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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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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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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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Reasons to Stay Alive

I find books about depression uplifting. Generally speaking, that is, they give me hope.

I myself am a highly functional depressive. I take medication and employ a regimen of tactics, such as regular exercise, therapy, and eating green things I don’t like, to keep myself functional.

Chief among these tactics is reading books by other depressives and by “experts,” both of which tend to buoy me in one way or another.

Matt Haig’s popular memoir/self-help/overview of depression, Reasons to Stay Alive, certainly fit the bill. I listened to the audiobook version read by the author and enjoyed it so much that I bought a hard copy so I could highlight favorite passages.

Haig begins with the story of his breakdown. As an adult in his 20s, Haig was living with his girlfriend and depression hit him like a ton of bricks. He became suicidal and his despair was accompanied by panic attacks and a raging case of agoraphobia.

The content of the book is mostly autobiographical, but Haig peppers his experiences with research about depression and anxiety, as well as helpful tips, and–I loved this–literary references.

He’s interested in the lives and coping mechanisms of famous depressives–especially those who chose to live with depression (until dying naturally, that is). The blurb for the book says it is about how to make the most of the time you have and that, I think, is the truest way to encapsulate the content. The chapters are short, sometimes consisting of a single quote or a list.

I loved the book because I personally identified with something in almost every chapter: the exhaustion that accompanies depression, the social anxiety, the anhedonia, the fear of one’s own uncontrollable mind. I know many other depressive people have felt the same way in reading this book.

Sometimes it helps to read a book like this just to hear someone else say the things you’ve only said to yourself.

But also, Haig shares some hope. He shares exactly what works for him. Mainly reading and writing. But also exercise, especially running, healthy eating, facing his fears, the love of his wife and family, regular time outside, and many other tactics in his own regimen.

We functional depressives all have our regimens.

Here are some items from mine.

p.s. Feature image is the dunes at Lake Michigan.

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck

I had a rough couple of days at work last week. Mostly because I let a certain coworker get in my head too much.

She’s a know-it-all. A bean-counter. Someone who really likes being in control of everything and everyone and asserts her opinion as though it’s fact.

That bothers me. Especially when she tries to do my job when I’m perfectly capable of doing it myself.

Utterly irritating.

After a conversation with a sympathetic coworker, my supportive supervisor, and then another with Ben, it became clear that this woman is gaining too much ground in my mental landscape.

I decided to pick up a book that might encourage me to care less about the petty peons that tend to run the world of office work in which I am mired from day to day.

The shirt that most expressed my feelings as of yesterday

So I indulged myself by reading Sarah Knight’s The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do.

It was a fun, quick read. The title is of course a play on Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. But Sarah Knight had the luxury of being able to leave a soul-sucking job after tidying her sock drawer and so she wrote a book from that point of view.

The book is largely about setting boundaries. It doesn’t dig too deep. It uses the word “fuck” too much. I’m not offended by it–just annoyed when an author depends on a swear word as a gimmick instead of writing a more readable book with better and more descriptive words.

There are some good witticisms. And I found that Knight is as jaded about the world of work as I am, which was fun and reassuring. Here’s a good quote on the uselessness of meetings that you might enjoy:

But there are meetings you do not have to agree to attend in the first place. For example, say a colleague from another part of the company—the Chicago office, perhaps, if you work in San Diego—is coming to town.

Some executive assistant is “setting up meetings” wherein this colleague wanders around making the same small talk about the weather and delivering vague commentary on the state of the business in half-hour increments with everyone on your floor. There are eight meeting slots, says the executive assistant. Which one do you want?

Answer: None of them. You can just say “None of those times work for me” and continue on with your day. I know, you’re worried you’ll get in trouble, and your desire to stay on your boss’s good side overrides your desire not to take this meeting. But if you’re a competent employee and you know it’s a pointless use of a half hour, your boss knows that too. Decide you don’t give a fuck. Let someone else take one for the team. There are plenty of unenlightened coworkers who will march toward those slots like blindfolded prisoners to a firing squad. It doesn’t have to be you!

