The super fun play zone that is my home office

If I’m not at work at the elementary school library, or obsessively watching Buffy with my family (why did it take me SO LONG to watch this show? How did I live all those years without Spike?), I’m probably holed up in my office. When we bought this house, we knew Matthew needed space for an office, but lucked out in the house being big enough for me to have an office, too. No more writing at the kitchen table, yay! I spend a ton of time in this room, writing blog posts for Teen Librarian Toolbox, or book reviews for School Library Journal, or working on my novels. Matthew’s office is all gray and very grown-up, full of all the things you’d expect a software engineer to have (okay—it’s not totally boring, he does have plenty of Star Wars toys in there and Dungeons and Dragons prints). My office looks like a child, or maybe a teenager, decorated it. I spend a LOT of time staring at the various things in my office as I think about what to write, while I search for just the right words. Edward, Billy, and Oscar enjoy curling up on their big dog bed in my office and keeping me company, too.

Here’s my work space, in all its glory. Show me where you work, too!

Try to sleep

You know that John Green line that everyone loves, “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once”? That’s lovely, I guess. But if I were to write a truthful version of that line, based on how I sleep, it would be something like, “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: fitfully, exasperatedly, for a little bit, then not at all.”

Anxiety disorder is a peculiar creature. It can churn away in the background (if I’m lucky) all day long, not even necessarily latching onto anything that it feels it needs to obsessively ruminate about. But as soon as I go to bed, it leaps to life, like, “HELLO! SO GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN! OH MY GOD, I HAVE SO MANY THINGS TO TELL YOU!” And then it’s off and running.

I adore this tweet because it totally GETS anxiety.

 

If I didn’t live with someone who can go from being upright to being in bed asleep in under three seconds, I wouldn’t believe that people can just go to sleep. That my particular exhausting ritual isn’t normal.

Before I even get in bed, I take my various brain meds, including the one for anxiety that makes it possible for me to sleep at all. I have to sleep facing the door with my back to the inside of the bed. It (go figure) makes me too anxious if I’m not facing the door. I have to sleep with a pillow between my legs because if my knees touch I get that fingernails-on-the-blackboard feeling. I also have to sleep with something playing on my phone. I burn through old sitcoms like mad, usually having 3-5 episodes on a night. I can’t listen to podcasts, because I want to actually LISTEN to them, which keeps me awake, but old sitcoms that I’ve seen a thousand times are perfect. Their noise helps distract me from my own noise. The other night the Hulu app went down and I nearly lost it. NEED SHOWS.NEED NOISE. I also usually sleep clutching one of the dachshunds, focusing on their little heartbeat and breathing.

 

Recently, I got a weighted blanket to help. One of the things I have always done to try to sleep is work on convincing my body I was heavy and sleepy. Weighted blankets are not cheap, but I finally made the leap, figuring it would be worth it if it could help me. The blanket is 14 pounds (most things I read suggest a blanket 10% or slightly more of your weight) and I love it. However, the first two nights, it actually kept me awake because I was so worried about my 8-10 pound dogs sleeping under that weight. Yes, give me a product designed to help reduce anxiety and I will turn it into something that actually makes my anxiety worse. I’m talented like that. Anyway. The blanket seems to help. I wake up way less in the night, and when I do wake up (and turn another show on on my phone), I fall asleep again faster. It either actually helps or has convinced my brain to behave like it helps (and convincing my brain of anything is a great task). I don’t really care how it works, just that I get a little more uninterrupted sleep with it.

If your anxiety pummels you all night long, tell me your coping mechanisms, okay? I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before my anxiety catches on to this blanket trick and rejects its help.

Billy sleeps hard under the weighted blanket, too.

Oscar: A Dachshund Update

Sweet Oscar has been with us for 3 months now. He has, despite the claim of the shelter that wanted to euthanize him, proven himself to be highly adoptable. He’s great. But he has lots of baggage—baggage that we can only guess at, given he came to us with no history that we could know. He was abandoned and either lived on the street for a while or was tied up right away in front of a shelter. We don’t know. We don’t know how old he is, who he lived with, why they let him go, what happened in his life, or even what name he had for the first many years of his life. We know nothing except that we love him and he’s a very complicated little dog. But we can put together potential pieces of his story.

