Tuesday, February 4, 2020

My 2020 Tastee-Reads Resolution: Christina Tosi's Milk Bar Life

If you're a long-time reader of my blog - in which case, how are you still here? and also why the hell haven't you said anything this whole time? - you might remember an older series I used to write on this blog, called "Tastee-Reads," in which I would give general reviews to cookbooks I'd read and enjoyed.

Here's the deal, though: while I love reading cookbooks all the time, I'm a lot worse at actually remembering to use them. I'm a champion of frantic, last-minute Pinterest searching for an easy recipe or a quick fix for something in my fridge, but when it comes to actually referring to these stacks of printed marvels scattered across my room, I'm not exactly at the top of my game.

So, towards the end of 2020, when I was setting more than a few cooking-related resolutions for the year - "learn how to bake bread," "get better at tasting wine," "figure out salad dressing," "find a signature no-fail way to roast chicken" - I also decided to embark on a bit of a project: for the next twelve months, I'd focus on one cookbook for the whole of the month. I would read it cover to cover, including all of the appendixes, intros, and other various parts I don't always read, and most importantly, I would use it to cook, at a bare minimum, three different recipes contained therein.

To recap: 1. Choose one cookbook per month. 2. Read the whole cookbook. 3. Use it to test at least three different recipes. Doesn't sound too difficult, right? All it would take from me is a little bit of effort, a little bit of grocery planning, and some maybe outside-my-wheelhouse techniques or ingredients.

Without a lot of thought, I embarked into my first month of the Resolution, with one of my favorite cookbooks of all time, Christina Tosi's Milk Bar Life.

reviewing the cookbook 

(Psst! I've actually reviewed Milk Bar Life on the blog before, as a part of the aforementioned Tastee-Reads series. I even made one of the recipes from the cookbook, for her mom's signature "Greta Cookie Bars." But that doesn't really mean I've fully verbalized my affection for this book.) 

I was first drawn to Christina Tosi's Milk Bar Life cookbook, when I first plucked it from the shelves of my local library, shortly after its publication in 2015. The cover - filled with Fruity Pebbles, potato chips, pretzels, and Ritz crackers, and a shocking neon pink title - was more than enough to thrill me... back when I had never heard of Tosi before.

Upon entering its pages, though, I really got to encounter not only these supermarket standbys, but the technical acumen and impressive resume of Tosi herself. I came for the home-baked feelings of her Midwestern upbringing, but stayed for the insider peek at the life of a successful chef and kitchen manager. It wasn't just youthful spark and energy that coursed through its pages, flinging around ingredients like Tang powder and Doritos with unrestrained glee, but the industry savvy and professional know-how that generated chapter divisions for "Family Meals" before shifts, or "Weak Nights," for days when pro-cheffing has run you ragged. She drops important names and brags about how she orders takeout from restaurants with three-hour waiting lists, because she knows the owner. On the other hand, her recipe for "Cinnamon Buns" is proposed in the framing of a morning after a sleepover, the ingredients list portioned under the headers of "Dem Bunz" and "Dat Goo."

Tosi has attained a level of professional success and industry accolades that few are able to obtain, let alone sustain. Now, the overseer of Milk Bars (and their affiliated franchising) across the country, as well as a judge on Master Chef and regular fixture of various forms of food media - one of her now-iconic cakes was used throughout the promotional marketing for the second season of Netflix's Chef's Table - Tosi is a verifiable celebrity chef... one that has never lost her roots.

Maybe that's why I still love this cookbook better than any of her others, and why I still check it out multiple times a year. Funny enough, I haven't actually cooked all that much from this cookbook at all; barring a past foray into the Greta Square cookies, the recipes house here have remained merely inspirational, or, in the case of the "Spaghetti-O and Breakfast Sausage Sandwich," firmly in the realm of entertainment.

Truly, this is a cookbook worth reading in its own right, even if you never pick up a spatula yourself. It remains completely within the correct genre, but communicates its subject as personally and authentically as any memoir. I didn't really learn to cook a lot from Christina Tosi, but I learned a lot about Christina Tosi from her cookbook, and being that so much of food and the restaurant industry is about sharing perspectives, Milk Bar Life can be counted - in my view - as a real credit to the genre.

the recipes 

Despite the fact that I've read this cookbook multiple times over the past five years, I've not really given much thought to what among them I'd cook. Instead, I installed myself on the comfy side of my bed one afternoon with a large stack of sticky notes, and painstakingly made my way through every single recipe, reading every single introduction, ingredients list, and instruction to figure out which would fit within my particular skill set and interests. Here's what I picked out:

Ritz Cookies
Upon exiting the oven, my brother took a bewildered bite, and said, "I'm confused. It's good, but confusing." A crunchy, delicious cookie, partially constructed from crumbled Ritz crackers added to a fairly rudimentary sugar cookie dough. It did force me to confront an unfamiliar cooking ingredient - nonfat powdered milk! - that offered an interesting tang and depth, as well as a really full container left to figure out how to use elsewhere in my life. After a few days sitting in Tupperware, they got a little too dense and chewy, so if you make them, eat them quickly!

Burnt Honey Butter (and Burnt Honey Butter Kale)
Ooh, boy. I'm a little confused about how to describe this one... on one hand, t was pretty cool to do a controlled burn on a quarter cup of honey; on the other hand, I didn't really love the outcome (too bitter, not all that sweet... then again, that might have been my bad, as the end result was entirely too salty!). The butter's best application was probably in kale format, to mitigate some of that fatty feeling. Just make sure you don't overcook it, as the kale will attempt to disintegrate on touch if left in for too long!

Roast Chicken
Like I said, one of my other intentions with this coming cooking year, is to figure out a signature, no-fail way to cook a chicken... and despite this being a strong first attempt, as you can tell from the picture, it didn't quite turn out the way I wanted it to. That all being said, it did result in a really flavorful, moist bird, with a little bit of lemon-y flavor, that yielded plenty of leftovers throughout the week!

Chicken Puffs
The perfect means of utilizing that leftover chicken meat, these Chicken Puffs are a crazy-easy means of making best use of a few recognizable supermarket staples! Just grab yourself a block of cream cheese, a tube of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls, and some seasoned bread crumbs, and you've whipped up an easy, warm, handheld dish for these colder months.

the outcome 

Overall, I'm really pleased with how this first foray into following my resolution has gone! Sure, there were some hiccups - for instance, don't leave a whole important monthly resolution thing for the last five days before your non-renewable library copy is due back - but for the most part, I learned a lot, and had a lot of fun.

