Book Nerd: An Epiphany + Reading Recommendations

Stories are powerful. They teach us new things, show us different perspectives, help us to see the world in a new light. Reading has become a big part of my life over the past year, more so than ever before, and it has been a positive influence on me. That’s why I felt a momentary sense of loss when I had an epiphany:

I’ll never have enough time in this life to read all of the books that I want. It’s a never-ending list with which I’ll never be able to keep up.

Thus, I realized I have to be wiser about my book choices. Being forced to whittle down my list of books and focus more on what I really want to read the most is helping me learn more about the types of stories I truly like, and I’m learning more about myself in the process. I even deleted some titles off my list (gasp!), knowing deep down that they aren’t stories that are meant for me, and that’s okay.

That said, I am happy to say I’ve read some amazing books so far this year! Here are my five favorites, all of which I highly recommend:

Lab Girl by Hope JahrenLabGirl

“Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.”

I didn’t know what to expect from this memoir/autobiography, but I definitely didn’t expect to fall in love with it. Jahren’s whimsical telling of the lives of plants corresponds beautifully with the stories of her own life as a scientist, a woman, a friend, and a mother. The deep connection she has with her life-long friend and lab partner is one that is rare and truly special. Her writing is poetic and emotionally charged. This book was so much more that I hoped for and won my heart completely. It is wondrous and captivating.

The Girls by Emma ClineTheGirls

“I waited to be told what was good about me. […] All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you- the boys had spent that time becoming themselves.”

It’s the late 1960’s, and a lonely 14-year old girl becomes mesmerized by an older girl and her free lifestyle that turns out to be a dangerous path in disguise. The cult and thriller aspects of this book are captivating, but what makes this book worth reading is the author’s exploration of the complex web of both female and male relationships and early interactions that shape who we are and who we become. It is dark and candid interpretation of the female coming-of-age experience that I found insightful and led me to reflect on some of my own experiences and interpretations of them.

Rebecca by Daphne du MaurierRebecca

“If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.”

Originally published in 1938, this is a classic and a gothic thriller. A young woman (whose first name we never learn) marries an older widower and moves with him to his enormous estate where she is haunted by the memory of her husband’s first wife as she struggles to live up to her new role under the watchful eyes of her husband, servants, and socialites. But things aren’t always what they seem. This is an eerie tale from the first sentence to the last and a satisfying read as the heroine overcomes the challenges of her new life.

Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo MoyesParisForOne

“You don’t ever do something just because it makes you feel good?” The assistant shrugs. “Mademoiselle, you need to spend more time in Paris.”

Stood up by her flaky boyfriend, Nell ends up on a weekend trip in Paris alone. She is fraught with fear and anxiety from being in an unfamiliar city by herself until a chance encounter pushes her to live a little, to be a little adventurous, to try new things. It’s a story about both finding yourself and falling in love. This is a well-written, fun, humorous, and lovely novella plus eight additional women-centric and love focused short stories to follow. It’s great for a mood boost and a little extra reflection on relationships.

Behold the Dreamers – Imbolo MbueBeholdtheDreamers

“Who is it not easy for?” “For you, for your father, for every child, every parent, for everybody. It’s just not easy, this life here in this world.”

This is the story of an immigrant family from Cameroon living in Harlem and struggling to achieve the American dream. Jende is ecstatic when he lands a job as a driver an executive at Lehman Brothers. The lives of their wives and children also intertwine, but when the financial crash happens in 2008, things begin to fall apart fast. This book gave me a new perspective of what it might be like to struggle as an immigrant in the U.S. I really loved the parts in which Jende talks about his home country and culture. It made me feel grateful for all that I have. Also, the audiobook is amazing.

What have you read this year so far that you’ve really liked and recommend?

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High and Low

Sometimes a moment is all we have, and sometimes it’s all we need to bring us back.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the moment in this photo was a turning point. I felt strong and beautiful and free, and that was all that mattered. What came after was really hard.

For the next few years I struggled with a series of events, creating an internal turmoil that made me question much of what I thought I knew about myself. I gradually felt weak and ugly and trapped, and I felt lost.

But I remembered who I once was. I remembered how I felt in the moment of this photo and in millions of other moments in my life, strong and beautiful and free, and I knew I could get that back.

I did get it back.  And if you are lost, know that you can get it back, too.

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In response to the weekly photo challenge: Atop

7 Ways to Celebrate the Return of Spring

The days grow longer as the sun shines high above us, easing us from the winter season into springtime. The snow and frost melt, making way for greenery to grow and encouraging creatures to awake from hibernation. Here in the U.S., the northeast is undergoing the last of winter. Meanwhile at my home in the south, signs of spring have already appeared. We recently came across a squirrel nest in our yard, complete with three babies. Our evenings are cool and breezy, but most of our days are growing warmer.

The first official day of spring, the vernal equinox, is today! While the celebration of Spring takes many forms, here are 7 ways to celebrate the return of the season of growth, nature, and renewal.

1) Spring clean.
It’s called “spring cleaning” for a reason! Spring is the perfect time of year to toss out the old and make way for the new. It’s the perfect time to downsize and donate, recycle, or sell the things you no longer use. After freeing up some space, refresh your home as well with a little extra cleaning. Focus on those neglected areas such as the baseboards, the ceiling fans, and the space under the bed. Reorganize your closets and pantries to make better use of the space you do have. Introduce some new spring scents into your home with candles or essential oils. And don’t forget to open the windows and let in all of that fresh air!

2) Reflect.
Spring is the season that can sheds new light on the world around you. It’s a perfect opportunity for reflection. Carve out some time to think about all that you have accomplished in your life. Think about all the wondrous things that surround you every day and be thankful. Write down your expressions of gratitude. Express those feelings of gratitude towards your loved ones. Share your appreciation and love.

3) Plant something.blog
The earth supports life through the existence of trees and plants and the oxygen they emit into the atmosphere. Freshen the air around you by introducing new plants into your home. They will increase oxygen and add energy and spirit to the room. If you have the yard space, create a garden or tend to the one you already have, planting new things or old favorites. You can even plant a tree! Last year my husband planted a baby burr oak in our backyard.

4) Rebalance.
The vernal equinox is equal parts darkness and light, giving us 12 hours of each. For one day there is balance, and then everything shifts, as does life. Yet we continue striving to achieve balance, “work-life balance” being the most popular these days, though there are many types. What is out of balance in your life? Perhaps you are spending too much time with others and not enough time alone, eating too much sugar and not enough vegetables, staying up too late to watch TV and not getting enough sleep. Recognize the area that needs a bit more attention and make a change.

5) Enjoy the outdoors.blog
As we see the sun for longer stretches of time, the weather grows warmer, the birds sing their sweet songs, and nature beckons us to come outside. Make time to appreciate the shifting of the seasons and enjoy all of the beauty that the outdoors offers.   Spend an afternoon at the park and take a picnic lunch along with you. Visit some local gardens. Go for a hike. Spring is also a great time to go fishing, as my husband can attest. Enjoy the gorgeous weather now while you have the opportunity.

6) Start something new.
Spring is a time of renewal, and it is important to find time to renew ourselves. Are there projects that you’ve been meaning to start but have been putting off? Is there something you want to learn about or learn to do? Is there a personal practice you’ve been thinking about adding into your routine, such as running or meditation? The increase in sunlight as we move from the cold season into the warmer season has a rejuvenating effect on our senses and can revive our motivation.   Spring is the perfect time to start something new!

7) Take a trip.
Spring Break is a tradition for a reason! After hibernating all winter, we are ready for some fun in the sun! Take a vacation and get away from the stresses of daily life. If a long trip is not in the cards for you right now, consider taking a weekend road trip, or even a road trip. Sometimes a few hours in the car is all it takes to travel to new destination or to a place you love to visit.

Spring is a beautiful season, and especially for us in the south, it never seems to stick around long enough. So make time to celebrate, to enjoy the reemergence of nature and the warm sunny days. Take time out for yourself and have some fun!

A Wandering

You don’t have to always know exactly where you’re going. Sometimes it’s enough just to know you’re going in the right direction.

