of her experience with her aging mother as her mom declines into Alzheimer’s. Although that sounds sad, she manages to put a positive spin on the experience, and one that I found enlightening to read.

About the Book

Whouley isn’t shy about explaining that she had a difficult childhood and a tough time relating to her mother. However, she doesn’t dwell on this aspect and instead just introduces it as background information for a theme that the really resonates throughout the book – the theme that the past and future don’t really matter for the Alzheimer’s patient who is really in touch with the present moment.

Whouley shares how she learns to adapt to her mother’s repetitive questions and cycling thoughts by treating each time that she says something as important right in that moment and that moment only. Of course, people with age-related memory loss do remember some of the past, sometimes getting mired in it, but I still love that Whouley makes this great point that the loved ones can benefit from letting go of their attachment to the story of their relationship with the person and just trying to thrive in the present moment with him or her.

At the same time, Whouley doesn’t sugarcoat the difficulty of this experience. She discusses the challenges – financial, emotional – matter-of-factly but not without emotion. She gives a very balanced, honest, personal perspective about what it’s like to live as the decision-maker for an aging parent.

Whouley is a musician (hence the title of the book) and she weaves stories about her musical life into the story of her mother’s aging. It’s an interesting approach to personalizing a story that in this era is so universal.

Favorite Lines

A few favorite parts:

Continue reading

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Borderlines (Favorite Quotes)

I recently read Borderlines: A Memoir by Caroline Kraus. This moving book tells the true story of the author’s experience of losing her mother in her early teens and how that grief made her ripe and raw for enmeshment in a mostly platonic relationship with a woman with borderline personality disorder. It’s intense and interesting and sometimes funny.

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I always bookmark my favorite lines that stand out in every book I read. There were a couple from this one:

“Looking back, I see San Francisco as a curious siren. Almost everyone I was about to meet had migrated west for their own vague reasons, following some strange instinct that promised hope. It was a place that seemed ripe with possibility.”

“There is a particular kind of depression of the spirit sometimes associated with the deep introspective stage of transition and change. When this occurs, the Bear is a reminder that there is a prallel between depression and the natural state known as hibernation, when involcvement with the outer world is minimized in order to focus more energy on the inner processes necessary for a successful transition.”

“Memoir is, fundamentally, a literary investigation – a mystery that is cracked by re-creating dialogue and translating settings and action into words. But these are the vehicles to truth and not in themselves the end. There are the facts of this story, and then there is what I make of them. The curved lens of memory adds its angles to the process, shaping every setting, stretch of dialogue, and scene. But the aim of memoir – to transcend personal experience – is a corrective voice to that lens. In the end, the most distilled, captured “truth” is what the author has gleaned, with earnest motivations.”

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USC Bookfest

When we were down in LA for my birthday weekend (to camp on Channel Islands) it was the time for the annual USC Bookfest, one of the largest literary festivals anywhere. We decided to spend a day there, where we listened to an interview and some poetry, visited lots of booths, bought some books on sale, added our hand to some art and ate out of the food trucks.

usc bookfest

Making a Book

We went to a booth where we made our own little book. First we wrote a paragraph based on a prompt. Then several copies were made and added to a pile on a table. Then we were able to pick four other people’s on the table to create our story, which we pinned into a book. I had my boyfriend and sister help me with all the parts. It was fun :)

usc bookfest bookfest making a book Continue reading

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What Was Your First Love?

When my mom and I were at the Disney Museum I saw this quote I loved:

disney quote

And I thought of it again when we came across this outdoor art display of “first loves” because my eye immediately landed on the Nancy Drew answer (which was one of my favorite childhood reads):

nancy drewBut of course there were plenty of other answers in this art project as well:

outdoor art display of "first loves" outdoor art display of "first loves" outdoor art display of "first loves" outdoor art display of "first loves"

What was your first love?

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Books Unread

Every time that I go to the library I come home with dozens of books. I read most of them but there are always a couple that I don’t get to. This time around the two I didn’t read were Love with a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche and OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu.

books unread

The latter I probably won’t end up reading. Although it looked cute, it’s a teen novel and I don’t typically read YA fiction. (Although there have been some exceptions.)

love with a chance of drowning

DeRoche’s book is one I might return to, though. It’s a memoir about the Australian author’s experience spending a year in San Francisco, meeting the man of her dreams and going sailing around the world with him despite a fear of deep water. It didn’t grab me at first, but sometimes that’s just a timing issue. I like travel memoirs, I like reading books related to life in San Francisco and I like true love stories. There was nothing wrong with the writing so the book is on my radar as one I might want to read, just not right now for some reason. It seems like a good vacation / airplane trip read.

Have you read either of these books?

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