 

We know he is terrified of being left alone, and that one has a pretty clear explanation—sweet little dog was literally abandoned. He hates if he can’t see us. He will wait directly outside of the bathroom door for me (or bash the door open if he can). He will jump over our baby gates (used to keep the elderly ones from going into rooms on the main floor and pottying) to follow us. He is only now, three months in, beginning to trust that we will come back into a room and give us a minute or two before he comes to look for us.

 

 

He spends all day curled up in a chair in Matthew’s office. He is lucky that Matthew works from home and can be with him all day. Oscar is very dedicated to his job, spending all day in that office even if Callum and I are also home. If he comes up to my office on the weekend and barks at me for attention, and if I’m busy working, all I have to do is tell him to go to work and he runs down 30+ stairs to Matthew’s office. He doesn’t yet respond to his name, but he knows the command “go to work.”

He still sometimes has accidents. He loves to jump on all the tables and desks and has consumed many sips of coffee. He would love for Edward and Billy to play with him, and tugs at their ears to try to start something, but they are weeks away from their 14 birthdays and not really into playing anymore. He’s scared of going in the car, so I try to take him for short errands to help him understand that no one is going to take him somewhere and leave him. Like all the other dachshunds, he loves snuggling my mother. He loves his food, though he’s still not putting on weight, despite our best efforts. His little tail wags almost all day long.

 

The only real problem we have with Oscar, which is not exactly a problem, but is concerning, is that he is extremely protective of me. He hates it when Matthew and I touch each other—so if we hug or cuddle up, he gets mad. Edward does the same thing, though that’s because Edward is in love with me and can’t stand seeing the Human Husband getting near me. Oscar really loses it at night. Take last night, for example. While I showered, Matthew had Oscar on the bed and was playing with him. He had him flipped on his back and was wiggling him around and having fun. Oscar loved it.

Then I got in the bed. A switch flipped and Oscar HATED Matthew. His little lip started to curl. He started to growl. He started to bark. This is every night. Every single night, Oscar feels he has to protect me from Matthew. He will literally attack him to keep him away from me. Thank goodness he has no teeth. The worst is in the middle of the night. Matthew usually wraps up working around midnight and then comes to collect the dogs for late-night potty. Oscar LOSES it. He not only attacks him, but he will chase Matthew all the way downstairs. Again, he is 8 pounds, tiny, and toothless, so we’re not particularly scared of this fearsome display, but we are sad for him. As far as we can guess, it seems like at some point in his life, he felt he had to protect someone, probably a woman. He felt threatened by a man. He still feels the need to protect me. We spend a ton of time showing him that he’s safe, that Matthew and I would never hurt each other, that no one would ever, EVER hurt him. But still, every night, I have to wake up to get him out of bed to go outside. He is fine with me grabbing him and moving him. Outside of the day he got all his first shots, he has never once snarled or growled at me. But he does daily with Matthew, who during the daytime hours, is his very best pal.

I’m conflicted: I wish we knew his past, because it would help us help him. But, at the same time, I am so glad I don’t know the details. We’re helping him rewrite his story, but it’s slow going. Despite whatever he’s been through, he is still so full of love. He seems happy to have dog brothers, a loving family, and plenty of attention. He’s in an entirely new situation, but his past never appears to be very far from his mind. Whenever he freaks out, we just remind ourselves that he has seen some shit. He has his reasons for lashing out, for distrusting, for being fearful. I wish we had been the ones to have him all along. But he found his way here, finally. And maybe, just maybe, some night Matthew will be able to get Oscar up without fleeing down the stairs as a toothless tiny dog races after him, screaming at him to get away from his mommy.

Hey, 40, I didn’t really need a breast cancer scare

There are no good pictures to go with this post, so here, look at Billy and Edward.

I had a bad mammogram. Then a bad ultrasound. Then a biopsy that showed my lump is benign. These things are not great for anyone (well, the first two things in that list—the news of not having cancer was pretty great), but if you’re me, an anxiety disorder in a human suit, they’re really not great.

 

 

I turned 40, had a physical, had a mammogram, and while driving to work a few days later got a call informing me that the mammogram showed “an abnormality.” I was able to get in a week later for an ultrasound.