Lol. Preach.

Knight also recommends an exercise in which you list all the things you feel like you’re supposed to care about and then decide which you no longer want to give your energy (or “fucks”) to. From large to small, you list the things which annoy you and decide to not give a fuck about them anymore.

That exercise is so useful that I realized I’d actually already done it. So, without further comment on Knight’s book, I present to you:

The Things I No Longer Give a F*ck About Circa 2017

  • Professional football (in fact, most professional sports except baseball. I will always have a soft spot for baseball.)
  • News-hounding
  • The Kardashians
  • Anything Kanye is doing; seriously, stop making these assholes famous
  • Boards and committees (unless I care deeply about your cause, hard pass)
  • Racists
  • Emails from vendors at work
  • Video games that are not Mario related
  • Multi-level Marketing companies (MLMs a.k.a. direct sales)
  • Understanding how toilets work (I can pay someone good money to deal with that); ditto the furnace and air conditioner
  • Calculus
  • Religion (it is a social construct)
  • Mommy bloggers
  • Rap written after 1999
  • That dream you had and want to tell me about
  • Community theater (unless someone I love dearly is in it, in which case you are also going and will pretend to love it and shut up about it, just pre-game like the rest of us.)
  • Spoken word poetry/poetry jams
  • Pretending to like good wine
  • Pretending to like good beer
  • Hipster food in general–Aioli is for fish soup at a Mediterranean café. I will have regular ketchup on my burger like an American, please, because we are in Indiana.
  • Family drama (I am turning 40 this year. Enough already.)
  • People who only want to talk about themselves
  • People who talk over me
  • People who talk too much
  • People who explain things to me when I know more about those things than they do. Bye.
  • The feelings of rude people
  • Learning to drive stick shift
  • Books by politicians (this is not literature, guys; wise up)
  • Books by celebrities (same)
  • White papers (don’t write ’em; don’t read ’em)
  • Having a nice lawn
  • Sky diving
  • Other people’s vacation pictures

Anyway, I highly recommend making a list like this if you haven’t. It’s cathartic to get that stuff off your chest. And you could always follow it up with a list of things you DO give a fuck about, which I have done and will post for those that care.

Love to all and happy reading!

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

The Thrifty Gardener

I love Alys Fowler. I didn’t know a thing about her until I read her memoir Hidden Nature last year, in which she kayaks the Birmingham, England canals and details her coming out as a gay woman.

Fowler, I learned, was a presenter on the BBC’s Gardener’s World, a show I only came to last year. I haven’t seen a single episode with her in it. But I have embraced gardening in the last couple of years and am now totally in love with the show. And Monty Don. In a platonic way, of course.

I’m also on a budget. So when I learned of Fowler’s book, The Thrifty Gardener, I popped onto Amazon, where I discovered it was $80! Lol. No.

I searched AbeBooks, a much kinder source for books anyway, and got it for $24.

Anyway, in her lovely conversational style, Fowler doles out advice for the rest of us–those that don’t have tons of extra cash, or you know, any at all, to spend on the garden of their dreams.

Above: The rockery I created in our side yard. Please ignore the trash bins–we’re moving them eventually. Bricks and rocks were free from neighbors who were getting rid of them. Plants were purchased on sale or for less than $4 a piece, or again, given by neighbors. My mom bought five of them for me, bless her. She also helped with the digging! It may not look like much to a stranger, but it’s heaven to me…

Fowler spends time on topics like saving seeds and taking cuttings from your own plants for propagation; making compost and comfrey tea–sometimes featured on Gardener’s World, I noticed; and “scrap craft,” which is what most Americans might call upcycling.

I also appreciated her recommendations on plants that are easy to grow from seed, which is much cheaper than buying plants from a nursery. At her suggestion, my garden will most certainly include poppies and nasturtiums grown from seed next year as I don’t like to spend money on annuals bought from nurseries.

