Top 10 Books (as of Right Now): Part 1

Before we get too far, be warned — I want to know what YOUR favorite books are, too. And why. Get ready.

I used to be a voracious reader as a kid. At college, I ODed on reading and fell off the wagon a bit. I never STOPPED reading… I just slowed to a snail’s pace. But I’m getting back into it. I’m rediscovering the joy of it, reading what I WANT to read, and telling myself it’s ok to give up on a book I don’t like.

All of which has gotten me thinking about my favorites. I want to clarify that this list is only current as of Right Now. Favorite books are a fickle thing for everyone, dependent on where you are in your life and, of course, if/when a new book bumps one off the list.

So here you have it, the first 5, in no particular order. Well, except for #1, which gets the place of honor…

1. Watership Down

Watership Down

Most people don’t really get this one. “It’s about rabbits?” Well, yes. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and I get that — but it’s one of my all-time faves. My copy belonged to my mom, and after reading it for the first time, I stole it and will never give it back. The spine is now literally held together with tape. And I refuse to replace this copy.

Why do I love it so? Its main characters may be rabbits, but at its heart Watership Down is an adventure story. Escapes, raids, scheming, battles (YES RABBIT BATTLES). The story is well-paced, the characters well-developed…it’s probably one of the best-written book I’ve read, actually. And even just writing this, I want to re-read it again for the zillionth time. It was my first true book love. Our romance is one for the ages.

Malcolm X was quite the controversial figure (HAHAHA understatement), but his autobiography should be required reading at every school in America. Bold statement? Maybe. But this book really shows the power of accepting new information and experiences, and changing your worldview as a result of them. That’s a good lesson for any kid.
The entire autobiography was dictated to Alex Haley, and Malcolm X dictated the latter events of the book as they were happening. Which means that the reader gets to see the evolution of his thoughts in real-time. We get to see Malcolm X wrestle with new information, do some serious introspection, and evolve from a man largely driven by hate to this man:
“The next day I was in my car driving along the freeway when at a red light another car pulled alongside. A white woman was driving and on the passenger’s side, next to me, was a white man. “Malcolm X!” he called out — and when I looked, he stuck his hand out of his car, across at me, grinning. “Do you mind shaking hands with a white man?” Imagine that! Just as the traffic light turned green, I told him, “I don’t mind shaking hands with human beings. Are you one?”

 

3. The Time Traveler’s Wife

Time_Travelers_Wife
This book also happens to be one of my favorite titles. The first time I read it, I immediately fell into this weird depression that lasted for about a week. The only thing that cured it was re-reading the book.

Sounds fun, huh? Who doesn’t want a romping tale that leads down the spiral of depression! But that’s precisely why it’s on this list — it evoked a BIG reaction. Niffenegger creates this world that you dive into, a world that is at once familiar and surreal. The book doesn’t have a happy ending, but it has an honest one. And that’s how I like my stories — maybe happy, sometimes gritty, but always honest.

4. McTeague

McTeague

Ok — this one’s MAYBE a bit of a cheat. The book itself — it’s good, but I wouldn’t call it a favorite. Dim dentist in turn-of-the-century San Francisco goes from bad to worse. Alrighty then.

But the ending is the best ending I have ever read. Hands down. It leaves you with a dropped jaw that turns into a grin. I’ve read that Norris actually tailored the entire book around the ending, which he dreamt up before the actual story. It’s a brilliant example of an ending that doesn’t completely wrap things up but is 100% satisfying.

5. A Moveable Feast

 

Moveable_Feast

Alright, let’s get this out of the way — Hemingway was by all accounts a prick. BUT. Homebody could write, and A Moveable Feast is undoubtedly his most charming book.

If you’ve ever dreamed of Paris, read this book. It paints a picture of a city that doesn’t exist anymore — and to be honest, probably never truly existed. Hemingway was clearly in love in Paris, and he casts a rosy hue over the city and its Bohemian inhabitants. His descriptions of Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Scott Fitzgerald and other contemporaries are entertaining, but I think the true gems of this book are Hemingway’s brief, sporadic reminisces about his then wife, Hadley. Like the city, he views their marriage through rose-tinted glasses, and his nostalgia and regret is both poignant and real.

That’s a wrap for Part 1. Part 2 will come next week (edited to add: OMG Part 2 is RIGHT HERE — now with more books!) … but in the meantime, it’s your turn. What are YOUR favorite books? Tell me, tell me (and tell me why). The 2013 reading list needs to grow.

Trying New Things: Donating Blood

Every few months Puget Sound Blood Center comes and sets up shop in our office building. I’ve never donated blood before, it kind of squicks me out. Which is dumb, because I’m FINE with needles at the doctor’s office. You want 3 vials? Have at ’em. I tried to donate blood once, in high school, but my sister had the flu at the time, and since I’d been around her gross germs they wouldn’t let me donate. I breathed a sigh of relief and patted myself on the back for trying.

So when the sign-up sheet showed up at work, I thought, “Why! This is my year of Saying Yes and Trying New Things! OF COURSE I shall become a hero and donate blood!”

This was about a month ago. And the thought of giving blood has been great! Moral smugness wrapped me in its warm embrace, and I hugged right back. I was gonna go in there, eat a cookie, joke with the friendly nurses. It’d be awesome, I was awesome. No biggie.

And then the morning of the blood-letting came. I woke up yesterday super nervous. I rolled over in bed to face my husband.

“Mmmmmmmmnervous.”

“You’re nervous? About what?”

“Mmmmotating oooood.”

“What??” (Articulation isn’t my thing in the morning.)

“Donaaating bloooooood.”

“Oh. You’ll be fine, I promise.”

YEAH. RIGHT. I went to the internetz. Iron and water, they said. Consume a lot of both and you’ll be fine.

NOT CONVINCED.

“I’m still nervous.”

“You’ll be fine.”

“Will I be able to walk?” (SHUT UP I WAS NERVOUS)

“Walk where?”

“To the bus, after work.”

“Yes. You’ll be able to walk to the bus.”

Fortunately, my appointment was in the morning, so the hamster wheel in my head didn’t have too much time to spin. They’d turned a conference room into a makeshift center, complete with four cots with physician’s assistants roaming around them. I got signed in and the show got rolling. I was told I had nice veins (compliments will get you everywhere), lay down on the cot, attempted to steady my breathing and…that was that. It had begun.

The view from the cot.
The view from the cot.

And you’ll never guess — IT WAS FINE. MORE than fine. It took no time at all to fill out that little bag. And yeah, I could definitely tell something was goin’ on over there, but mostly I just distracted myself with my phone-ternet. So, you know, totally normal.

When they were done and I was all bandaged up, I stood up from the cot. This was one of the parts I’d been nervous about. I envisioned myself passing out from the sudden elevation change and crumpling like my cat confronted by a toddler. But no! I WAS FINE. Solid as a rock!

I was so happy that I pumped BOTH my fists in the air and shouted, “I didn’t pass out!”

…yeah, I know. But the volunteers and assistants laughed, so hey, no harm done.

As I was sitting with the juice-and-cookie lady (THE BEST LADY EVER), I told her it was my first time and how nervous I’d been.

“When we go to the high schools,” she said, “I always ask the kids: ‘how did it compare to your imagination?'”

Wise words, juice-and-cookie lady. Wise words. Almost everything is scarier in your head than it ends up being in real life. And even if something DOES go wrong — say I HAD passed out when I stood up — it still would have been fine. A-ok. I would have got up and carried on.

Now, remind me of this in 3 months, when I need convincing about my NEXT new thing.

Why yes, I donated blood -- AND I GOT A COOKIE.
Why yes, I donated blood — AND I GOT A COOKIE.

Temptation, Distraction & Nick Offerman

One of my tips is get a hobby [….] putting your phone down and doing something with your hands, so that at the end of two hours you have a tangible result to your time. You’ve still been distracting yourself, by knitting or cooking or playing music, but you’ve created something instead of played Words with Friends for two hours. – Nick Offerman

Oldie but a goodie. There is so much I love about this GQ&A with Nick Offerman (aka Ron Swanson). Also, side note, I am mildly obsessed with his tables.

This is something I’ve been working on lately — resisting temptation. Unfortunately, I don’t even mean temptation in an interesting/exotic/scandalous way. My temptations exist in the form of Facebook, Hulu, Instagram, KITTENS ON THE INTERNETZ. And of course the mundane tasks required to keep a household going… cooking, cleaning, laundry (and yet somehow I still never manage to FOLD said laundry…hmmm…).

That time I spend doing THOSE things? Could be spent MAKING something. My goal this year — write for at least 30 minutes every day. But really? Can we be honest? That’s pathetic. I’m a writer, writing is kind of what I’m supposed to do. And yes, technically, I write for hours and hours every day as part of my job. But I need to get better about setting time aside for MY writing. That book I’ve been working on for, oh, A YEAR AND A HALF? I COULD finish it writing 30 minutes a day, but that’d take about as long as a sloth attack.

On the positive side — since I gave myself this goal, I HAVE been fairly good about getting my 30 minutes in. One thing that’s helped: the Lift app. I feel ridiculous needing what amounts to a game in order to get my shit together…but if it works, it works. Once I start consistently doing my 30 minutes a day, I’m going to up that number. WATCH OUT, 60 MINUTES, HERE I COME!