 

The woman doing my ultrasound left the room and came back three times. “The doctor wants to see a spot better… oh, there it is.” It. Something. She sees it. IT. After the third time back, she said that the doctor wanted to come do the ultrasound. A very friendly woman comes in and says, “Are you okay with me taking a look, too?” And I say, “Well, since I’m already here and half-naked, sure,” because I am incapable of not being weird.

 

I had about 8 total minutes alone in the exam room between all the rounds of imaging. Here was my thought process:

 

I wish I had a book. This is boring. At least she’s not making small talk. The little lamp and the soothing music, who are they kidding? Like I might forget I’m at a place called the Breast Center and think this is a spa? (After she leaves and reappears) Okay. A closer look. Fine. Ugh. I’m so bored. I really do want to read. (After she leaves for the second time) Look at this art. An empty canoe on an empty beach. That just makes me think about death. Who left that canoe? Where are they? And that dock going out into a lake? All I see is a path that ends. More death. Good god. This isn’t helping. (She reappears for a try to look just a bit closer, says “oh, I see it.”) Okay. She sees something. Well, I’m dying. Obviously. I bet they’ll be irritated with me at work–I just started there and now I’m dying. Will Matthew get remarried? He’d better. He and Callum on their own is unsustainable. No one will ever clean the house or pay bills or buy food. Jesus, do I really do everything at home? Well, if I’m dying, I bet I’ll get to be in bed a lot and maybe make some progress on my TBR pile (Rational brain: Good lord. That’s pretty offensive. Being sick or having cancer wouldn’t be some lucky chance to catch up on reading. It’s not a vacation. Irrational brain: LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR RATIONAL THOUGHTS RIGHT NOW.) I’ll lose my hair. My one beauty! 

 

Please enjoy this picture of Oscar.

Then I had 13 days to wait for the biopsy. 13! I became totally convinced the lump could not possibly be anything but cancerous. Not only that, but obviously it’s already super advanced and I will probably die really soon. I’ve gotten SUCH terrible colds this year. I can’t fight them off and they last forever. Clearly that’s because I have cancer. (Rational brain: Pssst–you work in an elementary school with 850 germy children! Irrational brain: Shhh! You’re interrupting my thoughts about dying.)

 

Matthew took me for the biopsy the day after Christmas. He took my coat and purse and sat in the waiting room with all the other men holding coats and purses. I went back and put on a robe and sat with all the other women wearing robes (where I was easily 20 years younger than everyone). The biopsy was fine, though I still look like someone threw a baseball at my boob at 90 mph. To say I bruise easily is an understatement. I was hoping I’d know the results before leaving, but nope, I had to wait another day. So they did the biopsy, stuck a tiny titanium marker in the spot, sent me for a mammogram (because why not make this even MORE fun?), taped an ice pack to my boob, and sent me home.

 

Thankfully, 24 hours later they called to tell me the lump was benign. I was hardly able to hear her through the blood pounding in my ears. Answering the phone gave me an immediate panic attack. Even after I hung up, irrational brain was going strong. Even though you confirmed your name and birth date, I bet they got your files mixed up and I bet you do still have cancer. They’ll call back soon to correct that mistake (they didn’t). Or you’ll get a letter and the bad news will be in that (it wasn’t). Or it’s not cancer YET, but I bet by the next mammogram it will be (time will tell. Rational brain: STOP THAT. YOU’RE FINE. JUST BE FINE. Irrational brain: SHUT UP—I’m winning here!)

 

This meant I could sleep again. I could stop thinking about death. I could read that memoir in my TBR that’s about a woman dying young from breast cancer. I could go back to worrying about all of the other many terrible things that could befall me and/or everyone I love rather than fixate on this one specific thing. I spend my entire life envisioning and preparing for scary things, but when a scary thing arrives, I don’t feel prepared at all. Just scared. Glad this boob drama is over. In the words of my husband, “Boobs are great until they try to kill you.”

Recent reads

You know the drill by now. I read a lot. I write about what I read. I wrote about 111 books for Teen Librarian Toolbox this year (Callum tells me I can do better than that, so watch out, 2018!). I blab about books on Twitter. Here are the grown-up books I’ve read recently.

