We should read things that make us cry, here’s why

When we read something, often we do so for fun. A lighthearted book can lift us into a better mood, provide entertainment, and frequently serve as a departure from everyday life, if only briefly. But here’s why I advocate for reading things beyond the lighthearted, beyond the fluff. This is why you should read something that makes you cry, feel, makes your breath catch, and makes your heart beat faster.

In the last month or so, I’ve a lot of books about the military. Not so much on military history (as yet), but on the stories of my generation and the generation after me. The compelling stories of the cost of war, what everyday soldiers, marines and people in the very thick of things go through. I have no relatable experience to draw from to understand what a war is like. I only know that for me, 9/11 will be my generations Pearl Harbor. I know exactly where I was (at work) and exactly how that day unfolded (with my boss running from his office to let our small group of 5 know what was happening.)

I started reading personal stories of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan because of something I am writing. My character is a former Army soldier. While his past service only plays a small role, understanding what military life would have been like for him, helps to define who my character is now. I am nothing if not thorough in my research. Accuracy is one of the things I try to get right even in the imaginary worlds I create. Details matter.

It was in reading these books about personal sacrifice, that I started to have a deep appreciation for everything that these men and women give. I have always believed in and supported those who fight for our country (my dad was in Vietnam before I was born and saw most of his friends die. That is not something I can ever understand.) Two of my cousins are/were Air Force. One has chosen to make it his career, and as I type that it reminds me he’s not much younger than I am, and is close to hitting his 20 years in already.

We should read these stories to get an understanding of what these people go through. I believe most would shrug off the mantle of hero. They are simply doing their jobs. But to me, as someone who does not risk my life every day, they are heroes and more. They fight for my freedom to say what I think, and live a free life. These heroes should be celebrated and read about. Even if I do not believe in the unending war we cannot seem to get out of, I will also 100% have the back of the person who puts themselves front and center to the danger. That is what every American should do. Find fault with the people behind the war, not those on the front line. I’ve spent 6 years living as an ex-pat in Europe and traveled to 23 countries in the last 14 years. Not everyone enjoys the same freedoms that we do.

Everyone should read a book that makes them think beyond themselves. I have thought of the people in the following books almost daily in the weeks since I read them. I encourage everyone to go to the library or bookstore and pick them up. Take five minutes out of your world to inhabit a little part of theirs.

The Fighters by C.J. Chivers

One Bullet Away by Nathaniel Fick

The Good Soldiers by David Finkel

The Things They Cannot Say by Kevin Sites

My favorite things

I think I did a favorites list once, and I’m pretty sure it had one thing; chocolate. Since everyone is doing favorites lists, I thought, why not? So here are my favorite things from the last year or so across any category.

Movie: The Martian

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Matt Damon. What else is there to say? Seriously though, this is such a good movie. I could not convince the Husband to go to the theater with me when it came out (and I think it actually came in 2015) but as soon as it was available digitally, we owned it. I watched it countless times since, and last night at the Boy’s request, we watched it again for movie night. There’s just something wonderful about a man being left behind on a planet and trying to survive. Maybe it’s a metaphor for me trying to survive the epically martian land of England? Who knows.

Book: Impossible to just pick one given my love of all things BOOOK! but here are two four I’ve read that I keep revisiting: {if you need more check out my GoodReads page}

Philipa Gregory, I fell in love with Three Sisters, Three Queens (the first of hers I read), and then proceeded to speed through her Cousins War series. I’ve hit a slow down with the Tudor Series, but I think I just needed a break from the pace I was reading them.

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Black Boy by Richard Wright, I have never been able to let this book from my mind. There’s just something sad, and moving, and wonderful in it. It is partly non-fiction and partly fiction (there’s academic debate about it being memoir and embellished). You decide.

Mary, Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser. I am a lover of all tings Scottish because of my family ancestry, and I’ve read a few books on Mary but this was my favorite.

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell. I loved her take on living for a year in the land of hygge. Especially how she refers to her husband as Lego Man.

The Rival Queens, Nancy Goldstone. This is about the trials of Catherine de Medici and her daughter Marguerite of Valois. Absolutely fascinating, and horrifying what things went on in the 15th century! I became fascinated by Catherine de Medici after watching Reign (yes that soapy not exactly historically correct teen drama), but her real life was very interesting. It also led me to be very interested in this Netflix original:

TV: Medici: Masters of Florence. You will pretty much find almost every character has been on a show you’ve either seen or heard of (Rob Stark from Game of Thrones AND Walter Frey as in laws??) It has a fabulous cast (Dustin Hoffman and et al), and the story is very worthy of binge watching. The drama, the backstabbing (literally), the time period. I can never get enough of these shows from another time. (It also led me to read The Medici by Paul Strathern – Loving It.)

Mini-Series: I couldn’t pick just one, so here are two:

The White Queen from Starz (based on 3 books from Philippa Gregory’s Cousins War series. Really, Really hoping that season two rumors are true, since this originally ran in 2013.)

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Victoria from ITV. It tells the first years of Queen Victoria’s reign from when she was crowned at 18 to the birth of her first child. Highly entertaining and my 10 year old also loves watching it. I believe there will be a season two.

I fell in love with this beauty product so much that the Husband is even schlepping to Nordstrom today while he’s in Seattle for work to get me some more (he’s awesome!). I hate it when products I love aren’t available in the UK:

Kate Sommerville Age Arrest Serum. I’ve gone two months without it since I ran out, and yes, it definitely improves my skin and I love the silky texture and the way my skin feels when I use it. Even though it’s $95….If you know an alternative that is just as good, for cheaper, please tell me!

MV Organics Rose range: everything. The moisturizer, cleanser, and the rose boost oil. (I have the Skin Tonic as well, but the jury’s still out on that one). Let’s just not even talk about the price, please. The cleanser is reasonable comparative to other similar brands but the moisturizer, {heart attack} on the 70ml price –> £77. I finally paid for it after schlepping out repeatedly for the 15 ml size at £25 a jar. Normally, I’d say NUTS to pay that much (even though I’ve bought pricier things…Sunday Riley, Sisley and May Lindstrom spring to mind…) but this is the first product that might actually be toning back the rosacea. And I’ve been consistent in using it every day, twice a day for a few months. I think we might be getting somewhere. I’m sure it’s probably not available in the US because {story of my life}.

Speaking of not available, I have fallen.in.love. with this clothing company – Hackwith Design House. All ethically made, gorgeous things, that are pricey! but with the companies ethics, and sticking to being on sale, I can live with it. They DO ship to London, for $20, and then VAT and duties are paid on top of clothing cost + shipping. So one dress I love, the Desiree (among many others), would be $158 + 20% duties + £8 post office ‘fee’ = way too much money. It makes me VERY sad but that has been the luck. So many ethical outstanding clothing companies {Brass Clothing, Everlane, Jan-N-June, ArmedAngels, Uniform, Zady, Need Supply Co, Gather & See, esby, and on that will/won’t ship/or charge in Euros} but the price of buying something is astronomical by the time I pay to get it out of Duty Jail. 5 more months and The Husband will just have to deal with a little wallet pinching. For a fantastic list (and website in general!) see Anuschka Rees. She also has a book The Curated Closet which I am impatiently waiting to be available to the UK.

Dog items: Wagg Training Treats (there’s even a low-fat version which is hilarious) and Pill Pockets from Greenies. Both of these items have been lifesavers with Mocha for training/rewards, and for the unending medication rotation we seem to be on since we’ve been in London.

Those are some of the things I’ve fallen in love with this year. There are many other things  that I have loved this year, but if I listed all of them it would be more like a book than a list. What have you fallen in love with this year?

Gifts for giving & getting

Since it’s only a few days until Christmas*, I thought I’d share some of my favorite things for those last minute shoppers. Some are things I have, and some are things I’d like to have. Naturally, books are pretty high on my list for both (as always), starting with this one that I have:

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Lost Ireland by William Derham. It’s a beautiful book full of pictures of Ireland past; buildings, great stately homes, etc, the majority of which no longer exist. For me, as someone who has been researching and celebrating her ties to her Irish heritage (my paternal great grandfather immigrated in the early 1900’s from Dublin), it’s a wonderful way to reconnect to the places I’d love to know more about. Each section of the book covers a county and provides some general history of the area, and there are descriptions of each building pictured, and what happened to them. It’s a great book for an Irish history lover.

An accompanying volume would be Ireland: A History by Thomas Bartlett. A book I checked out so often from my local Seattle library, I finally decided to just buy it.

For lovers of historical fiction, I’ve become addicted to Philipa Gregory’s novels, flying through the Cousins War series (which covers from Edward IV through Henry VIII and how they came to power). Of course these are fictitious, but draw on real events – marriage alliances, beheadings, struggles – which give you a sense of what life was like during these times. I’m on the final book of the Cousins War and moving on to the Tudor Court series. I started (out of order) with Three Sisters, Three Queens – which I didn’t know was a series when I bought it. It’s the second book in the Tudor series, but it definitely hooked me onto Philippa Gregory, whom I hadn’t been interested in previously.

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In my opinion, you can never go wrong with books. These are a tiny glimpse of the ones on my list this year:

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I’ve been pinning Gerhardt Richter paintings almost daily, and recently watched the documentary, Gerhardt Richter Paintings. His work is fascinating and beautiful, and this volume would make a lovely addition to my collection.

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The Nature Of Beauty by Imelda Burke is a another volume on my list I’d like to have. Goodness knows I’ve spent enough money in her store, Being Content. If you want to learn about organic skincare and clean cosmetics, then this is the guide. I’m trying to move in this direction as much as possible. If we think about our skin being the biggest organ, and then think about what we regularly put on our skin…changing my small makeup collection into skin-friendly items seems like a no brainer to me.

I saw this at my local Waterstones, and it just seemed like a fun book. Q&A A Day For Writers. Goodness knows I could use a jumpstart back into my writing, which used to occupy 70% of my time. I still have all my little scraps of receipts with my writing on it, sometimes even chapters of things. The characters would talk to me (and no, for a writer, that IS normal… really)

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I had meant to include other items in my list, but books are the main things I buy. Of course, I wouldn’t mind anything from Zady, an ethical clothing company. I love this sweater:

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Hello winter, come on over. You can never have too many sweaters. Full stop.

I’m pretty much head-over-heels for this sweater from Chinti & Parker as well, but it’s well out of my comfort price zone.

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I find this Polly Wales ring to be very unique and stunning. And in the world of sameness these days, unique is good.

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What’s on your gift giving or receiving list this year? Are you a last minute shopper?

 

*it’s very strange here in London, there’s no mention of any other religious December holidays, like Hanukkah, or Kwanza. in America, everyone knows when the dates these holidays are celebrated. here, it’s just….weird.

Can I get a little snow please? Random things

It’s hot.

I mean really hot (for London).

Pushing 85-90 hot, with humidity to boot.

I really like hot, but when AC doesn’t exist in the country you live in it’s not so much fun. The only AC is at Waterstones – but only my local Chiswick Waterstones, the cool 6 floor Russian Bookshop Waterstones on Oxford Street does.not.have.ac. as I learned on Sunday after touting the joys of Waterstones AC to my family. We’ve been in this heat wave since July. I get cranky when it’s hot and there’s no way to cool down.

I don’t take outfit pictures.

I don’t want to go to essentially non-air conditioned museums and look at paintings.

I don’t want to do anything. Like cook, or do laundry.

It was also the first week of school last week, so getting up at 6:18 am again, has been a bit rough. I will not lie, I actually enjoy having my kids at home in the summer. The Chick and I are pretty similar and enjoy doing things like museums, movies, and going to the gardens. The Boy stays in his room most of the time, so it’s like living with a houseguest you never see.

