Reading at the tail end of 2017: Ethical dilemmas thereof, and the future of my blog


It’s a real problem for the reading and book tracking obsessed: must you add books half-finished at the end of 2017 to that year’s tally (post-mortem, as it were), even if you don’t finish them until 2018, or is it morally justified migrating them to first reads of 2018?

My Code of Ethics Regarding Reading Protocol doesn’t cover this. Time to go rogue and make up my own rules:

Books finished in 2018 count as 2018 reads! 

Such a saucy minx.

30 December 2017: Books in Progress


Classics Group Read: An Easy Choice


A no-brainer. The classics group that chose Nicholas Nickleby doesn’t meet for discussion until late January. I have no qualms saving this for 2018’s list.

Is it the book’s fault I needed the full four weeks? I think not. Only eight chapters in, there are still 50,000 pages to go. It is Dickens, after all. The man doesn’t do short – though you’d have to ask Ellen Ternan for the official word on that.

HAHAHAHA! Sorry. Nerd humor.

Paid by the word and long-winded, some dislike him for it. Despite the fact his tangents run to dozens of pages, I adore him. The wonky characters and snarky side-comments, even the sentimental plots, have made him one of my favorite writers ever. His insights into human nature are spot on, still relevant.

That is the definition of classic literature.

My favorites of his novels are: Our Mutual Friend, Bleak House and Great Expectations. I do wish I could time travel back to the Victorian era and destroy all copies of Little Dorrit. It’s like Paul McCartney’s collaboration with Michael Jackson… very bad judgment. Almost reputation ruining, teeth grittingly bad work.

Ah, but the rest of his canon makes up for it.

I wonder how the group will like it. Recently returned after several years’ hiatus (I was an original member back when it was first formed, six or so years ago), I vaguely remember a few aren’t fond of the Victorians. It will behoove me to step up and defend the literature I love best. There are also new members, wild cards. I can’t predict their reactions.

Was Nickleby the best choice to reel in the uncertain? An early novel in his career, it’s nowhere near on par with the titles I love best. A number of film adaptations have been done of it, so it has some staying power.

Fingers crossed I won’t find the response too negative. I can argue points like its length and diversions, but flowery Victorian prose isn’t for everyone.


It’s not you, it’s me. Or maybe it’s you,


Whole new problem, if I abandon a book begun in 2017, is it cheating to carry on reading it a bit past the New Year with the intent of listing it as a DNF (did not finish, for the uninitiated) for early 2018?

So much dilemma.


Newly married, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge. With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. For inside her new home lies a locked room, and beyond that door lies a two-hundred-year-old diary and a deeply unsettling painted wooden figure – a Silent Companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself…


Frustratingly, the elements sound fascinating – the execution not so much.

It sounded such a delight I ordered it from the UK, paying international shipping. I hate paying international shipping for new books. They’re such a crap shoot. Classics, yes. Persephone or other reliable-quality editions, of course. Vintage Penguins, certainly!

But books recently published are just plain risky.

Eighty pages in, it’s not gripping me. The writing is loose, there’s no tension, no sense of menace above the barest trace. The haunted house should loom, not feel vaguely creepy in a pedestrian sense. A door closes and locks itself. Woooooo!!!

Not scary.

When I read a gothic, I want to be spooked, half looking back anticipating a cold hand dropping heavily on my shoulder.

I’m left with a dilemma: do I keep going despite its mediocrity, considering I’ve spent the money, or write it off since the money’s gone, anyway, and I can’t recoup it through squandering precious reading time.

One or two more chapters. I’ll give it only that.

The Silent Companions reminds me of overblown books of “gothic horror” like David Mitchell’s Slade House and Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry. The two of them were just not scary, yet readers loved them.  Their premises sounded perfect; they didn’t deliver.


David Mitchell is capable of brilliance. Audrey Niffenegger, for great ideas with results somewhat lacking. Most writers occasionally drop a dud. Such is the nature of the beast.

Like truly funny books, works of gothic horror are tough genres to nail. They must be perfect, taut as hell, without a single moment’s lapse.

I have not read a truly great work of gothic horror in a very, very long time. One title that springs to mind is Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Brilliant book. It’s not white knuckle terrifying, but a very good gothic. A couple others are just on the edge of my memory, elusive. One was about a house with a shifting staircase. Really spooky. I’ll think of it in the middle of the night and hate myself for forgetting it.


Forgotten female writers, a love of mine


Anne Royall was quite a rebellious woman, indeed. I’ve barely started the book; already I love her for that.

Publishing her first book in 1826 at the age of 57, Royall reinvented herself as a “women politico” a generation before the Women’s Suffrage Movement. She was a pioneering travel writer and satirist who broke ground on the wagon trails a generation before Mark Twain, and an investigative journalist who took on bankers and prison conditions a half century before muckrakers Ida Tarbell and Nellie Bly. She was the author of 10 original books, and publisher of a newspaper in Washington, DC for 25 years until the age of 85.

One of the most famous, sharp-witted and controversial women of her times, Royall was raised in the backwoods of the South but educated herself in one of the great libraries in the region. She openly cohabitated with her husband prior to their wedding, but was then left widowed and destitute after her husband’s family declared their marriage invalid. Turning to writing, Royall acquired fame and then enemies for her scathing and hilarious denouncements of corruption, incompetence and the blurry lines between church and state.


Author Jeff Biggers was the inadvertent cause of one of my biggest embarrassments as a newly-minted library programmer. Hiring him to come speak about a previous book about Appalachia as well as the writing process, I was devastated when no one showed.

It certainly wasn’t his fault, not was he upset. Relying on the public to care one whit about literature is precarious. Writers know this.

He stayed a while and talked with me, but I had a hard time getting past the humiliation I wasn’t able to fetch him an actual audience. I took a lot of things much too seriously back then, and I wasn’t as used to hanging out with writers as I am now. I’ve since learned they’re Actual People, not demigods. I love them, but they don’t intimidate me anymore.

Did I tell you about the time I chatted with Salman Rushdie and made him laugh? Because I pretty much tell everyone about that. How about the time former poet laureate Billy Collins left NOT ONE but TWO messages on my home answering machine, regarding an upcoming interview?

I’m slacking if I mention neither of those, at the very least.

His latest is one I’d like to devote serious attention to, not merely skim. I have to put reading time in reserve, as the chances this book will lead me to others is high. I’ll need a lot of note-taking time.

Most definitely a 2018 read.

All the Rest

Not members of my Ethical Reading Dilemma are books I’ve dipped into so superficially I don’t consider I’m technically reading them. Winding up next to or in bed with me, I page through them before I turn off the light. Not in the official reading queue, they’re transitional bedtime rituals.

2018 for sure.

Future Tense: Where am I going; where have I been

I did want to talk more about 2018 formal reading plans before the New Year, but I’m afraid I’ve already flooded you with posts. After a long drought, the dry ground of Bluestalking may not be equipped to absorb so much new blathering.

We all know my 2017 was amazing, that I don’t expect to see its equal again, though I dearly hope I will. Early plans for 2018 – another topic I’ve teased about – are awfully adventurous as well, though perhaps not quite so much as leaving the country for good. Leaving the area, perhaps. In fact, probably.

Don’t ask where… Mum’s the word.

Whatever becomes of me, Bluestalking is on track to change course a bit. My new tagline may be temporary, but gives an idea how I’m going to proceed. I’m not just a reader and writer, I’m also past the strict definition of mid-point in my life (unless I live past 100, and I have no plans to). Living alone and content, having had one wild rollercoaster of a life, I’d like to write more personal posts, keeping the literary slant.

There are not enough blogs written by Women of a Certain Age, not enough that speak frankly about concrete realities of living a solitary life. I’ll also feature more photographs, like I used to long ago. I replaced my DSLR camera, and am retraining myself in how to take decent pictures.

There are still many to share from 2017, as well.

I’m very excited about it all, looking forward to 2018. Thank you to everyone who’s followed me on my journey so far, for all the support and kindness on and off the blog over the past decade plus. I hope you enjoy where I’m taking things in the next stage of my life, that you’ll hop in the backseat and ride along.

Much happiness and health to you in 2018. All my very best.



Happy Christmas Eve.

Quiet in my house this Christmas Eve. In the oven baking is a frozen beef and stout pie, in the fridge a six-pack of Stella Artois – an appropriately light drink with such heavy food. It smells wonderful, and suits my resistance to anything resembling actual cooking. This year, especially. Yes, okay, every year.

Whatever. Shut up.

My kids are scattered to the winds. My daughter is celebrating her first Christmas with her girlfriend in their tiny, animal-filled apartment (two cats and a dog…), my sons with their father’s family. My boys will come tomorrow, bringing tidings of great cheer and eating the massive amounts of food I bought. As for my daughter, she’s splitting holidays with her virtual in-laws. Plans are to get all of us together next weekend for presents and even more food.


You’d think I was feeding an army


Here’s hoping.

I’d imagined a very different Christmas for myself this year. For a fleeting few months, there was the very real possibility I’d be settled permanently in the UK, strolling through an Edinburgh wearing its magical holiday lights and decorations. I’d have missed my kids like crazy, but Scotland’s in my marrow still.

What’s ironic is it’s nearly impossible getting them all together now. They’re growing up and out, in separate directions. They’re not gone yet, but I can see the reality they soon will be. When they are, I’ll need the practice so I can stand alone.

I’ve chosen this single life for myself – for now. I left The Impossible Scot, came home from the UK. I can handle difficult people. I like snarky curmudgeons, find them endearing. What I cannot bear is constant confrontation, harping and bickering. I am a gentle person. It takes a lot to rile me to anger.

But once you do, I have teeth. Especially if my children are there.

I found out the Scot has obsessive issues, wounds from the past now barely concealing fury, outbursts of extraordinary intensity. He mistook my amiable personality for weakness. That’s a huge mistake. It takes far more strength to hold back from anger, to accept another person’s bad or merely irritating behavior and just let it go. You can anger or hurt me: I digest it in a moment, turn back around with a smile, and it’s gone.

Holding onto grievances is pointless.

Angry outbursts are not strength. They’re the exact opposite. Anger rots from the inside; lashing out at others is a misguided attempt to make them pay for hurts others have given.

