What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: October 2021

Happy belated Halloween! Did you read any spooky books in October? I tried a bunch of ghost stories but got bored and didn’t finish them. I need to stop trying Susan Hill. I just can’t get into her. Instead, I ended up re-listening to the Dragon Tattoo series and that’s where I got my fill of darkness.

But I’m still looking for spooky book recommendations, so bring ’em on if you have ’em! I can read spooky all year.

In other news, October was a busy month here. Working, of course, plus it was Jacob’s 20th birthday and Desiree’s 21st! We had so much fun celebrating them with cake, presents, and a few libations.

We also hosted quite a few football weekend guests. People are excited to get back to ND now that restrictions have lifted a bit. And I’m still busy making lots of collage.

That’s the life update…

On to the books!

What Shannon Read in October 2021

Some Notes:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I’d forgotten how good this is! The mood, the quirky main characters, the odd and wonderful relationships–I love it all. Also, since I listened to it, Simon Vance’s voices is burned into my brain from the first time I listened. And this time around I had flashbacks to listening while driving to a job I had five years ago!

Side note: Given all the crazy action in this book, is it strange that my favorite scene is when Lisbeth goes shopping and drops 90,000 kronor at IKEA?

Yes, Lisbeth. The answer is always yes.

The Girl Who Played with Fire

This one was slightly less interesting, and certainly not as well-paced and tight as the first book, but after finishing Book 1, I needed more Lisbeth Salander in my life. Still good, but nothing is wrapped up and one must slog one’s way through Book 3 to get to a satisfactory ending. And I do mean slog. The audiobook is in the neighborhood of 20 hours in length.

Where the Crawdads Sing

This is a book I avoided because it was popular. You know by now that this is a habit of mine. But a friend recommended it and I finally gave in and read it. I read the hard copy about halfway through, then finished up via audiobook. Both were excellent and, per usual, I need to get off my high horse and stop nixing books from my TBR just because other people like them. I mean, what a book snob.

Quartet in Autumn

I love Barbara Pym. I read this one because it was recommended on this list by Five Books: “The Best Five Books on Friendship.” It’s about a group of four coworkers who are all single for one reason or another. They are office drones in 1970s London, the flavor of which comes across wonderfully in the book. That’s one of the things I loved about it–it’s much moodier than Pym’s other books.

All four main characters are nearing the end of their working lives. They’re all single and super quirky in their own ways and I enjoyed watching them interact. But the book also saddened me as questions of worth and mortality are revealed through those quirks. It’s a beautiful and sad novel.

Hand to Mouth

I read Hand to Mouth after watching Maid on Netflix. I really enjoyed Maid, but I’ve already read the book, so I had to find something else when I wanted to read a book in a similar vein.

Tirado works in various service industry jobs (generally–she does mention retail and factory work), and this book came of an essay of hers that went viral. The essay, based on an internet forum comment, essentially explained reasons “poor people” act and think the way they do. She starts with explaining why poor people indulge in various costly vices (smoking, drinking, etc.) when they have trouble paying for the basics in life. She refutes the idea that poor folks aren’t worthy of little luxuries despite their poorness. And she goes on from there, covering things like payday loans and going to the ER in place of health insurance.

For anyone who’s ever been broke, none of this will be illuminating. But for anyone who hasn’t, I recommend reading it with an open mind.

Virginia Woolf

My fascination with the Bloomsbury set continues! (There’s a little account of my Bloomsbury obsession in this post.) This biography of Woolf is by Nigel Nicolson, son of Woolf’s friend and lover (famous in her own right) Vita Sackville-West. It’s not comprehensive, but Nicolson tells lots of fun stories about Woolf and her life among the Bloomsbury crowd.


That’s it from me. What did you read in October?

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What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: September 2021

And just like that, it’s October, one of my favorite months of the year. It’s time for spooky and cozy things, but it’s still warm enough to conduct outdoor activities in comfort. For me that means drinking more hot coffee and tea, decorating for Halloween, and giving the garden a good clean-up.

To whit, here are some autumn-y garden shots, plus goofing around with the fam, and walking a happy dog through the park. Also, Elvis the polar bear has his Halloween costume ready to go. And we celebrated Ben’s 41st bday, but slacker wife that I am, I can’t find any photos of that…

That’s the life update you didn’t come here for. Now, here are the books you did come for!

What Shannon read in September:

Some notes:

Affluence Without Abundace and Catching Fire

These two formed a theme. Both focus on hunter gatherer societies. Affluence Without Abundace offers a look at an existing hunter gatherer society in the Kalahari. It reflects on the Bushmen’s natural tendency to work only as much as is needed for food and comfort (as do/did most hunter gatherer societies). And author James Suzman introduces us to members of the group, illustrating the many new challenges such a society faces as their home territory is eaten up by the larger society, allowing them little room for their traditional way of life.

Catching Fire offers a look into the development of fire, its use in cooking, and the place of cooking in human history. Richard Wrangham posits that cooking directly affected and encouraged sapiens’ development as a species. Fascinating!

The Wife Stalker and The Therapist

Funny to have read Affluence Without Abundace: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen along with a thriller bearing the hilarious title of The Wife Stalker. 🙂 Hey, everyone has their brain candy. That’s exactly what The Wife Stalker and The Therapist were. I do love relaxing with a good, cheesy thriller.

Pretty Things

This is what I like to call a “smart thriller.” In my opinion, books like Pretty Things fall into a category apart from those like The Wife Stalker. These novels are signified by smart writing, good character development, and a thorough sense of place. The mystery moves the story along deftly while the reader is engrossed with the characters.

In Pretty Things, a woman whose mother is in need of expensive cancer treatment becomes a con artist. She needs to carry out one last big job to pay for an experimental treatment. (Ain’t that always the way it goes?) The target is a social media influencer overwhelmed by family secrets. It takes place in a historic mansion in Lake Tahoe.

All the elements of a smart thriler! And I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

The Exiles

A quick historical fiction read that centers on a nanny–one of my favorite protagonist types.

The Great Alone

I’m sure you beat me to this one. It’s been so popular that I ignored it like the book hipster I pretend I am. This is one of those novels that can be tritely described as “sweeping.” *eyeroll*

It’s the story of a family who moves to Alaska in the 70s, centering on thirteen-year-old daughter Leni. She comes of age in a small town surrounded by vast wilderness, growing up with a violent Vietnam vet father and a mother who is loving but cowed by and entirely devoted to her husband.

I’ll be honest, this started off slow and there were definite dips in the narrative with what felt like barely enough plot to keep me moving along with the story. But I am more tolerant of such issues in audiobooks and I did listen to this. So I was able to stick with it and I found it very much worth it in the end.

Valentine

This is a heartbreaking story. It begins with the rape of a young second-generation Mexican-American teenager in the oil town of Odessa, Texas in the 1960s.

What struck me about the book was author Elizabeth Wetmore’s ability to incorporate a healthy number of characters, and to write from the perspective of each, without losing the story line. Somehow, we read from the perspective of more than five characters and can transfer between them with ease.

Anyway, it’s an excellent book.


That’s it for September. Tell me what you’re reading! And let me know if you have any good spooky book recommendations for October!

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Audiobooks, Fiction, Nonfiction, What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: August 2021

I guess I only blog once a month now, but since I don’t have a lot of readers, I feel like that’s OK. This space is mostly for me to get out my thoughts about books. If you enjoy reading them, thank you! Let’s be friends and talk about books. 🙂

Life updates:

I went back to the office. It was a rough transition, but we have a brand new building on campus, so that’s fun. Here’s my new cubicle. It needs some artwork.

I’m still collaging and sharing what I make on Instagram.

Still gardening too. Here’s a local volunteer garden I have been helping with. I’m a little over halfway toward getting my Master Gardener certificate.

And that’s about it. What’s up with you? Tell me in the comments.


Now, in case you just came for the books, here is…

What Shannon Read in August

Some Notes ‘n’ Things

The Great Gatsby:

Still great! I hadn’t read this in so long. It’s a summery book in my mind, so I went for in the 90-degree melee that was August, and I read it in about two days. I know we’re not supposed to call classics “readable” but I must say, this one is, OK? I’d forgotten how easy it is to get wrapped up in the story. Does good writing sometimes make you forget about the writing entirely because you’re so involved in the story? Let’s discuss.