 

Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches by John Hodgman

I am a John Hodgman superfan. His podcast, Judge John Hodgman, is one of my very favorite things in life. When he came to St. Paul on his book tour in November, we went, excited to share in his weird brand of humor (and got exactly what we expected: some poignantly funny stories mixed with recommendations on the best pans for cooking eggs and a good New England whaling museum battle). This book is about middle age, about aging, about families, homes, anxieties, privilege, death, and the everyday burdens of being a person. Hodgman fans will not be disappointed. New readers will hopefully go see out the podcast, where they can get weekly doses of humorous observations about life’s inanities.

 

Insomniac City: New York, Oliver Sacks, and Me by Bill Hayes
I enjoyed the heck out of this book. I read most of it on a quiet Sunday afternoon, unable to put it down. It’s a beautiful and poignant look at life, love, and loss shown through photographs of people on the streets of New York, diary entries, and narrative peeks into the life of Hayes and his partner, the brilliant Oliver Sacks. I almost took this back to the library unread, thinking I didn’t have the time to get to it, but I’m so glad I sat down with it and lost all those hours to this lovely, moving book. Nonfiction/memoir fans, get on this one.

 

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul
I am, once again, on a memoir and essays kick. This happens a lot when I’m actually really writing (as opposed to only kinda sorta writing, but mostly staring at my computer and sighing and erasing things). I need to read less YA to keep that space in my brain open for writing YA. ANYWAY. Koul, who’s the daughter of Indian immigrants, writes about Indian culture, anxieties, phobias, interracial dating, and so much more. She easily goes from writing about getting stuck in a skirt in a fitting room to discussing India’s caste system, rape culture, and family issues. Often darkly humorous, this was a quick read that was a little uneven (some essays were less engaging and I only skimmed). I look forward to more from Koul.

 

Home is Burning by Dan Marshall

Looking for a swear word-laden, depressing, darkly humorous look at upending your life and caring for two dying parents? Then do I have the book for you! Admittedly, this maybe wasn’t the best choice to spend the anniversary of my dad’s death reading, but I’d somehow brought home from the library FOUR books about death, so what could I do. In his early 20s, Marshall’s mom had already been dealing with cancer for years when his father was diagnosed with ALS. Dan and his brother, both out of college, moved home to help care for their parents. The thing that keeps this from being a total sobfest (and from being boring–the care can be rather repetitive) is Marshall’s love of swearing and his totally dark sense of humor. And his family, especially his foul-mouthed mother, is a lot like him, too. It makes for a read that is extremely moving and compassionate but also so darkly funny. Touching, honest, and vulgar… my favorite things.

 

It’s Not Yet Dark by Simon Fitzmaurice

Read this memoir about ALS on the heels of the above book. Totally different experience. Fitzmaurice’s writing is tight, measured, spare, eloquent. This slim book explores life post-ALS diagnosis and wanders back repeatedly to his younger life. It’s a beautiful, powerful, and unflinching look at living a full life even in the face of impending death. Heartfelt, full of love for his family, friends, and film, and full of determination. Fitzmaurice died in October of this year.

Tell me your least favorite words

A while back, I made a list of all the words I really like and so many of you shared your favorites with me, too. Now it’s time to talk about words we hate and why. Pretty please share yours with me so we can rant together.

Words I hate:

Pamphlet (too many consonants together—mphl. Yuck)

Moist (all humans are required to hate this word)

Phlegm (just looking at that word makes me want to barf)

Klatch (it sounds so aggressively ugly)

Redonkulous (hated it when it was popular, super hate it now)

Impactful (it’s annoyingly jargony. Find another word)

Artisanal (seems to only be used by the insufferably insufferable)

Whimsical (I had a boss who used this incessantly and ruined it forever)

Harambe (if you hang around tweens enough, you will hear it ALL THE TIME)

Rock star (okay, it’s more than just one word, but I HATE people calling other people rock stars)

Just saying (again, more than one word. Of course you are JUST SAYING. That is language. It does not excuse you to say any dumbass thing you like if you add this. It’s like “no offense.”)

These ones (almost nothing grates like this. Say “those” or “these.” You don’t need to say “these ones.”)

I would love to never hear “boys and girls” again

I have spent my whole life working with books and humans. I worked as a children’s bookseller, a children’s librarian, in a high school library, in a public library, but never, until now, in an elementary school. I knew it would be a bit of an adjustment for me—teenagers are really my people (they understand sarcasm and banter, my favorite ways to communicate). To my surprise, working with littles all day has been fine. They amuse me.