In particular, so many of these lessons came just from my first attempt at a Roast Chicken. This is one of those resolutions I thought of as really daunting at first, and I totally made more than a few mistakes with this initial undertaking (note to self: learn how to carve a chicken properly before your next attempt!). However, all that's going to do is set me up for more success in the future, as I learn more, and try out new techniques.

And at the end of the day, I'm still crazy in love with this cookbook! Sure, not everything worked out like I wanted it to, and I'm probably going to stay away from caramelizing honey for a little while. I've still got my own favorite cookie recipes, none of which are found in Tosi's lineup. But it is so bright, cheerful, inviting, and inspiring, I feel like it deserves a place of better prominence in not only my bookshelf, but Tosi's catalog, as well. I really just need to suck it up, and buy a copy for myself!

What do you think of my Resoution? Are you a Christina Tosi fan? Let me know, in the comments below!

Friday, January 31, 2020

January Book Haul: Book Outlet Has All of the Titles, With Only Slightly Less Guilt

Here's how Book Outlet traps you: you remember that it exists.

Chances are, this is happening around the same time that you notice a book on your Goodreads that you've been meaning to pick up lately. Innocently, you check to see if it's offered on Book Outlet. They're selling a hardcover copy for under $7?!! This book was released within the last two years, and they're practically giving it away! 

Now, of course, you have to see what else they're selling. 

Two hours later - and twenty seven tabs closed on your laptop browser as you've been weighing and measuring each of the titles that originally caught your eye, ranking them into lists of what you genuinely want to read before counting them alongside their Goodreads average, finally only placing them into your cart when you know for certain they're in your "must haves" - you're cheerfully informed that your order has been placed. 

Clearly, your girl has some issues with making the most of what she has already. I'm rolling over 100 books deep in my TBR shelves, make at least one trip to the library a month, and now, I'm eight books richer! Somebody sedate me. 

Not that this takes away any ounce of the excitement I feel over the books I ended up purchasing, of course! Let the haul commence: 

Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig
25733573Novelist Matt Haig's first nonfiction work details his experiences with depression, including his near-attempt on his own life at 24 years old while standing at the edge of a cliff.  

I've had my eye on this book for a while, but have waffled a little bit in the past, due to decisions over whether it's the first book of Haig's I should try approaching. It's a Sunday Times bestseller, but Haig is already an accomplished novelist, and his other titles have floated across my TBR list at various times, too. My reservations about picking this one up have actually risen again after purchasing... the book itself is formatted quite spaciously, and the content inside is very accessible, so it will be a quick read, at the very least. Maybe use it in a readathon? 

You Should Have Left, Daniel Kehlman, translated from German by Ross Benjamin
32855689. sx318 Detailing the contents of a writer's notebook, over the course of seven harrowing days he spends renting a house in the mountains of Germany with his wife and daughter, as he attempts to generate a screenplay while quickly going insane. 

One of two different translations on this list, which is a new and exciting concept for me, as I think the last translations I've tried in the past couple of years have all been poetry-related. And I haven't read a novella in a hot minute, either. In fact, the real reason this one was on my radar was two-fold: 1. I saw it on someone's bookstagram account and it looked neat, and 2. A negative review of it on Goodreads described it as a "majorly streamlined version of Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves," which is one of my favorite Horror novels of all time. Here's the thing, though: House of Leaves succeeds, in my view, because of its impressively engrossing and comprehensive world-building... so how is a pared-down version of the concept going to read, especially in such few pages? 

The City of Brass (Daevabad #1), S. A. Chakraborty
32718027An eighteenth-century con woman and thief somehow accidentally sets free a dark djinn warrior, leading both of them to flee across Egypt, seeking Daevabad, the lost City of Brass. However, even if they manage to find it, there is no guarantee that they will be welcome there... 

So, Book Outlet isn't the only place I like to pick up my reads at a significant discount: Tacoma is home to quite a few authors, book bloggers, bookstagrammers, and more, and for some reason, all of their old, past-publication ARCs end up appearing on King's Books $1 discount table. This is where I ended up committing a major bookish faux pas late last year, when I picked up a copy of Kingdom of Copper for a buck, when I hadn't even purchased, let alone read, City of Brass yet. Now, I have both, and plan on reading them this summer! 

I Miss You When I Blink, Mary Laura Philpott
40539018Found on multiple "Best Books of the Year" lists for 2019, this collection of essays from notable writer Philpott follows as she achieves the touchstones of a happy marriage, a fulfilling job, a beautiful house, and even children, only to find that she's... still not as happy as she'd thought she'd be. 

Reason #1 I actually ended up definitively clicking "purchase" on this Book Outlet order. I have tried to purchase this book from, literally, FOUR different bookstores in the past year, and every single time, they've been sold out. I was totally willing to pay full price and everything, even though it was a recent release and hardcover! So, shout out to Sunriver Books, Paulina Springs Books, and Barnes and Noble - twice! - for helping me save a ton of money. 

(Oh, and of course it's only in the course of writing this post, that I open it up and recognize it's a SIGNED COPY. And I got it for under $7!) 

The Last Romantics, Tara Conklin
35068465A novel about the power of family and stories, in which a writer, when asked about the genesis of her most powerful work, details the inspiration she found in her relationship with her siblings, in the house where they grew up together. 

This novel was a fan favorite of some of my favorite bookstagrammers in the past year, which is the primary reason I picked it up, despite the fact that I don't actually know that much about it... nor do I read too many pieces of contemporary fiction. Also, I keep getting this title confused with The Immortalists, by Chloe Benjamin, which was also highly reviewed this past year, and I figured if I just suck it up and read one of them, I'll be able to tell them apart more easily. 

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Stuart Turton
36337550A twisting thriller that has been likened to Gosford Park / Downton Abbey in conjunction with Groundhog Day / Quantum Leap - aka, so many good things - where a mysterious party is destined to end in a brutal murder, that repeats itself each night, unless someone can solve the crime. 

I know, I know, I know what you're going to say: "Savannah, it's Seven AND A HALF. Not just seven." Sure, in the US release. As it turns out, I must have gotten my hands on a UK edition, where the number really is seven (the title was changed in order not to cause confusion with another popular recent title, Taylor Jenkins Reid's The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo). The best part of buying this book on Book Outlet, is that I actually just gave a different copy to my best friend for her Christmas present, too, so now we can read it together! 

Vita Nostra (Метаморфозы #1), Marina and Sergey Dyachenko, translated from Russian by Julia Meltov Hersey
38633526Originally published in Ukraine in 2007, this book - following a girl, who ventures to a maddening, mysterious school, after being confronted on the beach by stranger while on vacation - is one of the best-selling Russian Fantasy novels of all time. 