Chick and I also love reading. One of many books I’m reading at the moment is The Known World by Edward P. Jones. So far in the first 45 pages I’ve met about 20-25 characters. It’s very hard to keep track, and I’m not sure we are ever going to get to a storyline, but intriguing all the same. I bought the book when I was going the course The American Novel Since 1945 at Yale Online. I just never got around to reading this one. With Black Boy (which was great), Lolita (good, certainly memorable), Housekeeping (weird but okay), Wise Blood (definitely strange), Franny and Zooey (dislike), and On The Road (couldn’t get through that after numerous attempts), among other books, so I let a few books slide.

The Chick and I did some watercolors yesterday, which always helps, especially when listening to disco.

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We also went insane and went to the M&M Store the other day. On a bank holiday weekend no less. Lunacy does run in the family I suppose.

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Afterward I convinced the family that we should spend some quality time at Gourmet Burger Kitchen for milkshakes and fries. You only live once right?

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If it ever cools down, perhaps I’ll be in the mood to post something more interesting, but for now all I have is random words and a few iPhone pictures.

Enjoy. And send me that snow.

Russian literature is complicated…and that’s why I like it

I have always been a reader. Ever since the earliest time I can remember I’ve held a book. My favorite thing was for my mom to take me to the library where I would spend as much time as allowed searching the shelves. Usually I left with at least three or four titles in hand, and always others I’d put on my ‘next time’ list. Every birthday or holiday that involved a gift of money, had me running to the B. Dalton Booksellers at the local mall. Every shelf held a story, a life, an adventure, and I wanted to be a part of it.

When I was younger I leaned towards Baby Sitters Club by Ann R Martin, and Sweet Valley Twins (and later Sweet Valley High) by Francine Pascal. There was a period where I went in for anything dramatic and sad, a book about a kid with leukemia? sign me up! I couldn’t get enough of glimpses at other sides of life. In high school I enjoyed reading the required Shakespeare, John Knowles, Ibsen, and All Quiet On The Western Front, all of which reside on my bookshelves today.

7 years ago I discovered a whole new category. While living in Germany, I frequently visited the book shop in the square where they had a decent selection of books in english. It was there that I came across the well known Anna Karenina by Tolstoy in the bargain bin. I knew about Tolstoy of course (who hasn’t taken a college english class and not learned about Tolstoy?), but I had never really read him. Anna Karenina seemed worthy of my few Euros.

I came home and that night after the kids went to bed, I started reading. And reading, and reading. Most people marvel when I say I couldn’t put it down; it was a page turner. People think I have to be joking. Tolstoy? A page turner?

But for me he is, and Anna Karenina is a yearly read for me, if not more often. There is just something about it. The complexity of the story, the multitude of characters, the time period perhaps; something makes me drop everything to hear what Stephan Arkadiach will say or do next. What is Vronsky really thinking? Is Karenin really that cold and unfeeling? Then there’s Kitty and her childish ways!

I’ve always been drawn to other cultures and especially other time periods, and I enjoy reading something that is different. Russian literature of Tolstoy’s time period is deep, complex, and full of societal changes and rules that I know nothing about. It’s a glimpse into a country I’m unlikely to ever visit. The wonderful thing is that Russian literature is still just as interesting in a contemporary setting as it was in an ancient one.

I watched the documentary Russia’s Open Book about the new literature coming out of Russia from Zakhar Prelipin, Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Anna Starbinets and Mariam Petrosyan. Authors whose life in Russia is reflected in their work, represented in their stories, and bringing a whole new world of Russian literature for future generations to study. I’m eagerly awaiting Ms Ulitskaya’s book Daniel Stein from the library and plan to purchase books by both Mr. Prelipin and Ms. Starabinets. Unfortunately Ms. Petrosyan’s award winning The House In Which is not currently available in english, though I really wish it was.

I enjoy complicated books, like Russian literature, biographies, historical non-fiction, and even an occasional ‘main-stream’ read. The story is always waiting for us, we just have to turn the page.