Recent reads

Summer’s waning, which means my time to power through as many books as humanly possible is waning, too. Soon school will start up for Callum and work will start up for me and I’ll be juggling those things with writing my novels and blogging and reviewing and and and. My consumption of books written for adults will taper off, which is fine, because YA holds way more appeal to me anyway (duh). So I’ll still be reading a ton and writing about those books at Teen Librarian Toolbox, but probably will have to give up my “fun” reading time. To see what else I read this summer, you can look here and here for recaps of 20 books.

I want to know what you’ve been reading, too. Tell me on Facebook or Twitter.


We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

This collection of essays was FANTASTIC. I’m an easy cry when reading, but it’s much harder to make me laugh. I laughed and laughed while reading this book. Irby, who describes herself as “an old garbage bag full of blood, patiently waiting for death to rescue me,” finds existence and humanity exasperating, so you know I’m automatically like, tell me more! A sample of her hilarious writing, regarding her cat, whom she lovehates: “Free to an even marginally good home, but a terrible one is preferred. Black-and-white domestic shorthair, definitely part goblin, spayed (for the good of the species), fully vaccinated. Bites, hisses, growls when provoked, pretty malignant overall; won’t destroy your furniture or living space, but definitely is in regular communication with dark spirits.” God, I just did not want this book to end. Also, instead of dedicating her book to some important person in her life, she dedicated it to Klonopin. That page alone assured me that Irby is my kind of people. SO DAMN GOOD.


The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

Why do grown-up books have to be so long? After nearly twenty years of almost exclusively reading YA, I find myself irritated if it takes me more than two days to read something. Doesn’t this book know I have a TBR list that demands attention? That said, though very long, I’m glad I picked this book up. It’s rare to find anything that feels truly fresh and unique and this look at two women who work in animation and together strive for success, search for identity, and work through their pasts really felt like a new story. It spans their time together at college through the professional success they eventually achieve, sending them to New York and also back to their hometowns, where they mine the past for their current projects. A smart look at friendship and art.


Sex Object by Jessica Valenti

Valenti asks, “Who would I be if I lived in a world that didn’t hate women?” Good question. Valenti’s memoir is built around the unifying theme of sexism and being objectified. She doesn’t just look at specific incidents or examples but looks at how, systemically, sexism has affected her entire life, how it has shaped her, and how she has learned to stand up against it. She documents her experiences and uses feminism to critique those experiences, her reactions, and her choices. Though less interesting to me than her other books have been, this quick and at times infuriating read held my attention but didn’t feel particularly illuminating or thoughtful.


The Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green

Pretty much every summer, I can count on getting to read a new book by Jane Green. If you’re not familiar with her, there’s a huge backlist to check out. This new one is about a dying mother and her hope to bring her mostly estranged girls back home together to get over their dysfunctional pasts and move forward together. It’s not as much of a bummer as that summary makes it seem. This one was slow to start—the first many chapters jump from year to year, giving us snapshots of the family, and that really didn’t work for me. It was too slow and I couldn’t really care. But about 1/3 of the way in, the story really takes off, with the last 1/3 or so finally totally capturing my attention. Not my favorite by her, but another solid summer read.


Everything is Teeth by Evie Wyld and illustrated by Joe Sumner

This short and spare graphic memoir packs a punch. Dark—both metaphorically and quite literally, as many pages feature large swathes of black—and poetic, the story follows young Evie from her family’s summer home in Australia to their usual home in England. Through it all, Evie is consumed with thoughts of sharks, assuming they are always lurking around (not just in the water) and waiting for her. Her anxiety is endless, causing her to envision the worst-case scenarios of the harm sharks can cause. She grows obsessed with the story of a shark attack survivor and continues her interest in sharks even when they disturb her, eventually using stories about them to help distract her bullied and beaten brother. The story jumps ahead to her adulthood and takes a more obvious look at the “ebb and flow of life… and death.” Haunting and weird—two of my favorite things.


Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke

This graphic memoir was PHENOMENAL. Truly. It’s a stunningly profound look at grief, ruins, impermanence, loss, and meaning. It jumps around from Radtke’s childhood to her college and grad school years to later parts of her adulthood. During college, she begins to grow fascinated with abandoned towns and the ruins of civilizations. She begins traveling the world looking at these sites, searching for some kind of meaning or solace as she mediates on how easily things are lost or left behind. The art is amazing and the writing is equally masterful. The story goes to many unexpected places and Radtke manages to weave all of the pieces together into a powerful and breathtaking examination of loss. Just beautiful.