Also, why is everyone but Nick a terrible person?

The Chaperone:

Also a re-read for me. This is about a woman who chaperones the famous Louise Brooks on her first trip to New York to become a dancer. I love the characters, the simultaneous story lines, and the glimpse into 1920s Kansas and NYC. Recommend.

The Wonder:

Good historical fiction, but will not be a favorite for me. This one is about a Florence Nightengale-trained nurse who in 1859 travels from England to care for a young Irish girl, “the wonder.” The girl has been fasting for months, taking in nothing but water. This is ostensibly for religious reasons, but the reader, along with the nurse, gets to the bottom of the mystery as the nurse observes the girl and her family day in and day out. Watch out for the English bigotry against the Irish.

The Underground Railroad:

Why did it take me so long to read this? You probably beat me to it and already know that this is a heart-breaking and wonderfully written novel about living in and escaping from slavery. 10/10

Cork Dork:

My sister-in-law Susannah, founder of Wines and Bends, is a wine afficianado. When she and her family moved here during quarantine, we became a tightly-knit crew, mostly hanging out with each other. We had wine at pretty much every gathering and I learned a ton from Susannah just by asking about the different wines. That led me to Cork Dork, the memoir of a journalist turned sommelier in NYC.

This book tells the story of wine and serving wine in restaurants, while offering education on the sciences of taste and smell–oh, and there are about 100 types of wine mentioned, so I now recognize many more in every day situations than I ever did before. The process of becoming a somm is explored in detail. What a fascinating world. I’d recommend it even if you’re not that interested in wine. I wasn’t and now I am.

The Four Winds:

This is an epic tale of one woman struggling to keep her children safe in Dust Bowl Texas and small town California of the 1930s. I listened to the audiobook and fell in love with narrator Julia Whelan. I will now listen to pretty much anything she reads.

The book itself totally grabbed me. Though melodramatic at times, I found the writing generally excellent and the characters engrossing. Many driveway moments were had.


That’s it from me! What are you reading? I’m on a total historical fiction kick, so let me know if you have recommendations!

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Fiction, Nonfiction, What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: July 2021

It’s August. What happened? I blinked, went to New Orleans at the end of July, my sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and nephew moved, and now here we are.

We are going to miss those folks like crazy. We became a tight crew during the raging-est part of the pandemic.

I’m also going back to the office tomorrow for the first time in months and months. My anxiety knows no bounds and I have no idea what to wear. I just know I can’t show up in my Metallica tshirt the way I do for Zoom meetings.

But here we are.

Anywho, here’s what I read in July. Mostly audiobooks, with some library books sprinkled in. I’ve now got a yen for contemporary gothic novels, especially if they are about spinsters or mansions or nannies. So hit me up if you have suggestions!

What Shannon read in July

Some notes:

Flowers in the Attic:

When I was a teenager, I read every V.C. Andrews book I could get from the library. I thought it would be good fun to revisit Flowers in the Attic as an adult and see how it held up. I listened to the audiobook and it was weirdly engrossing. Seriously, I’ll probably reread it again sometime. That said, the melodrama was almost unbearable at times. Still good fun.

Like One of the Family:

This is a classic about a black domestic worker and her experiences throughout her working life, as well as during the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. If you don’t understand what domestic workers have been through in the U.S., and what many go through even now, I recommend reading this one. The way Childress handles the subtleties of racism may be illuminating. Or, as it did for me, the book may reinforce your understanding and remind you that we still have a lot to fight for in this country.

Okay Fine Whatever:

One of those fun memoirs about trying new things. Lots of good fish out of water moments for Hameister, but mostly I remember the sex-capades, to be honest. I can’t recall if the book focused a lot on those or if they just stood out to me. I feel more informed about polyamory though.

The Invited and The Companion:

Great spooky, gothic fun.

