Lab Girl -- an experiment that works

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

3 words: lyrical, poignant, personal

Oh, man, guys. A workplace memoir that’s smart and a pleasure to read, and it’s about a workplace I’d detest.  
The recipe for my perfect book.

I so loved reading this thing. 

Jahren writes (gorgeously) of her life as a scientist. She studies plants and trees, and her lab is her refuge and her true home. 

And her lab partner Bill is her best friend and colleague. And they’re both quirky (especially him) and interesting to hang out with on these pages, even though sometimes they’re digging deep trenches so they can study soil (which sounds dull and tedious, except when Jahren's writing about it).

Jahren’s passion for her work is a beautiful thing to read, especially since she’s quite a lovely writer. Take this: 
“I must have cracked thousands of seeds over the years, and yet the next day’s green never fails to amaze me. Something so hard can be so easy if you just have a little help. In the right place, under the right conditions, you can finally stretch out into what you’re supposed to be.” (31)

So sometimes when she’s writing about plants, she’s also writing about life. But never in that treacly, sickening way that’s overly obvious.

I read this book while listening to Quiet by Susan Cain, and there was some really fascinating overlap. Hours after hearing Cain describe the phenomenon of solitary researchers making breakthroughs in the middle of the night, I read Jahren’s description of just such a moment in her research.

And there were moments when this book reminded me of one of my favorite memoirs of all time, True North by Jill Ker Conway, in which she describes her graduate school years with a good deal of joy.

This is a lovely book. Smart and also wise.

Self-improvement... in all ways except book moderation

My kinda room!

Recently this article about books that'll make you healthier caught my eye... especially since it includes books by Gretchen Rubin and Charles Duhigg, who are two of my recent favorites.

In other bookish articles online... this one, about packing books for a trip, is full of helpful tips I'm likely to disregard completely. 

I'm a one-book-per-day kinda girl when packing for any kind of travel, and that's for a normal trip that's not expected to include any lengthy reading sprees. 

And heaven help us all, if the trip requires that I bring books to aid in any sort of research. 

(Shameful recollection of that episode at Midway Airport, when I had to transfer Kennedy assassination books from my overweight suitcase to my soon-to-be-leaden-in-weight carry-on, right there in the middle of the terminal)

I'm a wiser woman these days. I start out with the books in the carry-on. That, my friends, is my best book-packing tip.

Reading My Genealogy

Hey, Great-Great-Grandpa Eric! (that dude is seriously Swedish)

Recently I had a big old brainstorm that emerged from podcast listening, immediately following a runner’s high, followed by a good night’s sleep. 

The next morning, there it was:
Reading My Genealogy 

From both family history research and ancestral DNA testing, I know where my people come from. 

And I decided to read a book from each region -- something written by an author from that place.

Maybe even each country (for instances where I know the actual country of origin, from my genealogical research).

 So we’re looking at something like this:
  • Scandinavia (known countries: Sweden, Denmark)
  • Western and Central Europe (known country: Netherlands)
  • Great Britain and Ireland (known countries: England, Ireland)
  • Finland and Siberia (who knew?!)

I’m also 1% Neaderthal, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t leave a body of literature. 

So the next task is to identify some possible books. (I'm kinda excited, guys.)
Anyone else ever embarked on a project like this? Wanna join me?

Pizza Pizza!

Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg

3 words: personal, cheerful, entrepreneurial

This book hit the sweet spot: pizza, plus entrepreneurship, plus a nice conversational style. I was happy every moment I spent reading it.

Delancey is the story of Molly and her husband Brandon opening a pizza restaurant in Seattle. It’s the story of the early days of their marriage, when she was pretty sure he’d bail on the restaurant idea before the brick oven arrived.


And while the tone overall is cheerful, Molly is candid about her not-always-positive responses to the stresses of opening and running a restaurant.

It’s exactly the type of book I love to read: people living an experience I’d despise if it happened to me. But give me a book about opening your own business (or traveling to the Arctic or working as a journalist or any number of things I’d hate to actually do), and I’m one happy little creature.

The entrepreneurship thing has really taken hold of my brain, even though I totally do not want to be an entrepreneur. I’ve been listening to the podcast Online Marketing Made Easy with Amy Porterfield, and I’m completely hooked.

It’s like a corollary [dang, people: I did not know how to spell that word!] to my watching HGTV obsessively, when actual house-hunting and renovation makes me break out in hives.

So, back to Delancey. Here are two things that carry this book's story into the future…

1. The Dear Man and I have added Delancey to our list of future pizza destinations.

2, Molly also writes the Orangette blog, which has been on the periphery of my consciousness for years now. So if you want to read the ongoing tale, you can!

Prizing the Pulitzers

Books -- they're in the news!

The Pulitzers were announced, and thanks to the Tournament of Books, I'd actually heard of the fiction winner (though it's largely been overshadowed by Hamilton's big win in the drama category). 

And the good folks over at Library Journal put together a list of the 10 best American police procedurals. Such a list would always make me happy, but when I saw that they included Craig Johnson... squealing commenced.

How to read more books

Woohoo! There's a line at the grocery store!
I know: life's busy. 

And most of us wish we could eke out more time for reading. 

So we've got to get creative, my friends. 

Here are my favorite hacks for tricking my life into giving me more reading time...

1. Listen to audiobooks everywhere
  • driving
  • folding laundry
  • exercising
  • shopping for groceries
  • gardening (I'm told this is a fine time to listen, but I can't personally vouch for it) 
  • doing the dishes
  • cleaning the house 

2. Multi-type your listening
  • Have a CD audiobook in your car, and an eAudiobook on your phone so it goes with you everywhere

3. Speed it up
  • When listening to eAudiobooks, see if the app will let you speed up the narrator’s pace. (I've grown accustomed to 1.25 pace, and I ain't goin’ back.)