In addition to these tips and tricks, I just like the approach, the mindset that Fowler encourages.

This is from her introduction:

“This much I’ve learnt. Gardening is something you do, not something you buy. You don’t have to spend money to have a great garden. Slow gardening, like slow food, is taking time to savour. It’s the process, not the sudden transformation that matters. When you build a little, dig a bit, plant a little, harvest often and, more importantly, don’t try to do it all at once, nature works with you.”

In my own gardening, I need to reread these words every day. I should put it on a sign. There is so much I want to grow and do now that I have discovered the world of gardening. It gives me so much joy and I just want more and more of it.

Also, I’m a very impatient person. I like immediate gratification. But it’s utterly ridiculous to fall into gardening and expect that.

So, instead, I continually work on taking the slow road. Just like Alys.

Hydrangeas in my own garden
And a sweet coreopsis bloom making his presence known.
Baby fern tendril in the bottom middle
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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Outgrowing God

Sometimes you get tired of fighting the good fight every day and just need to read something that bolsters you.

I imagine this is how many religious people feel about reading books by their favorite religious authors. It’s how I used to feel as a practicing Catholic when I read books with titles like Mary in a Martha’s World or those Joshua books that make Jesus seem like a real person.

But now my inspirational reading looks very different. After a long journey out of Catholicism and a meandering detour through New Age spirituality, I came to the logical conclusion that there is no god(s).

I’m not here to argue that point. I’m just telling you about it.

As an atheist, I don’t regret my religious upbringing or experiences. I met Ben in high school youth group, for heaven’s sake. 😉 That youth group gave me a place to be loved and cared for outside of my chaotic home (where I was also loved and cared for, but still…).

When Jacob was little and I was a very young mother in need of lots of support, my parish community was there for me. Our pastor knew me by name. He was kind of a jerk, but he knew me. I was asked to give retreat talks and was given responsibilities that made me feel capable and good about myself. Overall, I had a community and a refuge in my church. I’m grateful for those people and that place.

Mostly, though, I’m grateful that my experiences with religion led me straight to atheism. I couldn’t have ended up at the right conclusion for me without having played hard for the other team so to speak.

When I began to question, and then read about, the ways in which religions are established, I grew to understand that religion is a purely social construct.

Along this path, I have also learned about the religious history of the United States. I have woken up to the constant religious fervor that is the United States.

If you didn’t know, religion is EVERYWHERE here. Ben and I went on a walk around the downtown area last week and passed, like, five churches and a synagogue in five blocks.

I was at the mall with my mom yesterday and a lady talked to me about prayer in the bathroom. We walked past a kiosk and there was a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on display right next to a Jesus Saves t-shirt.

It gets…..tiring…being a nonbeliever in this country.

Especially when there is a mob of very vocal believers trying to make laws about what you can and cannot do based on their beliefs.

It’s all feeling very Handmaid’s Tale out there right now.

All this is to say that I appreciated listening to Richard Dawkins read the audiobook version of his Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide.

Highlights were:

  • Theories about how myths (and therefore religions) get started
  • The incredible coordinated flight of starlings
  • A mocking retelling of the binding of Isaac (you know, the story in the Bible where God tells Abraham to sacrifice his own child as a sign of his obedience. That’s some sadistic stuff right there, man…)

I appreciated some Richard Dawkins in my life this week. I liked the reminder that it’s possible to wonder at the beauty and ferocity of nature without attributing it to a spiritual cause. And the reassurance that, yes, the Christian God portrayed in the Bible (angry, “jealous,” sadistic) is not a God I can get behind at all. Phew.

Dawkins reminded me that there are others out there like me. That despite a country filled with people who post memes about allowing prayer in school (even though it already is) and who fight for the right to dictate who you can and can’t marry, there is hope. There are other people out there who believe in a society that benefits all of us, not just some of us.

Ironically, sometimes an atheist just needs to feel less alone in the world.

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