The Year of Non-Fiction

I’ve always been a voracious reader, primarily of literary fiction. I’m the type to have multiple books going simultaneously via different formats. In recent years I’ve set myself a yearly book goal on Goodreads (a great site) and worked to meet it. My all time highs are 54 books read in 2012, and 48 in 2013. I used to have a book blog where I wrote just book reviews. Reading was a major way that I learned about and made sense of the world.

But ever since we moved to Atlanta, and especially since the election, I’ve had a hard time focusing enough to read a book. I can partly attribute this to the fact that I wasn’t very engaged in the last three fiction books I tried to read: Harry Potter and The Cursed Child (such a disappointment I can’t even talk about it), The Heart of the Matter and The Little Friend.  In the past I would have found a way to push through just to check a book off the list, or at least switched to something else. But this fall I just couldn’t make it through a book. And I know why.

With all the craziness going on in the world it felt somehow irresponsible to escape into fiction.

Since the election I’ve felt a responsibility to read and listen to everything I could get my hands on related to Trump, his family, his cabinet, his staffers and his shady business deals. I felt like I just had to read as much as I could so I could be appropriately knowledgeable about each new staffing change/political decision/executive order. Reading anything non-politics related felt like giving in to what was happening.

Each day I would read the news of the day, various commentaries on the news and then listen to podcasts with more commentaries on the news. Pretty quickly, however, this got to be too much. I felt emotionally exhausted keeping up with all of the bad. My tolerance level for Trump-related news was reaching its breaking point.

So I have backed off, to a point. Let’s say I’m reducing my Trump consumption for Lent (an idea I got from a blog post that I can no longer find, so sorry for no link). I’m still reading the news every day, but I’m no longer listening to news podcasts in addition. For the sake of my sanity I’m also trying not to seek out more and more and more commentary related to Trump.

I deleted my podcast app and switched back to Audible during my commute and while puttering around the house. I still don’t have a desire to read fiction. Instead, I’m reading non-fiction books on a regular basis for the first time in my life.

I’m working from a list on Goodreads called “The Post-Trump Big Questions Canon.” It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for. Regular readers know that the election was earth- and faith-shaking for me, as I know it was for many. These books are helping me hone and reshape my view of the world in the new America of Trump. (Or perhaps it has belonged to people like him all along?)

In 2017 I want to come to a more nuanced understanding of history, politics, race, class, gender and the intersection between faith and all of the above. So far, I’ve read:

Getting back to reading is helping me feel like myself again. Long live books!

What are you reading these days, dear reader? And have others felt the same desire to learn more about the forces that created our current political moment?

 

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Nature vs. Nurture vs. The Luck of the Draw

A few days ago, I heard my friend say that pregnancy and birth were undeniable miracles. I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week. I obviously agree, and I want to expand on the idea: The way children grow and develop is also a miracle. The process by which tiny squishy babies with–let’s face it–not much personality develop into little people full of thoughts, knowledge and opinions of their own is amazing.

Watching Jonah becoming himself is fascinating to me. At almost 19 months, he says or does something every day that he wasn’t able to say or do the day before. His personality is really emerging, and it’s so interesting to try to trace where each trait, each element that makes Jonah himself, came from.

Jonah

Becoming a parent has made me think a lot about the concept of nature vs. nurture. (There’s nothing like parenthood to make you apply heavy ideas like this to yourself for the first time.) How much of any human is determined by genetics, and how much is determined by the conditions under which they were raised? How much of what a person is like is subject to chance, or the luck of the draw? I know that there are scientists who are experts in this stuff who can provide some insight on this subject, but honestly, I think no one can know for sure.

I can clearly see elements of Jonathan and myself in Jonah’s personality. He has Jonathan’s good humor, mischievous smile and extraversion. He has my sensitive and affectionate nature. Jonah and I seem to like a lot of the same things. I think these things can be traced to genetics?

On the other side, I can also see how our parenting is shaping Jonah. A good example is with reading. I knew that we were supposed to read to him from birth, so that’s what I did, even though for a long time he wasn’t very interested. I would read to him for short amounts of time, multiple times a day, and stop when he wanted to do something else. And one day, when Jonah was around 11 months old, it just clicked. He started to bring books to me to read, and he would pick them up to “read” to himself. Now, books are by far his favorite things, more than any other toy. And that’s something I’m proud of, because I feel it is a direct result of our parenting. I see how all the reading is benefiting him; his vocabulary is exploding. New words learned from books in the last week are “bike,” “George,” “boat,” “purple” and “home.” I hope Jonah is a lifelong reader.

Jonah reading

When people say that parenting is a weighty, scary responsibility, this is what they are talking about. The challenge of raising a child to a happy, productive adulthood, to play such a large role in who he or she becomes, and to do it well, can seem like an enormous task that is easy to screw up. And it is! No argument from me there.

What do you think about nature vs. nature vs. chance? Which matters the most in who a person becomes?

Life essentials and self-care

I’ve had a wonderful couple of weeks. I’ve just been really happy recently, after not being so happy for a while. Nothing special has happened, so it’s taken me a little while to figure out why this is.

I’ve realized that I’m happy because I have been reading and writing every day. Jonathan and I have been doing better about maintaining a clean house. We’ve been cooking regularly instead of eating fast food and take-out. I’m spending time outside. I’m getting enough sleep.

These are the essentials of my happy life. I feel content because I am reading great literature, writing and creating on a regular basis. A lot of these things boil down to picking what is right for me versus what is easy. It’s easier to binge-watch tv at night after Jonah is in bed rather than make time to write. It’s easier to get Chick-Fil-A for dinner every night instead of cook. These things may be easy, but they don’t make me happy. Instead, I’ve been trying to simplify my life and focus on the things that I know are good for me.

Kristen Howerton at Rage Against the Minivan wrote recently about the challenge of self-care for busy people, particularly busy moms, and that really resonated with me. I realize that self-care is what this is all about. For women especially, it can be so easy to push ourselves and our own emotional needs to the side in trying to fit it all in and take care of everyone else. But I’ve learned that choosing the easy option is not what is best for me or for the people who depend on me. My goal is to choose a life that is simple, that prioritizes physical and emotional health, and that involves time for myself and the things that wake me up inside.

take time

What are your life essentials? Do you feel that self-care is a challenge to fit into your life?