4. Make it portable
  • Always have an ebook on your phone. Or a paperback in your bag.

5. Make reading convenient as all heck by planting books everywhere

  • bedside table 
  • your staging area, so you grab a book on your way out of the house
  • any place you like to sit
  • kitchen table 
  • any bag you carry

6. Hack your schedule 

  • Arrive somewhere early and read

7. Cook + book  

    • Read while stirring and sautéing

    • Let yourself read while food is in the oven

8. Go to bed early (except... don't)  
  •  Set an alarm a half hour before your bedtime and then read in bed like it’s a virtuous assignment instead of a luxury
If you’re a morning person, set a wake-up alarm half an hour early to read (and then set another alarm to remind you that it’s time to get on with your day)

So those are my favorite ways to sneak in more reading time. I'm especially fond of the Cook/Book Technique and the Pretend-to-Go-to-Bed-Early Tactic.

What are your favorite methods for grabbing more time to read? 

Me & Ben improve ourselves (mostly he does that, while I listen)

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin

3 words: literary, straightforward, ambitious

Before listening to his autobiography, here’s what I could’ve told you about Benjamin Franklin:

That electricity thing with a kite
That quest for self-perfection
Philadelphia boy
Dude went to France
Poor Richard’s Almanack
That really bad hair

As I listened, though, I remembered what I’d known and forgotten:

Founded one of the first lending libraries in America
Worked as a printer
Known for his writing (oh, thank goodness!)
Self-made man

And I learned things I never knew:

Dude was a wise, wily politician
Not into church-going
Founded a fire department in Philadelphia

I found his autobiography a rather uplifting reading experience. Granted, his life could be considered a success, but he describes his mistakes with honesty and humility. He owns that crap.  

And his writing is clean and surprisingly straightforward for its day. I was prepared for all kinds of flowery speech, but he preserved us from that fate. (This might be one of the reasons this book is still so widely read.)

My favorite section was the part where he describes his plan to become a better person by observing the 13 virtues he identified and worked on, one by one: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility.

Oh, I liked this part a lot. 

I had all kinds of happy little flashbacks to reading Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project. Her formula for happiness is “being happier requires you to thinking about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.”

It appeals to me so strongly, that “atmosphere of growth” stuff. And Franklin’s life embodied that concept.

So hanging out with him while he told his life story was pretty darn inspiring. While I scrambled eggs, he described figuring out how to set up a fire department and save lives, all while living a life of frugal, tranquil sincerity. 

So yeah, inspiring and enjoyable. Glad I read it. 

Books & birthdays

Library of Congress -- fancy!
My friends, the book world is a happening place

So... nobody told me the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction actually existed. Then I saw that Marilynne Robinson won the thing. So: that's news!

Beverly Clearly turned 100 this week! Given that some of her books (Henry Huggins) seemed charmingly old-fashioned when I read them way back in the '70s, I'm actually delightedly stunned that she's still living. 

This is the lady who gave us Drop Everything and Read Day, and for that, I'm deeply grateful. (I actually celebrate this holiday most days, but I think that's true of many of us.)


Book Bingo Hacks: Food

OK, today we’re talking food and we’re talking bingo. 

Here are some books to try, if you’re in the mood for something…

Warm: Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradel

Blog-based: Julie & Julia by Julie Powell

Also magically realistic: Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Gossipy: Dish by Liz Smith

Warmly essayistic: Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin

Literary: The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter

Warm: Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos

Memoir + recipes: My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl

Chick lit-y: The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert
I just saw this one in the news again, and I remembered that I want to read it.   

And there are oodles of other ideas out there, my friends. 

The International Association of Culinary Professionals just announced their 2016 award winners this week.

And the good people over at Flavorwire put together a list of 50 novels for foodies

Happy reading, and happy eating!

Book Club update... the Discussability Issue

Book club snacks!
With this book club update, I’m introducing a new element: the Discussability Score. 

(I know: thrilling!)

Two factors feed into the Discussability Score:

  1. How engaging was our book club’s discussion? Did we discuss the book in depth and/or at length? 

  2. How discussable do I think this book would be for other book clubs?

The Discussability Score is on a 5-point scale:

1 = Nobody has a word to say.

2 = You talk about the book for 5 minutes before someone mentions upcoming vacation plans and you never allude to the book ever again in your natural life.

3 = The book generates some discussion, but none of it is very zippy or interesting. But you’ve done your duty and now you can drink some wine and feel virtuously intellectual because you talked about a book.

4 = You all have interesting things to say about the book, and you’re all excited to be talking about it. The discussion goes on for quite a while, and it’s lively.

5 = Your group keeps talking and talking. Eventually, you talk about your vacation plans, but you keep leaping back to the book. And this thing has an afterlife… you’ll bring it up again and again at future book club meetings.

So let’s score these puppies!

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Discussability Score: 4
Because: We talked about the things that surprised us in this book, and also about the things we would’ve done differently if we were writing the book

Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington
Discussability Score: 5
Because: We kept talking about the characters’ motivations and their social circumstances, and the fact that the book has surprising depths that creep up on a person

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
Discussability Score: 5
Because: We talked and talked and talked about this book -- the motivation of the characters, whether we could identify with the main character, how it reflected the era when it was written, and how it fit into the suspense genre 

Next up: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain