366 days of silence (and then I talk too much)

I’ve been trying to write about my relationship with books in 2016 for the past week. I’ve scrolled through my list of top 10 books of the year — a list that has steadily remained at seven reads for the past few months — and tried to add others but fell short. I looked through notes I scribbled down in Goodreads when I was particularly jazzed about a read, and grew upset with myself for not being more detailed.

The question is: how do you measure your reading life after recording your reading life pretty routinely for almost five years and then stopping cold turkey?

The answer is: I’m not entirely sure.

Tell Me Three Things by Julie BuxbaumHere are a few things I could say: I read Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King because my boss at one of my side hustles sent me a galley. It utterly changed my reading life, and I immediately ordered a copy to send to my sister. I loved it so much that I was too shy to go up to Jeff when he traveled to New York City for one of my favorite annual events of all time: NYC Teen Authors Festival (a festival I never would have started attending if it wasn’t for this blog). I went on a job interview for a job I would eventually get after a weekend of being snowed in and talked up Courtney Summer’s All the Rage and Julie Buxbaum’s Tell Me Three Things. Both so wonderful for such different reasons. Later that summer, during Independent Bookstore Day, I convinced one of my oldest friends to buy a copy. On a long bus ride to the beach, Some Kind of Happiness by Claire LeGrand kept me company. It’s the perfect middle grade mix — magic mixed with realism, love mixed with confusion, and family paired with self-discovery. This was another doggy earred galley I left on my sister’s bed during a visit home. I picked up The First Time She Drowned because Jeff Zentner plugged it, was instantly taken by the beauty and pain of the book, and passed it along to a friend a few months later when her mom passed. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy read for her, but I also knew she had a lot of the strength the main character possessed and this was the best way I could tell her. And then there was a recommendation from the dependable Emma and the discovery of a brand new author: Leah Konen.Summer in the Invisible City by Juliana Romano The warm summer afternoon I gobbled up One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid and immediately passed it to my close friend from college. (It was a year of passing it on.) And the incredible second book by Juliana Romano, The Summer in the Invisible City, that had my hand yearning to write, pick up my own story, and challenge myself to write just as well. (Impossible but still. I was inspired and continued to be. You’ll be shocked to know I bought my sister a copy of this for Christmas. Note to self: has she read any of these yet?)

This is the first year in five years where I bought less than 12 book for myself in a year. This does not mean I didn’t buy a lot of books for others because I did. (Like the incredible and addicting middle grade from Natasha Friend: Where You’ll Find Me.) I read so many books from my own library, from stacks that line my apartment walls, and donated over 75 of them in one fashion or another. (There is one happy reader in my apartment building.) I stopped — we stopped — writing here for so many reasons but one of mine was to simplify. I thought if I took a break from here, I would be able to concentrate on other projects. More private ones. And I did. And I didn’t. And I rediscovered what it means to love a book and share it with your friends who understand you and not rush and not feel any pressure. I took out over 75 books from my library this year, I paid probably 50 dollars in fines, but I know I shopped thoughtfully this year. I reminded myself countlessly that there are a million ways to support authors, even if you aren’t buying a book as soon as it comes out. Hey, I even introduced my cube neighbor to Jenny Han’s To All The Boys I Loved Before and delighted in our conversations about if she was Team Peter or Team Josh. It was organic, and so fun! (Another note: just because a platform pauses/closes, doesn’t mean a voice stops recommending and encouraging people to buy your books.)

Where You'll Find Me by Natasha Friend2016 was not my best reading year. I put a lot of books down. I read 100 pages, and decided if I really didn’t want to pick a book up at night, what was it doing my nightstand? Like everything else that is a hobby, it’s okay to make those decisions. It’s okay to know your limits and want to FIND JOY. (I did finally read On the Island and I’m kicking myself because people have been singing its praises forever. Oh, and then Little Women — I tackled my goal of 26 years by actually finishing it.) My priorities may have shifted to personal projects and fitness and watching all seven season of Gilmore Girls, but I have missed this space. I know I’m lucky because I’ve been able to channel my love for this space and this community at work, and have a great time doing it. But I miss brainstorming and laughing with my friend over books; I miss having a project to gap our distance. For almost a year now, I’ve struggled with (and maybe this is what the age of digital is all about) who I am as a blogger and who I am as an actual publicist. (One of my proudest/scariest moments I had this year was speaking on a panel about blogging and my professional life at the wonderful BlogBound.) The support and incredible relationships I made because of this blog mean so much to me. I respect what you do because I’ve done it too. I know it’s a labor of love, and I know how much authors and the books we love need the genuine passion you express in whatever way you wish. This blog and all of the experiences connected to it have made me better at my job, it’s made me even more of a creative thinker, and it’s made me love the art of collaboration so much more than I ever have.

It’s a new year, and it feels right to be back here with Magan. We’re celebrating six years of friendship at the end of January, and I feel luckier than ever — to be surrounded by books, fierce and imaginative people, and the freedom to sit here and write this to you. I’m ready to learn more about others and myself too.

Here’s to 2017 — to reunions, rediscovery, and curiosity.

What This Book Gave To Me

You know when you have a trilogy and the second movie (unfortunately) feels like it exists just to get to the final installment? That’s a little bit of what this year has felt like. Some progress, a few steps back, major happy moments, and some really disappointing ones.  I think 2015 may have existed just to push me toward the next year, so with that understanding, fingers crossed for 2016 to be a bit more… steady and wonderful.

As always, books have continued to be my anchor when I needed to escape the real world and my gosh, there were so many fantastic ones this year. There were definitely some standouts — and not in a top 10 of the year kind of way — but more of a “oh my god this book is saving me and I didn’t even know I needed to be saved kind of way”. So that’s what this post is about — how powerful and emotional and impactful some titles have been for me this year. I hope it gets you thinking the books in your life that made you feel similarly this year.

♥

Happiness for Beginners by Katherine CenterHappiness for Beginners by Katherine Center seems like the logical place to start. The main character needs to escape the blah realities of her current situation and embarks on something totally out of her comfort zone — which means she sucks at it for awhile but learns about her so much along the way. Halfway through the year, I started a new workout and nutrition regime, and surprisingly, fell in love with yoga. It’s not the same as hiking in the great outdoors for a number of days on end, but it definitely felt like it. Feeling strong, seeing my body change, and realizing I had discovered a habit that actually calmed me? Priceless.

In keeping with the highs of the year, both Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer and Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid made me think of the steady females in my life (the golden old ones, and the surprising new ones) who lend me support and make me better. (I shine if you shine!) They also reminded me how the tiniest decisions can have the greatest impact on the directions of our lives and there’s no life roadmap we have to follow step by step; it takes time to find our ways, it takes mistakes to get us where we are going and we are that much better for our blunders.

First There Was Forever by Juliana RomanoSpeaking of blunders, I spent way too much time this year asking myself what I did wrong for certain situations to turn out like they did. Even when I tried to forget or let it go, they popped up again and again, and while these events have contributed to the hurt and insecurity that has plagued me more than I care to admit, I do wonder if these moments have led me to realize that 1] friendships work when a person can switch off between being the supporter and the supportee (Tonight the Streets are Ours by Leila Sales is the first YA novel where I related more to the mom than the young main character) 2] forgiveness is the key to a long, nuanced friendship (Molly and Imogene in 99 Days by Katie Cotugno are on point, as are Willowdean and Ellen in Dumplin’)  3] there’s truth to the saying that some are only meant to be in your life for a sliver of time (First There Was Forever by Juliana Romano), and this truth is something you have to train yourself to believe time and time again, and 4] brand new friendships can be scary but so worth it (Feeling Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty).

