A Review of The Art of Frugal Hedonism

books, reading

Contains Amazon affiliate links. 

Annie Raser-Rowland and Adam Grubb’s book The Art of Frugal Hedonism: A Guide to Spending Less While Enjoying Everything More is not so much a book of “why” frugal hedonism is best, but one that describes “how” to go about it. It is a quick-read with fifty-one short chapters providing tips for how to incorporate frugal hedonism in your own life. Some chapters are only about a page long. The book is meant to “be [a] primer for a life less dependent on the comforts of consumption, and more focused on extracting maximum pleasure from the most essential parts of being human.”

The Australian writers describe an early taste of simple things that prevented them from ever being too consumption-focused. Both describe early childhoods of that feature parents moving up in lives and how much they missed the original simplicity they were born into. I get it – this is all fine. But I think sometimes Raser-Rowland and Grubb miss the mark as to why someone may “want to move up” in the first place: i.e. security (at times they seem to take for granted that it is only a keeping of the Jones’ mentality – more, more, more). Granted, that is not the main point of their book, but there is a big difference in living the “simple life” because you have to (and what that might even look like) versus because you want to.

Most of their advice is fine but repetitive. They themselves even acknowledge that they tend to repeat the idea of eating a packed lunch instead of ordering take-out. Most of their suggestions are fairly common. For example – they recommend not buying drinks out at restaurants, take care of the things you already own, have an open relationship with recipes, and figure out what you really enjoy spending money on. Other habits such as “relish” were a little too twee for me. It kind of feels like it has been done before, though not with Raser-Rowland and Grubb’s hipster whimsy. Most of the chapters could have used more description, instead of just a quickly expressed idea.

That said, there were a few interesting ideas in the book. For example, suggestion no. 11 “beware fake frugal” is one to keep in mind. They describe fake frugal as “cheap to buy, but at the expense of someone or something else.” Examples they provide are kitchen products you constantly replace (like can openers) or buying white bread instead of the better, healthier wheat bread just because it is cheaper. This is something I always have to remind myself – one-time last year, Bruno and I decided we were spending too much money on groceries, so decided to change out some of our lunches for ramen. I still think ramen is delicious, but it really is not an actual lunch. Lesson learned.

One thing I did appreciate about the book is that Raser-Rowland and Grubb provide plenty of charts and numbers. I never thought I would be the type to appreciate charts and numbers, but it is interesting to see how consumptive habits have changed over the years. In the 1950s 75% of food was made in-home, now it is something like 50% (I was actually surprised that it was still half – I expected it to be lower). Their numbers relate specifically to Australia, but I can’t imagine that it is much different here in the states. When it comes to the history and data around buying habits and happiness, these two know their stuff.

I did really struggle with the style of writing. I suspect this has less to do with the book itself then who I think it might be written for. I made a comment that this is a book with all your usual tips, but with hipster whimsy and that just is not appealing to me. It is a personal preference, but I am not sure that advising me to “relish” or “not be a snooty bum-bum” are things that I find particularly helpful, or cute. I suspect it is a taste thing, but it is not helped by the fact that for the most part there is not much substance there.

I think this book is fine for neophytes on living frugally (that is this concept is completely new to them — although, I’m not sure how many people that would actually be), but for everyone else looking to enjoy life while save some money it will be nothing they’ve never read or heard before. And if you are really frugally-minded, there is nothing in here that you would not be able to find for free on the internet.

 

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A Review of Jennifer Fulwiler’s One Beautiful Dream

books, pregnancy

Contains Amazon affiliate links.

I’m not necessarily a mom yet, so mom-guilt is not something I have (yet) experienced. I grew up in a house where my mom worked. She was an engineer and my siblings and I went to daycare and a local babysitter. But as I have made preparations for the future — Bruno and I accepting teaching jobs, getting childcare for the new baby (yes, we’re doing daycare), and just thinking about what life will be like (I won’t say planning, because I know how that goes) – I have noticed the quickness with which people are willing to make frankly judgmental general comments and how it often can lead to, at least in myself, a lot of self-doubt.