The Unsuitable:

I loved the protagonist, who is a Victorian spinster with a terrible father who is trying to marry her off. There’s a loving housekeeper, some will-they-won’t-they action with a fiancé, and, wait for it, a dead mother who lives in the woman’s neck. Yep, I thought it would be too weird for me too, but I loved this book. Again, good gothic fun. This was my favorite book of the month.


And that’s all she read! Thanks for visiting.

I leave you now with a great view of the Mighty Mississippi and a pic of us at the New Orleans Audubon aquarium–a rare moment when no alcohol was being consumed. Don’t worry, we fortified with daiquiris directly before.

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What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon read: June 2021

A bit late for What I Read in June, but it’s been a busy summer. And by busy, I mean I haven’t felt like blogging in a while. 😉

But I did want to report in on my June reads.

Past recaps here.

What I read in June

Notable Notes:

Abbi Waxman – Is there anything better than discovering a new-to-you author who has written a ton of books? I feel like I could now read all of Waxman’s. Her style is a little bit chick lit, a lotta’ bit LA. I loved The Bookish Life of Nina Hill for its set-in-her-ways protagonist, the ensuing love story, and the fun LA setting. There’s also a good bit of family drama for those that like such things.

Orfeia – I never read fairy tale reimaginings, but this book was so beautiful with its bronze leaf cover design that it called to me from the library shelf. And the story was fascinating. I don’t have a lot of patience for ethereal atmospheres, but I loved this book anyway.

Beyond Anne of Green Gables – I knew L.M. Montgomery had other series and stand-alone novels, but didn’t delve into them until I saw Jane of Lantern Hill on a list of #CottageCore books. I’m fascinated by that whole trend and it’s probably no surprise. I read Jane (not sure why that pic is so blurry…) and then The Blue Castle and loved them both.

Daddy Long Legs – A very dated epistolary novel. It was enchanting. Highly recommend.

The Creative Spark – Here’s a man who really wanted to hammer home a point and, while the evolutionary history was really interesting, I’m not sure he made it.

And that’s it. Not too terribly exciting, but July should be more fun because I just reread Flowers in the Attic. Oh the melodrama!

I leave you now with the gorgeous garden of a historic mansion in our city. If only mine looked half as put-together!

After that, I’d love to know what you’re reading…

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Nonfiction, That Reading Life, What Shannon Read

My favorite gardening books: Part 1 – NONFICTION

Here’s what I like in a gardening/plant book:

  1. Straightforward and thorough how-to: If you tell me how to plant a certain type of seed indoors, for example, you’d better also tell me when to pot it up and harden off.

    Don’t be skimpy on the details. I am new here.

  2. Beauty: Great photography, good graphics, illuminating illustrations, lovely plants to take in with my eyeballs, etc.

  3. Opinions: The personality of the writer-gardener is of utmost importance to me. If you are boring or are suppressing your personality in the interest of widening your book’s appeal, I’m out. The library shelves are stacked with boring gardening books. Even if I don’t like your personality, I would much prefer that you have one. It makes the writing so much more interesting.

    Have opinions! State them! Let me decide if I like you and your work or not.

  4. Inspiration: Show me the way. I want to know things but also be inspired to do things.

  5. Unique content: I’m thinking of books like The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.

  6. Plants in my zone: I know. You can’t show and write about plants in everyone’s growing zone all the time. But I’m not gonna’ lie–if I’m reading your plant book, I’m looking for plants I can grow in zone 5a.

(Weird to have a list with an even number, but here we are.)

With all that said…

My Favorite NONFICTION Books About Gardening and Plants

Bottom shelf: where I keep the goods

Anything by Alys Fowler

Alys Fowler doesn’t know it, but she is one of my mentors. I first got to know her through her book Hidden Nature: A Voyage of Discovery. This is her memoir of kayaking (pack-rafting, actually) the canals of Birmingham, England.

It’s a beautiful book about finding nature wherever you are, and it’s also the story of how she left her husband and realized she was gay.

Fowler is a former presenter on the British show Gardener’s World (with which I am obsessed), and she has a whole catalog of gardening books under her belt.

These are three I own. I reread them all the time and have two of the audiobooks through Audible because I like listening to them whenever I need a hit.

They meet all six of my criteria above.

