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 Aly 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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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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What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

Wow, that was a lot of books: Shannon’s 2020 recap

Niche made by yours truly

I was entering the 35 books I forgot to log into my dorky reading spreadsheet the other day and Ben simply said, “Serves you right.” 😀

So in case you thought we weren’t competitive about our reading challenges after all these years…well, we are.

The truth is that I read 85 books this year, 25 more than my Goodreads Challenge goal if you’re keeping track (clearly I wasn’t).

My belief is that it’s all thanks to audiobooks because I had a hell of a time concentrating in the quarantine world. I’m not entirely sure why. I would settle into bed with a book at night, suffer through a few pages, toss it aside, and pick up my phone.

Anyone else struggling like this?

In the meantime, I ran through audiobooks like a fiend, getting anxious when I finished one and immediately starting the next. They have been my only real and satisfying means of escape this year, a year when work got busier than ever and life got weirder than ever.

Also plants. Plants are an excellent escape and gardening actually makes you happier.
I completed my Master Gardener program in December and passed the test. Whoop!

But enough about me–how ’bout those books!

2020 Wrap-up and Nerdy Book Stats

Total books read: 85
Fiction: 51
Nonfiction: 34
Female authors: 70
Male Authors: 15
Nonbinary/Trans authors: 0 – Again. Gonna’ add some to my library holds immediately.
Non-white authors: 10 – Better than last year, but certainly not good enough.
E-books: 9
Audiobooks: 45 – A real record for me.
Re-reads: 9 – Started an official re-reading project in 2019 and kept on keeping on in 2020.


Most-read Genres

These numbers won’t add up to my total books read because some books fit into more than one category.

Memoir/Autobiograpy: 19
Classics: 15
Mystery/Thriller: 12
Historical Fiction: 7
Social Issues: 7

I do love a good memoir…


Other Genres I Read:

My favorite book in the magical realism category was Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson. I loved the book and the audiobook narration.

Self-help: 4
Fantasy/Magical Realism: 4
Spirituality: 2
Philosophy: 2
Psychology: 1
Science Fiction/Speculative Fiction/Dystopian: 1
Myth/Fairy Tale/Folk/Legend: 1
Travel: 1

I tolerated a weird amount of Fantasy/Magical Realism this year. Four is a lot for me.



Reading Challenges

I had two reading challenges going this year: the Classics Challenge and the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

I stopped paying attention to the categories for each about halfway through the year, I’m afraid. But I still managed a good number of classics and historical fiction. And those were the goals, so I’m calling it a win.

Every year, the Classics Challenge encourages me to discover new-to-me authors and this year did not disappoint in that regard. I delved into the world of Edith Wharton and fell in love.

I read all of these:

My favorites were The House of Mirth, The Custom of the Country, Summer, and The Age of Innocence – in that order.

I will, in all likelihood, attempt it again this year. The worst that can happen is that I won’t finish again, and it will be totally worth it!

Ditto the When Are You Reading? Challenge. Not an excuse, but I had the hardest time finding well-written historical fiction this year. There’s a lot of crap out there. (Also an applicable blanket statement about 2020.) Stillwater and The Shadow King were excellent though.

Another of this year’s surprises. Gardening led me down a rabbit hole into the life of Vita Sackville-West and then Virginia Woolf. Sadly, I’ve tried around four Woolf novels and can’t get into a single one. HALP!

Some 2020 Favorites

Below are some few of my favorite books read this year. All in all, I’d say it was a great success.

What about you? If you have reading wrap-ups, please link them in the comments so I can check them out! Or, just let me know what your favorite/least favorite books were. I’d love to see.

Thanks so much for stopping by and Happy (belated) New Year!

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Audiobooks, Fiction, What Shannon Read

What if your kids spontaneously burst into flames?

HIGHLY recommend the audiobook version of Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson, narrated by Marin Ireland.

It’s the story of Lillian, a 28-year-old woman from rural Tennessee who moves to the home of her wealthy high school friend Madison to take care of Madison’s stepchildren.

The two met at an elite boarding school some years before, to which Lillian had a scholarship and which she thought of as her way out of the sticks. Lillian and Madison, her randomly assigned roommate, became fast friends and played basketball together.

Lillian is everything I love in a protagonist: weird, dark with a tender side, funny, selfish, fallible, and self-aware but not enough to prevent the drama of the novel.

And narrator Marin Ireland’s reading from Lillian’s perspective is *finger kiss* perfect. I loved every minute of her reading and took a couple of extra long bubble baths to listen to more.

Lillian is also poor and Madison is astonishingly wealthy. I always enjoy seeing what rich people get up to through the eyes of characters who have less money. I empathize with that. Can’t think why…

Lillian and Madison’s relationship is weirdly, I don’t know, entangled, or something. And we don’t quite know why at the beginning of the novel. The two are attached. And we very slowly learn that, actually, Lillian took the fall for Madison in high school when she got into some big trouble. In fact, Lillian was actually kicked out of her boarding school because of this incident. And she never quite got her life back on track. But she remained in touch with and attached to Madison anyway.

When Madison asks her a very, very big favor to begin the novel, Lillian surely owes her absolutely nothing, but agrees to help her anyway. And we find out that Madison wants Lillian to care for Madison’s new stepchildren who have this teensy little problem.

They burst into flames when they’re upset.

It’s wild. I thought I would hate it. I have a very low tolerance for magical realism. I am annoyed by fairy tales and I find fantasy that isn’t Lord of the Rings irritating. And yet. This kids-bursting-into-flames novel is so well done. So believable. That I couldn’t get enough.

It was ridiculous and I loved it.

The resulting character development and sheer fun of the story is worth suspending your disbelief. And Kevin Wilson doesn’t make you work very hard to do it anyway.

He even rewards you with a fairly happy ending. A satisfying one anyway. I won’t give it away. But read this one if you are at all tempted. And let me know how you liked it.

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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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