And it is a thick, tightly-formatted behemoth! 

I heard about this read from a YouTube video of recommendations recently, and I was immediately intrigued. I had encountered it nowhere else, in any context, but something about the fact that it was translated from Russian really grabbed me, as well as the astonishingly dark and foreboding descriptions in its reviews. It only has about 4,000 ratings on Goodreads at the moment - with a 4.11 average! - and to say I am totally excited to go in completely blind to this crazy Fantasy novel is an absolute understatement. Plus, Lev Grossman did a blurb for it, so you know it has to be at least a little awesome.

Paperback Crush: the Totally Radical History of '80s and '90s Teen Fiction, Gabrielle Moss
40093255A quirky, nostalgic history of a sub-genre that has been, for many, a cultural touchstone of girlhood. From sick lit to horse lit, to all-girls schools and babysitting clubs, to terrifying stalkers and angel boyfriends, these books represent a unique perspective on girl-power at a crucial stage of growing up. 

The #2 reason I knew I had to actually follow through with this book order!

I have been searching for this book for months - after hearing about it, I think, on an episode of one of my favorite bookish podcasts, Sh*t She Read, in which readers revisit books from their youth - and I could not believe that I was not only lucky enough to find it on Book Outlet, but that it was the only one left in stock! This thing is thick, and comes very close to venturing into coffee table book territory... which is where you might be able to find it this summer, which is when I plan on reading it (in honor of the time of year when you could most likely find me read these kinds of books!). Best of all: there's a section dedicated to R.L. Stine's Fear Street. 

What books have you hauled recently? What's been your biggest Book Outlet score? Let me know, in the comments below!

Sunday, January 26, 2020

I Read 13 Books in December: What I Learned, and How I'm Tackling My Goodreads Challenge in 2020

November 30th, 2019, I was staring down the barrel of a December so jam-packed full of events and obligations, it seemed on the brink of collapse.

There was "Cookie Day," really a two-day period where my mom and I annually slam out up to 15 batches of cookies to prepare for the Christmas season. My brother, a senior in high school, had not one, but two holiday band concerts, each longer than two hours (one nearly eclipsed three). We have a gauntlet of family holiday celebrations, and even more when you factor in friends, as well as a lot of church time. To cap it all off, my parents, brother, and I would be leaving on vacation for the last four days of the year.

Most importantly... I still had 13 books left to read on my Goodreads Challenge. It would be my first year - since starting the challenge in 2013 - I wouldn't beat it!

In general, 2019 wasn't my year, at all, and this abysmal performance (in my view) only confirmed it. I've read as many as 77 books in a year before; my goal for 2019 was a good 16 below that number. I had deliberately chosen 60 with the expectation that I'd rise up to meet it, by choosing harder books, difficult subjects, a more wide-spanning, inspiring realm of authors. Instead, I didn't really read for two months out of the year, and now was facing down not only a rapidly diminishing calendar, but also had found myself in self-esteem quicksand. (You know, late night thoughts along the lines of, If I'm not a reader, who am I? That kind of not-so-healthy stuff.)

There was only one way out of this mess: I had to read all of those books before the new year rolled around. I had to beat the deadline. I had to win! However, this required a lot of commitment and choice. Was I really up for the challenge?

To be clear: I spent the entire month in a near panic, trying to juggle not only time calendar commitments and regular life events, but also terrified that at any point, I could sink back into a major slump that would take me out of commission entirely. The last thing I'd look at before bed every night, was the stack of books on my table. I even stopped recording what I was reading in my book journal, because I just wanted to get it input into Goodreads as quickly as possible. I was a woman possessed!

At the end of it all, I successfully read 13 books in 31 days... with the final three being completed in the last three days of a year, while confined to a log cabin on an island with zero cell service and a stack of books beside my bed, which, you know, helped. (The same vacation that saw me picking up nine more TBR books, like I talked about here! More on all that in a later post, though.)

Here are a few of the tricks I learned along the way:

on a time crunch? how to achieve a last-minute goal before a final deadline

  • Clarify your intentions: Why is it important to you? Why did you choose this goal to begin with? Are these still reasons that resonate with you? 
  • Understand your limitations: Consider what aspects of this goal you might stumble with, and make proactive decisions based on those specific vulnerabilities. 
  • Take things step-by-step: One day, one hour, one book, at a time! Do as much as you can with the time available to you right now, focusing all of your attention on the immediate steps in front of you. You'll have plenty of time to worry about what comes next later. 
  • Get strict, or find people who are, and hold yourself accountable: Turn off your phone, charge your laptop on the other side of the room, send yourself to "time out" by setting timer blocks on your tech. 
  • Make it a regular priority: Say "no" to the things you deem as less important... within reason. But when it comes to those things you opt into, make sure you're putting actions towards your goal first. 
  • Reward yourself with progress: When you're on a crunch, there's no time to applaud the milestones. Focus on what benefits lay in actually making the progress on its own, and use it as fuel to drive you further towards the finish line! 
Lovely words, you know? But when it comes to utilizing those tips to actually manage a Goodreads win, here's what it looked like: 

"Clarifying my intentions" had a lot less to do with the statement "I need to win," than it did with admitting, "I don't need to do this. No one is forcing me. I want to prove it to myself that I can." External accountability is great if you can find it, but when it comes to personal accountability, you need to focus hard on the "why"s, and the emotional investment you feel. 

In terms of "understanding my limitations" and "getting strict," it had a lot more to do with understanding what's bogged me down in the past. For the most part? Long, uninspiring books that prevent me from enjoying my reading time, feeling too loyal to a bad read, and distracting myself with social media and YouTube, for the most part. Instead, I started choosing books that were under 350 words and were in some of my favorite genres, including rereads - "power player" books like Romances, Graphic Novels, Fantasy, and Memoir - and took a lot more care to get away from my phone. 

The most important three were, by far, "taking things step by step," "making it a priority," and "rewarding myself with progress." It's difficult, to make yourself happy simply with the fact you've made it another page, or twenty, or a hundred, knowing that you've still got another stack of books waiting for you as soon as you're done with this one. So I broke it into chunks, saying, "Today, I just need to finish 50 pages. 100 pages. Whatever it takes, that's my priority." I had already admitted to myself that it was okay if I didn't make my end goal; but by establishing that 50 page limit, I assured that no matter how small, I was still making progress. That made it all the more exciting when I did get to the end of a book, or read past my personal marker: it felt like I was going above and beyond. 