The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui

Yes, I’m on an illustrated memoir kick. And they’ve all be so good. At 329 pages, I kept thinking about how long it must’ve taken to write and illustrate this book. Thi Bui tells the story of her mother and father’s young lives, the events that shaped (and haunt) them, and her family’s eventual escape from Vietnam in the 1970s to the United States. She bookends her story with moments from her own son’s birth, reflecting on what it means to be a parent and a child, the damage we do to each other (and have done to us), and the power of family. This incredibly detailed story about identity and home was riveting and emotional.


Meaty by Samantha Irby

This is Irby’s first book of essays, though I tracked it down after reading We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, her second book. She is now one of my new favorite essayists. I laughed and laughed at Meaty (and the fact that she generally refers to her body as her “meaty pre-corpse”) and then also cried my eyes out while reading her essay on what it was like caring for her mother, who had MS and other health issues, while Irby was just a child. If you like swearing, hilarity, and virtuosic levels of snark, these books are for you.


A Different Pond by Bao Phi, Thi Bui (Illustrator)

This picture book, good for ages 5-9 (and, of course, beyond 9), is lovely. Thi Bui wrote that graphic memoir I wrote about just up above here, and it was a real joy to see her art in a larger and more colorful format. The story, about a young Vietnamese boy and his father’s pre-dawn fishing expedition in Minneapolis, is about so much more than just fishing. His father takes him fishing for food, not sport, before going to work his second job. There are references to his parents’ homeland, the war, and family, as well as scenes of the young boy’s life at home—helping his mother, watching both parents leave for work, sharing a meal together once they are home. There is so much love and warmth and beauty in this quiet and important picture book.


According to a Source: A Novel by Abby Stern

This may be the fastest I have ever decided to bail on a book. I stopped reading on page three. I know. Usually I can give something more of a chance before deciding to nope on out. Or I can overlook things that seem irritating/unbelievable and keep going. Here is why I quit: on page 2, the main character explains that her full name is Isabella Warren, which is on her credit card. She has a regular table at the Chateau Marmont, where she hands this card over all the time. She goes by Bella Warren publicly, so this is the name she uses to reserve her table there (etc). Stick with me. She works for a gossip magazine, working “undercover” so she can get all the dirt, and the name she goes by for this job, and the name that appears as her byline, is Ella Warren. She lives in fear of someone figuring this out. This. Her super-awesome undercover name. That is one letter off from her real name. This name that is not exactly a leap from her full name of Isabella. I’m Bella Warren! I’ll go by Ella Warren! No one will ever guess!  Yeah. I got so hung up on how incredibly stupid that was, I just rage quit.

Dachshunds being cute

It’s about time to just look at a whole bunch of pictures of my dachshunds again, isn’t it? Billy has been desperately sick for nearly two months, but he remains desperately cute. Edward is jealous of the attention I’ve been heaping on Billy and, for the first time in his 13.5 years, spent two days completely ignoring me—like, sitting under the bed and staring at the wall. These doxies.

Of course this picture is from our honeymoon

You’re probably like, dude, what is UP with this weird picture of dolls? Well, our anniversary is later this week. We didn’t have a wedding (because the Wedding Industrial Complex is gross). We signed a piece of paper in Boston—no witnesses, no pictures (so did it really happen?). If there were pictures, I’m sure you’d see I was likely wearing shorts, a black tshirt, and Converse, my life uniform. We then spent a lovely week in Provincetown, on Cape Cod. We did all of the traditional activities newlyweds do on a honeymoon—bought my engagement ring (yep), consumed lots of vegan goods from Tofu-a-Go-Go, mingled with drag queens, and went to an Ani DiFranco concert. As one does. So back to that picture. We found this little scene outside of the B&B we stayed at. It was unexpected, weird, and delightful—that’s not the worst summary of our relationship, really. I’m not much for mushy and self-congratulatory public declarations, but I will say that the best thing I ever did was somehow trick Matthew into marrying me 15 years ago. I highly recommend falling in love in a bookstore. 

We looked up what the traditional and modern gifts are for 15 years, just for kicks. We don’t give each other cards or anything, but it’s always entertaining to see what the gifts are supposed to be. The traditional gift is crystal and the modern gift is a watch. We figure if we watch The Dark Crystal, we’re pretty much embracing the spirit of the gifts, right?