In a steady string of books about sisters this year, and in the same year, that my mom lost her sister, these tales (This Raging Light by Estelle Laure; Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt; Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu) comforted me because they nailed the bond between two people who are brought up to love one another but also be separate people with their own story. Family is this funny thing; we all know that. Things can go from great to prickly in a matter of minutes; suddenly you are walking on eggshells when all you want to do is laugh and just relax together up against a confusing and unpredictable outside world. You know each other so well; it’s so easy to hurt each other too. Your relationship is this constant battle of finding balance in pleasing the other without doing exactly what the other wants you to do. Does that make sense? I’m still figuring it out myself…

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. SmithAnd lastly to three books that reminded me of how emotional reading can be… I finished Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith while waiting out a delayed flight back home from visiting my dear friend, Magan. This book made me weep because I recognized the control the main character wanted in regarded to her future. Would she be friends with the same people once she left for college? Would she love the same boy? I may be far away from that time in my life, but the series of greetings and so longs comes just as steadily, and often, unplanned these days. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin hits on final moments too — the kind you never want to revisit but are forced to — even if you work so hard to prolong the inevitable. But there is hope. And Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead — a book that felt as familiar as cocoa on a warm winter’s night and a movie night with your best gal pals — reminds us that the sad times and the uncomfy-ness of change can also uncover new bonds, new moments to laugh about, and new sides of ourselves yet to unveiled. Siblings have your back, your friendships evolve but remain constant, and we are all on this Earth to do something special, be special to somebody.

♥

A heartfelt thanks to the above authors who challenged my emotions, made me feel like I had someone in my corner, and improved my ability to be not only a compassionate reader but a more compassionate person.

10 Movies I Demand You Watch This Holiday Season

Twas the weekend after Thanksgiving and all through the apartment, not a creature was stirring not even my sleeping cat. Oh, pish posh. This is just a fancy way to say I’m diving into the holiday season by binge watching a ton of made for TV movies on Hallmark and Lifetime channels with cheesy dialogue, fake snow, great tunes, and lots of heart. (I cry at 75 percent of them.) I love just about everything about this time of year but oh gosh, dusting off the DVDs we only watch in December is like Christmas morning all on its own. So today I wanted to share the top 10 movies you MUST WATCH to make the most of your holiday season. (No Hallmark or Lifetime movies included; sorry about that.)

Sidenote: these are in no particular order. I could never, ever do it!

1. Serendipity (2001): Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack bump into each other in a crowded Bloomingdales during the holiday season and both want to buy the last pair of leather gloves. They end up spending one night hanging out and totally connect but they are both taken by other people. Kate’s character proposes they leave their “relationship” to chance and allow the fates to bring them back together. This has been one of my favorite movies since I first saw it in theaters after a shift at CVS. There’s ice skating, Frozen hot chocolate, and lots of tubas. (Seriously.) Such a romantical flick.

Holiday song pick: “Cool Yule” by Louis Armstrong.

2. White Christmas (1954): You may need your tissues handy for this one. An entertainment duo head to a Vermont Inn during the holidays and end up scheming to save the place for their former commanding officer. There’s romance, some misunderstanding, and some beautiful performances from Bing Crosby, Danny Kate, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen.

Holiday song pick: “Snow” by Irving Berlin.

3. Love Actually (2003): Does this movie need an introduction? Six couples around the holidays in various states of relationship: nonexistent, unrequited, complicated, very sad, exciting, and totally happy. I love the way these characters find themselves linked to one another, and how honest these storylines played out. Even though it’s a Christmas movie, not everyone gets their happy ending and year after year, I’m left to contemplate how it all goes down. It’s just excellent.

Holiday song pick: This soundtrack is ah-mazing but I’d say: “All Alone On Christmas” by Darlene Love.

4. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992): This was the first Muppet film released after the death of creator Jim Henson, and it’s directed by his son, Brian. As my husband likes to remind me, the film is so closely resembles the Dickens tale mixed in with some wacky Muppet humor and memorable songs. The Muppet Christmas Carol has become part of our Christmas Eve tradition and it never, ever gets old.