Most books about working and motherhood seem to go either all in one direction (how to be the big bad career woman while being a mom) or completely in the other (careers are bad, you must stay at home to be a good mom). But what about the person in the middle? The person who wants to work (in this case, for me, be a teacher) but has no desire to be at a Sheryl Sandberg-level in anything (I wouldn’t have time to mom, let alone run, read, write, make sourdough bread — my own version of a “beautiful dream” — you get the picture). Jennifer Fulwiler’s book One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both came at the right time for me.

Fulwiler writes about the period of time when she started writing again and wrote her first book Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It (I have yet to read it, but after this book it is definitely on the list). During these time she juggled writing and childcare and the guilt that comes with both putting off your goals and the fear that you are putting effort into your personal goals at the expense of your children. Though she determines you can have both, I don’t think she means you can have both in the way that the infamous Anne-Marie Slaughter article declares is impossible.

I think this book is a great antidote to the idea that you can only have one or the other — motherhood or personal passion, or even the way “having it all” is encouraged today. It does this through common sense. When feeling guilt about not spending all her time with her growing family, Fulwiler writes, “Now I suddenly realized that mothers throughout history never did this; they never had time. Children’s primary sources of entertainment were outdoor play and other kids, not their mothers.” Reflecting back on my own family, this seems true. My paternal grandmother had fifteen children on a dairy farm. I highly doubt her day was spent catering to my aunts and uncles. She had a lot of work to do — cows don’t milk themselves, you know. Granted, milking cows is not the same as following a personal passion (well, unless you are my father) — but I suspect the time given to running a farm is requires more time away from your kids than that of the latter.

The image Fulwiler presents is a sort of happy chaos. There is no separation of family and writing. It goes better when they are all together. Towards the end of the book, when Fulwiler is finishing her manuscript, she describes a great scene where she is driving around with her kids. She parks to write while they keep the baby entertained. When the baby gets fussy, they drive around again and repeat the process. It turns out to be one of the best chapters. I’ll admit my German love of order opposes everything about this (this love of order will certainly get a shock to the system in two months), I think it recognizes an important truth. When you get rid of the standard of perfectionism, what you love can work together.

There’s a very simple line in the book that did stick with me. She writes, “I walked back to my car with no answers, only a strong that somehow, it would all work out.” We tend to tell each other it will work out all the time to the point of cliche, but also, for the most part, tends to be true. Fulwiler presents no solutions, no plans, no seeking of perfection, just an assurance that pursuing motherhood and pursuing personal passions can work out. This future mother who has an abundance of personal passions hopes she is right.

February/March Reads 2019

books, reading

I wish I could say I followed up my dissertatin with serious tomes and plenty of reading, but not so much. I have been burnt out, so it has actually been hard to focus on books at all. I had quite a few start-and-stops and I hardly ever quit a book I have started. All book links are to Amazon, where I make a small commission.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

ChamberofSecrets.jpg

I make a point to re-read Harry Potter during the Thanksgiving to New Year season, but I was trying to finish up dissertation work, so Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets did not get finished until post-defense. Ah, it is probably my favorite of the earlier ones. That joke Ron makes after extensively cleaning the trophy for service to the school about it probably being for the person who killed Moaning Myrtle? Priceless.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

PrisonerofAzkaban.jpg

I have the hard copies of all the Harry Potter books except for Prisoner of Azkaban. I keep meaning to buy it hard-copy, but also keep forgetting.

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

I wrote a review of this book a few weeks ago. I still highly recommend.

The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith


I thought The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed with Happiness was just ok. I think the premise is fantastic. We are all hustling for happiness, but what if being happy is not really the point? What if purpose is? That is an idea, a truth really, I can get behind. But everything was else was just sort of ok.

The Grace of Enough by Haley Stewart

In some ways The Grace of Enough: Pursuing Less and Living More in a Throwaway Culture is related to the previous book, but I think it is so much better because it is a look at an individual’s pursuit of purpose in a culture that is constantly screaming more. Moreover, where Esfahani emphasized that purpose can be found in secular life, I think I related to (needed) the Catholic message of this book. I loved it so much, I am reading it again right now. This book was also my #CathoLit2019 read created by the author, Haley Stewart of Carrots for Michaelmas.