Maybe I’ll even put on my wedding “dress” for the day. I think investing whatever I would’ve spent on a dumb dress in my lifelong obsession with black t-shirts was a much better use of our money. Nothing says “I dressed up special for our anniversary” quite like a t-shirt of children summoning a demon or She-Ra reminding us to resist.

Every anniversary, I also like to reflect on how much I do NOT regret not having a wedding. For some reason, people think they can tell you what things you will probably regret in life. For me, these have been things such as refusing to go to prom, refusing to have a wedding, getting tattoos, and only having one child, among other things. Aren’t people grand?


15 years of delightful weirdness. No regrets. 

Further adventures in reading

Here are some of the grown-up books I’ve read in the past few weeks. If you want to know what YA I’ve been reading, head on over to Teen Librarian Toolbox to keep up with what I’m loving. Or find me on Twitter, where sometimes I stop tweeting pictures of my dogs or talking about what sugary product I am currently ingesting/wanting to ingest and tweet about books. This link will take you to other recent grown-up books I’ve read. I’ve read more adult stuff than usual lately. I’m deep into the novel I’m writing and have told myself (and my agent) that this draft will be done by the end of summer, which has become a further necessity because I start my new job, in an elementary library, when summer ends, too.  I find that when I’m writing a lot, it’s harder for me to read YA. Too much distraction both as a reader and a writer.

I want to know what you’ve been reading, too. Tell me on Facebook or Twitter. Maybe someday I’ll tell you why comments are disabled here.


Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris

As I told Matthew, the idea of reading 1000 pages of most writers’ diaries does not appeal to me, but when it comes to Sedaris, it’s an obvious YES. Theft by Finding is the first of two volumes of his diaries. Given that all of his books are personal essays, you wouldn’t necessarily think his actual diaries would be so fascinating, but they were. His early life was far more drug-filled and randomly employed than I had understood it to be. I got a lot of good laughs reading his book (no surprise). My favorite part is him talking about learning French and trying to tell the teacher that it’s like the pot calling the kettle black, only he says, “That is like a pan saying to a dark pan, ‘You are a pan.'” We have repeated that line about one billion times already. A few years back we saw Sedaris read, and I’ve listened to all of his books on audio. I love his unique voice. Hoping the diaries come out on audio, too. A great read for Sedaris superfans.


Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan

Abandoned it 50 pages in. I’ve read all of Sullivan’s books and really enjoyed them, but this one wasn’t grabbing me. I may give it another try after summer. Summer is when I read the bulk of my grown-up books and I just want to burn through titles quickly. I’ve put it back in my library queue to attempt again this fall.



Complicated Fun: The Birth of Minneapolis Punk and Indie Rock, 1974-1984 — An Oral History by Cyn Collins

I devoured this book. This is an indispensable collection of stories about the early years of Minneapolis punk. Punk was my entire life when I was a teenager. My life revolved around going to shows and scouring record stores for whatever bands I grew to love thanks to my weekly master classes in punk, the brilliant radio program Beautiful Music for Ugly Children (on KMSU). I would sit next to my stereo when that was on, recording each show so I could listen to it again and write down what bands I wanted to check out. All these years later, I still love the music, especially the great, early bands that came out of the years this book covers. The end of the book makes it sound like maybe there’s a second volume, of the years 1984 and on, in the works. I desperately hope so.


The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder

The whole book could be summed up by this passage, near the end:

“Love disappoints. It can’t help itself. That’s why… I don’t know, that’s why Ingrid Bergman gets on the plane and leaves Casablanca, or Maude takes all those sleeping pills at the end of Harold and Maude. But what are we supposed to do? Stop trying? Preemptively say fuck it because we know everything invariably ends? That’s bullshit. You hear me? Bullshit. Love may disappoint, but that doesn’t absolve us from the duty of loving. Of trying to love.”

I always like a good story about other families’ messes. This was a quick and relatively absorbing read (though I cop to having skimmed slow parts) about various kinds of love and the many ways we are disappointed, broken, and repaired by love.


Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

If you haven’t read Roxane Gay’s writing (especially the brilliant Bad Feminist), you need to fix that. She is a masterful writer. This memoir was just as smart and incisive as I figured it would be, but it was also absolutely heartbreaking. Here, she is raw. She pours it all out on the page, leaving nothing out, no matter how complicated or hard to accept. She says this book was the hardest thing she has ever written. At 12, Gay was gang raped. She didn’t tell anyone (for a very, very long time). The horrific crime changed her (of course it did). She detached from people, turning to food for comfort, turning her body into a fortress. She writes, “I ate and ate and ate in the hopes that if I made myself big, my body would be safe. I buried the girl I was because she ran into all kinds of trouble. I tried to erase every memory of her, but she is still there, somewhere. . . . I was trapped in my body, one that I barely recognized or understood, but at least I was safe.” A powerful look at violence, trauma, and healing.


Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny

I like eavesdropping on people. I like observing people. I think those things are part of why I like reading so much, too—I like seeing into people’s lives. I had this book with me at Callum’s therapy appointment. His doctor always asks what I’m reading. I told her this one was about a marriage, and while it’s of course about more than just that, it’s pretty accurate to just say, “This book is about a marriage.” Graham and Audra have been together a number of years. They’re very different people, and Audra is very different from Elspeth, Graham’s first wife. When the three start getting together as friends, Graham reflects on how one person could love two such different people. Watching the trials and joys of someone else’s marriage unfold could be rather dull, but Heiny is a great writer and I was left wanting to know more.


The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band by Michelle Cruz Gonzales 

Once upon a time in the early 90s, there was this great hardcore band, made up of women, called Spitboy. If I needed to put on something really loud and angry and feminist and screamy, I put on Spitboy. This was an interesting, quick read filled with lots of black and white pictures of the band and their shows as well as flyers from shows. A great blast from the past to read this memoir about punk, race, class, and gender.


I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids
by Jen Kirkman

I enjoy the heck out of comedian Jen Kirkman. This memoir revolves around her choice to not have children. I laughed out loud repeatedly while reading this. I also read most of this while sitting by an extremely busy public pool, where my own child would disappear into the water for vast hours at a time, making me look like some kind of weird lady who comes alone to a childrific place to pointedly read a book about being happily childless. I have Kirkman’s other book in my TBR pile and am trying to save it for our trip to CA (I don’t mind planes as long as I have my head buried in a good book) , but suspect I’ll read it sooner.

Also, for research for my work in progress, I read these books, all of which are probably rather self-explanatory: 

On hair dye, piercings, and tattoos: a lifetime of creating my self

“With my tattoos, I get to say, these are my choices I make for my body, with full-throated consent. This is how I mark myself. This is how I take my body back.” –Roxane Gay, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

I was 14 when I first dyed my hair. It was 1991 (a very long time ago, dear lord). Brightly dyed hair was not as ubiquitous as it is now, certainly not in my tiny rural town in southern Minnesota. I started out with burgundy, from a box, then quickly moved on to every shade imaginable of Manic Panic (though always favored purple). My hair is, right now, at 39, dyed. It’s the kind of red that makes people ask if it’s my real color, as though any person on earth could grow a red this cherry red out of their own head. I wish. 

I was 16 when I got my first piercing in a place other than my ears. I had, by the end of high school, 14 earrings in my ears. I still have 8. At 16, I got my eyebrow pierced. It was 1994. My mother (who happily poked around record stores and thrift stores with me, who dyed my hair repeatedly for me) let me make an appointment for some dude (some dude!) to pierce my eyebrow in his basement apartment in Uptown Minneapolis. I sat in a wheelchair when he did it. My mother sat outside on the front steps. Again, there were not a lot of kids walking around yet with piercings in my small town. I eventually got my lip pierced too, right after high school.

The tattoos started when I was 19. Thanksgiving break of first year of college, 1996. My first tattoo was of a female symbol with a fist in the middle. I now have 6 tattoos and am always wanting more. My most recent one was this beauty to our left, done this past winter by my lifelong friend Sara Witty of Dr. Witty’s Ink Emporium. If you don’t know what my tattoo means, please go read Bitch Planet.

Here is the thing: I am a feminist. I was a teenage feminist. I had lots of deep thoughts about how we (society) view, gaze upon, inspect, judge, and control women’s bodies. There is always a conversation, even (especially) if unspoken, about women’s bodies. So let the conversation be where I lead it, I thought—my hair, my piercings, my adornments, my clothes–things that felt like very intentional giant middle fingers to the world. I wanted my message to be clear: This is my body and it is mine and I do with it what I want and I do to it what I want. My dad hated my hair… and my piercings and my clothes and and and. He never understood why, if I found society so abhorrent, I would intentionally do these things to bring attention to myself, to make people look at me, to invite judgement. Because this is my body and it is mine and I do with it what I want and I do to it what I want, I tried to say in ways that would make sense to someone like him. Because I just didn’t care what people thought; because I so desperately cared what people thought. I wanted control. I wanted to present my most authentic self, a surly, weird, creative girl who knew I was being viewed anyway, and wanted to control part of the viewing.