Holiday song pick: The whole album is classic, but I love “It Feels Like Christmas” by Paul Williams.

5. The Santa Clause (1994): If there’s a movie that really makes me believe in the magic of Christmas, it’s this one. A divorced dad and his son rediscover their relationship in the strangest and most wonderful of ways: dad accidentally become the new Santa Claus. A trip to North Pole, lots of doubts, and so much wonder to be discovered. I basically tear up every time I watch. Real talk: I also love The Santa Clause 2 but I pretend the third doesn’t exist.

Holiday song pick: “Away to the Window” orchestration by Michael Convertino.

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A Toast to Time & the Future

Dear friends and readers,

Happy December 1! I can’t believe it’s the last month of 2015. It feels like just yesterday that we were picking our favorite books of 2014 and getting all excited about the new work we’d be going gaga over in 2015. But here we are and what a year it’s been. So much of December feels like a time of reflection and to tie up loose ends so I thought it was best to post today about the future of Rather Be Reading.

In November, Magan and I hit the 4-year mark with RBR. Four years. I can’t believe it. When M and I started this project all those years ago, we barely knew each other and now we have shared big birthdays, family trips, life milestones, and so many ups and downs together. With this blog, our friendship has become so strong, so important to both of us — despite our distance. When you meet people from far away (which inevitably happens in online communities), it’s so easy to break away from one another (I mean, that’s easy in other relationships) because it takes such effort to stay in touch, bridging time between visits. The blog has always been a way to for us to touch base, our version of coffee dates, the group we belong to, the common interest that brought us together. It’s safe to say 4 years ago, M and I were both searching for something more in our lives and that’s part of the reason why RBR was born. It’s fulfilled so much for each of us: a creative outlet, a platform to express ourselves and share our stories, and a connection to other authors and other smart people in ways we never imagined.

It’s inevitable that four years brings a lot of change too. Think about the four years between freshman and senior year of high school, and then of college. It’s so crazy to think about. Sometimes you don’t even feel like the same person. So many factors have pushed and pulled you in different directions and sometimes the reason why you did something changes, sometimes the way you feel about it changes too.

Truth be told: Magan and I made a video about our feelings on blogging when she visited New York in early October. I was supposed to put it up, but I just couldn’t. So much of what we discussed I’ve said above. How you can love something so fiercely and how that love can change. Sometimes you just want to embark on something different, and in other instances, you just don’t have the time you used to. Without speaking too much for M, I think it’s a mix of both. But most importantly, it’s about being a team. We love working together so, very much but the time just isn’t there like it used to be.

So what am I saying exactly? Well, December will be the last month of updates on RBR. It’s a sad announcement to make, but sometimes things just reach a natural end and that’s where we are right now. (Don’t worry; at the end of the month, I’ll make sure you know where you can reach us both!)

We are so appreciative of your comments, your thoughts, your imaginations, and your friendship for the past few years. Thank you so much for listening to our stories, sharing your own, and also bringing so many beautiful, memorable books in our lives.

Here’s to a wonderful December full of kindness, thoughtfulness, and concluding this chapter on a high note.

xoxoMagan and Estelle in October 2015

10 Festive Picks for Cyber Monday Shopping

If your mailbox is anything like mine, it’s been stuffed to the gills with holiday gift guide, catalogs, and coupons. I never have a ton of shopping to do but I am obsessed with all the fun jolly stuff that comes out this time of year. In the spirit of Cyber Monday (maybe my favorite day to shop), I thought I’d share a few memorable items from my holiday guide snooping.

No matter what winter holiday you are celebrating, I hope your shopping remains thoughtful, stress-free, and, of course, fun!