The Thrifty Gardener

Garden Anywhere

The Edible Garden


From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden by Amy Stewart

Amy Stewart is a long-time gardening writer. She is one of the founders of Garden Rant, a favorite gardening site of mine. She’s also the author of The Drunken Botanist and the Kopp Sisters mystery series–Girl Waits with Gun is the first. You may recognize it.

Honestly, this is the only book of hers I’ve read so far. I loved it and plan to reread it this summer.


In Your Garden by Vita Sackville-West

Oh Vita. So much glamour. So much intrigue.

For those who don’t know, Vita Sackville-West famously had an affair with Virginia Woolf. She became a tangential member of the Bloomsbury set, which included Woolf and her husband, plus Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell and the crowd whose base was the famous Charleston farmhouse.

That was a lot, sorry, but I’m deep in the Bloomsbury life right now.

At any rate, apart from all this, Vita was also a writer and gardener. With her husband Harold Nicolson, she created a famous garden at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent in England.

This particular book, In Your Garden, is a compilation of Vita’s gardening essays, which she wrote for the London Observer.

They are pure plant poetry.


Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon

Here’s a famous book among gardeners.

This book is for those of us who don’t necessarily want a science lesson, but who need a science lesson to understand more about plants. *raises hand*

It’s exceptionally readable science, which is the point of the book, and has helped me get to know the whys and wherefores of my plants.


A Year at Brandywine Cottage: Six Seasons of Beauty, Bounty, and Blooms by David L. Culp

Ok, I’m cheating here because I had to return this to the library before I could read the whole thing. But this book is so darn pretty. I’m buying it.

The author is a renowned garden designer and, in this book, filled with lovely photos, he provides both advice and inspiration.


Magazines!

And here’s another cheat.

My favorite gardening magazines:

The English Garden — A must for anglophile gardeners, obviously.

Fine Gardening — An American publication with style and substance; You’ll definitely find plants for your zone in its pages.


I do have some gardening-related fiction to share with you, but this post has turned out to be really long already. I will save those for a future post.

If you have favorite gardening books, share them with me! I’m always looking for new ones.


from my Instagram stories

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Audiobooks, Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

More midlife crisis reading

This time it’s Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis by Ada Calhoun.

This is another one that made me burst into tears from time to time. (The first was Burnout.)

I was born in 1980, often considered either the last year of Gen Z or the first of Millennials, depending on who you ask. This means that my childhood was a mix of 80s and 90s pop culture experiences, a little bit Workout Barbie, a little bit Reality Bites.

I’ve experienced the landmark events that helped shape the worldview of both generations:

-Child of baby boomers
-Lived through dotcom bust
-I wanted my MTV
-Crippling student debt (paid off now THANK GAWD)
-911
-2008 financial crisis
-The rise of social media
-Many others I’m not naming

One of Calhoun’s major points is that women’s midlife crises are essentially different from men’s. First, we have them. That’s something not many people know.

And second, they look “different” because gender inequality means that women are often still meeting gender role expectations while having their crises.

Basically, privilege tends to offer men more leeway for expressing their own personal crises. They’re not necessarily also meeting the caregiving expectations that women are. (That was a simple point with a lot of couching language, but it’s hard to generalize and be accurate here.)

I loved Calhoun’s framing of the generations and empathized with many of the feelings ascribed to women of my age, including:

-Constant money anxiety (whether it’s warranted for me personally or not)

-The pressure to succeed in my career while balancing family life; Boomer women paved the way for us here–both creating greater ability for women to have careers and supporting the “you can have it all” message–and the overwhelming expectations that come with it.

I used to feel this more acutely when my kiddo was smaller, knowing I didn’t even really want a career in the first place and constantly feeling “not good enough” as a mother because he spent waaaay more time in day care than I (or he) wanted.

As all moms know, somehow you make it work because there is no other option. I should note here that I am not the norm when it comes to Gen X/Millennial moms. I had a baby in college. I’m 40 and he’s in college now, while many women my age have younger children. So they’re still living through this pressure.

-Decision fatigue–blessedly, there’s a whole chapter on this and I felt it so deeply. On my last birthday, Ben, so solicitous and eager to celebrate me, asked what I wanted for my birthday dinner. All I could think was, “I don’t want to have to think about that.” So, that’s what I said. He chose something he knew I’d like and I didn’t have to make a decision.