I tend to dye my hair, or get a tattoo, or do something else drastic (chop off all my hair etc) when I feel a disconnect from myself—a stress that splinters me, a sadness that cleaves me in two (this horrific brain that makes me feel terrible and this body that houses the rest of me, whatever “me” is), an uncertainty of who I am or how I move forward. I take back my self with these changes, every change somehow making me more myself than before. There is so little we actually control. I live inside of a body where my brain controls my ups and downs, my levels of misery and anxiety. I can’t do much to control that. But I can wrestle back a little bit of that control every time I make myself more my self. I know this makes no sense to most people, but I also know lots of my friends operate this same way, have these same impulses, do not feel like themselves unless they are making these same changes. These changes are me. I grow older, but I cling to the things that helped define me when I was younger. Things done as angry responses, as middle fingers, as potential phases became the constants that make up me. And as I watch my son do the same things, I think, yesssss. I think, I’m sure I’m doing a ton of parenting wrong, but I am right in telling you the message that this is your body and it is yours and you do with it what you want and you do to it what you want. 

Now, back to daydreaming about my next tattoo.

Literally just all about Glam Doll Donuts

If you know me at all, you know I love sugar. I know I shouldn’t, but I do. I don’t really have any other vices. I don’t drink, don’t smoke (what do you do?). I drink massive amounts of coffee, but that’s not so much a vice as an essential fuel to be able to person correctly. I took a page out of my friend Renee’s book recently and did this 22 day vegan diet thingy. It wasn’t too hard—I’ve been a vegetarian since age 14 and a vegan for many of my younger years. But this cleanse thingy required cutting out most sugars and bread, which made me into the worst version of myself. I like sugar. A lot. Probably 13% of everything I tweet is about baked goods, usually specifically donuts.

This past weekend we spent a day that I like to think of as Peak MacGregor. That meant that we hit up Glam Doll DonutsMagers & Quinn BooksellersComic Book College, and Sencha. Thank goodness all three of us are obsessed with the same things.

So, because so much of the world is a trash fire of terribleness, let’s just look at donuts together, okay? Mmmm… donuts. If you’re in Minneapolis, go check out Glam Doll!


In which I yell about mental health

(I shouted about this on Facebook recently, but I like shouting, so here I am doing it here.)

What a terribly irresponsible and dangerous headline. Antidepressants can save lives. I have been medicated for 21 years and while things like exercise (or any of the other million things we are told “may” help alleviate some of our symptoms) may help, it is not a medication. This headline and article shames those with mental illness–like if only we would work harder/try the RIGHT thing, we could get better without needing the “crutch” of that nasty medication–and stigmatizes mental health. I am not ashamed of my mental illnesses. I am not ashamed to be medicated. I am not weak for listening to my doctors and having a small pharmacy’s worth of medication in me every day. Going off medication, apparently without consulting a doctor, does not make you a “superhero.” Every day that I choose to take my medication, every day that I take care of myself, every time I go to therapy, or adjust my medications, or climb back up out of the horrible pit that is living with major depression and anxiety disorder, THAT is when I feel like a superhero. THAT is what will save me.

(You can go read the People article here if you want to. Whatever.)

Shall I point you to some other places I yell (or, sometimes, write in a more measured and academic way) about mental health? Okay, here you go:

My mental illness will not be cured by platitudes

Twin Cities Teen Lit Con 2017: Mental Health in YA Literature Presentation

NerdCon: Stories 2016

Mental Health Representation in Young Adult Literature webinar

The #MHYALit Discussion Hub – Mental Health in Young Adult Literature

#MHYALit: Anxiety Disorder, My Son, and Me

Sunday Reflections: Mental health medications are not your enemy

#MHYALit: Talking about mental health-related books and issues with teens

#MHYALit Sunday Reflections: The hard work of getting help and getting better


Comfort reading (or, the books I always go back to)

One of our 10 bookcases

We have a lot of books.