So, those are my last minute models for success, should you need them in the moment. However, all of that is so 2019... we're now in 2020, and a new Challenge looms far off in the distance. 

Here's what I'm doing to set myself up better in the new year, while also aligning with my other reading goals:

tips for reading challenge success in 2020

  • Be specific and intentional with your goal setting. Don't just arbitrarily pick a number because you think it looks good, or because it's what you've done in the past... what are you really trying to accomplish this year? If your intention is to become more "well read," but you set a challenge to read 100 books in 2020, are you really aiming to meet your goals, or just have an impressive challenge? 
  • Celebrate your TBR for its status as a work-in-progress. Clean up your bookish spaces, and make room in your common areas for a stack or two of books you're genuinely excited to read. Consider "un-hauling" your shelves, to bring books you really love more into prominence. The more you see it on a daily basis, the more you remember its importance in your life. 
  • Take things month-by-month. Yes, this is similar to my blind December dash's "step-by-step" advice, but by broadening out those goals over the course of the year, you make more healthy, incremental steps towards your challenge, rather than cramming it all into one go. Set a standard for a certain number of books a month, and delight in the process. 
  • Keep your books available around the clock. Admittedly, I'm horrible at this: I'm number one most likely member of a party to get roped into shopping, waiting for a table at a restaurant, or arriving early to a meeting, and thinking, "Man, I should have brought my book!" Make it the last thing you put into, and the first thing you take out of, your bag; keep it close to your desk or your bedside table. You never know when you'll have time to read! This will come in handy as you...
  • ... Find your small pockets of time. Sometimes, it's easy to think, "When can I do this? I'm so busy!" But once you start tracking where those minutes go, you'll find you have ample opportunities to fit in a quick read. Waiting for your brother after French horn practice? Got 30 minutes on the oven while waiting for your cupcakes to bake? If you've got your book with you, those are valuable minutes! 
  • Celebrate your reading goals. Okay, okay, because sometimes celebrating just the progress can get kind of boring! When I was younger, I'd routinely pass my Goodreads Challenge somewhere around August, and immediately ring in the glory with a few new reads, and now that I'm an adult, I celebrate my bloggoversary every summer by doing the same. Go, team you! Sometimes, those little rewards are what keep you going. 
  • Keep up with your Goodreads account! Obviously, you have to log in the titles you read to get them to appear on your Challenge board, so you've probably seen the handy ticker on your home page, telling you how many books you are behind or in front of your goal. At one time last year, I had fallen SEVEN books behind... keep up with the scoreboard you're given! 

What was your Goodreads Challenge like last year? How are you prepping for this year? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Recent Additions to My TBR Shelves

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl!

First off, let's start this return to the Top Ten Tuesday format with a little honesty: these are not, technically, the most recent ten additions to my bookshelf. 

That honor belongs to my most recent Book Outlet order, completed just two weeks after the year had started out in earnest; however, this being the nature of the Internet's delivery systems, despite the fact that I have paid for them and that they are on my way, I don't actually have them physically placed on my TBR shelves as of yet.

So. Am I stretching this particular piece of information out to mean that I plan on doing two haul posts within the month of January... kicking off a year where, once again, I have vowed to attempt to read more of my own previously purchased material before going out and picking up more? Yes, yes I do.

(Oh, and spoiler alert: nine out of ten of these books were picked up while on vacation - in a quiet island town, where my family rang in the new year at midnight with the ominous snapping of dead tree branches, while the wind swept through the dark forests ringing our cozy log cabin - so get excited to hear more about that particular bookish destination later this month!)

Bookstore #1 - New

1. At Bertram's Hotel, Agatha Christie
My first of four - four! - Agatha Christies purchased on this vacation. I have no excuse, other than the fact that I was clearly in the mood for a good mystery, and the cover was not only a brilliant shade of mustard, but also, decked with a stocked three-level tea tray, which is always a welcome sight, in my life. I've finished this one already!

2. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, Natasha Pulley
Okay, also a choice based on cover: it's stunning in all of its antique-y, enticing jade-colored glory. Also, I recognized the name as one I'd been meaning to read for a while. Sometimes, that's all you really need, to have a good day in a bookstore.

Bookstore #2 - Used

3. They Came to Baghdad, Agatha Christie
What do you want me to say? They were a little over two bucks, and I've collected Agatha Christie novels since middle school. Clearly my subconscious wants me back in the game; coincidentally, I've started chowing down Hot Tamale candies again, which was another hallmark of my sixth grade year. What is twelve-year-old Savannah trying to tell me??

4. A Murder is Announced, Agatha Christie
Obviously the most beautiful cover out of all three of the used copies... so foreboding.

5. Death in the Clouds, Agatha Christie
Two bucks, you guys! I bought three at the used bookstore, for still less than the price of one at the new place! I had to! Leave me alone!

6. The Bone Season, Samantha Shannon
Again, a brilliant cover - such a gorgeous shade of true blue, with a really nice texture to the physical copy - accompanying a title I recognized as one I've been meaning to pick up. My system may be flawed, but it's rarely failed me!

7. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, Barbara Kingsolver
So, as those who know me well are already aware of, I had my first-ever real, true garden last year, and it was one of the greatest projects of my life thus far. I enjoyed a summer of long, impressive Japanese cucumbers, substantial yellow squash, verdant basil, and entirely too many cherry tomatoes for us to actually eat on time, and I'm already gearing up for planting again this Spring. Kingsolver, on the other hand, makes my little kitchen garden look like kindergarten macaroni art, as she and her family vow to only eat fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat produced from her own neighborhood for a year.

8. My Antonia, Willa Cather
After enjoying Trials of the Earth, by Mary Mann Hamilton, this past summer, I knew that at some point, my 2020 would have to contain another really great pioneer-woman angle to read. I figured, why not try out a classic?

9. Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, Mary Norris
44600621As an ardent admirer of those who routinely solve the punctuation and grammar issues of others, I'm not only excited to read this one, but also, when I'm finished, pass it along to my comma-lacking Dad.

Not a Bookstore - On Lend from the Local Library

10. Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life, Ali Wong
Just days after I returned from our family vacation, I checked my email to find that a library hold for an ebook I'd placed - back when I ranked over #20 in line - had finally become available. I finished it by the following day!

What's in your Top Ten? Let me know, in the comments below!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Look Back At It: My 2019 Year In Review!

Whew, boy! 2020 sure came in with a bang, didn't it?

Now, we've found ourselves already two weeks in, I've read one and a half books so far, and I haven't even managed to string together enough letters, sentences, and paragraphs to publish a blogpost in over a month.

Let's change that, and take a look at my Year in Books for 2019! Trust me... there's a lot of ground to cover.

All in all, it's not my best work: My total is a little over 1,250 pages behind what I read last year. I also have an average number of pages-per-book that falls about seven pages lower than the same average last year, as well, so that would also affect those numbers.

I read substantially more Nonfiction this year, which can be explained by the number of Memoirs I picked up for NaNoWriMo (but more on that in a minute). As a result, I read less Fiction, and that includes both Graphic Novels and Romance Novels, which I've seen a lot more of in the past two years of my reading.

My shortest novel wasn't as short as it was last year, and my longest read is almost a hundred pages shorter than last year's longest, too. But neither of those stats mean much to me... what actually ended up drawing my attention was my ratings preferences: On average, last year, I ranked books at a 3.9 out of 5 stars, and in recording that information, I thought that it seemed pretty high. This year, the number came out as 4.2. Are my ratings slipping, or am I just getting too easily amused?

But those are just the numbers. Let's talk about some of my greatest reading trends in the past year:

First book haul of 2019... on January 10th.
I Still Can't Stop Buying Books 

I made one of my mini-reading resolutions for 2019 to stop buying so many books, due to the 147 books left unread on my TBR shelves as of December 2018. Contrary to that decision, the number has only ballooned higher... especially when I kicked off January and February 2019 by purchasing 13 more new reads from Book Outlet and Goodwill, using the excuse that three were for gifts. Of those ten left, I've only read four across the entire year. Math has never been my strong suit, but even I know that's ridiculous. And again, that was just the first two months of the year.

Style and Content Updates... and Other Excuses 

You might have noticed - but probably not, we're all busy - my prolonged absences from this writing space in the past year. This led to, no doubt, my worst blogging year on record, with most months seeing only between 1 and 3 posts published, especially in the second half of the year. This was from a number of decisions on my part: you see, I was desperately trying to find a "reason" for my blog.

My style guide, which I actually love.
My decision to start an Instagram handle for this blog in mid-2018, had gotten me thinking more proactively about marketable elements like theming, design, and audience. By February of 2019, I was determined to give this space a bit of a fresh start, by creating my own take on such hits as an "ideal audience member" and a "style guide," leading to a total website refresh. I thought if things looked more deliberate and put together, it would attract more people to read it... or at least, that's what all those Internet PR classes on Skill Share had convinced me.

To be fair, they were right, as having a specific audience in mind, and a compelling website design, can absolutely help build a comprehensive brand; however, that's not what builds an audience: links, clicks, authentic voice, and, you know, regular post publishing do. That's not what I was focusing on. At that point, I think I was just looking for a reason to stay on this platform, and I thought making it pretty would help.

The truth came to light in July, as I confessed - on Playing in the Pages' Ninth Birthday, no less - that I had been considering eliminating this blog entirely. That post was the first time I'd written since May. The ironic thing is, I spend a good deal of it lamenting how my attention had been so skewed towards creating something "shareable" or resume-worthy, that I had stopped feeling genuine or reading books I found worth posting about, and vowing to turn this space back into something personal and fun... when in actuality, I spent the rest of the year doing the opposite of that!

The only posts that made the cut for the rest of the year, were either general reviews - delivered piecemeal in wide batches, so that none of their individual titles felt all that worthy - or large, in-depth coverage of specific authors I enjoyed (for a favorite: read my deconstruction of Happy Ending tropes, by way of my latest "Reading Romance" series installment here). While they are, in my humble opinion, pretty good, they were daunting to write, and all the less enjoyable for which to plan and read. My profiles on Jasmine Guillory's accessible takes on Intersectional Feminism, or Taylor Jenkins Reid's ability to translate the personal and impersonal through what I called Mediated Intimacy, are definitely among some of my more comprehensive and formal writing on this platform, they also helped turn off those parts of my brain that were just reading for a good time, and turned my writing into... a product.

Which honestly didn't make me want to read at all, let alone write.

Some of the slump advice I compiled.
Readchella Weekend... aka, a Read-a-thon for One 

I found a brief respite in my slump-after-slump hit parade this year around the middle of April. I was already lagging behind on my Goodreads Challenge, and felt like I needed a boost... besides, it was a rare free weekend for me, and if I didn't use it to my best advantage, chances were someone else would fill my schedule for me. It was only after a chance scrolling through my Instagram, that I recognized it was the first weekend of Coachella, and decided to go with a theme; hence, my own personal read-a-thon - or "Readchella," as I dubbed it - was born!

The four books I read that weekend ended up serving as not only the success I needed to get back into the groove of reading regularly (and among the first books I'd finished since February), but also became some of the only regular blog posts I uploaded this past Spring. With day-by-day updates detailing tips I'd found for beating a reading slump, or tracking through the progress I was making, or explaining the logic behind the reading recommendations that had actually helped, it made for a self-motivated activity that kept me accountable and focused on a specific goal, which ended up helping me regain my confidence in my favorite hobby... at least for a little while, before the next slump hit.

NaNoWriMo 2019 Raised the Stakes

By the time November rolled around, I was well and truly behind on my GR Challenge - into a double digit kind of level - but wasn't letting that dull my focus, which had resolutely shifted over to a different kind of annual effort: National Novel Writing Month. I was determined to try it again this year, and my focus was clearly set on writing at least a little bit of a Food Memoir, spurred on by the inspiration of dual Kathleen Flinn reads earlier in the year. I checked out a full stack of the genre from the library - at one point, picking up five holds on a Tuesday, and four more on a Wednesday - and decided that at the same time I was knuckling myself down to write, I'd be reading as much of the genre as possible.

But NaNo this year, ended up being a lot less than ideal. I was unprepared for how emotionally taxing and second-guess-inspiring writing personal-oriented Nonfiction would be, and it felt like none of the books I was reading were really helping me all that much. By the time I reached the end - limping across the finish line three days early, after writing nearly 9,000 words on my second-to-last-day just because I wanted to be done - I was even more burnt out than before, and seriously questioning my own motivations for both reading and writing.

I Really, Truly, Nearly Failed my Goodreads Challenge

As of December 1st, 2019, I was forced to confront an ugly truth: I was 13 - thirteen!! - books behind on my Goodreads Challenge for this past year. I had chosen the number 60, because it was actually much lower than goals I'd reached in the past, and I thought that by giving myself an easier target, it would free me up to make more daring and difficult reading choices.

