Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Read in April 2023

Favorite Fiction: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton - This was a highlight of the month! My first book loves were historical fiction, particularly multi-generational epics. I haven't read many of these types of book lately, and this was like revisiting an old friend. The story is split into several timelines (which did get slightly confusing), focusing on a woman who finds out she is adopted and searches for her origins in England. The story spans over 100 years, and I enjoyed the historical bits the best. Now, there were some cheesy bits in this book. A character will wonder "whatever happened to so and so", and convieniently a 40-year old letter will surface explaining exactly what happened. The descriptions of gardens, old cottages, and the sea made it all worth it. I'll definitely be reading more by Kate Morton.

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan - It seems like there are a million books about bookstores in Scotland. After reading and being totally disappointed by The Bookshop of Second Chances last year, I wanted a do over. Laid off from her job as a librarian, Nina buys a van that she turns into a mobile bookshop and moves to Scotland. Oh, how convenient, her landlord is a cute, recently divorced farmer! You can guess how it goes. I thought this was a cute, easy to read book, perfect mindless listening during walks.

As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow by Zoulfa Katouh - Salama is a nineteen year old pharmacy student when war breaks out in Syria. As a volunteer at the hospital, she witnesses horror after horror. I didn't realize this was YA when I started, and there is a little bit of a "young" tone. There are also quite a lot of dead children in this book. This would be a good one to read if you want to learn more about the experience of the war in Syria - however there's not a ton of political background for context. A love story is also a big part of this book. I did like it, but I had just watched the movie The Swimmers, which I thought was a better portrait of Syria. 

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton - Edith Wharton is one of my favorite classic authors; The Age of Innocence was stellar. In the end, I'm glad I read this book because its main character, Lily Bart, gave me a lot of understanding of the situation of [some] women at the turn of the century. This book is also frequently referenced and now I feel like I'm more well-read. However, there were a lot of really dense, explanatory paragraphs that did me in. The audio narrator is what got me through: unfortunately she passed away in tragic circumstances in 2006.

The House of Fortune by Jessie Burton - I did not intentionally read these last two together, but apparently I was on a role with "the house of something" titles. The House of Fortune is the sequel to The Miniaturist, which I read back in 2015. It's possible to read this as a standalone, but I had to look up a summary of the previous book because I was feeling pretty lost at the beginning. The story focuses on 18-year old Thea, who was just born at the end of The Miniaturist. The plot is pretty basic, family wants daughter to marry to provide them a future, she falls in love with a poor random dude. Meanwhile, the miniaturist is leaving small items on her doorstep. Why? Who knows! Does it make a difference to the story? No! Nothing particularly unique happens and by the end I was skimming paragraph after paragraph of internal monologue. It wasn't terrible but there are so many other better books you could read instead.

Favorite Nonfiction: All the Living and the Dead by Hayley Campbell - Oddly enough, this is the third book I have read about death. (The others are Stiff by Mary Roach and Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty; I recommend both.) Campbell visits a wide variety of professionals who deal with death, including a cleanup company, an executioner, a medical examiner, and a midwife who only works with infant loss. These are heavy topics to be sure, but they are handled so well, and make you think about how our society is disconnected, for the most part, with death. This is not a book for the squeamish; I am not, and I found it completely fascinating. 

The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel - I've read many personal finance books, so I was excited to see that this one had a different angle. It's not a primer on index funds or retirement planning, but an investigation into why people make the money decisions that they do. I really enjoyed the theme of understanding over judgement, and the acknowledgement that money decisions are emotional, and sometimes you have to make the decision that is best for your mental state.

Life on Delay by John Hendrickson - I love reading memoirs because they give us a glimpse into so many different types of lives. I don't know anyone with a stutter, and I didn't know much about it going into this book. I learned so much, and hearing about Hendrickson's life experience was fascinating. It was also a little heartbreaking, as he was bullied by his own brother and others. I listened to this on audio, which is not read by the author, but the narrator must have consulted with him to be able to accurately depict a stutter. 

Enchantment: Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age by Katherine May - Like many people, I loved May's previous book Wintering. By the title, I expected some sort of light self-help guidance about how to "awaken wonder." That was not the case at all, but: her descriptions of the seasons, and her writing in general, is gorgeous. Enchantment is split into four sections: Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water. For some of these, the category was a reach, and I assume yet another publisher attempt to market this book as something it isn't. I particularly love reading about May's cold-water swimming. It seems terrifying but also exhilarating. I will continue to read whatever she publishes, but next time I hope it can just have the subtitle "Essays". If Ann Patchett can do it, so can Katherine May!

Other Thoughts on Reading

One of my ongoing reading goals has been to read the books I own. I have had some books for over a decade, and still they sit unread on my shelf. I'm coming to terms that I am mainly a library book reader. One of my joys is being able to pick out whatever I want FOR FREE and then return books unread if I changed my mind or didn't like them. I'm much more likely to push through a book I own, even if I don't enjoy it, to "get my money's worth." (Which is most cases is like... a dollar.) I recently watched a video by Mercy's Bookish Musings about her goal to have a zero TBR (as in, not own any unread books) and it immediately hit home. I don't think I want to get to zero, but I do want to reduce my unread books to maybe 15-20. What about you - do you have a whole shelf of unread books? Do you prefer to visit the library?

I'm also trying to get away from the new, hyped books and read more backlist titles. Plus, there's not usually holds on these, and I can renew them for the full amount of time. Many of you are readers and know the feeling of wanting to read all of the books. Sometimes this can turn a fun hobby stressful, and I really want to avoid that!

This weekend I'll be attending a big book festival and I'm super excited... and yes I probably will buy books from the giant used book sale. I'll be looking for art books, gardening books, and copies of favorites.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Tulip Season

The month started off with a spring break trip to my parents' house in Williamsburg, Virginia. The kids had a fabulous time going to the pool, mini golf, an IMAX movie, and a Granny-funded toy shopping trip to Target. I saved my vacation days and worked from their house, which at minimum was a change of scenery. Spring hits a few weeks earlier in southern Virginia, and the flowers and blooming trees were in full force. I went to the local library (where my mom used to work as a children's librarian for many years) to check out the used book sale, and encountered the most beautiful wisteria I have ever seen. The scent was heavenly; I can see this being the perfect location for a small wedding. Williamsburg is full of these picturesque locations, and I highly recommend a spring visit if you're on the east coast. It's really only as a gardening adult that I appreciate the 8 years I lived there. High schoolers typically care little for azaleas.

I took several walks around the neighborhood, which is built around a lake. We totally lucked out on the weather. Blue skies, and temps rising each day from about 55 to over 80 by the time we left. Does anyone feel their mood lift when we finally hit spring? My overambitious mind plans to do inside home-related projects in the winter, and outside work when it gets warm. But then it's the holidays, and it gets cold and dark, and have no motivation to get out of my comfy chair, let alone do something creative. I need to remember this for next winter, and plan on "wintering" instead of taking on any projects at all. And I need to get to my home projects while it's still warm (a feat considering the amount of gardening I do!)

On the other side of the lake is a creek which leads to the York River, which leads out to the Chesapeake Bay. It's a beautiful, peaceful area. This is the best time to visit, before the mosquitos and the humidity arrives.

Back at home, reality hit. The hot days were causing the tulips to open about 2 week earlier than last year. With 800 planted, it was a lot to keep up with. Plus, April is also the month when seedlings are ready to be planted out; and compost spread; and netting put up; and, and, and. I may have said, "I never want to see another tulip again." Now that it's done, I can look back and enjoy the beauty, and start dreaming about the varieties I'll plant this fall. 

On one rainy day I was finally able to deal with the buckets full of dried flowers from last summer and make a few bouquets. I had planned to make wreaths, but turns out, I don't have the time for that. I've sold a few of these already!

Nearly all of the main garden is planted now - I'm just waiting a few more days until the dahlias can go in. It will be a huge relief to have this done and my Sundays should be a little more free. The actual harvesting and selling takes much less time than planting and weeding. (Although I will never be done weeding.)

Do you have a hobby or skill that people are constantly telling you, "You should totally sell those! You could make money doing that!"? This is common in our contemporary hustle culture, which does not prioritize rest and leisure. I'm willing to bet you could ask nearly anyone who works for themselves if they work more or less than when they worked for another company, and they would say MORE! A common dream is to quit workin' for the man and be in charge of your days. But: I will never quit my day job. I have no desire to flower farm full time. I greatly appreciate the reliability of a paycheck, benefits, and the right to log off when my work day is over. I grow flowers because I believe local flowers are better than imported flowers with a huge carbon footprint. I love how excited people are to receive them. I also love learning new things, and believe me, I learn new things about flowers every week! I write all this because I don't want to give the wrong impression. I'm not getting rich from this, it's a ton of work, and being a flower farmer is not glamourous. No one is Floret but Floret :) If you have a passion, enjoy it as much as you can and don't feel pressured to make it your job.

As a side note, you know all those "content creators" who are quitting full-time work to make YouTube videos? I am dying to know what they will be doing in 20 years. 

April was also back to in-person work. I know a lot people couldn't work from home and had to endanger themselves during the pandemic to help others. But uggghhh that won't keep me from whining. Mostly I spend at least an hour and a half per day commuting so I can sit in online meetings with people who are at home. Luckily my company is only making us come in 2 days per week, and we get to choose those days. But that usually means that the person you want to talk to is not there at the same time as you are. Adding to the strife, a sub-group in my department was permitted to stay remote, which has led to a lot of grumbling about fairness. Fun times! (I'm a manager so I'm often the target of such grumbling.)

How was your April? Is snow still on the ground or are the flowers blooming?