But that says something about how tired one’s brain is. I didn’t want to have to choose the food for my own birthday dinner, for heaven’s sake.

I think this book, like Burnout, helped me most by naming feelings I didn’t have names for. And by telling the stories of other women my age, which made me feel infinitely less alone.

Also, there’s a chapter on peri-menopause and menopause with a wealth of information I didn’t know. Did you know that peri-menopause can last 13 YEARS???

Healthcare community, we need way more education than we’re getting on this topic. My thanks to Calhoun for this chapter. I now know what to expect.

One of my gripes with books like this is the usual lack of “how to.” You’ll often get a lot of social commentary, a lot of “why,” but not much “what to do now that you know.”

Calhoun does pepper some “how-to” throughout the book and there is a final chapter called “New Narratives,” which offers some solutions she personally came up with to deal with this time of life–and the aforementioned feelings. But the book has more why than how.

I found it useful just the same and ended up buying a copy to reread in future.

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Fiction, Nonfiction, What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon read: April/May 2021

`Tis the season when I give everything the brush-off in favor of gardening and outdoor activities. If you live in a Northern state or, you know, the Northern Hemisphere, I assume you understand why. Total desperation.

Special thanks to Mother Nature for giving us a real spring here in Northern Indiana. I’ve got all kinds of plant babies cookin’.

Terrible lighting and terrible phone camera photos, but clockwise from top left:


> Geranium phaeum ‘Raven’–a real stunner in the shade garden
> Rhododendron maximum: (Great laurel aka azaleas, as they’re generally referred to around here)
> Proof you can grow seeds in anything–those are plastic berry containers and they’re growing in the guest room under lights.
> Matteuccia struthiopteris (Ostrich fern)–another shade garden special. I planted it last year and it was just getting going when the cold hit. Looking forward to seeing how big it gets this year.

And there is lots of porch sitting to be done.

We’ve gotten an awesome dog trainer and that nervous little muffin is getting schooled on proper behavior–not biting small children being one of the objectives.

I’m still collaging and posting to Instagram @shannonrooneycreative.

And our crew is playing Dungeons and Dragons nearly weekly now. I feel like a qualified nerd now that I’ve played, even though I don’t understand half of what’s happening and why. If you follow me on Goodreads, you’re about to see Dungeons and Dragons for Dummies added to my current reads.

But my Jacob, our DM (that’s Dungeon Master for the unschooled), is awfully patient and helpful. He’s amazing at running our campaigns, writing fun adventures each week. He even does special voices for the characters we encounter.

In other news, my mom and I hit Chicago last week and it was so fun to get out into a big city and pal around. We went to the Art Institute first, always a joy. Then we walked around downtown, hit some shops, mourned the loss of Fields, stared at the river for awhile, and wound up at Navy Pier. That place was hoppin’. Did you know you can walk around with frozen margs there now??? Saving this info. for future trips.

We look a lot alike.

That’s the life update for now because BOOKS.


Past recaps here.

What Shannon read in April/May:

NOTES

Women Who Run with Wolves: A feminist new-classic. Meaning, it was written in the 90s so it’s somewhat contemporary, but it has a very Second Wave feel.

I recommend it for any woman looking to *eyeroll* step into her power. I’m rolling my eyes because that’s become a bit of a meaningless catch-phrase. But let me just say that if you know you have innate power but are having trouble accessing it, or are feeling powerless, it may help to read this book because it is about the natural power of being woman-identified in our world.

The House of Mirth and The Old Maid: MOAR Edith Wharton! I can’t get enough of her ever, so I’m now rereading the major novels and finally dipping into more of the novellas. The Old Maid is one such novella. I loved it.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden: Read this for the first time last year and it is now one of my favorite books of all time. I can see myself rereading it each spring. I got myself a very pretty Penguin version as a gift.

I have loved every book I’ve read in the past two months. If I had to pick a few favorites, other than the rereads, which are always favorites, I’d have to list every book.


I leave you now with a glimpse of my fussy spring mantel-scape, including my two Mother’s Day cards made by Jacob and Desiree’ (peep my hand in the mirror, haha).

Thanks for stopping by!

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What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: Jan/Feb/March 2021

Don’t worry, I didn’t write a personal essay today. Just a good ole fashioned round-up of books I read in the first quarter of the year.

How is the first quarter gone? I’m still reeling from 2020.

Per usual, books are keeping me relatively sane. Relatively. I’m following my bliss, as they say, with no real regard for the Classics Challenge or any other self-imposed structure.

That also means I’m nowhere near reading at the pace I managed last year. All my wordy power is going into the writing and proofing I do for work. Are one’s executive functions supposed to slow after 40?

Modpodge and themed mantels are also keeping me sane.

How about you? Tell me what weird (or normal if you’re like that) stuff you’re doing to sane.

On to the books!


What Shannon read in January/February/March

Past recaps here.

I managed, um, one review: Burnout: I’m adding this to the “books I throw at everyone” pile

Other thoughts:

What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers

This author wrote a fun New York Times article on this topic and it is better than the book. She essentially has one idea that she and an editor managed to streeeeetch out over way more pages than were necessary in her book. Most of the book is filler–stories from the time she spent researching and observing exotic animal trainers. If you like animal stories, you’ll like the book. If you want the straight deets on how she applied what she learned to her marriage, read the article.

That said, this whole concept rubbed me the wrong way. A lot of the “training” she was doing with her husband surrounded “second shift” work. It seems to me she is required to do a lot of the emotional and physical labor in her marriage and that needs to be addressed head on. Because women shouldn’t have to train their husbands. End rant.

David Sedaris books

In times of trouble, I turn to David. Whenever I’m taking life too seriously, his essays remind me that life is here to be experienced and that, when viewed from a distance and some added humor, one can experience life as something to be marveled at, laughed at, and enjoyed–even when it’s not the way you want it. You know, as long as your life is essentially going well.

Jane Eyre and Agnes Grey

I also turn to Bronte in times of need. These rereads are straight comfort reading for me. I listened to both while walking and ModPodging.

You Are a Badass

This is a reread for me. I’d forgotten how heavy-handed it is in the MANIFESTING department. Yes, all caps.

You Never Forget Your First

I do not give a crap about the early presidents, but this was excellent! Thanks to my sister-in-law for lending it to me. Coe writes a smart, funny, and feminist *praise hands* bio of Washington that will keep you entertained from the first page. Just read to the “thigh men” part and you’ll be hooked.

The Making of a Marchioness

Wonderful! And racist per usual. I’d never read any Frances Hodgson Burnett other than The Secret Garden.

84, Charing Cross Road

WHY DIDN’T I READ THIS SOONER????? Utterly delightful. I listened to the audiobook.

Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life

1. Tate’s therapist is a creep who, if he’s still practicing, should have his license taken away. Tate does not know this and presents her attachment to him with zero self-awareness.
2. Definitely don’t listen to the audiobook. She narrates it and it’s terrible.
3. The writing is pedestrian at best.
4. Why did I read to the end?!?!


And that is that! What are you reading? How are you staying sane?

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Audiobooks, Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Burnout: I’m adding this to the “books I throw at everyone” pile

If we’re friends, I’ve already forced this book on you. It’s Burnout: the Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by sisters Emily and Amelia Nagoski.

I listened to it via Audible, then bought the hard copy, and now I listen to various sections on repeat to remind myself I’m not alone in the world.

I’d say that’s a joke, but I think you know I mean it.

I began researching and reading books about burnout and midlife crises last year because, call me basic, I turned 40 and found myself in a classic scenario: burnt out from working despite my “good” job with great coworkers, utterly depressed by the prospect of working for another 25 years (or more, depending), facing an empty nest (despite how proud I am of my grown-up kiddo), and approaching a future that looks like a big question mark.

COULD I BE ANY MORE PEDESTRIAN?!

All I need is a high school reunion to lose weight for. If I were a man, I’d already own a Ferrari. Or at least a Miata.

Add quarantine, plus a change in my meds, and I eventually became someone I didn’t know. I vacillated between total depression and going down to the basement to smash things. Two sides of the same coin, really.

All these feelings were uncomfortable and my response was to do what I always do: freak the fuck out for a while and then turn to books for answers.

What i read

I wasn’t attracted to any of the midlife classics, like Passages by Gail Sheehy. And I certainly didn’t want to read anything like The Middle Matters: Why That (Extra)Ordinary Life Looks Really Good on You by Jo Baker. I mean, does that title reek of uber-Christian-direct-sales mogul or what?

I liked this list on Five Books and ended up reading Kieran Setiya’s book Midlife: A Philosophical Guide.

But if you identify as a woman in this society, you know that thanks to gender expectations and a raging patriarchy, women tend to face a different kind of midlife crisis than men.

This kind of crisis is often alluded to in novels right before the woman kills herself because, say, she pinned her hopes on an affair and of course that didn’t resolve any of her real issues, so she throws herself in front of a train.

Right now, I need books that recognize that my need to smash things is not just due to the midlife issues listed above. It’s also the product of fatigue from a life lived under the expectations of caregiving, including tending to the feelings of others above my own and being charged with wrangling an overload of details.

A bitch be tired.

When I found Burnout, I listened straight through on Audible, going for long walks so I could spend more and more time with it. If it were a TV show, I’d have binged it.

The audiobook is read by the authors, two sisters who happen to be great readers. They trade off reading and I felt like a good friend was talking to me throughout.

Emily is a psychologist, sex/gender educator, and professor who has written another book, Come As You Are: the Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life. Amelia is a professor and choral director. Here’s a good bio for both.

the body’s stress response

Burnout starts with an explanation of the stress response–a neurological and physiological reaction in the body–the basics on how it evolved, and why, in post-industrial life, we don’t have an outlet for it so we can “complete the cycle” of this stress response.

Here’s the explanation of the stress response as it developed in early humans.

I’m sorry I didn’t type this out. It was just too much for me to reinterpret.

If you don’t have the patience or interest in or ability to read images of a book, I get it. You can also get a copy of the book (if we’re friends IRL, I’ll give you a copy–just let me know!); listen to the audiobook via your library; or listen to minutes 5:00-9:00 of the first episode of the authors’ podcast, The Feminist Survival Project.

I finally understand why I sometimes cry when I exercise. I’m filled with the effects of a stress response on a regular basis and when my body experiences the release of exercise, akin to running from the lion and getting away (or killing it), my body says, “Aaahhh, finally, the lion is dead. We’re safe.”

As I understand it, the crying is my body exhaling and returning all systems to their normal baseline.

Why this evolutionary function doesn’t work for modern life

Well, when someone is an asshole to me at work, my body unleashes a similar stress response. It doesn’t know the difference between running for my life and someone repeatedly talking over me in a meeting. It simply “knows” it is experiencing stress and therefore initiates the pre-programmed stress response.

But because I can’t just punch the asshole in the face for obvious social reasons, there’s no release. The response is initiated, but never completed. I remain tense, alert, with blood pressure elevated, etc.

I can go home and dance it out, and the Burnout writers recommend this, but divorcing the body from an immediate release takes its toll on the body. Oh, and also, five more things have stressed me out by the time I get home, so now I’ve got a backlog.

What to do about stress

Following chapters describe actions we can take to help our bodies “complete the cycle.” Exercise, as we have all pretty much guessed, is one key.

They also go into the stressors of modern life, apply the stress response and its completion to these stressors, and–this is what I had hoped for–discuss particular stressors faced by women in our illustrious patriarchy.

I could go on, but i won’t

This is a super long post and you’re probably already tired of reading–I know I’m tired of typing. So, I’ll let you get your paws on the book and fill in the blanks.

Please read or listen to it–this info. is also relevant for men. Everyone needs a better understanding of the body’s reaction to stress because everybody has stress, whether it’s induced by gender expectations or not.

And if you’re feeling the midlife crunge like I am, know that you’re not alone.

I now take off my glasses to read up close, but it’s cool. It’s also “the new hotness,” according to Emily and Amelia. I’ll let you enjoy that section on your own.


I love us at 40.

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