I wish I could have been the healer, wish I’d have been able to step out far enough to see and understand in the moment. It’s become a great anchor, this regret. Until I stop grieving, let go of the niggling feeling the story’s not over, until I heal, I’m best on my own.

Man. Christmas sure brings out sentiment, doesn’t it.


Enough sentiment, let’s eat!


Part of healing is finding a new sense of direction. This is why I need 2018 to be a huge year, to eclipse 2017. I’m keeping Christmas small partly because I’m putting lots of time and energy into kicking 2018’s ass in advance.

I’m plotting and planning.

Hoping and dreaming.

Once that’s in place, I’ll be taking action.

I like this quiet Christmas Eve. Being alone doesn’t equate to loneliness. I have lots of people in my life, when I choose to socialize. I have my kids, great people I work with, I’ve joined and re-joined groups devoted to interests I share with others.

Loving alone time does not mean you hate people. Writing and reading are largely solitary pursuits. People like me require periods of solitude. It has nothing whatsoever to do with feelings about other people.

Well, most people.

I’m planning a trip to New Orleans next month, to help calm the wanderlust and get out of Chicago for a while. Unrelated to my big life plans – as far as I know, because life has had a remarkable ability to shock me – NOLA is a place of sultry, edgy beauty with strong ties to a specific part of American culture. It’s also home to strong echoes of the American literary past.

I hope I can make this trip happen. I’m already itching to get somewhere else.

It was nice taking this time to write a post on a major holiday. It feels luxurious I had the time to spare. I’m already at work composing my 2018 reading plan post. That’ll take a few days, but that’s okay. There’s another week left of 2017.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Merry Booksmas! Books I’m gifting to me this year.

Nice stack.

Let’s face it: no one knows which books I want at the holidays. Used to be I owned thousands and no one could tell what I didn’t already have. Now that my library’s so small, it’s what haven’t you already read...

Plus, I only exchange gifts with my kids, so there’s that. They figure I pick up anything I really want, anyway. Mostly, they’re right.

There were so, so many books I wanted to buy, but unfortunately there are annoying bills like rent and food to be paid. 2017 was not cheap, not that I’m saying I regret a penny. I just don’t have an awful lot of disposable income right now to feel comfortable splashing out.

But it’s Christmas, right?

Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? Are there no new books to crack open and smell?

Oh, there are:

Elmet by Fiona Mozley

I didn’t pay much attention to this year’s Man Bookers. Usually I’m all over it like orange on Trump, but this year I was pre-occupied and hardly noticed the long or short lists. I’ll admit I was a bit surprised when I heard an American had won it for the second year in a row. But I won’t go into the politics of that and how irksome I find it. I’ve had enough politics this year to last me the rest of my life, thanks very much.

Elmet sounds delicious:

The family thought the little house they had made themselves in Elmet, a corner of Yorkshire, was theirs, that their peaceful, self-sufficient life was safe. Cathy and Daniel roamed the woods freely, occasionally visiting a local woman for some schooling, living outside all conventions. Their father built things and hunted, working with his hands; sometimes he would disappear, forced to do secret, brutal work for money, but to them he was a gentle protector.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

You have been taught that you are unclean, that you are not holy, that your body is impure and could never harbour the divine. You have been taught to despise everything you are and to long only to be a man. But you have been taught lies. ‘

– The Power




This year’s Baileys Women’s Prize winner has huge praise from Margaret Atwood emblazoned on the cover. Margaret. Atwood.

Oh please, like I wasn’t buying this one.

Incidentally, did you catch The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu? I watched all but the last episode in Scotland; I’m pissed as hell I had to leave and missed the ending. I may have to subscribe for the free trial just to see that.

Mrs Osmond by John Banville

John Banville writes like an angel, and this book extends the story of Isabel Archer from Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady. I may need to re-read Portrait, as well. Do I re-read it before, or after?

A quandary.

Read before, I may be too critical of Banville. After. Definitely after.

I don’t always get along with sequels and prequels and riffs on classic literature. But John Banville. Exceptions are made to all my rules.

Miss Jane by Brad Watson

The potency and implacable cruelty of nature, as well as its beauty, is a trademark of Watson’s fiction. In Miss Jane, the author brings to life a hard, unromantic past that is tinged with the sadness of unattainable loves, yet shot through with a transcendent beauty.


Huuuuge buzz surrounded this novel, which doesn’t always mean much, but when it’s a proven writer like Brad Watson, it kinda does.

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

Several people said this novel should have taken the Booker Prize this year. Yeah, even when I’m not paying attention, I’m paying attention.

When it comes to books.

Midwinter in an English village. A teenage girl has gone missing. Everyone is called upon to join the search. The villagers fan out across the moors as the police set up roadblocks and a crowd of news reporters descends on what is usually a place of peace. Meanwhile, there is work that must still be done: cows milked, fences repaired, stone cut, pints poured, beds made, sermons written, a pantomime rehearsed.

As the seasons unfold and the search for the missing girl goes on, there are those who leave the village and those who are pulled back; those who come together and those who break apart. There are births and deaths; secrets kept and exposed; livelihoods made and lost; small kindnesses and unanticipated betrayals. An extraordinary novel of cumulative power and grace, Reservoir 13 explores the rhythms of the natural world and the repeated human gift for violence, unfolding over thirteen years as the aftershocks of a tragedy refuse to subside.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Never read any Ng, but I follow her on Twitter and she’s very likable. She tweeted a lot as she was writing this book, enough that I started wondering why I’m following her if I haven’t read her books.

Let’s remedy that.

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

I had this book in my hand so many times at Barnes & Noble. I didn’t buy it previously for no other reason than I’m not buying a lot of books this year, especially expensive new ones. And especially not when I can go a-begging and get them for free.

I was in an indie bookshop, saw it sitting there, and thought oh, okay, what the hell. It’ll be a fast and probably fairly forgettable book, but entertaining nonetheless. Plus, I was helping out a local indie.


As I was posting this, I remembered one work of NF I’d wanted very badly and hadn’t managed to snag from the publisher. If Amazon’s still promising pre-Christmas delivery…


We’ll see.

I’m being very good to myself this year. I think I deserve it. But then, I think I do every year. Never let it be said I’ve hidden my preference for myself under a bushel. After all, if you don’t look out for yourself, no one else will.

True words.

I’m hoping to get off (be good) at least one more post before year’s end, on the topic of my 2018 plans. Mostly reading, but if I’m in the right mood I’ll talk about other stuff, too. Safest to stay with reading, but when am I ever safe.

Anyway. Get out there and buy yourselves some books! Chop, chop. Time’s a-wasting.

2017 Reads: A Recap of best reads



I didn’t keep very good track of what I read this year. I can’t imagine why, can you? It’s not like I was busy leaving one life and starting another, traveling and seeing the world – coming back to the States and starting everything all over again. Just no good excuse at all for my lack of record-keeping. It should have been right up there at the top of my list.

What was I thinking?

I am proud of myself for getting around to wrapping up my year in reading before Christmas has even passed, for having the wherewithal to assemble my thoughts and put together a blog post, no less. Last year I didn’t manage to sum things up until after the New Year; I’m so far ahead of the game right now I’m impressing even myself.

(Leave me my self-aggrandizing fantasies. At least I’m impressed with me.)

Busy as things are with the holidays and such, I don’t expect I’ll read any books better than my favorites of 2017. I reviewed a few books and covered some on Bluestalking, but unlike the old days when I kept track of everything from titles and authors to number of pages read – even breaking it down by gender and nationality of authors, and genres of the books – this year’s reading is a scattered mess. I ought to be ashamed of myself.

I’m not, but I ought.

Despite all the craziness and wonder, I managed to come up with this list (in no particular order):



Sebastian Barry – Days Without End 

Read for the Sir Walter Scott Prize shortlist – as I predicted, it was the winner. I hate to say I told you so…

That’s a lie. I’m more than happy to say I did.

This was a very un-Sebastian Barry novel. Set in the U.S. South, for the first third it lacked his trademark lyricism. It tackled issues of homosexuality as an  acknowledgement of his son’s real life coming out, simultaneously presenting a very different, more playful Barry. If you’ve read The Sisters Brothers or True Grit, it had a similar feel. Not as openly funny perhaps, but his characters wound up in oddly humorous and very American situations.

I could understand if readers who’ve loved his Irish novels didn’t like this one bit. You don’t have to be an American to appreciate what he’s done here, but I believe it helps.

Eventually he shifted back to the style that defines him, the book as a whole a strange and uneven display I wasn’t sure I liked at first. I started it, put it aside dissatisfied, picked it up to try again, and only then realized this was a truly great book.











Ever Dundas – Goblin (my interview with the lovely Ever is here)

Oh, Ever Dundas. Such a heartbreaking novel you’ve written. So gorgeous, so rich and full. Addressing issues such as gender fluidity, Goblin is about a young girl on her own during the London Blitz, what she saw and a terrible secret she kept which came back on her in a way she could never have imagined.

Flashing back to the war in London and forward to contemporary Edinburgh, Goblin is a miracle of a book.

May 2017; Freight Books









Roxane Gay – Hunger

The only Best of 2017 book I read outside the UK, I’m realizing now this one non-fiction title is also the only book by an American that made my list. Roxane Gay is a black woman well-known in the states for her brutally honest stories about vicious childhood rape and the impact it’s had on the rest of her life.

In Hunger, Gay talks about how her obesity was a shield protecting her from unwanted attention from men. In wrenching detail, she outlines the reasons for her over-eating as well as the strain it put on her emotionally and physically. This is a hard book to read, emotionally speaking, but the message is important.









Graham Swift – Mothering Sunday

Also read for the Sir Walter Scott Prize, this was my choice as runner up.

I refer to what I wrote in my previous review in regard to Swift’s novel (follow Mr Linky, above). It’s not as vivid in my memory, though I know I loved it. As with Barry’s novel, it took two tries connecting with it, but once I did it was a marvelous read.

Having a solid book journal to back up my reading would come in very handy here.











Rose Tremain – Gustav Sonata

Again, read for the Sir Walter Scott Prize. I’m seeing a pattern here.

As with Mothering Sunday, please refer to what I wrote previously via the link. I remember the young boy in the tale, how his story broke my heart. I remember its beauty, precious little more than that.










I know I read more than the 15 I can come up with, and I’m frustrated I didn’t keep better track. All things considered, good enough.

For next year, I’m reverting to my old system. I’ve ordered a book specially designed for keeping track of books read that’s far more detailed and formal than my efforts in years past, when I kept religious track of every, single book read. I bought standard journals, noted titles and authors and general impressions so that, by year’s end, I could sit down and write proper “best of” lists.

I loved it, revelled in it. There’s a lot to be said for writing with pen and paper.



I had quite a collection of book journals, all of which I threw out when I left for Scotland, it saddens me to say. I’ll be starting fresh in 2018. Everything shiny and new.

Yes, it’s sad I don’t have the physical journals, but I do have Bluestalking and Goodreads, not to mention dozens of reviews peppered all over the place. I would say I have my memories of books read, but my recall is nowhere near what it used to be.

I can re-read old favorites and it’ll be almost like I’m reading them again for the first time. Indeed, every time you read a book you’ve read before the experience is different. Just as every time you think back to times past it comes with new perspective. You change and evolve; that’s life.

Let go of the expectation anything ever stays the same. I can’t express how much easier life becomes when you follow that bit of advice.

That’s my reading year, 2017. Not all of it, but enough to feel a sense of satisfaction, a closure of sorts.

You don’t always have the luxury of closure. Some things will never have an explanation. At least in this case, I’ve  managed to pull together enough I feel a sense of accomplishment. Controlling what you can is the very best you can do.

Next time I’ll reveal the books I’ve bought myself for Christmas. I’m not one hundred percent positive Santa’s finished shopping, but he’s made a very good dent in his list. A very good dent, indeed.

Until then, happy reading.

December: let the navel gazing begin!

Busy as hell; such is the nature of December. It’s the holiday season, the time of year I most dread. The rush of it, the commercialism no one bothers pretending isn’t the reason for the season anymore, the crowds and the rush.

I cannot bear a crush of people. This is why I shop online. Forced to the stores, when possible I hit them at off hours, 24-hour mega-stores my best friends. No one but employees are there after 10:00 p.m. Miserable employees and me, studiously ignoring me happily tossing veggies and wrapping paper, dog food and strings of colored lights into my cart.

What cannot be bought at Amazon must be bought near midnight.

At work it’s no better. Making themselves the little giant of their industry, my Day Job employer has created a tsunami influx of new clients. But that’s job security, you say. Oh, yes, it is. But when you’re understaffed and struggling to keep your head above water, it’s frustrating and overwhelming. It’s crushing and pressing, exhausting and bruising.


Afternoon at a Local Indie Coffee Shop

In the midst of this swell of activity, it’s in December I find myself most introspective. 2017 has been one hell of a year. I’ve not had time to come to grips with all of it before 2018 has already started breathing down my neck.

I want 2018 to be interestingly crazy, but maybe this time a sort of controlled interestingly crazy. Can that even be? You cannot plan Great Adventures, not of the truly grand sort, and this time last year I’d have done a spit-take had anyone told me what 2017 would bring.

Sheer insanity.

What I want for 2018 is something as wild and unexpected as 2017, just without the unpleasant bits. Sitting here with a calendar and journal, the OCD me wants to draft a game plan for the upcoming year. At the same time, I fully realize the futility of that.

My best-laid plans will go awry.

This is precisely what I want.

Together Apart, Enjoying the Quiet Ambiance

I want 2018 to showcase the insanity of my life. I want it to test my limits, to dare me. What I wish is I’ll find myself sitting, either here or in another charming little local coffeehouse in another part of the world, stabbing at the keyboard about how 2018 was absolutely gob-smacking, how it put 2017 to positive SHAME.

I’ll still plot out my cute little plans, think about what I hope to achieve in the New Year, but I do so with no thought it’s likely to transpire. Actually, I’m rather gleefully hoping it will not.

How boring if it did.

I’d like to cap this year, to at least stack it so the edges don’t keep jutting out, cutting me as I try to skirt it. I have a feeling that’s much easier said than done. Still, the urge to beat it to death in writing. It’s frustrating how impossible it is to wrap up life in a neat little package, but it would be nice at least to organize it, wouldn’t it?

Happy scribbling, planning, navel-gazing season. Here’s to all that end of year could have, would have, should have instant replaying. I’m setting myself up for welcoming 2018, lining up the pretty pens and pristine Moleskine notebook.

For the first time ever, I see how goofy it really is. That doesn’t stop me, but sometimes you just have to laugh. It’s that or succumb, and I am not doing that.

Not an option.

Happy holiday season. May it not drive you screaming madly into the dark.


writing sabotage: ask the master!



I can tell you all about writing avoidance, ducking deadlines a specialty. Years spent working my arse off building creds lead to the point I’m at now, largely taking for granted review books still flowing in unabated, despite my sharp fall-off in actual production.

Ding dong! Another package, toss it on the pile. Trip over it for a month, open it, exclaim oh, cool! Throw it back down.

Someone out there believes I have the talent and influence to matter; that’s not always enough to keep me going. Is it my depressive tendencies – oddly well-controlled of late – keeping me glued to the sofa, curtains closed, Netflix blathering away while I doze and wake on the sofa?

TV: Are you still watching Stranger Things?

ME: DON’T JUDGE ME! Claws around for remote, hits OK, rolls back over.

I’m out today, in public at a charming local coffeeshop, sitting next to me an uncorrected proof of a novel shipped to me in Scotland. Its publication date in October, it’s not as if I’ve let months slip past, but I was in a position to review it pre-pub and let that deadline slip right on by.

When you review pre-pub, very occasionally you can score a cover blurb, or at least an advertising quote. I’ve seen my name on jackets, bookmarks and promotional posters. It kicks ass.

But it takes effort. E-F-F-O-R-T: something I’ve avoided with great success most of my life.

I’m fortunate to work for publications with fluid submission dates. I can lazily toss over a review of a book a month after publication and fear no retribution. As long as the piece is well-written, all’s write with the world.

Write with the world. SNICKER.

(It’s abundantly clear why editors are still willing to work with me.)


I’m not exonnerated from having such a lax approach toward deadlines by grace of kind editors. In the case of this review piece it may be fine, but my creative writing sits and simmers from months to years. I could have had a novel finished in the time I’ve spent lolling on the sofa – at the least, a solid first draft of one of the four or five half-hearted stabs at fiction flopped on the sofa that is my hard drive, digging around for the remote in a Property Brothers coma, giving up on me long ago.

Applaud me that I’m working today, but don’t give me a pass. Don’t encourage me, no matter how charmingly rumpled. The sofa pattern in relief on my cheek is no substitute for a big chunk of manuscript that hits the table with a THUNK.


Deep down in my heart of hearts, I do.

I don’t know a single writer without avoidance issues, though a few are disgustingly disciplined compared to me. I smile to their faces, but give them the finger behind their backs. Goddamn you.

I’m petty. It’s a failing. But I’m not alone. One time I read a piece written by a braggy writer crowing about how she’s up at 5, goes for a 500-mile run then home for a nutritious breakfast of real foods that grow in the ground and not a laboratory, showing up at her computer writing – not so much as checking her effing email WHAT KIND OF MONSTER DOES THAT – around the time I’m generally rolling over, reaching my arm back to give my alarm the finger – pretty much the only stretching I do all day.

Though in a national publication any freelancer would sell their best friend to write for, it had NO COMMENTS.



Every other writer in the world effectively gave her the finger by virtue of shunning. No one wanted to give her the satisfaction of either praising her industry or admitting themselves incapable of such revolting dedication.

Take that, bitch.

Today, I pat myself on the back. I’m producing. I don’t expect to get as much done every day as I have today, but striving for a modicum of effort beyond zero is no bad goal.

Atta girl, Lisa. Way to earn that ass on the sofa time.

TV: Why aren’t you still watching Stranger Things?

Not today, temptress. Not today.


On the horizon: the next big thing

When you haven’t blogged for a fairly significant amount of time it’s all the harder writing a new post – partly due to the drag of guilt. Falling terribly behind, in this and obligations in general, embarrasses and discourages me. The longer a thing lies dormant, the bigger it looms.

Ultimately, it’s a goddamn blog, FFS. JUST WRITE SOMETHING.

I’ve been up to all sorts of things, the majority related to the settling back in process. Between furnishing my home, re-training for my job, reading and reviewing and getting myself out there socially, there’s not a lot of time to spare. I’ve reconnected to people and organizations, building new connections as well.

I’ve wasted no time.

What self-reflective time I have is taken up planning my future. Keeping new possessions light purposely, I’m unwilling to put down permanent roots just yet. Lessons learned in the process of moving to Scotland are still fresh. Previously inhabiting a two-bedroom apartment roomy enough but not overly large, I was shocked how long it took emptying it out.

So, so much stuff is a hindrance. It’s a lifestyle I won’t repeat.

I’m unwilling to settle where I am. Living someplace as beautiful as Scotland fed rather than quenched my wanderlust. What’s next is the question, what’s firing my excitement the knowledge I have no idea what the future holds. This time last year I’d have laughed had anyone suggested I’d call Scotland home for several months. It came from the blue, and no matter the ending I’m extremely grateful it happened. I wouldn’t exchange it for the world.

Given half a chance, I’d do it all over again.

Ten months remaining in my current lease, I’m busily plotting not just where I’ll go next but what I’ll do. The options are dizzying. Tempering it are the dull but necessary realities of life.

My ex-husband would roll his eyes, declaring it a result of my impetuous nature fed by the milder form of bipolar, but I have a good head on my shoulders. Sorry, pet, I don’t do boring. I’m glad for you that you found the conventional life you were dying to have all those years, but grateful beyond words you never managed to kill my fire. Points for effort on your part, though. It wasn’t for lack of trying.

I’m unafraid to leap, but careful to make sure there’s as soft a landing as I can manage waiting on the other side. The chances I take are measured. What looks whackadoodle from the outside is actually quite safe. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit that, as it takes away the appearance of magic. But then, it’s still nuts measured against conventionality.

At least there’s that.

I wouldn’t expect any grand pronouncements just yet. I can say with a measure of confidence the planning will take a while. This time, I’m hoping for a longer-term commitment to whatever it is I choose. And I do have a few things in mind, she said, cryptically…

Until then, back to books, back to reading, and back to writing. Reviews are in process, my library is building up nicely, and I have all sorts of bookish opinions to share.

Here’s to great adventure. Never, never, never settle for less.

The moral (and mental) rightness of minimalism: more lessons learned

This topic keeps recurring for me. It’s a current focus of my life, a daily practice, as I continue the nesting process. It’s also an about-face, a total change from the old me.

Post-Scotland, I am not the person I was. I can’t immediately think of one way this isn’t a positive.

For years I’ve been spouting off about how I’d like to embrace minimalism. Paging through decorating ideas on Pinterest, it doesn’t take long to notice none of the slick interiors there looked the slightest bit like mine: books piled everywhere, papers on every surface, miscellaneous items sitting out on counters.

The elegance of minimalism.


The chaos of anti-minimalism.

It’s just plain stressful – not to mention expensive – owning so many things. There are items I not only haven’t touched in years, but can be reasonably certain I’ll never use again. And while I do hold books to a different standard, I still think there’s a limit extending even to that.

Selling or donating books you’ve read doesn’t qualify as heresy. Neither does recycling or giving away review books I’m done with, though I can’t imagine anyone wanting possession of a book I’ve scribbled all over. Then, books that are duplicates, of which I had an embarrassing number, including two copies of How the Scots Invented the Modern World.


Laziness and inattention: the twin scourges.

Two copies: whoops.

Admittedly, there are books I wish I hadn’t gotten rid of, losses that cause me pain. I’ve made trips back to Half Price Books trying to find those, with limited success. My Virginia Woolf diaries and essays are perhaps most painful, as well as a large collection of literary biographies. Several of these I will replace: bios of Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, etc. Others I’ll check out of the library as the urge strikes.

Books left boxed in the ex’s basement, the bulk of my “new” library.

I am replenishing my library, selectively. I bought back bios of the Brontes and Edith Wharton, Faulkner and Shirley Jackson. I’m picking up some of the best books of 2017, books I missed while away in the UK. The few dozen books I kept, left stored in my ex’s basement, are the best of the best, gems of my former collection. They include signed and inscribed copies, rare editions and out of print books, mostly.

What you value but can’t easily replace isn’t excessive.

Recent acquisitions.

I’m a librarian and supporter of the public library’s mission. when I worked in a library it was easy grabbing books off the shelves, bringing them home by the wheelbarrow-full. Exempt from fines, I admit I abused the privilege.

That I buy rather than make use of the library’s collection is a bit hypocritical, not to mention damaging to their mission. I made a trip to my local library over the past week, and got myself a new library card. The best of autumn books lists are running rampant, and I cannot and will not purchase all the books that tempt me.


A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life.

– Henry Ward Beecher


Here I sit in my new townhouse. Purposely furnishing it with lots of storage space, trunks and shelving and baskets largely bought at resale shops that tuck away into furniture. It surprises me I no longer own enough things to fill all the room I have. Some of the new stuff I bought even makes me feel nervous and jumpy. There’s already too much of it.

My new practice is to make a point of keeping track of everything coming in and out. Yes, I have space – much more in a two-story home – but this doesn’t necessarily mean I need to fill it. I hate junk drawers, hate rummaging through bits and bobs I paid money for, but turned out to be so useless or excessive I need a drawer devoted to them.

No one should have so many unneeded items in their possession. It’s unhealthy. I’m making a point of returning what I don’t need. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass, but all the little things add up – both money and space-wise.

Thrift store buying is another way of recycling – wicker table, $ 1

My experience having less, when I chucked most of my things preparing for the move abroad, proved enlightening. I felt less pressure, less frenzy and stress trying to find things amongst fewer possessions. I also prized the things I had more.

I like seeing empty space, and the tops of furniture. I’m not a total convert. There’s crap sitting around me as I type.

The biggest difference: I’m more conscious of what I spend, and what I’m spending it on. Fresh from several months in a country that recycles and consumes so much less, where people generally have less disposable income to squander, I’m much more conscious about using superfluous resources, excess and the differences between “want” and “need.”

I don’t mean to preach, but I hope some of this resonates. This concerns mental health, happiness and consumption, all in one go. There’s no downside to owning just what you need, plus enough excess to feel a bit extravagant. No harm in that, if you can afford it.

Dealing with less also grants more time to spend doing things that matter, less time shifting unneeded objects around, less hair-pulling and frustration. You cannot put a price on your time; it’s the one thing you cannot get back.

I learned a lot of important lessons this year, important ones I’d like to pass along.

Sharing wisdom is one of the points of life. What I’m changing is making me a happier, more productive person. I believe this is universal enough, important enough, to pass along.



Our bodies our punching bags: Roxane Gay’s ‘Hunger’

“We don’t necessarily know how to hear stories about any kind of violence, because it is hard to accept that violence is as simple as it is complicated, that you can love someone who hurts you, that you can stay with someone who hurts you, that you can be hurt by someone who loves you, that you can be hurt by a complete stranger, that you can be hurt in so many terrible, intimate ways.”

– Roxane Gay, Hunger


Funny thing, protection mechanisms. Suicidal ideation is the most extreme, and believe it or not this deeply embedded impulse toward self-destruction has only good intentions. It seeks to heal the hurt in the most absolute way, its only concern saving the sufferer from pain that feels unendurable. It’s the most insidious, and most short-sighted, of survival mechanisms – which sounds ironic considering it’s actively trying to kill you. But then, what’s rational for the unconscious psyche is seldom logical.