I know. I can see your amazed face. Who would’ve guessed it?

Matthew and I are lifelong book nerds. We were voracious readers as kids (and, growing up just ten miles apart, probably stood unknowingly next to each other in various bookstores, browsing), we met working at a bookstore, and combined have well over 30 years of history working in bookstores, libraries, and other book-related jobs. When we moved from Boston, we had 40 boxes of books and maybe 40 boxes of other stuff. Eventually, we decided to donate about 80% of our books to the Friends of the Library bookstore. That wasn’t easy, but we were sick of moving them. For the most part, the books we have left now are the essential books, the ones we absolutely will not part with. The reasons vary—they’re signed, they’re rare, they’re favorites—and even in our “bare bones” state our book collection far exceeds that of many people.

I’m a big fan of comfort reading. I like to go back to certain books over and over. Some of them are from my childhood and some of them are things I read in my twenties, but I haven’t added any new “favorites” that fall into this rereading category in ages. Here are some of my essential books. I want to know your rereads. Leave me a comment on Facebook or come talk to me on Twitter


Swami on Rye by Maira Kalman 

I am a Maira Kalman superfan. If you’re not familiar with her, you should fix that. Soon-to-be-doggy-daddy Max goes on a whirlwind adventure of enlightenment pursuing the answer to the question of “What (after all) is the meaning (anyway) of life?” My favorite line comes at the very beginning of the book: “This is life./One minute you’re sitting/quietly in your room, when the/doorbell rings. You knock over/a glass of water, run to open the/door, and someone throws a wet/sock on your head.” That pretty much sums life up, Max.


Any books by Beverly Cleary

Almost nothing pleased me more as a kid than discovering Ramona Geraldine Quimby. She was spirited, sassy, complex, creative, and so undeniably Ramona. She did her own thing no matter what anyone thought. I read all of Cleary’s books endlessly as a kid, but especially the Ramona books. I still think Chevrolet is a lovely name for a doll.


The Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace

I grew up in and around Mankato, Minnesota, known in the Betsy-Tacy books as Deep Valley. My Oma, who was a third grade teacher (and who was, incidentally, my husband’s third grade teacher), introduced me to these books. I spent my childhood working my way through the books in the Lovelace Wing of the Mankato library (which had a display case with some memorabilia). I went on tours of the Betsy-Tacy homes. As a child, my grandpa lived at 333 Center Street (around 1917), which readers will recognize as the fictional 333 Hill Street, home to Betsy Ray (and in reality, to Lovelace herself). I have read this series more than any other books. For a long time, I reread it in its entirely once a year. If you’re a Lovelace fan, check out the Betsy-Tacy Society. 


Life After God by Douglas Coupland

I’ve read, I think, every book Coupland has ever written and this remains my favorite by far. From the publisher’s description: “We are the first generation raised without God. We are creatures with strong religious impulses, yet they have nowhere to flow in this world of malls and TV, Kraft dinners and jets. How do we cope with loneliness? Anxiety? The collapse of relationships?
How do we reach the quiet, safe layer of our lives?” I’ve underlined about half of this book. It’s extremely quotable. I also love it for its small size and for the twee drawings peppered throughout the text. A favorite line: “Time ticks by; we grow older. Before we know it, too much time has passed and we’ve missed the chance to have had other people hurt us. To a younger me this sounded like luck; to an older me this sounds like a quiet tragedy.” 


The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ by Sue Townsend

The whole series is great, but nothing beats that first book. It’s hilarious and cringey and Adrian is just so insufferably awkward. I adore him. Also, Townsend’s other books are an absolute delight.


Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins

I read a handful of other books by Robbins and none of them grabbed me the way this one did. (As I’m typing this, there is a literally a woodpecker attempting to drill into our house.) This was the favorite book of a boy I liked in high school. In fact, this battered copy I have is from him. From the publisher, “Still Life with Woodpecker is a sort of a love story that takes place inside a pack of Camel cigarettes. It reveals the purpose of the moon, explains the difference between criminals and outlaws, examines the conflict between social activism and romantic individualism, and paints a portrait of contemporary society that includes powerful Arabs, exiled royalty, and pregnant cheerleaders. It also deals with the problem of redheads.”


Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet’s precocious and unlikable. She spies on everything and scribbles observations down in her notebook. She is my favorite.


Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block

Like so many other women my age, I was introduced to Weetzie Bat thanks to Sassy magazine. This book was unlike anything I’d ever read (I was 12 or 13 when I read it)—magical, surreal, dealt with AIDS, had characters with names like Duck and Secret Agent Lover Man, and was so short and beautiful and just fantastically quirky. And the writing—oh, the writing! “Grief is not something you know if you grow up wearing feathers with a Charlie Chaplin boyfriend, a love-child papoose, a witch baby, a Dirk and a Duck, a Slinkster Dog, and a movie to dance in. You can feel sad and worse when your dad moves to another city, when an old lady dies, or when your boyfriend goes away. But grief is different. Weetzie’s heart cringed in her like a dying animal. It was as if someone had stuck a needle full of poison into her heart. She moved like a sleepwalker. She was the girl in the fairy tale sleeping in a prison of thorns and roses.”

Dear migraines, I hate you

The other morning I kept hitting snooze until the last possible minute. I went into my kid’s room and said, “It’s time to stop sleeping” because I couldn’t remember the phrase “get up.” I knocked over my coffee. I dropped my shampoo in the shower–a shower I raced through because I was pretty sure I was going to throw up. I dropped my allergy nose spray, then my comb, then gave up on getting ready for the day.

What the heck, right? Welcome to the lingering effects of a migraine.

I’d maxed out all my medication. My headache was mostly gone. I was just left feeling wrung out and gross and clumsy.

When I get a migraine, here are some of the fun things that happen: part of my body goes numb (usually my left arm); I throw up; I slur my words or forget them; my fine motor skills go bye bye; bright light makes me homicidal; if it’s really bad, my depth perception goes and even things like walking up to my bedroom become impossibly difficult. I take a bunch of medication that, if taken in the first 15 minutes of the attack, generally knocks it out. But, I’m always left feeling awful from the medication. And, at least once a year, it doesn’t work. So then I’m in the ER or urgent care, getting a scan to make sure it’s not a tumor or something (even though I’m like, dudes, this has happened to me for 27 years. I know what’s up) and then getting pumped full of a ridiculous cocktail of drugs. It is not fun. But it all eventually works, so I’m grateful. Long gone are the days of giving myself injections at home (not my favorite) or not having anything that worked to help me. I do, generally, still, at least for a while, deeply long for someone to just drill a damn hole into my head during a migraine. Don’t know about trepanning? Go read. Trust me, during the worst of my pain, it seems like the most logical and appealing thing ever. If you’re like, really? Because that’s messed up. Welcome to my pain.

But isn’t it just a bad headache? you might be inclined to say. And then a migraineur will breathe fire, unhinge their jaw, and swallow you whole. This is the worst thing you can say to us. So just don’t.

So, all of this is to say, some things in life just don’t give a shit about your plans or your to-do list. You will go from functioning to incapacitated within minutes. There is no limit to how long you will feel terrible. Had you wanted to get six hours of writing done? Too bad–go to bed and cry and hide under the covers in too much pain to even think, well, at least I can go read in bed for the day. Because, oh yeah, my vision also slides out of focus during these attacks. Even if I manage to sleep, I do not feel like I rested at all. It passes and I feel sick, angry, and resentful of the time it ate. And, oh boy! I also know that at some point in the next few weeks, it will happen all over again.

Migraines suck. If you don’t get them, yay you! Please understand they’re more than just “bad headaches.” And if you do get them—hey, want to come over and drill holes into each other’s skulls?

Sometimes I read grown-up books

It’s true. But only sometimes. I maybe read 3-5 grown-up books (you know, books written for adults) a month, which I know still (disgustingly) puts me far ahead of what most people read in maybe a few months–or maybe ever. But given that I read about 15 YA books a month, it pales in comparison.


Here are some books I’ve read lately and liked. If you want to know what YA I’m reading, head over to Teen Librarian Toolbox where I expound on many books each month.


It’s Okay to Laugh: (Crying Is Cool Too) by Nora McInerny Purmort

I know I’ve said here, on Twitter, and to anyone who will listen to me that I’m obsessed with the podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking. It’s all about honest answers to the question, “How are you doing?” I laugh and cry at every episode. And I adore Nora. In a short period of time, Nora lost her unborn baby, her husband, and her father (the last two to cancer). Her book is funny, moving, and sad.


My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella

Once upon a time, dumb people who liked to dismiss women’s writing (especially women’s writing not deemed “literary” and serious) called this genre “chick lit.” You can like that term. You can like anything you want to. But I hate this infantilizing and sneering term. That said, I almost categorically enjoy the books that fall under this umbrella—that is, books by women about women’s lives. You can see why we’d need some term for that–who’d be interested in those stories? Did “dick lit” ever become a term? I’m too scared to Google that.


I love Kinsella’s books and this was a fun one about the reality of life versus how we appear on social media and about how sometimes the reset button on our life is set for us and we just have to roll with it. It’s far better than the rather ugly cover indicates (and yes, of course I judge books by their covers. You do too.)


The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn

I enjoy books where people make very obviously terrible choices. I like bad judgment, unlikable characters, and stupid moves. The couple at the center of this story decide to try an open marriage for just six months. It’ll just be a little break—no big deal—and then life will resume as normal. What could go wrong? If you’re like me and you like books where you get to see the drama that goes on in seemingly boring suburban adult lives, you’ll eat this up.


You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein

I like nonfiction. I like memoirs. I like funny books that don’t take up all my brain space that I need to reserve for whatever I’m writing and whatever YA books I’m reviewing. Give me something I can pick up, set down, read 3 other books, then pick back up and still find engaging. This book is perfect for that. Do you know comedian Jessi Klein? You should. She’s head write for Inside Amy Schumer. She guest hosted Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me one time. She’s hilarious and weird and a feminist and this book is a great collection of confessional essays on various topics from her life. Good fun.



Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith

Here is a blurb from the back of the book:
“Monkey Mind does for anxiety what William Styron’s Darkness Visible did for depression.” –Aaron T. Beck

Okay. Cool. Darkness Visible was a groundbreaking book. Plus, you know, I have anxiety disorder. My kid has anxiety disorder. I speak about mental health issues. The main character in my current WIP has anxiety. And I do like me a memoir. This was a quick read, but hardly groundbreaking, at least to me. Mostly I just felt like, Yep, okay, I feel that way too. Those are my symptoms too. I’m roughly the same age as the author, we’re both well-read on anxiety, both had therapy, both been medicated forever, and so on. It was a compelling read, in the sense that it’s also nice to see someone else’s path toward treatment and help (like misery, anxiety loves company, too. It’s nice to know other people have monkeys leaping around in their brain, throwing shit everywhere). I wasn’t particularly riveted, but I think for someone who doesn’t live with anxiety disorder, this would be a really eye-opening read.


Confessions of a Domestic Failure by Bunmi Laditan

Laditan is the woman behind the Honest Toddler Twitter account, which is hilarious, so I thought I’d pick up her book. It’s a quick and funny read about just barely staying afloat as a parent, especially during that tough first year. Ashley, the main character, is exhausted, her baby wakes up all the time in the night, her house is a mess, she never sees her husband, and she has hardly changed clothes since Aubrey was born (8 months ago). She wins a spot in a contest that will help teach her to be a better mother. She, of course, learns that things aren’t always as they appear and that she’s actually doing pretty okay at this mom thing. A fun and immensely relatable book.


Startup by Doree Shafrir

If I wasn’t married to a software engineer (Chief Innovation Officer, if you want to get fancy about it) and didn’t obsessively love Silicon Valley, I probably wouldn’t have picked this up. Tech startups, apps, investors, pivots, disrupting markets, etc are all terms I feel pretty well versed in (and, at this point in Matthew’s career, actually understand). A tech journalist looking for a scoop discovers some secrets that could ruin a tech golden boy on his way to unicorn status. Drama, ambition, lies, and technology made for a fun, quick read. I read the bulk of this on a day one of my dogs threw up 8 times and it was just the distraction I needed as I alternately held him and cleaned up after him.


The awkward thoughts of W. Kamau Bell : tales of a 6′ 4″, African American, heterosexual, cisgender, left-leaning, asthmatic, Black and proud blerd, mama’s boy, dad, and stand-up comedian by W. Kamau Bell

In a previous post, I talked about how I listen to a ton of podcasts. One of my favorites is Politically Re-Active; W. Kamau Bell is one of the cohosts. I like him, I like memoirs, I like funny books, so, go fig, I liked this book.


Up next in my queue:

Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character by Kay Redfield Jamison

Complicated Fun: The Birth of Minneapolis Punk and Indie Rock, 1974-1984 — An Oral History by Cyn Collins

Theft by finding : diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan

The Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green

The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay