What a crazy month October was. My boyfriend and I are moving in together, so the majority of the free time was spent packing up and cleaning his apartment, then unpacking and settling into the new apartment. Moving is exhausting and it’s not over yet, because I’m not moving my things until December. Phew! That left little time for reading, and to be honest, my attention span for reading was getting a bit short anyway. I did manage to get through a few titles this month, though!
My boyfriend got me a Kindle last fall, and turns out that has been the key to unlocking voracious reading. Dani and I also created our own reading challenge this year to increase our reading: 51 categories to prompt us to pick up books we wouldn’t typically read (or books that have languished in TBR-land for too long.) Here’s what I read this month, including what you should pick up and what you should let lay!
Devil in the White City: Incredibly, it took me until now to pick up this book. I was expecting it to be about H.H. Holmes and his murders, but instead I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be more of a study of Chicago and the World’s Fair. Living in Chicago, I found it more interesting than ever, and it made me appreciate architecture in this beautiful city even more. Even if you aren’t an avid true crime aficionado, I recommend this book (but definitely read the print version, because the audiobook narrator felt s l o w.)
The Evidence of the Affair: This short story by Taylor Jenkins Reid, told in exchanged letters, was a nice dramatic read. Like many of her books, it doesn’t end up where you think it will, either. It’s free for Amazon Prime members, and a nice way to whet your appetite before Daisy Jones and the Six next spring!
Wondering how I read so much? My libraries use Libby – see if your library has a partnership, and check out the mobile app!
Everything Everything: I think I’ve had Dani’s copy of this book on my shelf for over a year and never gotten around to it. One night, I was in desperate need of some comfort food, and nothing else I was in the middle of felt good, so I picked this up. I read it in one sitting and absolutely loved it. Another book that left me flabbergasted at the ending, I just didn’t see the twist coming at all. Great reading for a cozy night in when you need to disengage from your brain for awhile.
Interpreter of Maladies: This is a book my boyfriend suggested to fill a challenge prompt last winter, and it took a long time to get around to it. It’s amazing – and easy to see why it’s a Pulitzer winner. Though I really enjoyed it, it did feel like it took a lot of effort to get through. Despite that, I absolutely recommend it – the worlds Lahiri creates are rich, vibrant, and each story’s ending feels organic and real.
What about you? Did you read anything spooky this month?
June is National Audiobook Month, which is great – I love audiobooks. Podcasts can be a fun way to pass time at work or on a commute, but audiobooks are just as great and educational. A few years ago when I was driving from Nashville back to my hometown in Michigan, I popped on Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid on Scribd, and it started two love affairs: one with audiobooks, the other with TJR. They can also be meditative – when I’m doing really repetitive tasks, or cleaning the house, it can be nice to have a narrative rather than back-and-forth gossip of a podcast or music. To celebrate this month, I’m sharing some of my favorite audiobooks!
For audiobooks, I tend toward non-fiction, especially memoirs. It’s a fun way to hear someone’s story in their own voice, in a way that’s a little different than just text on a page. Here are some faves:
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling: I listened to this last week in one workday and totally loved it. It’s Mindy’s second book, and in it, she dispenses lots of advice – from dating, self-confidence, the pressure on women to be thin, and the value of working hard. “Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled.”
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson: What is the nature of space and time? How do we fit within the universe? How does the universe fit within us? Neil deGrasse Tyson wrote (and narrates!) this book with quick answers to broad, big topics. It’s clever, it’s easy to understand, and it’s easy to turn on and off – he presents a lot of the information in easily digestible bites to fit into any schedule. I really liked this a lot, and it made me think a lot about the world and the universe.
Yes Please by Amy Poehler: Another memoir by a female comedian, this audiobook is awesome. Amy invites Seth Meyers to read a chapter, as well as Carol Burnett, and both are exceedingly funny. Plus, my friendo Craig Finn gets a shoutout – they went to college together in Boston. Small world. She dispenses a lot of advice about what it’s like to be a powerful woman, especially in male-dominated fields, and how she overcame the stigma of being too assertive.
Good Clean Fun by Nick Offerman: Seeing a pattern of specific non-fiction books I like? This was a random pick for work one day – I don’t have a particular interest in woodworking or construction, outside four years of high school theatre – it just seemed like a good workday listen. His voice is almost meditative – very calm, soothing, and would be a really great bedtime story, or even to pop on to calm anxiety.
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore: I learned about “the radium girls” a few years ago from a Buzzfeed long read. In the 1910’s, many women in New Jersey took great jobs painting on watch faces – without any knowledge that they were being poisoned by radium, not knowing what consequences they would all eventually face. This book chronicles their story as well as the worker’s rights and labor laws their experience changed.
Wondering how I read so much? My libraries use Libby and Hoopla– see if your library has a partnership, and check out the mobile app!
When listening to fiction, I look for books with multiple actors – it really helps me picture the action, and helps keep things straight! Plus, it’s more like listening to a fiction podcast, which is something I’m exploring more and more lately.
Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink & Jeffery Cranor: I’ve wanted to get into the Welcome to Night Vale podcast for quite awhile, but was never sure where to start – when I saw their first book on Libby, it seemed like a great way to jump in. It’s a really unique story, and I loved the way it built and resolved. The narrator is excellent – he also hosts the podcast – and it’s plenty long, if that’s something you’re looking for!
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: To be fair, I haven’t actually finished this one yet. But I absolutely love the large and varied cast of voice actors, including Nick Offerman, Carrie Brownstein, Ben Stiller, Rainn Wilson, Kat Dennings, and even more – it makes it feel almost like an old-time radio show, with each character having their own voice. This was also the 2017 Audie winner, and it’s easy to understand why! Historical fiction is a very difficult genre for me to get into, and the way this audiobook is done, even I am enjoying it.
One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus: This is a bit of a long listen, which could be a good thing if you really want to get invested in the characters. The story of a high school murder mystery, someone dies during after-school detention, and the search to reveal who was really behind the death. This book also features multiple voice actors, so it’s easy to keep the characters straight – important for listeners who might otherwise get confused by dialog in fiction audiobooks.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: Admittedly, this book hasn’t come through my library holds yet, but I can’t wait to listen. Another nominee for the 2017 Audie Awards, the preview sounds great, and the book has widely gotten great reviews. Queue this one up on your phone for poolside listening and skip squinting at a book or eReader!
Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid: I can’t finish the list off without a nod to what made this such a compelling listen for me. Voiced by actress Julia Whelan, the story is wonderful, but Whelan’s performance adds a lot to the story. It’s told in a dual timeline, from the point of view of Hannah Martin. Whelan changes her voice for each timeline to accurately reflect the person Hannah is, and what she’s going through, in each. If this book doesn’t sound up your alley, keep your eye out for anything narrated by her – she’s really wonderful and narrates the best audiobooks!
What do you think are the best audiobooks? What ones are your favorites? I’m always looking for new things to listen to during work or on the road!
It’s no secret that I live with anxiety and depression – I’ve blogged about it extensively. Though I’m on a better regimen of drugs that help me cope better with things I’m learning in therapy, I still struggle with anxiety every day. There are plenty of resources with tips on how to better manage panic or racing thoughts, and they all work for everyone differently. In my 15+ years of living with this, I’ve worked up some less common methods of coping on my own.
If you have a moment before diving in, please take a minute to fill out my reader survey!
The Joy of Painting With Bob Ross: When I was a little kid, I was raised by PBS. Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Sesame Street, Today’s Special, Zoobilee – and to be honest, I do go back and put some of those on from time to time. (When you’re sick and just want your mom to take care of you, there’s nothing like the comfort of Ben Vereen’s voice.) A few weeks ago I was struggling to fall asleep, a relatively new symptom of anxiety for me. I was trying everything I could think of – counting down backwards from 100 (my go-to sleep trick for years), listening to Sleep With Me, and even trying this YouTube video I’d seen people talking about. Nothing was working to quiet down my brain. Then the YouTube video ended and a suggested video was The Joy of Painting. I popped one on and as he painted quiet streams and happy little trees, his assuring voice eventually overrode my inner monologue, letting me fall asleep.
ASMR: That YouTuber I’d been seeing a lot of was GentleWhispering, a girl who does relaxing videos in – you guessed it – a whisper. Some of the videos are roleplaying exercises, as though she’s washing your hair, and some are more in the “calming empowerment” realm. ASMR is autonomous sensory meridian response – you can read more about it on Wikipedia, but it’s basically a tingly sensation that many people get throughout their bodies that seems to be very relaxing and soothing.
Don’t Assume or Personalize: This one seems pretty obvious to most people, but for me, it isn’t. I’ve always taken everything very personally (how can you not?) so even the slightest twinge of emotion from someone else is very taxing for me (the joys of being a highly sensitive person.) I recently discovered Tanya Hennessey thanks to her hilarious true makeup tutorial, and started digging in to her older videos. “Ways to know you’re an overthinker” hit very close to home and at the end, she shares this advice: “don’t expect, and don’t assume things.” Assumptions have always been a big source that fuels my anxiety fire, so hearing that (as simple as it is) is helping me begin to reframe things in a different way. I’m also reading the book The Four Agreements after seeing one of the Tone It Up girls recommend it, and I’m really liking it a lot as well. The second agreement is “don’t take anything personally” – if someone feels a particular way, it’s because of them, not because of you. This has helped change how I internalize other people’s emotions a lot.
Calligraphy: Writing things down in a planner can be a huge help for anxiety sufferers, as can things like journaling and coloring. I’m also starting to get into calligraphy as another outlet. Things like printable worksheets to trace for practice can be really relaxing – since you can simply trace over the letters, it’s a good way to relax without having to exert a lot of focus or brainpower.
Moodica: A new-to-me app, Moodica plays videos based on your “mood,” and they even have apps for Apple TV and Amazon Firestick. I really like this endless galaxy to sort of zone out and feel like I’m floating (in a good way.)
Compression Sleeves: One of the anti-depressants I tried at the beginning of the year gave me terrible restless leg syndrome. Getting off the med helped a bit, but I’m still feeling many of the symptoms. Sleeping in my Zensah leg compression sleeves has helped out a lot, and there’s research that supports compression as anxiety relief.
Weighted Blankets: Similar to compression sleeves, the feeling of having weight draped over some part of your body can help you feel safe and maybe relieve some of your stress.
Penguin Watch: If you’re a person who finds calm in doing work (like me), this might be the thing for you. Penguin Watch is a project of scientists that you can help out with by looking at pictures, and clicking if there’s a penguin in the photo. That’s it. Super simple, and you’re helping out with important research. Plus, you’ll occasionally get to see photos of other animals, like elephants!
Go to the Water: I grew up in Michigan, so I feel most at ease when near a large body of water. When I moved to landlocked cities, I really struggled. Finding a pool to swim laps in or a lake to go hiking at helped to clear my head.
Audiobooks: Sometimes I know that getting engrossed in a story will help me stop my racing thoughts, but I can’t suppress them long enough to get through even one page of a book. I love audiobooks in these times – I put in my earbuds so no other sound can sneak in and fire up an app like Hoopla or Overdrive to check out a book from the library. (Audible also has two free books right now) This way it’s a little easier to get involved in someone else’s story and get out of my own.
Noise: This one doesn’t always work for me because sometimes extra sound can just exacerbate my panic, but I’ve found having constant background noise to (usually) be really helpful. Whether it’s having some TV on in the background while I work through the day or as I fall asleep, or listening to podcasts in the car or at the gym, having something else to shift my focus to if I want can help to stave off the thoughts. Sometimes when those kinds of sound seems too much, Rainymood is my best friend. They have mobile apps as well as a desktop website with the quiet, soothing sounds of a thunderstorm. I’ve been using Rain Rain as well – I like that they have different sounds. Their ocean bonfire is my favorite thing to fall asleep to.
Do you use any non-traditional methods to cope with your anxiety? What have you found works best for you?
When I moved from Virginia to Nashville, it was a huge lifestyle change. I went from having a very small social circle, from a regular schedule of going to work every day, followed by the gym, then crashing at home with great dinners to a crazy and unpredictable work schedule, a bigger family of friends, and lots and lots of dinners out. Working out was the LAST thing on my mind, even though living in apartment complexes that had gyms and pools was always a priority. As a result, I lost all my muscle tone and stamina and gained almost all of the 40 pounds I had lost back. I’m back with a gym membership now and working to get back into a healthier lifestyle – not only working out madly again, but also eating better. It’s definitely not easy, though – it’s taking a lot of focus and motivation to get back into it. Here are some ways I’m inspiring myself to get back in shape!
Here Comes the Sun: It’s tough to feel inspired to get outside when it’s the dead of winter – in January, Chicago had EIGHT DAYS of sun. That’s not enough sun. I’m hacking my circadian rhythm by using a blue therapy light for 30 minutes every morning. My doctor recommended it to help out with my depression, but it’s making it much easier to get up in the morning and stay awake all day by simulating sunlight earlier than it actually comes up. (Plus, working out is a HUGE mental health boost.)
Reward Yourself: I was super inspired by this Mashable post about a girl who chronicled her weight loss on Instagram – one of her tips was to make a list of “rewards” when you hit a specific goal weight or milestone. I made a page in my bullet journal so I can flip open for inspiration anytime I want to skip a workout or eat something unhealthy, so I always have my eyes on the prize.
In addition to podcasts, I also really like to listen to audiobooks while I drive – especially for the longer trips I have to make. Being able to start a book and finish it in one sitting helps make the trips a little more bearable for sure! Earlier this spring I discovered Taylor Jenkins Reid when I saw a book on Hoopla with a cover I really liked, an interesting title (Maybe in Another Life), and a synopsis that grabbed me:
At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs. On the heels of leaving yet another city, Hannah moves back to Los Angeles and takes up residence in her best friend Gabby’s guestroom. Hannah goes out to a bar one night with Gabby and meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan. Just after midnight, Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. A moment later, Ethan offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay. Hannah hesitates. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan? In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. Quickly, these parallel universes develop into radically different stories with large-scale consequences for Hannah, as well as the people around her.
I listened to the entire book and was rattled by it by the time I got home – without spoiling too much (because you really should read it for yourself) it made me think a lot about the hundreds of decisions I make each day and how each one impacts my life. Since then, I’ve read all four of her books (and discovered that she’s also contributed to my favorite blog, The Billfold!) and enjoyed every single one, so this installment of book club is dedicated to my girl crush, TJR.