What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: April 2022

It’s been kind of a whirlwind around here. I almost forgot to do an April wrap-up.

We spent April very anxiously awaiting the birth of my grandson, Baby Ames. Due April 22, he was actually born May 1!

He was a very healthy 9 lbs 1 oz and 21.5 inches. A long little guy just like his tall parents and OH SO SWEET. I can’t get over him and I never will. We’re not splashing his photo across the internet for now, but trust me when I say he is adorable and perfect and so very loved.

That’s the big life update and the only thing (person) that’s been commanding our attention right now.

In less important news, it’s World Collage Day! Hosted by the online collage community, it’s a day to celebrate collage in all its forms. This is what I posted on Instagram to celebrate.

On to the April books!


What Shannon Read in April

I read a total of 8 books in April and it was quite a mix, with a couple of rereads, a couple Read Harder Challenge selections, and a good smattering of nature.

Some Notes:

The Inner Life of Animals: Peter Wohlleben is quickly becoming one of my favorite nature writers. I enjoyed these animal stories and recommend the audiobook. Just know that if you’re looking for a bunch of science with your nature writing, you may be disappointed. I was mostly looking for interesting stories about animal behavior and that’s what I got, so I really enjoyed it.

The Love Songs of W.E.B. du Bois: This one was recommended by my friend Brigid and I’m so glad! It was epic at more than 800 pages. I had no idea it would be that long when I started because I read it on a Kindle, but I didn’t care and I stuck with it to the end. Jeffers is an incredibly talented fiction writer and I was easily drawn into the story of Ailey and her family history. Synopsis on Goodreads if you’d like to know what the story is about.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden and The Enchanted April: If you read this blog, you’re sick of hearing about von Arnim’s books, I imagine. But she’s one of my favorite authors and these are two of my favorite books to read in the spring (ahem, “second winter”). Highly recommend the audiobook versions of both.

Quicksand: I loved Passing by Nella Larsen (if you haven’t heard of the book, you may have seen the screen adaptation advertised on Prime Video), so I decided to seek out this author once again for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge category “Read a Classic Written by a Person of Color.”

I’m so glad I did.

The story centers on Helga Crane, a woman who quits her comfortable teaching job despite the security it offers and goes from situation to situation, moving to Harlem, Denmark, and eventually to Alabama for various reasons. Race is a major theme as Crane has her own thoughts about how her race (she is half Black, half white) has affected her life and situation.

This is a story about a woman trying to find herself and the various geographical locations she finds herself in each teach her something about who she is and what she wants. The ending leaves Helga’s ending to the imagination, which is both frustrating and a perfect ending in different ways.

Sorrow and Bliss: This contemporary novel is part love story (or marriage story, more like), part introspection on the part of the protagonist Martha, and part family drama.

If someone had described the novel in that way to me, I’d probably have passed. But I came to it with no expectations, not really knowing what the book was about, and was immediately sucked in by Mason’s incredible writing. Here’s the Goodreads link if you need a better description than mine!

The Wild Remedy: Get ready for this–I read this because Britney Spears recommended it on her Instagram account. Yeah, it’s a funny way to get a book recommendation, but you know what? This book was excellent.

Mitchell explores the ways in which nature can help us heal while telling of its influence on her own life and especially her struggle with depression. I loved it. It reminded me a lot of another favorite of mine in the same vein–Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May.

The Silence of the Lambs: Did you know this book was the second in a series? I had no idea. I read it for the Read Harder Challenge category “Read a book whose movie or TV adaptation you’ve seen (but haven’t read the book).”

If you’ve seen the movie, you know the story. The book was just as gritty as the movie, but I found it slightly less dramatic because it’s definitely a police procedural. Not my usual brand, but I still enjoyed reading the book, then watching the movie again for comparison.


And that’s it for April, friend. I’m happy to say the weather has started behaving itself, relatively speaking. So it seems we are finally over “second winter” and on to summer. Hope you’re doing well!

I leave you with a few pics of this year’s daffs and tulips.


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What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: 2021 End of Year Wrap-up

Hey hai hello and Happy New Year! I’m back as promised with an end-of-year wrap on the reading.

But First, Some Pics from Our NYE Party

Just had to share these moments.

Ben knocked it out of the park this year by commissioning an amazing ice sculpture. Family and friends turned out to celebrate and make it the best time. We all wore either “black tie” or just what we were feeling. I, of course, turned up in sequins with champagne bottle earrings because I am that extra. We had a ton of food, drinks, beer pong, and fireworks.

It couldn’t have been a better way to say good-bye to a rough year and hello to a new one.



And Now for the Reading Wrap-up with Nerdy Book Stats

Note that these numbers won’t reasonably add up to the total number of books read due to issues like books that cross genres and books written by both a male and a female author. In these cases, I logged both stats for one book.

Total books read: 82 (3 fewer than last year)
Fiction: 58
Nonfiction: 24
Female authors: 65
Male Authors: 18
Nonbinary/Trans authors: 0 (Same as last year. That’s a real miss for me. Determined to work on it this year.)
Non-white authors: I managed 11, 7 of which happened in December when I realized I’d barely read anything by someone who was not of my same race. I want to be a more informed and aware person than that, so…
E-books: 16
Audiobooks: 55 (damn)
Re-reads: Started an official re-reading project in 2019 and am keeping it up.

Year of the Audiobook

The bulk of my reading happened via audiobook. Here are a few of my favorites from the year.

Most-read Genres

Classics: 13

I didn’t succeed at the Classics Challenge this year. In fact, I ignored it completely and read whatever I wanted. 🙂 C’est la ME.

Historical Fiction: 13

It was a goal of mine to read more historical fiction this year and I learned that there is a lot of bad historical fiction out there. But here are a few I loved. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Pachinko.

Mystery/Thriller: 13

There’s almost nothing I like more than settling into a warm bath with a glass of wine and a thriller. It’s always a true break for my tired brain.

Memoir/Autobiography: 11

Always a winning genre for me. A few of my favorites:

Other Genres I Read

Biography: 2
Fantasy/Magical Realism: 1
Nonfiction History: 3
Letters (nonfiction): 1
Myth/Folktale/Legend: 2
Psychology: 1
Speculative Fiction: 1
Self-help: 5 (Do not remember reading that many…)
Social Issues: 3
Spirituality: 1
YA Fiction: 1

2021 Takeaways/2022 Goals

I want to read more diversely and will be making a point to read many more books by BIPOC authors in 2022.

I loved the classics I read and plan to, once again, choose them at random rather than completing a Classics Challenge.

I’ve had a little time to reflect and can’t think what my other reading goals for 2022 should be. Just…drawing a blank. Will keep you posted.

In the meantime, I hope everyone’s 2022 is off to a good start!



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What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: December 2021

And there goes another year–woo! Happy Holidays, all! Hope your December was as enjoyable as mine. And if it wasn’t, I’m sending virtual *hugs* to you. I know it’s not everyone’s favorite time of year.

Here’s one of my favorite presents from this Christmas–a brand new potting bench!

I’m about to level up my gardening game hard. (Ignore the dirty siding. It’s winter…)

Isn’t is *heart eyes emoji*???

Here are my sister’s two Christmas pups who decided my new rug was the comfiest spot to squat.

And here’s a snowy scene from our block. It’s not from Christmas, which was rainy, but from a couple days after.

On to the books!

I’ll put together a recap of my entire reading year soon, but here’s what I read in the past month.

What Shannon Read in December

Aside from the treat of rereading Bridget Jones’ Diary (because Christmas), I was determined to read only books by BIPOC authors. I succeeded in seeking out and finding some awesome books–I read a total of 7.


Another Brooklyn: This is a coming-of-age story that was a bit too sentimental for my usual tastes. That said, I read it in two days, so who am I to criticize? Set in Brooklyn, of course, it’s the story of a young Black girl who tells her own story and that of her neighborhood. I loved the sense of place.

Heavy: Quite the opposite, this an incredibly heartbreaking memoir by an amazing writer. I can’t use enough meaningless superlatives to describe it. Laymon writes about growing up Black, male, fat, and with a mother who is larger than life in some of the most dysfunctional ways.

Klara and the Sun: A totally different book for me to read. This is speculative fiction told from the perspective of an Artificial Friend, essentially a solar-powered, humanlike robot named Klara. She gets purchased by a young girl and her mother. It turns out she was purchased to learn as much about being like the girl, Josie, as she can just in case Josie dies from her illness–so Klara can “continue Josie”. It’s wonderful, creepy in the ways that only speculative fiction can be, and a bit plodding, if I’m honest.

A Burning: What a fabulous novel. This one, set in India, begins with terrorists locking the doors of a train car and throwing molotov cocktails into it. It’s heart-wrenching from the start. We then follow the story of the young woman accused of organizing this act of terrorism. We witness the story through three narrators, the woman herself, a trans friend from her slum, and oddly, her school gym teacher, all of whom play vital roles in the case as we learn their own stories. I sped through it in a day. Can’t recommend it enough.

Such a Fun Age: This audiobook won an Audie Award and for good reason. It’s wonderfully narrated by Nicole Lewis and I was sucked in from the beginning. It starts with an incident where Emira, a Black babysitter has been asked to take her young charge, a white toddler, to a grocery store to get the girl out of the house for a while while the family deals with a whole other problem.

Emira, her best friend, and the little girl head to the neighborhood grocery, which is something like a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. There, a white woman alerts security that Emira is with a little white girl and wonders weather the little white girl is supposed to be with her. The scene errupts into a disturbing, racially-charged incident filmed by another customer.

And the story moves from there. We also get a second perspective in the novel, that of Emira’s white employer Alix. The book is heartbreaking, triumphant in the end, and also, in its way, is a sort of coming-of-age story for Emira.

Bridget Jones’ Diary: Because Christmas. Don’t worry, I also watched the movie twice. Also, has anyone moved on from there to watch Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason? It’s terrible. Do not recommend.

Pachinko: Another award-winner for a very good reason. This novel pulled out all the stops. It’s one of those novels that reviewers probably call a “tour de force.” Set in 1900s Korea in the beginning, the book follows a young girl, Sunja, who works in her parents’ boarding house, and who falls in love with a wealthy man from another town. You can probably already guess that she becomes pregnant and I really don’t want to give away anything else. This is a wonderful book to discover as you go.

The story of Sunja’s family starts in Korea but is largely set in Japan and illuminates the experience of Korean immigrants there during the time of the novel. These are issues that I, having grown up a suburban white girl in America, wasn’t even aware of. And that, in a nutshell, is why books like this one are so important.

How can you understand the perspectives of others if you don’t know where they’re coming from–the history and experiences behind their actions, behind who they are?

I want to understand other people, but my travel budget is limited and I’m an introvert. Thus, books.


I’ll end on that not-so-eloquent note and hope you get my point. I’ll be back soon with a full year recap. Thanks for stopping by! And here’s a jolly Christmas collage.

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What Shannon Read, What We Read: Monthly Recap

What Shannon Read: November 2021

And there went another month! Thanksgiving and my 41st (!!) birthday in the bag. How did I get this old? Like, what’s happening?

Life Update

  • I had a birthday! It was awesome and I was soundly spoiled by my loved ones. Lots of presents, two cakes, and a pie. I love you all so much.
  • Thanksgiving was so much fun. We gathered. We overate.
  • I’m still making tons of collage and the obsession continues.
  • I have almost all of my Christmas shopping done.
  • Work is fine.

Scintillating, no?

What Shannon Read in November

Past monthly recaps available here.

And here’s what I read in November.


The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

Finished up the Dragon Tattoo series and enjoyed it thoroughly. I see myself coming back to these over the years. Especially the audiobooks read by Simon Vance. He’s such a great narrator.

The Woman Upstairs

Exactly the kind of quirky, introspective novel I love. This is about a single woman who befriends a family and becomes mildly…obsessed with them. She makes weird art and has lots to say about the lot of the single woman and her place in society. I loved this book.

Homesick

Another quirky book, this time a memoir by a woman who can’t afford housing and thus lives in a shed. I loved the atmosphere in the book, which is set in western Cornwall. And I appreciated what Davies had to say about exchanging one’s life force for money. She’s a gardener and a surfer and a bit of a loner. Can relate. (Not the surfing bit, but yes to the rest.)

A Friend From England

I wanted to love this and didn’t. I’m finding that’s how I generally feel about Anita Brookner. Her novels are odd, often with–you guessed it–quirky characters. They’re intense, “delicate,” as Goodreads calls them. This one is an examination of a relationship between a single woman and some family friends. She gets overly involved in their lives and this leads to discomfort for her in many ways. It’s an interesting premise and I thought I’d love it, but instead of appreciating the book’s “delicacy,” I just found it tedious. And now I find this paragraph tedious…

Transcendent Kingdom

This was my favorite book of the month. Gyasi can do no wrong in my eyes. Themes explored run the gamut from race to familial relationships, to the immigrant experience in the U.S., to addiction, suicide, and grief. It floored me. I’m going to reread it for sure.


Tell me what you’re reading! I have big plans to finish out the year strong. And, aside from a reread of Bridget’ Jones’ Diary, I’m focusing on BIPOC authors. How about you?

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Audiobooks, Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Hunger

HungerRoxaneGayAfter listening to Bad Feminist last week, I moved right on to Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay. It was, as I knew it would be, incredibly moving.

As I told a reader friend recently, I don’t have a lot of tolerance for people’s memoirs of their childhoods. But, as I knew it would, Gay’s writing hopped over that personal barrier and pulled me right through her story.

I listened to the audiobook, which Gay narrates herself. While not as adept a reader as Bahni Turpin, who read Bad Feminist, Gay is a good reader and I appreciated hearing her story in her voice.

The memoir is divided into more than 80 sections, which switch back and forth between Gay’s growing up years and her current life as an adult, academic, and writer in her 30s.

The lengths of the sections vary depending on the amount of relevant content. Some tell an entire story. Some seem to be thoughts she wanted to make sure to include, relevant commentary or short scenes that make up part of her story. We get satisfying glimpses into her daily life as she explores the topics of emotional and physical hunger, woven as they are throughout her existence.

As you may know, Gay is an adept cultural critic. In Hunger, she addresses many of the stereotypes around fat people, as well as the way fat people are treated in a society that values thin.

As a person who is, at the time of writing, around 250 pounds overweight, she also uses experiences in her own life to illustrate the effects of extreme obesity, personally— physically, socially, and emotionally.

These personal stories are what really got to me. She relates the experiences of asking for a seatbelt extender on an airplane, fielding her family’s constant grave concern, being heckled on the street, and the impact of her obesity on her health, among other things.

Gay also explores the origin of her obesity, telling, once again, the story of her rape. Gay was gang-raped as a child and she mostly attributes her food addiction and her fatness to her need to protect herself, to make herself larger, and to become undesirable to men.

As anyone who is or has been obese would know, being overweight makes one less visible even as body size increases. Less visible, meaning less attractive and therefore less deserving of attention. If very fat people aren’t being ogled they are often, paradoxically, being ignored. Discounted.

Throughout this intense examination, Gay is exploring how her desire to be thin does or doesn’t fit with her values as a feminist. It’s a struggle when you reject society’s beauty standards but also want to meet them.

She says:

“As a woman, as a fat woman, I am not supposed to take up space. And yet, as a feminist, I am encouraged to believe I can take up space. I live in a contradictory space where I should try to take up space but not too much of it, and not in the wrong way, where the wrong way is any way where my body is concerned.”

Lotta’ ins and outs when you are a critic of the society in which you are also trying to live peaceably.

This is becoming too long a post, but suffice it to say that I, once again, felt “seen” thanks to Roxane Gay’s work. And do let me know your thoughts if you read it.

Thanks for stopping by!

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Confessions of a Bookseller

Cover: ConfessionsofaBooksellerAnother truly delightful weekend spent with the owner of The Book Shop in Wigtown, Scotland, thanks to Shaun Bythell’s second memoir Confessions of a Bookseller.

This one is set up just like the first, diary style, with the number of online orders listed at the top of each entry, along with the number of orders actually found, and the number of customers and daily till total at the bottom.

In between is an account of activities, conversations, and observations by Bythell. As with his first memoir, they feature recurring characters: him, of course, curmudgeonly and anti-Amazon as always; and shop assistants Nicky, Flo, and a new person, Emanuela from Italy. Plus Bythell’s family, friends, and regular customers, who are as interesting and varied in personality as one would hope the denizens of rural Scotland to be.

Those include Sandy the tattooed pagan, who makes walking sticks for Bythell to sell in exchange for credit in the shop. And there’s the mysterious Mole-Man, who never speaks, but disappears into the stacks for hours at a time, emerging to pay for his many treasures and leaving without a word. Bumbag Dave is also a regular customer—he just wears a lot of fanny packs.

Then there are the shop employees, including longtime employee Nicky, who featured heavily in the first book. She continues to be an endless source of humor. College student Flo helps out in the summer. She’s not above swearing at her boss. And a fun new addition is Emanuela, a young Italian woman whose eccentricities endear her to Bythell and pretty much all of Wigtown by the time her stint in The Book Shop is up.

If you’re as invested as I am, you’ll also be happy to learn more about Bythell’s relationship with Anna, his longtime partner. She’s an American woman who wrote a book about Wigtown and started The Open Book, a shop which tourists pay to stay at a run for weeks at a time.

Of interest to me, always, are the entries detailing which books customers buy. And I’m fascinated by which books are popular sellers. Railroad books and detailed local histories for example. There is also endless entertainment to be found in the examination of customer behavior. I can empathize utterly with Bythell’s disdain for chatterers.

I noticed some disgruntled reviews on Goodreads, where a few readers said things like “My life is more interesting than this guy’s!” But that’s precisely why I appreciate Bythell’s books. I want to see what the daily life of a bookseller is like.

Bythell’s insightful observations on life and the bookselling business, as well as descriptions of his personal life are bonus material to me. Welcome bonus material as Bythell is a charming narrator, but I’m here for the day-in-day-out of a quirky Scottish bookshop. Highly recommend this one if you are too!

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come

45459370._SX318_As an avowed introvert, I’m always interested in reading about other introverts. I like to see if their experiences match my own. So I especially enjoyed listening to the audiobook version of Jessica Pan’s Sorry I’m late, I Didn’t Want to Come: One Introvert’s Year of Saying Yes.

The book, which presents as a memoir, but includes interviews with experts, is a fun journey through Pan’s year of taking risks.

A self-described shy introvert or “shintrovert,” as she calls herself, Pan feels lonely living in London, England. She lives with her husband, but has no social life to speak of. Her friends are spread out across the globe and, like many introverts, she finds it difficult to make new friends.

Thus, she embarks on a yearlong project to develop a social life. She pushes herself to try a number of typically extroverted activities that range from talking to strangers on the train to the Bumble BFF app to improv and stand-up comedy. I really enjoyed the chapter on improv. When she tells other people she’s taking an improv class, they cringe, and that was my immediate reaction too.

But improv, along with most of her activities, ends up opening doors to friendship and confidence and Pan even signs up for another round of improv classes after her year is over.

1I liked the book because, as an introvert, I find making friends difficult too. I’m not naturally inclined toward chattiness and I find networking functions terrifyingly awkward (of course, that’s most people, I hear. Even some extroverts find those functions unbearable).

And I sympathized with Pan as she details the anxieties of pushing herself to be the center of attention or takes the risk of being the first one to talk to someone in a silent room.

I celebrated with her when she hosts her first dinner party at the end of the book and invites many of the new friends she’s made throughout the year. And I was a bit jealous. I will be following some of the tips given by experts in the book and feel encourage to take some risks myself.

In fact, the book led me to recognize something about my own socializing. Ben has always been comfortable going, to say, the local watering hole and having a drink and chatting with strangers. He’s an extrovert. He’d not a joiner and doesn’t like planned activities.

But, even though I’ve pushed myself to show up at a bar alone at times, I end up drinking too much out of sheer anxiety. It’s not pretty…That’s just one example, but you see my point. Inserting myself into a social situation and talking to people out of nowhere is not my bag, baby.

Thanks to Pan’s activities, most of which were structured in classroom or group settings, I realized that I need that kind of set-up to help me feel comfortable. I’ll probably be more successful at a planned activity, like a book club, an art class, or some other kind of actual thing you have to sign up for.

I love when books I read lead to personal insights.

Getting back to the book, Pan is an adept writer. Her actual job is freelance editing, so the writing is solid. Sometimes she comes across a bit young though. For example, using a word like “great” to describe someone, rather than digging deeper to give us a sense of the person. But that’s a nitpick. She’s also compassionate, anxious, honest, and slightly Type A, and because I really appreciate authors who are just wholly themselves in their books, I like this. I feel like I got to know her.

I do recommend the audiobook version, but Pan reads it herself, so I’ll warn you that her style won’t be for everyone. Her reading is stilted and she tends to stop for commas like they’re periods, but I got through it fine.

Have you read this one? What did you think?

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

I’m on an Augusten Burroughs kick

13167087._SY475_I forgot all about Augusten Burroughs who, I admit, can be an acquired taste, until I saw his book This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More at the library.

I liked the subtitle very much, and the fact that the book wasn’t written by a known self-help author, so I listened to the audiobook, which Burroughs reads himself.

It’s quite entertaining and, while I found some of the advice a bit reductive, especially when Burroughs himself is opining rather than speaking from experience, I still enjoyed it. I really like his reading voice.

Here’s a sample of some of the wisdom:

Having one’s mother or father or past abuser admit to their crimes or even apologize for them changes nothing–certainly not what they did. Rather, such an apology would give you the psychological permission to “move on” with your life.

But you do not need anybody’s permisson to move on with your life.

It does not matter whether or not those responsible for harming you ever understand what they did, care about what they did, or apologize for it.

It does not matter.

All that matters is your ability to stop fondling the experience with your brain. Which you can do right now.

He’s not wrong. On the other hand, there’s a section where Burroughs tells the story of a woman who raises her hand to ask a question while he’s giving a reading. She tells him that her son died while on a drinking binge and she feels guilty for somehow not being able to save him. Burroughs basically tells her, don’t worry. I used to be a drunk and there’s nothing I loved more than being drunk. Your son essentially died doing what he loved. He probably felt awesome.

I…don’t know about that. I mean, yeah, the mother should not feel guilty over something she couldn’t control—her adult son, drinking himself to death was not within her pervue. Adults have to take care of themselves. And addicts are pretty much impossible to budge unless they actually want to give up their addiction. But that doesn’t mean that as a mother I wouldn’t feel the very same way. You always feel there’s more you can do for your child. But the point is, I think Burrough’s response, while possibly helpful, was reductive. I would have said that woman needs therapy to understand her own feelings and find some peace over her son’s death. Not, don’t worry, he died doing what he loved (drinking).

Perhaps my review is a bit reductive, but I’m just trying to give you a sense of the pros (sage advice) and cons (overstepping his bounds due to inflated confidence, perhaps).

242006._SY475_And yet, this book reminded me how much I enjoy Burroughs and so I re-read, well, listened to, the audiobook version of Running with Scissors. I’d forgotten what a crazy-ass childhood Burroughs had.

In a nutshell, his mother was mentally ill and pawned Burroughs off on her psychiatrist, Dr. Finch, who officially adopted him into his large and very bizarre  family.

Both incredibly sad and funny, Burroughs details the daily life, arguments, hopes, dreams, and overall craziness of the family into which he’s thrown at age 12. Highlights include: the doctor’s “masturbatorium”; a turd that apparently predicts the future; and the kids in the house playing with an old electroshock therapy machine.

The humorous episodes are tempered by sadness: Burrough’s mother’s increasing mental instability; his parents’ divorce; Burrough’s loneliness; and his “love affair” with the pedophile who lived in the barn on the Finches’ property.

It’s an emotional read and I wonder at Burroughs’ drive and success after having grown up in such a nuthouse. Definitely a victory over a bizarre childhood.

32370I followed this memoir with another of Burroughs’ called Dry. As you probably guessed, it is his memoir of alcoholism and getting sober.

Burroughs tells the story of his life as a young ad man in Manhattan. Being in marketing myself, it was fun to hear about some of the ins and outs of his work. Of course, the story centered on his professional failings as his drinking took over his life, but there are some good tidbits in there discussing creative work and client and coworker interactions.

Among other issues caused by his drinking, Burroughs misses a client meeting, which leads to an intervention by his coworker and two bosses, after which Burroughs agrees to go to rehab.

Then follows the story of Burroughs’ attempts to get sober, his experiences in rehab, his stint in AA, and, interwoven is the story of his friendship with a man he calls Pighead, who is dying of AIDs.

I cried listening to this one. The ending is bittersweet as Burroughs finds freedom from booze but suffers a great loss.

And thus ends my Augusten Burroughs kick. I’ve moved on to other things. Tell me what you’re reading right now – would love to hear!

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Gorge: My Journey Up Kilimanjaro at 300 Pounds

Gorge: My Journey Up Kilimanjaro at 300 Pounds by Kara Richardson WhitelyThe thing about being a writer is that, if you are gainfully employed, it’s likely you spend your time writing about other people. I am a “content specialist,” which is the new term for copywriter because it implies I write for both web and print. Which means I spend (some of) my days interviewing and writing about people who do cool things in order to market the organization I work for.

That organization happens to be a major “highly-selective” university, for which I am producing a series of stories and videos about some of our most outstanding first-year students.

And let me tell you, my self-esteem can really plummet in the face of children (because that’s what 18-year-olds are to me now) who are already: published novelists, award-winning activists, award-winning athletes, award-winning Telemundo stars, and the children of semi-famous people—which, while not an accomplishment itself, often offers the means a driven student might use to achieve incredible accomplishments.

I literally come back from every interview and say to my coworkers, “Guys, why am I not doing anything with my life?”

All that unnecessary preamble is to say that I really enjoyed reading Gorge: My Journey Up Kilimanjaro at 300 Pounds by Kara Richardson Whiteley because damn, is she relatable.

Here is a middle-class, underemployed, overweight mother just doing her best to make a living and be a good mom and wife all while wrestling her formidable demons. I relate so hard.

In this memoir, Whiteley tells the story of her third (yeah, third!) climb up Mount Kilimanjaro.

“But, Shannon, I thought you said she was relatable. This super-athlete doesn’t sound very relatable,” you say.

Well, I say to you, remember the subtitle of her book. This athlete weighs 300 pounds!

And, in addition to the difficulty her weight adds to this third climb, Whiteley is actually coming off a disappointing second climb of Kilimanjaro, when she didn’t make it to the top due to altitude sickness. Apparently, that is a very serious thing, which she details in the book. I had heard the term, but as Whiteley and her group ascend throughout the book, it becomes more and more of a factor. You almost start to feel light-headed and nauseous along with the climbers.

Whiteley alternates the tale of the climb with episodes from her past. She talks about her strained relationship with her father, who left when she was little, and how that affected her and her mother and brothers. She also tells the story of being molested by her brother’s friend at the age of 12 and of the backlash she faced from schoolmates after reporting her attacker. She was also bullied because of her weight all through her childhood and adolescence. If you were bullied too, the episodes she describes may bring back those difficult memories. I know they did for me.

As with many people carrying “too much” fat on their bodies, Whiteley is a dieting veteran. She tries everything and, in adulthood, ends up at Weight Watchers. Through the program, she loses 120 pounds and embraces a life of fitness, leading her to climb Kilimanjaro for the first time with her husband.

Unfortunately, a lot of the weight piles back on after she gives birth to her daughter Anna. And a cycle of dieting and bingeing continues. After her failed second Kilimanjaro climb, Whiteley comes home disheartened, feeling sure that her weight played a part in her “failure.” She plans another climb, this time with several friends, and begins to build up the trip in her mind as the possible resolution to her food and weight issues.

Have you ever wildly pinned your hopes on something you thought would save you from your own designated issue? I have. So I get it.

Whiteley has several realizations on the mountain as she’s forced to be alone with her thoughts. She doesn’t resolve her food and eating issues while climbing because, of course, the mountain cannot magically change her relationship with food and her body. Instead, she resolves to continue to work through them. I’m reminded of the annoying adage, “Wherever you go, there you are,” meaning, you can’t run from your problems. You always take them with you. But I think that’s Whiteley’s overarching point. She took her problems to the mountain to wrestle with them under stressful physical conditions that required her to face her body and her feelings about her body.

I had one very judge-y thought while reading. As I got through the first few chapters, I thought, she doesn’t have much of a style. But that’s OK. She’s not a writer practicing the craft of writing. She’s a woman who climbed a mountain telling us the story of how she climbed the mountain. But further reading proved me wrong as Whiteley is actually a writer. Before the period of unemployment she mentions in the book, she was a full-time newspaper reporter. Whoops.

So, there’s my judgement: her writing is pretty basic and straightforward with no real style. Voice for sure. Style, no.

I didn’t care though. This book made me feel like I could climb Mount Kilimanjaro and I think Whiteley would be happy to know that. I’m not a published novelist or an award-winning activist, but if someone like Whiteley can wrestle her demons on the tallest mountain in Africa, surely this overweight Midwestern mom has a chance with her own demons.

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Hidden Nature

29328188._SY475_I’m really back with fervor this week, I guess. So, hello again, here’s a post about this great book I just read called Hidden Nature: A Voyage of Discovery by Alys Fowler.

It is Fowler’s story of exploring the extensive Birmingham, England, canal system via inflatable raft. I enjoyed it so much, mostly because of Fowler’s talent for describing the composition of a manmade landscape overrun by nature. Canals, a unique part of Birmingham’s built history, seem to exist at a crossroads of the developed and the natural.

I found Fowler adept at describing the convergence:

I lay back in the boat and allowed the grey sky to descend like a blanket. Then I noticed fireweed, or rosebay willowherb. It gained the first name because it likes to colonise burnt-out spaces, and famously turned post-war Britain into a blaze of pink. Its common name refers to the soft grey leaves that look like those of the willow. In late summer it is crowned with bright pink flowers, but in autumn it does something marvellous: it burnishes its fire-loving nature so that it looks like an autumn bonfire as those grey leaves turn red from the outer edge in, like burning embers, a brilliant orange-red, the seed heads wisping up like smoke. Here was a whole uninterrupted bank of colour, burning away. It was beautiful and fiery, unapologetic about its final call. It singed my retinas against all the grey gloom. Like a touch-paper, it lit up the bit of me that lives outside, and I remembered who I was and why I was there.

I mean, that’s why I go outside at all, if we’re going to get deep here—to remind me of who I am.

There are many more descriptions like this. Fowler also gives us some canal history, goes on adventures with a couple of friends, and makes some good entertainment of her foibles as a first-time rafter. The first time she uses the raft, the weather is stormy and it all but blows away. She ends up looking a bit ridiculous as she endeavors to clamber in. How can you not see yourself in that? If you can’t, you’re much more capable than I am and should be congratulated.

 

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Not a canal, but the river near my house.

The part of the book I didn’t care for was an important theme in the book, I’m afraid. Fowler is working out her feelings for another woman. She is married to a man with a progressively debilitating illness and they end up separated after she comes out to him. There are a wealth of feelings to feel and things to work out between them and, to be honest, I found myself skimming these parts.

I don’t quite know why. Is it because I’m a boring straight person who can’t relate? I kind of think it’s because I felt Fowler is better at writing about the nature stuff than the life/feelings stuff. For example, she refers to her husband by an initial “H” and conversations with her new lover, Charlotte, are often described in vague terms rather than actual dialogue given. Because of her nebulous exposition, I don’t really feel I had the chance to familiarize myself with the people in her life, so I can’t really empathize with the issues that develop between them. Does that make sense?

She was actually wonderful at talking about the adventures with her friends, conversations with her mother, and even exchanges with other boaters/paddlers. So I wonder if maybe she was too close to the husband/girlfriend issues to offer much perspective? Or perhaps she was purposefully not revealing much to protect them.

At any rate, I wanted more canal and less “I’m sad about my divorce and don’t know how to navigate my new self.” That sounds harsh and I’m probably being too critical and unfair. Perhaps someone who’s struggled with the same issues would appreciate those sections.

What I personally took from this book was quite valuable, however, as Fowler confirmed for me an idea I have had but couldn’t put words to: It is possible, not to mention totally wonderful, to look for the nature available to you in your city’s landscape (if you live in a city). You can find solace there. You don’t always need a mountain or a forest or an ocean if you don’t have them at hand. It is both possible and OK to find peace in an environment where ivy climbs a bridge wall or where a river runs next to a road. In other words, if you, too, kind of dig the weeds growing between the cracks in the driveway, this book may be for you.

If you’ve read this one, I’d love to know what you think!

And, finally, to prove a point, here are two garden pics I took on a walk around my neighborhood in August showcasing two totally different styles.

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