How are YOUR goals going? Misery loves company. Tell me your struggles, denizens of the interwebs. We can do this together (perhaps with the help of a few apps).

That Time I Almost Met Fabio (But Ended Up Acting Like A Middle School Girl)

This is my friend Rachael. This is a photo of my friend Rachael with Fabio, a photo which lives on my fridge and stares at me whenever I get yoghurt or beer.

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Last night I went to the fancy-pants grocery store to buy champagne (as one does on a Thursday night). I walked past the cheese and produce thinking, “Oh, I hope there some cheese samples tonight OH HOLY SHIT THAT IS FABIO.”

Yes, there was Fabio, surrounded by a small group of people (mostly women). You should know: THIS IS NOT THAT WEIRD. Fabio is shilling some new health food product these days so has been making the fancy-pants grocery store rounds. This is how Rachael met him several months back, before she snuck that photo on my fridge.

But, you know, I still wasn’t expecting to see HELLO FABIO at 8 o’clock on a Thursday night at my grocery store. Fabio has never been my cup of tea, but I will say, in person, he cuts a STRIKING figure. Taller than I expected and good bone structure (what, it’s totally a thing). He actually looked like a pretty nice guy — chatting with all the ladies and whatnot. I couldn’t believe I’d run into the dude on my fridge. And I realized I HAD to get a picture for Rachael.

Only — I didn’t want to be the creeper sneaking photos. I mean, there was even a sign up basically asking the creepers of the world NOT to do that. But I HAD to get this photo. I am decidedly NOT GOOD when it comes to this sort of thing. I get all psyched out and then just deflate like a sad balloon. I was giving myself little pep talks about it, trying to get pumped up. Do I go stand in the crowd? Do I introduce myself? Do I walk up and say, “Hi, you met my friend and your picture is on my fridge”?

And just as I was trying to nut up, Fabio saw me walking past, made eye contact, and smiled.

And I…smirked.

I think that’s the only thing that can describe the facial expression I made. It definitely wasn’t in the smile territory. It was a smirk born out of “OMFG FABIO IS MAKING EYE CONTACT ABORT ABORT!”

So did I pull it together and go say hello? Get the picture for my friend? No. Of course not. I scurried over to the champagne area and HID BEHIND THE BOTTLES, sneaking glances at the crowd. Sorry, 2013, this “being brave” thing is off to a mediocre start.

Fabio, if you ever read this, the smirking girl says “hello.” Oh, and your picture is on my fridge.

Titles

Hi, my name is Laura, and I’m a writer who can’t write titles. I mean, really. I suck at writing titles. Every piece I work on is ‘Untitled’ until…well, for most of them, forever. They are stuck in untitled purgatory, waiting to be cleansed of my sins. Whenever I DO come up with a title, it’s — to put it mildly — weak sauce. WEAK SAUCE I TELL YOU.

Since I clearly have no effin’ clue as to how to write a good title, I’ve decided to dissect some of my favorites. Theory being that poring over them will help me understand how to come up with ones of my own. That, or osmosis will just take over and I’ll suddenly be able to write brilliant titles. Tada!

The Time Traveler’s Wife
Why it works for me: I immediately want to know why we’re supposed to focus on the wife, not the time traveler. Dude CLEARLY has a cool job.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
This one is a little harder to pinpoint, but I think it’s a) the words sound great together when read out loud, and b) it’s kind of grandiose. Also, the promise of adventure.

The Grapes of Wrath
You never knew fruit could be wrathful until this moment.

What are some of your favorite titles? Why do you love them? Show me, tell me. I am greedy for titles.

Oh wait.

I think I’m supposed to give some sort of introduction to this here blog.

Hello. My name is…

No, wait.

Hello. I’m Laura. I’m a writer. I live in Seattle. I have two cats and a husband and a newly acquired 50’s rambler in need of love (and cash). I like sweatpants. A lot. But don’t worry, I don’t wear them as often as I’d like.

I write for a living and for fun. The “fun” part consists of two currently-shelved second-draft books and one currently-writing book-in-progress. Consistently writing is a constant battle between the forces of good and the forces of lazy. And Jon Stewart, because damn if the Daily Show isn’t distracting. I’ve decreed (DECREED) that 2013 be the year that I finish the damn book-in-progress and get it moving towards publication.

2013 is also my year of Being Selfish. Saying YES and going on adventures and working on my own projects. Which explains this blog’s existence, as it falls under the grand scheme of “projects.” Here you’ll find…well, I’m not too sure on that front yet. Musings? Pictures? Gallant re-tellings of my ever-so-fascinating life? We’ll muddle through, I promise.

Now if you’ll excuse me. I have to change out of my sweatpants.