10 Cyber Monday Picks from Rather Be Reading Blog

1) Gap logo pom-pom beanie ($24.95): There are a few other hats in this collection with other sayings but this one was my favorite. (Probably because it matches my jacket best.)

2) Patchwork Slipper Sock ($19.95): You cannot go wrong with slipper socks. The person you are gifting is going to be so, so thankful. They are heaven.

3) Loft Owl Sock Set ($19.95): Loft has some of my favorite socks already but their collection has gotten (much to my delight) quirkier. (This year they even have some reindeer ones.)

4) Papersource Merry & Bright Tea ($6.95): Pretty packaging and a really useful gift inside.

5) Julep Break the Ice Lipstick Trio ($24.00): Julep mini lipsticks are probably my favorite add-on they’ve had. I still have the first collection I got almost 2 years ago, and I’m tempted to grab this one too. They are perfect to throw in your purse or travel with.

6) Fossil Journal Multi-Pack ($10): I have a collection of blank journals… why not a few more?

7) Modcloth For the Greater Good Cards ($14.95): I like to make my own cards but I thought these were adorable.

8) Papersource Unicorn Tape Dispenser ($14.95): This is totally silly but I love it.

9) Modcloth Drop It Like Its Hot Mug ($14.95): Um, hilarious & goes perfectly with #4.

10) LUSH Santa Baby Lip Tint ($8.95): I’ve been meaning to get to Lush and this lip tint might be just the thing that makes my visit happen.

♥

Happy Monday, happy shopping! Be merry and bright! (Seriously.)

Hello? Hi. Checking in.

Just checking in to say hello and hope you are well after a horrific past few days, and some unexpectedly unexpected things going on here. It’s like every time I turn around, the month has gotten farther and farther away from me. I mean, next week is THANKSGIVING. And then officially the holiday season. I really need a dose of good will toward people and an extra wave of cheerfulness — and I know I’m not alone in that. So. Bring it on, already.

I officially finished my #30DaysofYoga challenge on Sunday afternoon, and it was surprisingly emotional for me. I’m still not sure why. I wasn’t feeling particularly weepy or anything (what a surprise) but I think I realized how much a relief yoga has been during these stressful few weeks. It may have taken me longer than I thought (a month and a half) but still, I stuck with it and I feel good about this accomplishment. I’ve realized in the past few months that these little missions I have been giving myself really keep me agile and present in life, and I want to keep feeling that way. There’s always work to be done. So for now, I’ll be continuing with Adriene’s videos for my evening work outs. (I really need a new yoga mat; suggestions please!)

#SockSunday November 14Hm. What else has been going on? Not too, too much. My husband and I started watching Jane the Virgin, and Master of None recently and I’m enjoying both a lot. (We are almost done with the last season of Last Man Standing available on Netflix and that’s always a bummer. We speed through those episodes so quickly!) I watched a strange movie with Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks last week where they are half-siblings but he doesn’t tell her and she starts to fall in love with him? No. It was too weird for me. (For reference, it was People Like Us.) I also made a butternut squash mac and cheese, and pumpkin chili. (One of my other November goals is to cook four new meals; checked off that one.)

As for reading: I finished The Trouble With Density (12/8) by Lauren Morrill the other day, and thought it was a hoot — a marching band on a cruise ship trying to win prize money with a ton of hijinks. And as my middle grade kick continues, My Life in Dioramas by Tara Altebrando was a speedy read about Kate, a girl who is very unhappy about her parent’s financial problems and their decision to sell their beloved house. This week, I’m working through some library books with All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brandon Kiely and my first Amy Reed book: Invincible.

Some procrastination material: A fourth grader stands up to her teacher over #GirlCode (Huffington Post). Big Bird gets his shot interning at Funny or Die a.k.a. the absolute best thing you will ever see. Instagram is the new blog (The Cut). 40 books every woman should read from Hello Giggles — what do you think of these picks?

♥

Okay, that’s it from me. Let’s have a good week, shall we? xoxo – e