Current Reads :

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (of course)

Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration by Benedict XVI

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both by Jennifer Fulwiler

The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis — a quick note on this one. Bruno and I have been reading a chapter or two together out loud in the evenings. We had always wanted to do this, but would be a bit too lofty in our ambitions and pick a big dense classic, but this book seems to work perfectly well for some evening reading after a long day.

What are some of your February and March readings? Anything you particularly liked? Disliked? What are you reading now? I’m always looking for new books to add to my kindle.

A Review of Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism

books, reading, technology

One of my main goals for this month was to watch my social media time. That is, I would try to restrict my time on facebook and instagram to Saturdays. This has been mostly successful. Saturdays has included Sundays and last week I checked facebook to check up on CrossFit Open information. I’ve been more mindful and quick to click out, so I think it is overall an improvement from mindlessly scrolling.

The inspiration for my social media hiatus is Cal Newport‘s Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. I have been a follower of Newport ever since I listened to his interview with Ben Domenech on the Federalist Radio Hour the other year. Back then, he was discussing his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. Both are similar in that the nemesis to be thwarted is an attachment to social media, but where Deep Work focused on the harmful effects of social media and the internet on work, Digital Minimalism focuses on their harmful effects in our personal life and ways to overcome our digital addiction. Quick sidenote: All Amazon links are affiliate links, meaning if you buy something I make a percentage. 

And that it is an addiction is a characteristic Newport wants to make clear. I think he describes most lives (including my own) when he writes, “The urge to check Twitter or refresh Reddit becomes a nervous twitch that shatters uninterrupted time into shards too small to support the presence necessary for an intentional life.” This happens to me when I’m trying to read. I have to check facebook. Or before I do any work, I have to check facebook, then instagram, then facebook again, then work. I try really hard not to look at my phone when out to dinner or visiting with friends, but I know I do it all the time when with Bruno or family. Baby C has a few more months to go, but I keep seeing articles pop up on what our constant phone checking is doing to children. I think Newport speaks to something we all know is true, but frankly, kind of feel helpless in what to do about it. The Internet is ubiquitous.

I think that is where this book becomes most useful. If you already know you are struggling with social media and internet use, to the point where you are constantly checking, you do not need to be preached to. But what to do about it is another thing entirely. After discussing what it is about social media that makes it so addicting, Newport presents his alternative (you guessed it): “Digital Minimalism. A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”

He provides a number of options for “digital minimalism,” but the suggestion I found most intriguing was that of cultivating leisure. Newport’s theory is that we cannot just get rid of the all-encompassing amount of social media in our lives, but we need to replace it with something. We’ve lost the meaning of leisure and have replaced it with facebook likes and instagram videos. And by leisure, he does not mean we should just read more books, but also create things and learn things. His list is fairly male-centric (learn how to do mechanics on the car, for example), but I think anybody could come up with a list of weekend learning projects. That way we have something to actually show for our lives beyond “a photo of your latest visit to a hip restaurant, hoping for likes.”

Another one of his suggestions I particularly appreciated had to do with politics and news coverage. I think news-media addition is its own problem, especially because most people I know who are constantly sharing things on social media probably never, if ever, read from a viewpoint different from their own (not to mention I think everything found in Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business can apply to sharing news on social media — the medium is the message — but I digress). Newport advises “slow news consumption,” as opposed to our twitter, outrage-addicted news cycle. One of the benefits of slow news consumption is worth quoting at length “if you’re interested in commentary on political and cultural issues, this experience is almost always enhsanced by also seeking out the best arguments against your preferred position. I live in Washington, DC, so I know professional political operatives on both sides of the aisle. A requirement of their job is that they keep up to speed on the best opposing arguments. A side effect of this requirement is that they tend to be much more interesting to chat with about politics. In private, they don’t exhibit the same anxious urge to tilt at straw man versions of opposing viewpoints that’s exhibited by most amateur political commenters, and instead are able to isolate the key underlying issues, or identify the interesting nuances that complicate the matter at hand. I suspect they derive much more pleasure out of consuming political commentary than those who merely seek confirmation that anyone who disagrees is deranged.” What a better world that would be.

I plan on continuing my current facebook/instagram amount into next March (this is more than Newport’s recommended 30 days completely off). I like having my weeks social media free. I think, after reading this book, the next step will be to focus on internet usage as a whole. I find myself far too often down the internet rabbit hole, googling, searching, checking, and window shopping all too often. And for what? I think the best argument Newport gives is how much more you can add to your life when you are not just mindlessly scrolling. You can read. You can listen to music. You can actually focus on the conversation you are having. Life becomes fuller and indeed more intentional when it is not lived with the constant chains of the screen.*

What are your thoughts on digital minimalism? Have you read anything by Cal Newport? Reading anything good now?

*Yes, this is an intentional Rousseau ending. Ain’t no breaking these chains of love.

February 2019 Goals : The Year of 1% Better

books, crossfit, goals, pregnancy, reading, running, year of 1% better

I officially have 364 days left of being in my twenties. Yes, yesterday I turned twenty-nine. I celebrated by taking the day off any dissertation/Rousseau-related/job search work. I read books on the couch, did my first Cindy wod at CrossFit, and Bruno made crab cakes for dinner and homemade brownies for dessert. I was in bed by nine — a great start to my 29th year.

If you’re new here, or if you just need a refresher, I declared 2019 the year of 1% better. You can read January’s goals here and how I did here.

And now we are in the second month. January seemed to go on forever, but we already only have around three weeks of February left. I assume, because it is a big month for, that it will fly by.

Here are the goals/things I want to work on this month:

GET MY PH.D. I defend my dissertation next week Wednesday and give a public lecture on my dissertation research on Thursday evening. I’m not sure if that makes me “officially” a Ph.D. or if I still have to use Ph.D. candidate until I graduate, but one thing is for sure — if all goes well, I will be finished with my requirements for my doctorate. As with last month’s goal to submit my dissertation, this is the most important goal. All else can go to pieces, but this, this is years and years of work about to come to an end.

DIGITAL MINIMALISM. I am reading Cal Newport‘s new book, Digital Minimalism at the moment. I have always had struggles with social media. I’ve never been a Twitter person, but I can find myself sucked down the facebook, instagram, and just web-searching wormhole too frequently than I care to admit. I have failed too often in my battles against the internet, so I’m hoping to use some of the advice from this book to help. For now, the goal is to keep my social media use restricted to Saturdays — so far this has been working. I have not even been on facebook to see my birthday messages. Look ma, no facebook or instagram on my phone!

BIKE 20 MINUTES/WEEK. I know in the grand scheme of things is not very much, but as with running and swimming I am not sure how my hips and pelvis will react to time on the trainer. I’m starting here and if it goes well, next month I will increase. I suspect this also for mental training, because in case you did not know, cycling on a trainer is one of the most boring things you could ever do. It makes running on a treadmill seem like an entertaining time.

WALK (OR RUN) 30 MINUTES 2X WEEK. Like I said, trying to be moderate in my expectations. Some days I feel great, some days I really do not. I would really like to start running again, especially after I defend, but I am just not so sure if it will happen. Walking, at the very least, will get me outside.

PRE-NATAL YOGA 2X WEEK. Jasyoga has a few prenatal videos that I need to be more consistent about cycling through. I am hoping that if I hold myself accountable maybe, just maybe, those ligaments will start to feel better.

CathLIT2019. I am still working through some of the suggestions on Carrots for Michaelmas’s Catholic reading plan. I am currently reading Jesus of Nazareth by Benedict XVI and I love it. The one book a month plan is working out well for me thus far, but we will see what happens when baby gets here.

I think those are goals a-plenty for the month I’m planning on completing my doctoral requirements. What are your goals for February?

 

What I’m Loving Lately V

books, daily life, dissertation, food, music

Before I even get started, I should say that what I am loving lately the most is heat and our furnace. I am loving modernity and the industrial revolution, because I feel like I am living in a Jack London novel. I am loving that I have a flexible schedule that allows for me to stay home all day if I want to. Being a graduate student is (sometimes) the best. With wind chill in the -40s in Michigan today (although strangely it will be 48 degrees on Sunday), I am very much loving that I am inside.

Watching: Like everyone else this past week, I watched the Fyre documentaries on Netflix and Hulu. You know you are a total nerd when, you go to Krogers and make lame jokes with your husband about “late stage capitalism” the entire time you picking out what you are about to binge on (peanut butter m and m’s and yogurt covered pretzels for me, Twizzlers for Bruno), probably scaring the other consumers. Ok, back to the documentaries. I recommend and I’ll admit not for the most virtuous of reasons. I definitely have a sort of #richpeopleproblems attitude to the whole debacle. There was one “influencer” who was not even shown for longer than two minutes (in both documentaries) who made me rage (“low, low economy”). I will say though it made me question whether I was part of the problem due to my (probably excessive) use of Instagram, so I pre-ordered Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism to try to temper my social media-addict ways. Sidenote: the Fyre Festival memes on ultrarunningmemes are gold.

Listening: I am really liking Weezer’s Teal Album. I did not initially love their cover of Toto’s Africa, but it grew on me and I was pleasantly surprised with all the other covers on the album. A few favorites: Everybody Wants to Rule the World, Sweet Dreams are Made of These, and Paranoid. Weezer covering Black Sabbath may be one of the most fun songs I’ve heard in awhile. I went through a Weezer phase in high school (this is a thing, right?) and listened to plenty of the Blue Album and Pinkerton (just like this SNL sketch), but then never really listened to them again. So, it has been fun to listen to those albums again.

Reading: Confession? Not much. I’m reading True Devotion to Mary as a part of this reading challenge, but most of my reading has been Jean-Jacques Rousseau and dissertation-related as I begin to prepare for my defense next month. So yeah, strangely nothing too exciting here unless you are into the sources of inequality and the great swindle that led to political society.

Eating: I have been having bad cravings again. I made these blondies yesterday to satiate my sugar tooth and they were amazing. But mostly, it has been nothing too exciting — lots of soups made from my favorite cookbook. I switched up my flour from white to whole wheat for my sour dough bread and it was just ok — why does the bad stuff always taste better? I did start making my own yogurt and I will admit, it tastes much better than what you can get in the store.

I hope you all are staying warm! What are you loving lately?

 

 

 

Best Books for Productivity in 2019

books, reading

A confession: I’m a junkie for time-management books. I love knowing how to order and schedule my day and how other people schedule their days. I think I knew I was going to marry Bruno when he described to me how he plans his daily schedule and to-do lists.* Yeah, we’re the most romantic people you know. One of my favorite parts of Rousseau’s Confessions is when he describes his own day and then the day of the Spanish Altuna who is an 18th century strict-schedule keeper extraordinaire. I admire that guy.

Leaving the 18th century (dissertation on my mind), there are plenty of productivity books I love for today. Some I still go back to for when I need jolt to get things done and quit messing around the Internet. I know people say that you cannot rely on motivation, but sometimes you need that external source. If coffee is liquid ambition, then books on productivity are ambition’s written form.

Here they are the books that usually lead me to close out of facebook, pull up Microsoft Word and get going.

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. Just listing this book makes me want to go back and re-read it. It is also one of the biggest reasons I get mildly irritated when people say “I don’t have time to do x.” You do. It just is not a priority. I like her practical suggestions like keeping a time-diary, but the best part of the book I think are the inspiring and motivating life examples. People are able to do so much more than they think they can.

Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport.  If you get any book to improve your productivity (and general life happiness), it should be this one. We (I) waste so much time messing around on the internet. Still. This book is a swift kick in the you know where. I especially like the idea that deep work is a muscle to be developed. You cannot just sit down and work for a focused eight hours a day. You have to practice, start small.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear. Speaking of starting small, I loved this book on habit building. It gives very specific advice on how to develop small habits that eventually develop into a better life. I’ve written about this book already on my Year of 1% Goals, but I still cannot help but recommend it.

Air & Light & Time & Space : How Successful Academics Write by Helen Sword.  This book helped me out when I was in a dissertation writing rut. Chapter one was fine, chapter two was fine, and then I just sort of felt overwhelmed by the whole process. I like seeing how creatives do their work, but it also did not really apply to me. This was research and writing. I recommend this book to anyone starting a dissertation.

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos by Jordan Peterson. If your life is not in order, you cannot get work done. Fact. I think one of the more troubling things presented to any sort of life is ideal of the suffering, starving, drunken, debauched artist. It simply is not always true. Hell, even Ernest Hemingway once wrote a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald telling him to knock it off with his nonsense so he could write. It is like that wonderful Gustav Flaubert quote, “Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

What are your favorite books that help you to get things done? What are you reading now?

*I’m kidding. Sort of. Life compatibility, you know?

The Year of 1% Better

books, goals, reading, year of 1% better

2019 is an up-in-the-air kind of year for me. I have a good idea what the next few weeks might look like. In a couple of weeks I will submit my dissertation. I will hopefully defend in February, completing all Ph.D. requirements. And then, I do not know. I do not graduate until May and am fully funded — so that is not a problem. It is the what comes after that is sort of the up-in-the-air part. Questions such as — where will I work? Where will we live? Not to mention that in June comes baby…

So, yes, goals. Considering that the only part of 2019 that I have any clarity about is the month I’m currently in, it has been kind of hard to make plans for the year at large. Like I would love to be able to write that I have plans for a fall marathon, but life post-baby might not allow for that. I do not know. I have no idea and I do not want to assume anything (because you know what they say about the word assume…).

For 2019, then, I plan on focusing month by month instead of for the year-at-large. I finished reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits before the end of 2018. One of the main ideas of the book is to start with small habits, just a little bit every day. Tiny adjustments eventually make a big difference, as opposed to the big, grand declaration of habit change that usually ends up falling through by January 3.

“…improving by 1 percent isn’t particularly notable–sometimes it isn’t even noticeable–but it can be more meaningful, especially in the long run. The difference a tiny improvement can make over time is astounding. Here’s how the math works out: if you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done. Conversely, if you get 1 percent worse each day for one year, you’ll decline nearly down to zero. What starts as a small win or a minor setback accumulates into something much more.” 

I like that and when I reflect back on my own life I think it is true. Every time I wanted to start eating healthier, I try to do some grandiose diet-type thing like Whole 30 (ok, Whole 30 people I understand it is not a diet, but you know what I mean). Within a few days I would make exceptions and be going out to eat (hello, my darling bacon cheeseburgers. I missed you). Whenever I wanted to start running again, I would immediately train for a marathon. Then, boom. Injured and discouraged, I would not pick it back up. I would go full Martha Stewart, wanting to keep my house clean. Even with my dissertation, every time I tried to be one of those people who could just pound out words eight hours a day, it would only take a day before I would be burnt out and messing around on Facebook. It never works. Never, ever works.

So this year, something different. Month by month, I’m going to focus on little goals — the 1% goals. I’ll share January’s goals next week, but for now this is the plan, and it seems as good a plan as any.

Favorite Reads of 2018

books, reading

We are heading South to Ohio today and will be gone for the next two weeks. Translation? I’ve been running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to get the house ready to be empty — cleaning out the fridge, doing some last minute laundry, packing, and cleaning, cleaning, and more cleaning. It seems to never end.

I did plenty of reading this year, although I always wish I read more. I like a wide variety of things from nonfiction to history to memoir. Some of my books on my favorite list this year are shared by a lot of people this year, like Jordan Peterson, but others are new discoveries for myself. For example, I never read Patti Smith before.

Anyway, here are the new favorites that I look forward to re-reading again and again in the coming years. Written in the order I read them this year.

This is a Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett. This collection of essays is near-perfection. I already have a few (the one on writing in particular) I have returned to again and again this year.

The Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London. Two for one! Never in my life would I ever expected to love books written from the point of view of dogs, but I love the question of civilization and nature of these books. I love the character of Alaska and its brutal and killing cold.

The Outrun by Amy Liptrot. This was my favorite memoir of the year. Liptrot’s tale of recover in the Orkneys is so vivid in description. I wanted to go and live there in isolation too, bake bread, take cold swims in the sea, and write. I read this book twice and I’m sure next year I will read it again.

M Train by Patti Smith. I loved this ode to a life and love of art and beauty. It is a quiet book, good over a cup of coffee. I think Smith captures well the way certain artists, writers, and musicians touch our lives in such a way that we feel we know them. I think she captures the devotion to art that so many try to live.

How Bad Do You Want It by Matt Fitzgerald. I am not a competitive runner at all. But I think the mental strength and endurance required for competing is similar to that required for graduate school and getting your Ph.D. When I read this book, there was so much I took for just writing my dissertation and handling failure in that realm that I think it is appealing for athletes and non-athletes alike.

Deep Work by Cal Newport. This book is a slap on the face reminder that you probably waste more time on shallow, superficial tasks like messing around on the internet than committing yourself to the deep work necessary to be successful. I’ve changed the way I’ve worked thanks to this book, working my “deep work muscle” when working on my dissertation without distractions for increasing lengths of time. It works. It helps.

Chasing Excellence by Ben Bergeron. Would I be in CrossFit if I did not post this book? This book is great for the same reason Fitzgerald’s is. It seems like it is just for athletes, but you can apply it to so much more.

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson. My controversial pick! I loved this book. I took it out from the library, but will buy my own copy soon. Finally, remember the lobster.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided Over Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. I recommend this book to anyone who talks about politics, who posts on facebook about politics, who thinks about politics — basically everyone, because we are all political animals, right? But seriously, I strongly believe in humility when it comes to political thought. Haidt makes a strong case for it.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. We started in Alaska and ended there too. I loved the exploration of why people are drawn to the wild. I loved the stories of explorers and adventurers. Like London’s novels, Alaska is also a merciless character. I will not be taking a walk into the Alaskan wilderness anytime soon, if at all.

What books were your favorites this year?

xo, Ali

What I’m Loving Lately IV

books, daily life, food, music, reading

Tomorrow we begin our annual holiday tour. We leave Michigan for Ohio and then will leave Ohio for Connecticut on Sunday. So today I’m finishing up grading, packing, cleaning — all that fun stuff, because after tomorrow it will probably be two weeks before we are home again. I dislike being gone for so long, but it is the best way to get seeing everyone in.

So it is a bit of a full day, but I figured I would share something I’m loving lately.

Watching: It is an old show, but we’ve been watching a lot of Pushing Daisies lately. I like the whimsical fairy tale-mystery-crime of the week vibe. Plus, the lines are so good. We’ve mainly been sticking to comedy shows, because I have not been able to tolerate anything too serious — just stress, you know? Anyway, tis the season for Christmas movies and I had a few firsts. One — I finally watched It’s a Wonderful Life and cried my eyes out at the end. I was so afraid it would not be as good as everyone said it was and it really is that great. Two — I watched Die Hard. Not as good at IAWL, but good in its own way. I’m not usually one for action films, but I liked this one. And finally, we watched the Christmas Chronicles on Netflix and thought it was hilarious. Kurt Russell should always play Santa Claus.

Listening: When I was not running in September and October, I kind of took a break from podcasts. Now, I’m back to them, catching up on Ultrarunner Podcast, Work, Play, Love, and Rich Roll‘s podcast. It feels good to have these voices back in my ears while going for runs. I find that I miss everyone when it has been awhile. I’m kind of in a music rut. I want something new that does not sound new — if that makes any sense. Like, I want to discover an old album or song that I have not listened to in years.

Reading: I’m reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Every year between Thanksgiving and New Year I re-read the whole series. It has been pretty slow-going this year, but I’m sure it will pick up once we get to Connecticut. I tell you what, I still have the same reactions to those books as I did when I was a teen. I cannot put them down. I will sit on the couch all day to get through one of those tomes. I’m still trying to finish the Master and the Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and reading Atomic Habits by James Cleary.

Eating: Well, you can see some of what I’ve been eating lately here. I’ve been trying to add more snacks to my daily routine (frankly, it is not working. I’m still hungry). I’ve forgotten how good something simple like hard boiled eggs sprinkled with salt can taste, like amazingly good. Another frequent staple is Montgomery Inn BBQ sauce (I’m addicted). I made this crockpot baked ziti on Sunday and it is so good and easy and has so much potential (like I would add a ton of veggies to it).

What are you loving lately?

xo, Ali