While I did pick up a couple of hefty pieces of Nonfiction this year, this decision decidedly did not result in me challenging my genre choices; it challenged my ability to not annoy the dickens out of my family for the entire month of December. I mean, I read a total of three books in the last three days of 2019 alone, finishing the last one on New Year's Eve! Sure, I've come close before, but not that close.

And yes, you might be tempted to say that the Challenge is just a number, and it's more about personal motivation... but I've always been motivated by extrinsic values. Setting my goal is a choice I make with intention every year, an external factor that motivates me to take time for my favorite hobby every once in a while. I wasn't upset about lagging on my goal because not being a "winner" makes me sad, I was sad because I know that not regularly engaging in reading is a symptom of a greater part of my life that's been upset.

Needless to say, 2019 left me with a lot of thoughts about how things are going to proceed in the new year, in terms of not only my own personal reading goals, and writing focus, but also how I organize my life to my best advantage, a schedule that makes plenty of room and priority for reading and writing without judgement or hindrance.


Whew. Full disclosure: by the time anyone actually reads this post, it will have endured a few rigorous rounds of self-editing, because I'm being very candid about all of this: 2019 brought a lot of good into my life, but it was not my year in a very definitive sense, and that absolutely extends to the kinds of life priorities you see detailed here.

That being said, I am fully prepared to make my happiness - and my reading - a more substantial personal focus in 2020. Here are some of the ways I plan on doing so, as pertain to this blog:

Stop Taking My Own Online Spaces So Seriously 
I spent so much of the last year trying to make something of Playing in the Pages - be it a job-hunting asset, or a potential source of marketable writing material, or a social media boon - I really didn't acknowledge this space has been serving as a very special "something" to me already: my sandbox. I decide what goes here, how it's all built together, and whether it has to mean anything at all. In fact, it totally doesn't! When it comes down to it, some of my favorite blog material - like "Top Ten Tuesdays," personal challenges like "Readchella" or "book blind dates," and all of those damn planner posts - really aren't that marketable or portfolio-worthy, but they're the most fun to write!

And same thing with the Instagram: every second I spend trying to "grow my profile" has been one of abject misery. Once I stopped trying to optimize and filter every day of my presence there, and only really started using it to share things I thought were cool or show what I was spending my time reading, that I had a good experience. Similarly, once I stopped following accounts that made me feel negatively about my own reading abilities, living space, disposable income, etc., I was able to enjoy myself on that platform more.

Enjoy More Bookish Media 
I finally owned up to myself in the past year or so that I don't really love watching movies, and that is still a true statement. I don't like going to movie theaters, and if I binge more than three episodes of television at a time, my eyes will roll up into my head and give my brain a long, hard stare about what the hell it thinks it's doing.

But you know what was one of my favorite movies I watched in the past year? Brooklyn. Not only was it lovely, and emotional, and a testament to the book, but it was something I set out to do with deliberate intention, of watching a great adaptation after I had finished the book. You know what else was great? The Netflix series of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Both were something so out of my normal daily living, that they made a real impression... and I want to keep going.

I've been putting off watching the Good Omens television series, because of how much I dislike watching TV by myself, even though I heard it's great. I've been meaning to re-watch the '90s Secret Garden movie since I planted my garden last Spring, but haven't made the time. My little brother will be reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time this coming year, and I really want to watch the 2005 Keira Knightley version with him before he leaves for college. Adaptations are just as worthy as the stories they're based on, and I want to spend more time enjoying them, too.

Find the Fun in Reading Again 
I think the reason I took to Romance Novels so strongly last year, is because, on the whole, there is no reason for their existence simply beyond making sure their reader devotes a couple of hours out of their regular life and livelihood, to just sit down and enjoy themselves. There is no reason for Romance Novels - as a fluffy, lacy, frilly, guilty pleasure genre on the whole - to exist, beyond their uncanny, innate ability to make people really happy.

I always have fun reading them, but will put them off in favor of "less embarrassing" reading material. They rarely appear, if ever, on my Goodreads lists... but that's absolutely ridiculous. Maybe one of the reasons I've been struggling to hit my bookish stride, is because I'm doing things like this, that undercut my own ability to enjoy what I'm doing.

So, I'm searching for Fun, with a capital "F," in my reading this year. That doesn't mean I'm staying away for deep, meaningful, emotional material... it just means I'm leaving plenty of room for the happiness where I can. That means, reading new subjects in different places, enjoying them with tea, finding even more ways to share them with others, and feeling way less guilty about being pleased. 

Write More, Especially for NaNo 
NaNo 2019 was, as I mentioned, horrible. But it hasn't always been. There have been times when it has been freeing, to be selfish and take an hour to myself to write. It's been inspiring, leading me into new and grander daydreams with flights of fancy to grab hold to when walking around my daily life. NaNo has led to library research, Pinterest mood boards, recipe compilation, and a fair amount of too-long showers that run cold from how much I've been trying to puzzle a plot development out in my head.

The best thing I can do, I think, is write more. Find more time to carve out that place of exploration in my own head, and take charge of it for myself. And, of course, tackle NaNo again in the Fall, with a renewed confidence and a great plot line. 

Keep Free of Self-Judgement, and Look for Happiness Instead 
As someone who regularly has to contend with a lot of guilt, anxiety, fear, second-guessing, and self-destruction in her daily life - I'm Catholic, and the eldest of four siblings, and I am 26 and live at home with my parents and I spend a lot of time with my mom if that explains anything - it's really horrible that any of those negative emotions should end up leaking into the things I love, too. (You'd think that my ability to compartmentalize would come with more waterproof lining.)

So, I'll do my best to keep it out. Chances are, if I'm having trouble reading, then there's something else in my life out of whack; on the flip side, when my life balance starts leaning akimbo, there's nothing that balances me better than taking time to depressurize with a good book. I'll do my best to lean towards the happy. I'll open a blank doc and write something different; I'll walk to the library instead of driving; I'll take a break for a cup of tea, then come back and see if the world looks different, and try again. But I'll always be walking towards happy, if I can help it.

Again, I wasn't really intending for this post to get so personal, but what can I say? It's my first blog post in a while, and the first where I'm really trying to exercise that ability to be less guarded, and more honest with myself. Besides, if you've made it this far, chances are you're my Dad, my brother, or one of the few other trusted folks who've continued to read my blog through much worse than some moody self reflection.

Regardless of the reason as to why you're here, I'm happy you are. Thank you for listening, and I hope that you read some really great books this year.

