Wednesday, May 11, 2016

I Did It (Again!): A to Z Challenge 2016 Reflection



Last month's A to Z Blogging Challenge was the fourth I've completed. It was also by far the easiest. I'm not sure if that's due to the subject matter or the fact that I write more now than I ever have before. Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed it!

One thing I've gotten better with over time as a writer, especially with all the experience of these A to Z Challenges, is to let go of expectations. I've also learned to trust myself. So tomorrow is the day for letter X and I have nothing written? No big deal. I've got ideas and I know something will come of it before the day is done.

When I chose to write about "Books that have been significant to me," I figured that would translate to "My favorite books," but that wasn't the case. Sure, some of the books I wrote about were my all time favorites, but when I looked at my list of titles, I realized the books that packed a punch for me in my life weren't exactly fun easy reads.

When I chose to write about Under the Banner of Heaven, I was a little self conscious. Here in The West, Mormonism can be a touchy subject. Plus, the book's main story is gruesome. Did I really want to confess to loving this book? I followed my gut and went with it. Two days after that post went up, I received a message from a friend who knows the author and she got my book signed for me!


It was positive reinforcement, proving that following my intuition and putting myself out there has rewards. For all the times I put myself out there and no one notices or comments and for all the times I take a risk and fall flat on my face, here was an instance of being noticed and that felt wonderful!

The friend who introduced me to this challenge is also a writer. I've known her since elementary school. After we reconnected through Facebook, we've become pretty good pals again and participate in an online book club, even swapping books through the mail. I invited her to choose the same theme as I did, and so we both wrote about the books that have influenced our lives as writers and as human beings in general. I loved comparing our posts each day. We have very different writing styles and reading preferences yet we overlap from time to time and it's fun to see. We didn't double up on any books but were close on two. She chose On Writing by Stephen King for O, which I almost chose. Then I wrote about Watership Down by Richard Adams for W and she had almost chose that one as well!

All in all this was a fantastic year for me for the A to Z Challenge. I've encountered quite a few blogs that I will visit regularly and made some new connections. I'm already looking forward to next year!




Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Dude and the Zen Master by Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman


Okay, I know this title is a little bit of a stretch for Z but it's the closest I could get!  (Plus,  I've written about it before so that proves it's been significant in my life!)

This lovely  book is a collection of transcripts of conversations between Jeff Bridges and his friend/spiritual teacher, Bernie Glassman. I like it so much because the tone is casual. The conversations are full of observations and bits of wisdom that come from living such interesting lives as these men have.

My favorite line in this book has become one of my personal mantras. Jeff says "Everyone you meet is your guru, teaching you something." I'd held that belief prior to reading the book but had never quite put it into words. In the years since I've read this and written about it, this belief has truly become a part of who I am. Every single person I encounter has something to teach me, even if that person in a pain in the butt! (Actually, I've found it is especially true if that person is a pain in the butt!) Likewise, everyone I encounter can learn something from me. Not everyone is open to this sharing of knowledge, but when they are, WOW, amazing connections take place!

Jeff Bridges lives in my community and while I've never met him, I know people who have. Each story I hear reinforces my belief that he's an excellent human being as well as being a fantastic actor! Any time I've seen him interviewed, he exudes coolness, wisdom and gratitude. Maybe our paths will cross some day!

If you're interested in Zen philosophy, and what that looks like in conversation, I highly recommend this book. Even if you aren't particularly interested in Buddhism, I think this book has a lot to offer in the way of inspiring the reader to slow down and truly think about life.





Friday, April 29, 2016

Yes Please by Amy Poehler


Since Tina Fey's book is on my list, I suppose it's not a surprise that Amy Poehler's is here as well. These women are two of my personal heroes and just about anything they do makes me happy!

I rushed to read Amy's book when it came out because I knew it would be hilarious and honest. That it is. What struck me most is her how her positivity shines through on every page. This is not a standard memoir or typical comedian's book of collected bits. It's part memoir, part self-help and 100% funny inspiration!

If you  haven't read the hard cover version of this book, you need to. Even if you've read it on Kindle or listened to audio. You can't miss out on these awesome photos and gorgeous glossy pages. They bring Amy's personality to the page and give her words extra meaning.



Amy tells her story honestly and gracefully. She reminds us it's okay to get pissed off or disappointed but it's important to still be kind and grateful. 

Much like with Tina Fey, I feel that Amy Poehler is a kindred spirit. At times I felt I was reading wise words written especially for me from a best friend! My favorite lines from the book are probably these  "The only way we will survive is by being kind. The only way we can get by in this world is through the help we receive from others." That's something I could have written myself! It's reassuring to hear these words from a woman who has fought hard for her success and remains humble. Do yourself a favor and read this book!


Thursday, April 28, 2016

X is for Crossover


Try as I might, I couldn't come up with a book to write about for X. This happened when I wrote about songs for the challenge two years ago, so I decided to use the same topic, crossover popularity.

I was late to the Harry Potter party. I was in my early twenties and had a snobby attitude of Why would I want to read children's books? A good friend finally talked me in to giving the first book a try. Of course I loved it and flew through the rest, then becoming one of the eager masses anxiously awaiting the release of the next title! Those books are beautifully written, getting a little bit darker with each installment. When I finished the last book, I felt lost.