Roxane Gay’s coping mechanism was, and is, overeating. Gang raped at age 12, the trauma lead her brain to form a groove channelling her focus toward gaining weight. Irrationally, her subconscious told her if she lost her sex appeal the danger would go away, that she’d be safe from predation. Now aware of the reason she turns to food, the addiction has taken such firm root the task of changing feels nearly impossible.

She has tried to break the cycle, dieting and losing weight only to regain as much and more. Coming from a naturally slender family compounds her sense of failure. That they’re able to eat healthily, to remain fit, makes her feel all the worse. Society, with its stress on perfection and beauty, leads to vicious backlash and prejudice from those who blame her size on laziness and greed.


Hunger is raw and naked, honest and unrelenting. Roxane Gay neither denies responsibility nor attempts to disguise her behavior.  She relates brutal stories of indignities she’s suffered as she admits to her own self-destructive behavior.

This is not a happy ending tale. Gay continues to spar with her demons; she has not found a solution. But through her writing she has found an outlet for her pain, at the same time validating the similar struggles of others.

One of the saddest stories is her bout with bulimia. Overjoyed she’d found a way to eat all she wanted without gaining weight, she taught herself to purge huge quantities of food. If you aren’t aware, habitual bulimia leads to chronic heartburn, sometimes permanent burn scars on the fingers from regular contact with corrosive stomach acid. The experience long past, she continues to bear physical souvenirs.

Roxane Gay’s book begs the question if her unrelenting battles will ever find resolution.  And yes it’s very saddening, but never self-pitying. Childhood rape left her mentally scarred, but she doesn’t pretend not to know the solution lies within.

“I buried the girl I had been because she ran into all kinds of trouble. I tried to erase every memory of her, but she is still there, somewhere. She is still small and scared and ashamed, and perhaps I am writing my way back to her, trying to tell her everything she needs to hear.”

This isn’t an easy book to read. It hits a lot of sore places, especially for women who’ve suffered sexual abuse. It’s not only a memoir of her sadly not uncommon life experiences, but also an indictment against the ugliness of prejudice – in this case, against the obese. It reveals ugly truths about humanity.

I’m thankful she shared part of her journey. She is a brave woman with an uncommon ability to express herself. What she has to say is important. I hope it’s brought her a measure of peace.



A little book therapy goes a long way.

I miss the good old days when I had me a rich husband to pay for my subscription to the Sunday New York Times. There’s nothing on earth like a thick slab of newsprint slamming onto your driveway once a week, leaving a rectangle-shaped imprint in the asphalt. Even once I peeled off the sections I didn’t give a crap about, there was still enough reading material to keep me busy more than half the week.

Spoiler: It’s the Book Review section I lusted for most.

The lousy bastards keep sending me tempting half-price offers, and good lord I yearn, but post-Scotland my coffers are a whole lot emptier thanks to something called no income. I’ve been cutting costs across the board. My home is furnished with mostly thrifted stuff – high quality thrift, mind, I have a reputation to uphold – and I don’t even have TV service. My cell phone plan’s the lowest available, as is my internet. No no no, don’t say “in that case, you have extra money sitting around…”

I was kind of thinking that, then I remembered something: there are libraries. Libraries subscribe to newspapers.

Libraries are free.

Well, paid for via property taxes, which I don’t pay directly since I’m renting. But, you know.

I was sorely disappointed with the last two weeks’ NYTimes Books section. Usually satisfying for this lusty wench, it just wasn’t doing it for me.  But then, the attention span isn’t there, either.

SEE: disaster, recent.

If I’d read the entire Sunday paper, the slick adverts would have gotten my full attention. Lately, most days find me sitting here on the sofa, eyes wide from hours spent scrolling through Pinterest for hacks on rental-friendly, sexy fixes for all the ugly bits in my house, empty water bottles littering the faux wood (SEE: Fake) floor beside me.

I’m ridiculously focused on decor. When I’m not out relentlessly hunting for something to throw on my walls, I’m home staring at things other people have. It’s a sickness, but mostly a safe one. And it’s a whole lot cheaper than drugs. But dear god don’t bring up the subject around me or I’ll tell you how much I spent on every, single fecking square inch of my house.

Everything above the bookshelves, FORTY-FIVE DOLLARS!

I had better luck with the most recent Bookmarks Magazine. If you don’t know it, you need to look it up. While not comprehensive, it does a damn good job gathering newly published and soon-to-be released titles, gives brief blurbs, and assembles excerpts from some major review venues. They give a star rating – 1-5 – based on how positive the reviews are.

I likes it.

And I found me a few titles to beg for, I mean check out:



















Time to go a-whoring.

It’s not a bad idea forcing myself to crawl to the library and read the Sunday New York Times. Gets me out of the house, and gives me a reason to get dressed and brush my hair. It has the added benefit of being where people are, sitting amidst others riffling through pages and drinking coffee. The sound of pages turning is soothing to me.

Hey, is there an app for that?

If I get restless, there’s always the decorating magazines. If I’ve had no luck soliciting publishers to get those books above, you know I hear libraries have those, too.

But I just may subscribe to Bookmarks. A girl needs something in her mailbox besides junk.

No, that’s not a euphemism.