What did your Year in Books look like in 2019? Have you set any reading intentions for 2020? Let me know, in the comments below!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

What I Read for NaNo: Food Memoirs Galore!

As you might have seen in my recent blog post, I beat my NaNoWriMo 2019 challenge! Sure, it wasn't without a little heartache, a little struggle - or, you know, a lot of heartache and undue amounts of struggle - but I made it out on the other side, only a little worse for wear.

It's taken half a month to recover enough mental ground to talk about all of it, but there you go.

If you did, in fact, read that blog post, you'd also see that I kind of broke one of my typical NaNo rules this year, and decided to read books during the time I was writing. Instead of taking my standard sabbatical from non-NaNo material, I allowed myself to dive deep into the world of Food Memoirs, in the hopes that it might spur on my own creative process, too. 

So, in the full month of November, I not only ended up writing 50,000 words of my own food memories, but I sifted through four books worth of material on the same subject! Whether this made my writing better or worse, who's to say? Still, I had quite the enjoyable time doing it... and when I was struggling so hard with my own writing, it was nice to take a mental break by enjoying someone else's hard-won material.

Here's what I read: 

The Comfort Food Diaries: My Quest for the Perfect Dish to Mend a Broken Heart, Emily Nunn

23492783. sy475 A woman who has undergone a marathon of personal loss - grappling with a sibling's suicide, her fiance's breakup, and her admittance into a psychiatric ward of a hospital for severe alcoholism - decides to embark on a journey to find true comfort in food, as well as come to grips with her difficult upbringing. 

The food Nunn describes did sound delicious, and definitely got me craving some Southern, especially country-style ham and biscuits. And what a variety: there are far over 50 recipes present in the book itself... a feat I find impressive, despite the fact that at least four of them were for various salad dressings (and that's not including the ones that were for actual salad).

I really liked the way the recipes were integrated into the body of the story line, occurring interspersed throughout the surrounding narrative, instead of being bunched up at the end of the chapters, or held separate in an appendixes at the back of the book. It was like the food described was telling a story of its own, and none of it was too overly complicated, or too heavy on ingredients or technique, to seem inaccessible or overly difficult.

However, the rest of the writing seemed to fit that bill.

The style of writing is juvenile, especially evident in how the writer is prone to long, meandering lists, whether describing food or scenery, even when inappropriate for the story. This syntactical choice, as well as the equally wandering and poorly defined timeline of her life, made it very difficult to get a read on what time period various events were taking place in. At first, just from the first few chapters or so, I assumed she was in her mid-30s, because she seemed flighty, prone to humble brags about her ex-fiance's wealth or her career success, and seemed vaguely nervous. When later chapters appeared describing friends with children who'd left for college, or how she hadn't spoken to others in over 20 years, I felt confused.

She also could have been more forthcoming with the unspooling of various family ties. Revelations on her relationships with her mother, father, sisters, and brothers, came spread out and in chunks, with little through-thread to keep them knotted together. Barely anything was outright stated. For instance, her mother - narcissistic and controlling - is off-handedly described as having regular meetings with a psychiatrist, possessing a voracious and destructive tendency to be too dramatic or take things too far, while also swinging into bouts of depression or anxiety that would leave her unable to get out of bed. It is emphatically clear that she suffered from some form of mental disorder, but that is never explicitly stated, nor is it named, but instead, briefly intimated in the vaguest of terms.

Final Verdict: All in all, it was a fairly middle-of-the-road Food Memoir, one whose personal narrative I found frustrating, but whose genuinely friendly culinary content made up for its faults.

Coming to My Senses: The Makings of a Counterculture Cook, Alice Waters

33516589A memoir detailing not only Alice Waters' journey to founding influential California restaurant Chez Panisse, but specifically, of how her youth and adolescence in the '60s and '70s shaped many of her counterculture perspectives on cooking.

This book really was a tell-all, in the sense that Waters is able to traverse a wide swath of her life in candid and unapologetic terms. The stories range from details about her childhood, family, and move to California, to her time at UCSB and Berkeley, trips to Paris and across Europe, and her social sphere back home in California (including notable director Francis Ford Coppola and costume designer Jacqueline "Jacqui" West).

However, because of this wide-spanning subject matter, the memoir really served as more of a foundational perspective rather than a comprehensive or strictly culinary one. On the whole, it becomes a testament to the idea that greatness can come from anywhere and anyone, no formal training required, just a love for food and a willingness to try something a little different.

My favorite parts were hearing about her foundational culinary experiences in her youth and home life, as well as opening night of Chez Panisse. It felt like there was a lot of talk about politics and Waters' experience in alternative movements, but these deviations were hardly non-essential: they laid a distinctive and underlying framework for how her culinary ideas germinated, too.

Final Verdict: This memoir didn't contain recipes, but had plenty of pictures, of not only Waters in her youth, but of her many influences and friends. The true power of this memoir wasn't necessarily the story itself, but how candid and vocal she was about her past.

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table, Molly Wizenberg

3090282The author of popular early-adopter food blog The Orangette tells the story of her early life, growing up with foodie parents, falling in love with France and then her husband, and making a life for herself in Seattle, through mouthwatering terms.

You know how it's recently become a popular move to start dissing food blogs for writing long intros to their recipe posts? People claim its a sort of money-grubbing ploy - that it allows for the insert of more ads, that they make more for how far you have to scroll or something - but honestly, while it might be true for some, it is clearly not so for others. This book is a great justification for the practice, for why those intros exist: it allows the blogger to share more of who they are, and what this particular recipe means to them.

In a way, this book is kind of like a bundle of such posts, with a delicious recipe capping off every few pages or so of content. As a result, this book is also fairly easy to read through as the content is chunked into bite-sized pieces you can enjoy fairly quickly.

The only problem with knowing that a memoir has a blog, is that invariably, about halfway through, you decide to start doing some research. Finding out about Wizenberg's divorce from her husband, made reading about falling in love with him a little more difficult. Even though their relationship is still amiable, and they continue to own and operate the restaurant Delancey - in Seattle - together, it makes the words feel less full of meaning, even if it was truly meaningful at the time.

I'm genuinely excited to try some of these recipes, and almost all of them are things I'd be excited to eat. I do wish that this book contained some food pictures, because parts of it really just read like a regular cookbook.

However, I should mention a MAJOR pet peeve: I absolutely cannot stand the word "gulp" - I think it's gross, and somewhat unsettling - but only really got a handle on how much I hated it when Wizenberg used it in THREE CHAPTERS IN A ROW. Again, each of these chapters is only about five pages long. In total, I might have seen it in various places throughout the book about six more times. Pick a new word!

Final Verdict: Lovely stories - complete with engrossing settings and relatable characters - make up Wizenburg's relaxed and personable cookbook-slash-memoir, as a portrait of a particular period of her life. When considered as a framed example of her perspective, it is truly captivating.

Women Who Eat: A New Perspective on the Glory of Food, edited by Leslie Miller

711793A really fantastic collection of "up and coming" female writers (circa 2003), many focused in the Pacific Northwest, in a celebration of womanhood and food, be it prepared for them, by them, experienced, shared, bought, passed down, cooked themselves, or tasted countless times.

At times personable and impartial, emotionally-laden or distant, stories of attending cooking school, staffing a restaurant, tasting an old favorite again after a long absence, and more, many personalities are fitted neatly within its pages. Not only a reflection on a wide variety of food from a wide variety of perspectives, but shares a wealth of reasons how the food we eat affects our lives, from our friends, to habits and behaviors, to our identities themselves.

From the delicious (Carvel ice cream, in the face of a daunting doctor's visit to ascertain a cancer diagnosis), to the controversial (a woman who, in her post-pregnancy, cooks and craves the taste of her own placenta, as an act of recycling and reclamation), from the funny (a once-waitress tells the story of her favorite post-college restaurant job), to the familial (a California vegan reflects on the vegetables of her farm-raised, meaty Midwestern upbringing), the myriad of perspectives encountered within the pages of this collection truly run the gamut. The guarantee isn't even that you come away hungry, but that you reflect more on your own culinary connections to how your food shapes your life.

With the book being a decade-and-a-half old, naturally one of my first moves, was to scour the list of author names for any that I might still recognize. To my surprise, there she was: Cheryl Strayed, who, in the author's info section, is listed as living in Portland, Oregon, and "working on a book-length memoir." Wonder how that project panned out for her.

Did you take part in NaNo this year? Do you enjoy reading Food Memoirs? Let me know, in the comments below!

Monday, December 9, 2019


Okay. So it took me more than nine days to get around to saying all of this, but by the time you reach the end of the post, you'll know all about why: NaNoWriMo 2019 is over, and while I beat the challenge - for the fifth time! - it left me feeling more than a little defeated.

There were a couple personal factors that affected the ways I wrote this year, that made things a little different. A little more difficult.

For starters - in keeping with my goals to change up my writing genre and style with every year - I was writing nonfiction, specifically Food Memoir. Surprisingly enough, I actually thought this would make things easier. After all, why spend so much time coming up with a believable invention, rather than your personal perspective, right?

Not exactly.

There's such a thing as writing your truth, but there's also the alternative factor of getting hung up on truth. Once I made the commitment to writing my own real stories, I felt compelled to write them as acurrately as possible... going so far as to rummage around in our kitchen cabinets, to see whether I was remembering the embroidery on a tea towel correctly.

Needless to say, this kind of behavior doesn't exactly tee you up for productive writing sessions. It will definitely cue you to second guess all of your detail work.

Plus, I also - for the first time, really - had a writing partner: after watching me complete my own challenges for nearly half a decade, I inspired my Dad to take on his own writing project too, leading to the creation of a set of Horror shorts.

Through NaNo, he was able to tackle some of the foremost ideas he had germinated over the summer, which he had compiled in a huge list, safeguarded in a binder. With every story he finished, and every morning writing session he logged, his confidence that he could complete what he had previously deemed an insurmountable project grew. While I'm super proud of my Dad for putting in so much work, and venturing so far outside of his comfort zone... it's not exactly easy to succeed on your own terms, when the other person is constantly trying to talk to you about how well they're doing themselves.

Here's another shift I'd made from recent years: I opened up the mental bookshelves this year, too, to make more space for personal reading during NaNo. Usually, I try not to read anything until I've finished my 50,000 word draft, to keep myself more focused on my own story, and my voice more authentic; however, because I was working in a top as personal as a Food Memoir, I figured I could dabble in some titles this time.

This was both a good and a bad thing.

On one hand, this regular daily reading helped me progress further towards my Goodreads goal, which is something I sorely needed. I'm more than six books behind schedule, but during NaNo, that number climbed into double digits.

It also gave me inspiration, not necessarily on voice, but on presentation: I learned what kinds of personal stories make sense in the genre, and what format I hoped to present my work in, how long chapters should be and how many recipes should be included. I know what I like and don't like, from irritating word choices when describing a dish, to leaving readers stranded in a foreign country when authors get too caught up on setting. I knew I appreciated unexpected perspectives and unique flavors. I really hated when one writer included four separate salad dressing recipes in one book, while another used the word "gulp" three chapters in a row.

However, I started to subconsciously absorb what I was reading, and it had an effect on what I was writing. In comparison to past years of taking part in the challenge, I wasn't able to write uninhibited; I was constantly second guessing myself because I was spending so much time thinking about whether things worked or didn't work. You just can't do that when writing a first draft... leave it 'til the second!

It also didn't help that - as it turns out - my mom has a lot more difficult feelings about me writing nonfiction, rather than fiction. In her eyes, writing fiction is a fun, quirky hobby; memoirs are spilling the beans about things that doing just belong to you. At one point, she point blank asked me, "Please don't write this," which, as you can imagine, made it a lot more difficult to write.

It was an unfair, selfish ask, and a very distrusting one, which made me feel compelled to self-edit even more often. I was factoring in someone else's anxieties when I was trying to mitigate my own about simply getting words on a page.

In the end - through all these factors and hurdles - I wrote over 50,000 words, but I'm only proud of about 2/3s of them. I'm excited to get back in and read them over, but I'm going to take a little more time to recover before I do that just yet.

Out of all of my NaNo projects, this feels like it's the least likely to go anywhere. When I first came up with the idea, I kicked around the concept as to whether this would inspire me to listen to a new calling, or enroll in a nearby culinary school. By the time I got to the middle of the project - trailing thousands of words behind schedule, with my mother's voice ringing in my ear - all I could think was, "Why does anyone want to listen to me, of all people, about food? What do I have to add to any of this?"

Maybe this year's project was just an exercise in futility... maybe it was just an exercise in writing something new, and different. 

  • My non-zero low was 509 words in one writing day; my high was 8,793.
  • I wrote a total of 50, 137 words.
  • In total, I finished about four of the "chapters" - or segments - I had prospective outlines for.
  • I read 3.5 books during the course of my NaNo project.
  • I finished 3 days early.

Did you take part in NaNoWriMo this year? How did it go? Let me know, in the comments below!