I assumed the Harry Potter books were an anomaly. I couldn't imagine there would be any other "kids' books" as good as those so I returned to my comfort zone of contemporary "adult" novels for several years.

Then the Twilight craze hit. I didn't notice it at first, but when I did I avoided the books because let's me honest, it sounds lame. A friend sent me a copy of the first book so I dove in and, BIG SURPRISE, I thought it was fantastic and got totally sucked in to the drama. So of course I sped through the rest of the series, but this time I was disappointed. I liked the second book a lot, thought the third was meh and could barely get through the last one.  To this day, I absolutely adore that first book. I've read it at least three times. I'm not saying it's a literary feat, but I enjoy it a great deal!


Since then, I've dropped all my preconceived notions about any genre. I realized I was severely limiting myself by thinking I "couldn't" read something due to my age. Now, I'll read anything. I love that there's so much possibility out there.

I've tried some YA and hated it (Hunger Games, Maze Runner) but loved others (John Green, Cassandra Clare) which goes for any genre I read. I love contemporary novels but recently had to quit one a friend sent because I just didn't like it one bit. And I felt terrible about it!

But with so many options when it comes to reading material, I do wonder why these YA titles become so popular. Sure some of them are spectacular stories that are well written but not all of them. Does it have anything to do with the fact that the average American reads at a 8th grade level? Did you even know that? The statistics I found are unimaginable. I guess if 44% of American adults don't read a single book in a year, those who do read should be encouraged, no matter what titles they choose.

Do you read YA/ Why or why not? And what do you think about The Literacy Project Foundation's statistics?




Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Watership Down by Richard Adams


I first read this book somewhere around age 12. I had seen the animated version as a younger child but didn't comprehend the story. Reading the novel made me feel intelligent and sophisticated! It was the first "grown up" novel I read and it opened doors for me to other reading material I hadn't yet considered. I was in my twenties before I learned the book was written for children, and I was super disappointed for my young self.

My passion for animals was in full swing by age 12 so I'm sure this book was in the right place at the right time, but I absolutely loved it. This is also around the same age at which I acquired a pet bunny - go figure!

What interested me most about the rabbits in Watership Down was the glimpse into a community of animals living without humans as a main character. They had relationships, mythological beings, and their own language. Wow! While I realized animals in the wild didn't live exactly like this, it sparked my interest in how they might live. This book not only fueled my love of reading, it encouraged my interest in animals and biology. 

The copy pictured above is the one I gave my husband as a birthday gift when we first started dating. The one pictured below is that first copy I had.



I've read this book twice since that first time, but I'm pretty sure I haven't read it in the last 20 years. I've chosen it as my selection for when I host for our book club in June, our theme being Choose Your Favorite Book. The reason I chose this and not The Lovely Bones is because this is my first favorite book. It has been a part of who I am for a long time! Just discussing it evokes a strong emotional response, so I am extremely curious and happy to revisit it at my age to see how it feels and what my friends and I take away from it now.




Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Value of Believing in Yourself by Spencer Johnson, MD


I had a copy of this book as a kid. I'm fairly certain it came from a thrift store called The Hodge Podge, but I don't know anything else about how I ended up with it.

A couple of years ago, I came across a copy at a yard sale for 50 cents and was so thrilled I wrote a blog post about it !

I can't say whether this book has had any impact on my believing in myself over the years, but I am fairly confident is fueled my interest in veterinary medicine and vaccinations! Over my many years as a vet tech, I'd encounter owners who didn't want to vaccinate their pet for rabies. Sometimes the reason was financial but it was usually ignorance. I can't tell you how many times I had a conversation like this:
                     Client: Why do I have to vaccinate my dog for rabies? We don't have a problem with rabies around here.
                     Me: No, we don't, because we vaccinate against rabies!
 Each time I had this conversation, I thought of this book! I'd think I know the story of Louis Pasteur inventing this vaccine and he did not spend his life doing that so people could decline the vaccine to save $17!



  *Side Note: Last summer I read a non-fiction book called Rabid, about the history of rabies in our culture. Fascinating and horrifying stuff - I highly recommend it if it sounds interesting to you!

So, to say this book was significant in my life is putting it mildly. I find it funny that there is obviously a series of these ValueTale books but this is the only one I have encountered in my life, and twice!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer


This is the most compelling non-fiction book I've ever read. I hadn't read Krakauer until a couple of years ago but once I started, I couldn't stop! This is my favorite of his by far, but don't let that fool you into thinking it's an enjoyable read!

This book tells a terrible, violent story which book ends the telling of the history of Mormon Fundamentalists. Alternating between horrifying and interesting, the book is a perfect example of Krakauer's style of fact telling without skewing the reader. 

I listened to the audio book and would occasionally find myself standing in my kitchen open mouthed, leaning forward as I listened with anticipation. It was difficult to stop the book when I needed to because I always wanted to hear more, even when it was finished. It was one of those books that left me with an emotional hangover. 

Not only are Krakauer's books incredibly compelling to me as a reader, they are a huge inspiration to me as a writer. I am often mesmerized by his story telling, even when I know how the story ends. As I read, a part of me is hoping that I'm mistaken and the book will actually have the happy ending I'm hoping for!

If you are a fan non-fiction, you'll appreciate his writing. If you like a good story (and have a strong stomach!) you'll surely like his books as well!