Archive for category: Reading

I’m an unapologetic dog-earer.

It never even occurred to me that I might need to apologize for it until a fellow writer/reader and I got to talking about it one day.

Apparently, there are two types of people in this world: those who dog-ear books and those who don’t. Also: those who fill up on gas when the tank is half empty and those who fill up only when they’re driving on fumes and a friend needs to follow them to the gas station at midnight to make sure the car doesn’t break down. (You know who you are.)

Forget DISC, Myers-Briggs, INFJ, etc. I think I just discovered a much more reasonable way to categorize personality types:

  • Dog ears, but fills up the gas tank when it’s half empty. DEFT (dog ears, fills tank)
  • Dog ears, but doesn’t fill tank. DEDF (dog ears, doesn’t fill)
  • Doesn’t dog ear, but fills up the tank when it’s half empty. DDFT (doesn’t dog-ear, fills tank)
  • Doesn’t dog ear, doesn’t fill tank. DDDF (doesn’t dog-ear, doesn’t fill tank)



This is how we DEFT folks torture our doesn’t-dog-ear counterparts. We send then pictures like this…


I love January.

I realize that for many people it’s one of their least favorite months, but I find it so hopeful. New year. Days getting noticeably longer. Every now and then a mild day delivers the promise of spring.

It’s also a great time to get cozy and read and write and watch good TV. My own version of Hygge.

Here’s what I’ve been reading and watching as of late…


Manchester by the Sea. I saw this film with my mom the day after Christmas. I didn’t love it. I’m in the minority, since the film just garnered a bunch of Oscar nominations. Casey Affleck gave a solid performance. Oscar worthy? Yeah, I guess. The story itself felt predictable to me, and given all the hype, I think I was expecting something a little more unexpected and perhaps a bit more heartbreaking. I DID think the ending was well done. It felt quite realistic, and I’m glad Kenneth Lonergan, the screenwriter and director, decided to go for real over neat and tidy. A big complaint, however: the score. Wow. I can’t remember the last time I’ve watched a movie where I was so distracted by the score. It felt forced and overly loud as if it were trying to get me to FEEL. Anyhow. Not my top pick.

The Crown on Netflix. Halfway through and I’m enjoying it so far. The Crown is about the ascension of young Elizabeth to the throne. When I first saw the trailer and caught sight of the actor playing Winston Churchill, I was like, “Who is that? He seems so familiar, yet not.” It was John Lithgow, completely transformed. If you liked Downton Abbey, I suspect you’ll like this Netflix original series.

Select episodes of The West Wing. I watched The West Wing for the first time last year. It’s still so relevant. *sigh*


American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin. I knew very little about the Hearst kidnapping or the times in general (I was just a pup in 1974). This book is illuminating on both fronts. Toobin is a solid storyteller as well. Nitpick: certain words should be used only once in a book (e.g. whipsawed, peripatetic, perfidy — several of these are used within a few pages, and even a few paragraphs, of their first mention). All are great words, but let’s mix it up a bit. I blame the editor for this, not Toobin. An editor’s job is to save the writer from himself or herself.

In progress: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. Strout wrote Olive Kitteridge, one of my all-time favorite books. The narrator of this book…the voice reminds me of a grown-up version of the little prince from The Little Prince (even though the narrator in Lucy Barton is female). That’s the best way I can describe it. I think I might need to read it again, much like I had to do with The Little Prince, since I believe there’s much subtle wisdom that I know I’m missing on this first read-through. I need to read Strout’s other works as well.

Up Next? Either Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Just Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain or The Brief  Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz.

I’ve been feeling stressed over my reading.

I get this way sometimes. I’m a reader, but I wouldn’t use the word “voracious.” I go through periods of voraciousness, but then I have quieter periods as well.

In the writing world, especially, there’s a ton of pressure (and it’s real) to always be reading. I get it. Reading with a critical eye can help improve a writer’s craft—to a certain extent.

But writers need to write. They need to write regularly. They need to get comfortable with revising. They need to develop a ruthlessness about their own work. None of these things comes from reading.

So while reading is one item in the writer’s toolbox, it’s not the only thing. Nor is it the most important, in my opinion. I know many voracious readers who struggle conveying their thoughts clearly on the page. But it’s also true that I do NOT know any good writers who don’t read at least somewhat regularly.

It’s a balancing act, for sure, especially when there are other storytelling mediums (media?) that can serve as teaching tools as well. We’re living in a Golden Age of television (that started with The Sopranos). Writers CAN learn many aspects of craft and storytelling from watching TV, although your snootiest writers would likely say otherwise.

I don’t apologize for watching TV. I think visually, so great TV is a great playground for me. I’m pretty much exclusive to Netflix these days. Binging does affect what I’m able to take in and process, so I will binge and then go back after some time and re-watch shows with a critical eye. I’ve done this with The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, The West Wing, The Newsroom, Dexter, and probably others I’ve forgotten. I’ll often watch pilot episodes a half dozen times, since pilots (when done well) effectively and efficiently set up the narrative and characters.

Anyhow, back to my point.

Despite everything I just said above, I still feel self-conscious when I get to the end of the year having read only 10-20 books and some of my colleagues have read 60, 70, even 80 books.

I do think I could—and should—read more. I definitely waste a lot of time doing stupid stuff (ruminating is a biggie), so my goal for 2017 is to shift my mindset when I get anxious and ruminating-y and do something else. Not just reading, either. Getting out and about. But definitely reading more.

So first up is this book: American Heiress by Jeffery Toobin.

It’s for a book club I’ll be crashing later this month. I probably wouldn’t have picked up this book on my own. Going in, I was only mildly interested in Patty Hearst. But the book IS good—and not just because of the sensational story that it was (and still is), but also because it’s providing me with a sense of time in history that I’ve paid little attention to. I was born in 1973, so while I was alive during these events, I obviously don’t remember them…or even have a sense of the time.

In terms of the book (I’m about half way through it), my biggest nit so far is Toobin’s vocabulary. He’s obviously a smart guy (regular writer for The New Yorker, after all), and he loves impressive words (which are probably normal words to him, and probably normal for the average New Yorker reader). I have no problem with this. I’ve acknowledged over the years that I have a weak vocabulary. No shame in that, since I’m aware and am constantly trying to improve. I’m friendly with my online and paper dictionary and love learning new words.

That said, certain words should be used only once in a book (e.g. whipsawed, peripatetic, perfidy—several of these are used within a few pages, and even a few paragraphs, of their first mention). All are great words, but let’s mix it up a bit.

I don’t blame Toobin as much I blame his editor. A good editor should save a writer from himself or herself. I suspect Toobin wrote most of these words. But the editor should have flagged the second and third mentions, especially when such great synonyms exist. For example, perfidy and treachery. They mean the same thing, and they’re both good words.

After this book, I might read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. It’s been sitting on my shelf forever.

What are you reading?

I haven’t read Liane Moriarty yet. Everyone keeps telling me this is a good one. I love taking a deeper dive into my genre of psychological suspense.

Some writers worry about reading novels as they’re drafting, especially if the novel is in the same genre. I used to feel this way, but less so now. If it feels too close, I’ll stop.

weekend reading

Here are some random quotes on writing that have inspired or resonated with me lately.

Seth Godin on writing: “The process advice that makes sense to me is to write. Constantly. At length. Often. Don’t publish everything you write, but the more you write, the more you have to choose from.”

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” — Anaïs Nin

“I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.” Jack London

“Listen, Hank,” he asked, “what makes a man a writer?” “well,” I said, “it’s simple, it’s either you get it down on paper or you jump off a bridge.” — Charles Bukowski

“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” — Oscar Wilde

“Given the choice between trivial material brilliantly told versus profound material badly told, an audience will always choose the trivial told brilliantly.”– Robert McKee

“At the end of a miserable day, instead of grieving my virtual nothing, I can always look at my loaded wastepaper basket and tell myself that if I failed, at least I took a few trees down with me.” — David Sedaris

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.”– Terry Pratchett

I HAD to end with some funnies, folks. 🙂

Yeah, it’s a commercial, and I know that in and of itself will rub some people the wrong way, but I think the commercial part is really downplayed and the message is 100 percent accurate.

This is why I read. This is why I write.

Happy Friday!

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