The hardest thing, also to my surprise, is listening to teachers say “boys and girls” all day long. Boys and girls, form two lines (one boys, one girls). Boys and girls, listen up. Boys and girls, go over here. Boys and girls, walking feet. And on and on. I believe that gender is a spectrum, not a binary. I believe we always need to be mindful of our audiences, which surely includes trans and nonbinary kids—kids who may not easily and happily jump into a boy line or a girl line. I also think an incessant emphasis on gender, as a label and a way to sort people, is not necessary and is damaging. If we are working toward more inclusive spaces and truly making all kids feel welcome and supported, we need to move toward gender-neutral (or gender-inclusive, or gender-free?) language. Form two lines, but who cares what kid gets in each line. Find other ways to refer to groups of children—kids, kiddos, Mrs. Whoever’s class, etc.

I’m pretty sure most people say “boys and girls” without any thought to it. I doubt most people are thinking, “I am going to reinforce differences and a rigid gender binary” when they say it. I doubt they are consciously excluding trans and nonbinary kids or trying to make them uncomfortable. People just aren’t thinking about any of that. But I wish they would. I’m not criticizing people who say this—not really. It’s an easy phrase that feels like a catch-all. It’s something that has been said forever. But it’s not a catch-all, not at all. And to create a truly inclusive space, it’s time for us to move on from “boys and girls” and challenge ourselves to figure out new language that better represents the accepting and supportive spaces schools should be.

Unadoptable

“Unadoptable.”

That what the humane society said about Oscar, our fantastic new dachshund. “Unadoptable.” Someone abandoned him, tied him outside of the humane society, and the humane society took one look at this scrawny dog with a mouth full of rotting teeth and said, “Unadoptable.” They put him on the immediate euthanasia list. Thank goodness a rescue group swooped in and saved him. They got him the dental care he needed (which resulted in all but his back molars, one on each side, being pulled). They fostered him. They took him week after week to an adoption event, where this scared little dog who had lost everything he knew, sat trembling and snarling at people who wanted to see him. He was scared. Strangers were strangers. He went back to his foster home week after week. Was he unadoptable?

When we met him, he didn’t seem to like us. We kept telling ourselves that he was scared. He’d been through a lot lately. He had a mouth full of stitches, a broken jaw, and probably had no idea what was really happening. He liked his foster mom and no one else. He didn’t want to walk with us around the store—he reluctantly was dragged. He didn’t want to look at us. He certainly didn’t want us to touch him—that toothless little mouth snarled and snapped when we tried to hold him. But we understood he was totally out of his element. We gave him a chance. And by the time we were in the car and on our way home, he was snuggled up next to Callum. He came into our house, sniffed our dogs, and wagged his tail nonstop. By the second day, we could lift him without him snapping at us.

He was been with us for a month and a half and is the most loving, well-behaved, friendliest, most affectionate little dog ever. He wags his tail all day long. He loves snuggling under blankets to nap, sitting in Matthew’s office all day while he works, and following us everywhere. He does not love when he’s left alone in a room and can’t see his people. He will jump over our gates to get to us. His stitches are all gone, his jaw is healed, and we’re feeding him all the time to try and help him gain weight. We don’t know his past—we only know he is a dachshund of indeterminate age who was left tied outside of a humane society. We don’t know his real name, but he is starting to respond to Oscar (the name the foster family gave him). We do not know if he was loved or cared for or abused or why he was neglected. We went in knowing only two things: he was deemed “unadoptable” and our hearts were open to bringing him home in any condition with any personality. He has proven to be a far more loving dog than we could have imagined.

When we went to the adoption event, Oscar was the only dog to go home with a family that day. He was not unadoptable. MacGregors do not like being told what to do. We do not like blanket statements. We like a challenge. “Unadoptable,” huh? Okay—sold. We will take him. We will show you. We will adopt this dog so hard.

 

 

I get weepy about, oh, once a day when I think of sweet, scared, abandoned Oscar. Of how close he came to just being put to sleep before anyone bothered to see beyond his outside, beyond his fear and baggage. It’s a good lesson for everyone. We are far more than our labels, than things people say about us, than assumptions, than first impressions. We have gone through hard things, but those things don’t make us unlovable or undeserving of love. They don’t make us incapable of fresh starts, of needing and taking second chances. No one is any one thing. The story they made up about Oscar—this is a mean little dog who has been so severely neglected that no one would want him—was not true at all. AT ALL. Thankfully, we are skilled in understanding fictions—that there are unreliable narrators, that stories are often told from only one perspective, that there is always more to a character’s backstory than you see right away.

The true story of Oscar is this: He got to start over. He has plenty to eat, a dog bed in almost every room, two brothers to cuddle up with at night, and a family who adores him. He is friendly and easy-going and will snuggle anyone. He is more than just the story that was told about him. He is not “unadoptable.” He is a little dog that we now can’t imagine life without.

Well… how did I get here?

I turned 40 last week.

Hold on—I need a minute to just stare at that sentence and let it sink in.

I know age is nothing but a number, you’re only as old as you feel, blah blah blah. But 40 strikes me as SOMETHING. If not old, then just somehow significant. The thing is, I clearly remember being 11/12 when my parents turned 40. Black balloons, over the hill signs, cards referencing your impending death, the whole thing. I remember making my mom a card with a tombstone on it (though, given the saturnine tween/teen I was, that card could have been drawn for anyone at any birthday).

I do wonder if my association with 40 has more to do with my youth than anything else. When I think of 40, I think of my parents. It was around then, when I was in middle school and on, that I started to be more aware of them as actual complex people rather than just nice people who kept me in cassette tapes and toys. I started to be more aware of their adulthood—their jobs, their relationship, money, etc. And their version of adulthood feels very different from mine. So it’s not that I can’t handle turning 40—I don’t actually care—but it signals to me to think about how 40 used to sound so old, to think about my parents at 40, to think about how despite having all of the traditional trappings of some version of adulthood (marriage, a kid, a mortgage, etc), I don’t feel very adult.

Despite those trappings and all other evidence that I have been a self-sufficient adult for a very long time now, most days I just feel like I’m cosplaying. And I don’t even do that very well—I still dress how I did when I was a teenager, despite a niggling feeling that I may be too old for novelty t-shirts, fun socks, and glitter everything (and, you know, literally shopping in the children’s section for myself, much to Callum’s mortification). I am constantly told I look far younger than I am (and I never know what to say to that. Thanks? I have good genes? You should see the way my oil portrait is aging?). I am a responsible and thorough person who takes care of most of the things around our house. I do a lot of life on autopilot, but sometimes I do find myself thinking, I am adulting the hell out of this day. Or I will do something, like go to pick Callum up from somewhere, and think, Holy crap, I’m the adult. I’m the adult going to get my kid from this movie theater, but I wasn’t I also JUST the kid who was being dropped off there by my own parents? This usually leads me down some horrible “the passage of time is the weirdest/worst/scariest/most fascinating thing ever” rabbit hole of thoughts.

All of this is to say: I’m 40. People older than this like to laugh at how young this still is, but it’s the oldest I’ve ever been. I don’t think it changes anything for me, but right now I am having a little bit of a hard time accepting that I am 40—40 sounds like a thing that I am not. That is not me. That is different from me. But does it change anything? Probably not. I’ll continue to wear weird t-shirts. I will still call everyone “dude.” I will listen to punk music and read YA and buy sweatshirts made for children and eat sour candy until my mouth hurts. I will pay the bills and go to work and parent my child and constantly sing made-up songs with my husband and clean the house and buy stickers for myself. I will age and stubbornly cling to all the bits of my self that I created and solidified when I was much younger. Nothing will change, not even my perpetual thought that this is not what I thought adulthood would look like or feel like. I will be me, only older.

Same as it ever was.

Recent reads

Still sneaking in some reading beyond what YA I review for TLT or need for research. I’m also reading chapter books like a mofo, now that I work at an elementary library. I tweet about them and did quick Post-it Note reviews of them on TLT, but didn’t include them here, since I’ve read SO MANY lately. I’ve also read a giant pile of picture books in the past few weeks.

 

Here is a picture of my nightstand. On top are the books I will read in the next two to three weeks. Below are my “just in case” books–books waiting to be read, but really there for whenever I need a backup supply in case I run out of library books (ha ha) or whatever. Next to my desk in my office is  a shelf with 37 books waiting for me to review them. I work in a library. I visit my public library at least twice a week. It’s fine. I’m fine. This is all manageable. I don’t have a problem. I DON’T.

What books have you read and liked lately? Help me make my TBR piles even more out of control. 

 

Thousand Star Hotel by Bao Phi

Good god was this good. Do yourself a favor and go get this. Support a Minnesota writer. Support a Minnesota publisher. Support good, smart, profound poetry. First generation Vietnamese-American Phi writes about racism, poverty, family, history, trauma, memory, masculinity, white supremacy, parenthood, and so much more. His powerful, fiercely political poems gave me chills. GET THIS.

 

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

This book feels like something different from Green. I like his writing—I like hyperverbal teenagers who are interested in oddball things and kind of hang out on the fringes of life. Here, I feel like he’s doing something different than his other books. To a large degree, his other books, which, again, I like, seem like the same stock characters over and over. But in this new one, Aza stands out as feeling multifaceted and raw in a way none of his previous characters feel. Her struggles with anxiety, with controlling her thoughts (or being controlled by her thoughts), with social stuff, with reality/rational thought, and with getting the right treatment make this story important. I thought I was going to be getting a kind of wacky mystery story, but the mystery at the heart of it hardly plays a role. Though a bit slow and not always as fleshed out as I would have liked, this compelling look at mental illness will certainly educate readers—many readers will, of course, see themselves in Aza, too. I’m pretty much guaranteed a good cry at some point in every Green book. Here, it came in the very last paragraph of his acknowledgements, where he thanks his mental health support team. “There is hope,” he writes, “even when your brain tells you there isn’t.”

 

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

It took me a while to get into this, and then also a while to read it. For me to spend a week on a book is pretty much unheard of. But I love Egan’s writing, and the story was compelling, so I pushed through. Set mostly around WW II and the decade before it, it follows the lives of Eddie, who finds relatively stable work in the world of bribery, corruption, and gangsters, and his daughter, Anna. At some point, Eddie disappears and the story mostly becomes Anna’s during WW II, where we find her working in a naval yard and about to become the first female civilian diver. There is far more going on in the plot than I can summarize here. Despite feeling like it was such a slow start, and like I mostly wanted to skim some later parts that were following someone other than Anna’s life, I really enjoyed this. I’m not much for historical fiction, but the unique premise grabbed my attention, and I knew Egan could make me care.

 

Bitch Planet, Volume 2: President Bitch by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro (Artist), Taki Soma (Artist)

Have you read any of the Bitch Planet comics? Because you really should. This second book collects issues 6-10. I LOVE this comic. LOVE. Like, so much love that I have a tattoo inspired by the comic. Bitch Planet is where non-compliant women are sent for failing to conform to gender role expectations and comply with the patriarchy. This second volume introduces inmates of another auxiliary compliance outpost—this one for trans women. We also meet President Bitch in this one. SO DAMN GOOD.

 

I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi

If you like your social/political commentary to be mixed with humor, than this book is for you. Rape culture, racism, social media, feminism, privilege, friendship and so much more is addressed in this smart book of essays. She views many of these things through the lens of being a Nigerian immigrant and a woman. If you’re looking for someone to judge everyone (or, to “mind everyone’s business” as Ajayi often writes) and offer solutions for how to do better, check this out.

 

So Sad Today: Personal Essays by Melissa Broder
This collection of essays is so deeply personal, so raw, so confessional, that there were parts I just had to skim over because they made me so uncomfortable. That’s some pretty impressive honesty, if I can’t look straight at it. Broder writes about eating disorders, abortions, sex, polyamory, mental health, social media, and so much more. As you might expect, it was her essays on mental illness that resonated the most with me. How could they not, with titles like “Honk if there’s a committee in your head trying to kill you” and “Under the anxiety is sadness but who would go under there.” A good read if you can stomach the brutally honest approach to things most people never say out loud.

 

First Avenue: Minnesota’s Mainroom by Chris Riemenschneider

This indispensable look at First Ave’s long and complicated history is AMAZING. The pictures: amazing. The artifacts, like flyers for shows: amazing. The stories: amazing. The bands: AMAZING. I devoured all of this, but particularly enjoyable to me was the 90s section, where I could relive the many great shows I saw there as a teen and in college. Phenomenal book.