During the time I spent living and studying in Spain, my roommate and I took a bus to Las Alpujarras and trekked along the paths through the hills. We didn’t have a map or a plan.  We just wandered and came upon this view.

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We also encountered these guys on our aimless journey.   I climbed up onto a rock out of their way, allowing them to pass us by.

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In response to the weekly photo challenge: The Road Taken

Letting Go of Things

“Every life needs a little space. It leaves rooms for good things to enter it.”
Sarah Addison Allen, The Peachkeeper

We need space to grow and change and breathe. That’s true mentally and emotionally, as well as physically.  When K and I moved in together four years ago, it was a merging of two households into one. We owned a lot of the same things (toasters, bed linens, sofas, televisions, etc.) and decided together what to keep and what to toss. Though it was quite a lot of work, it allowed us to start the next chapter of our life together without being overrun with unimportant stuff.

Four years later I found myself standing in the living room, looking around me and feeling suffocated. It felt like we had too much stuff. Much of the excess I couldn’t see since it was stuffed into cabinets and drawers, but I knew it was there. I could feel the weight of it. I have never been one for having lots of possessions, and I always keep a running stash of things to donate, but it was still easy to accumulate things. I knew it was time to minimize, but the task seemed daunting.

One night I watched a documentary on The Minimalists, and there I found my inspiration. (Check out their website The Minimalists) I realized I had been holding onto a lot of things for sentimental reasons. I had memories tied up in these items, but they were hidden away from view and I wasn’t enjoying them; I was passively owning them. It was time to stir up the past, dive into the nostalgia, and let go of some stuff.

I started with the easy spaces: clothing closets and drawers. I dug in deeper than usual, letting go of shirts and dresses that reminded me of events and encounters but that I no longer wore. From there I built momentum. I tackled my desk drawers, closet shelves, the kitchen cabinets, and lastly the storage cabinets in the pantry where I uncovered a trove of treasures, including:

  • One of my first friends in college was a rugged survivalist. I didn’t believe in the extent of his skills, so he proved them to me by hand-making me a rope for camping purposes and wound ribbons of my favorite colors into the strands. It was frayed and coming apart and it was time to let it go.
  • Our sweet dog Toby passed away last February from heart failure. (You can read about it in A Recent Loss: Grief and Gratitude.) We still had his collar, his leash, his warm winter jacket. I put his things in the pile of items to donate to the animal shelter so that another dog can benefit from them.
  • My first 16mm film project was a series of black and white short clips I hand-spliced together to convey tone and emotion. I learned a lot about my creative style from that project and have grown in many ways since then. The images I captured are seared into my memory, and now there is space for new projects.
  • When my little brother was pre-school age, he performed in a dance recital. He dressed as a soldier with the other little boys, marching and dancing with fervor, a smile on his face. Using my camcorder I made a mini-documentary of the event, even interviewing him before and after his stage time. I recorded many fond memories with that camcorder and was happy to learn I could recycle it.

Sometimes we aren’t ready to let go of things, and that’s okay. As I was cleaning out a closet, I pulled out a photo of my husband’s junior high class. He agreed that I could throw it away. I set it aside, and he picked it up to study it, peering closely at his teenage self and friends from yesteryears. I saw the look on his face. He wasn’t really ready in that moment to let it go and decided that we should keep it for now.

Keep the things that have deeper meaning for you and that you would miss. Display them in a way that you can enjoy them rather than treating them as forgotten items shoved away into a drawer. I have mementos onto which I am still holding. When it’s time to make more space, I’ll face them, but all in good time. We can let go of only so much at once.

I did let go of a lot of things though and it was hard, but it also felt cleansing. When all was said and done, I stood in my living room, looked around, and reveled in the fact that I felt lighter. I couldn’t see them but I could feel the pockets of open spaces around me. I felt less like I was hanging onto the past and more like I was making room for the future.

To live a more minimal lifestyle, you don’t necessarily have to live in a tiny house or give up 90% of your worldly possessions. Just aim to keep only the things that bring value and joy to your life, and make plenty of space for the good things to come.

Photo via Visual hunt