My Month

As I reflect over the month’s “books read” list, I can’t help but recall a quote from Nick Hornby:

Being a reader is sort of like being president, except reading involves fewer state dinners, usually. You have this agenda you want to get through, but you get distracted by life events, e.g., books arriving in the mail/World War III, and you are temporarily deflected from your chosen path. (Ten Years in the Tub)

That’s exactly what this month felt like. At the end of April, I had visions of a month filled with Toni Morrison, Dostoevsky, and Margaret Atwood, but instead, what happened was life.

The past four weeks have held a visit from my grandfather, a trip to Searcy, job applications (1 dozen), writing deadlines (2), my brother moving home for the summer & the constant “crap, do you need the car?” conversation, a death in the family, a major life decision followed immediately by tears and cold feet, and my sister’s piano recital. Add to that a string of sleepless nights spent worrying about jobs and apartments and the price of a good car, and you have one helluva month for anxious, unemployed, emotionally-fragile me.

Due to all this craziness, my reading life feels like a wash. I read a lot of good books (and even a couple great ones), but overall, the month feels … blah. I managed my time poorly and my anxiety even worse, and to keep myself from backsliding into depression and despair, I turned to Netflix again. An old story, one I’d hoped was over, but that’s all right. This is life. Sometimes, you just have to concede defeat, lift your chin, and say, “I’ll do better next time.” And I will.

But for now, my month in books (because I swear, I really did read some good ones).

The book that made a lot more sense the second time around, thanks to my newly-acquired knowledge of SNL30 Rock

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Bossypants by Tina Fey
Nonfiction | 5.5 hours (audiobook) | ★★★★☆

The book that expanded my to-read list so much that I want to crawl into a hole and cry

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Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books by Nick Hornby
Nonfiction | 485 pp | ★★★★★

(Full review here.)

The book I wish I’d read in college because it would have saved me a lot of time and tears

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The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes
Nonfiction | 229 pp | ★★★☆☆

The first book of poetry I’ve read in a long, long time

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New & Selected Poems by Mary Oliver
Poetry | 255 pp | ★★★★☆

The book that reminded me that no matter how different we appear, deep down we’re all the same

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The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Short fiction | 207 pp | ★★★★☆

The book that kicked my butt for feeling sorry for myself re: unemployment & lack of solid future plans

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Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
Nonfiction | 184 pp | ★★★☆☆

The book that reminded me how good poetry can be

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On the Bus with Rosa Parks by Rita Dove
Poetry | 96 pp | ★★★★☆

The book that gave me a lot to think about

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Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin by Sybrina Fulton & Tracy Martin
Nonfiction | 331 pp |★★☆☆☆

(I should note that my 2-star rating has nothing to do with the message of the book & everything to do with its execution.)

The book I’ve read 3 times in 12 months

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This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Nonfiction | 308 pp | ★★★★★

(It actually deserves 7 stars, but I digress.)

The beautiful book I never would have read had a newfound friend not been kind enough to remember my birthday

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And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
Fiction | 404 pp | ★★★★☆

SNL 42: A Place to Call Home

I like to think I’m smart, but when it comes to pop-culture references, I’m dismally behind the times. Last year alone, I was amazed to learn that “POTUS” stood for “President of the United States” and had to ask who Paul McCartney was, so it should come as no surprise to you to learn that I had also never heard of Saturday Night Live.

My journey to America’s longest-running sketch-comedy show was about as roundabout as could be (Parks & Recreation → Yes Please → Bossypants → 30 Rock → Ghostbusters → Kate McKinnon’s IMDb page → half of season 38 before it left Netflix), but once I found it, I loved it. I loved the humor and the energy and the risk of performing live, but most of all, I loved the goodbyes.

As a newly-christened post-grad adjusting to life after college, watching everyone pile onstage to hug and laugh and cry made me ache, not for glamor and fame, but for my chosen family of friends and professors I’d been forced to leave behind. I saw everyone hugging, and I wanted to belong.

I won’t ever stand on that stage or walk those hallowed halls, but eight months and twenty-one episodes later, I do feel like I belong. I belong to the SNL fandom.

Here’s a look back on my favorite moments from season 42.

#15 – Bobby’s Moynihan’s Last Drunk Uncle

Weekend Update is full of pop culture icons (Stefon, Roseanne Roseannadanna, Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy), and Drunk Uncle is one of my favorites. Bobby Moynihan perfectly parodies the people on my Facebook feed who stress me tf out while still managing to make them lovable. Part of me is sad to have joined the SNL party at the end of Bobby’s run, but the rest of me is grateful I got to witness his last Drunk Uncle (as a cast member) live.

#14 – Cecilia Gimenez Talks the Bust of Cristiano Ronaldo

I’m hopelessly biased, but Kate McKinnon’s characters are my favorite Update guests. This season featured all the old favorites (including Olya Povlatsky) and introduced a few new ones (most notably Senator Elizabeth Warren), but the one that made me laugh the loudest was the return of the Ecce Homo Jesus painter, Cecilia Gimenez.

#13 – Scarlett Johansson’s Trump-Loving Pug

Sketches on SNL are often hit-or-miss. Sometimes the writing’s great, but the host can’t sell it; other times the host is great, but the jokes fall flat. Occasionally, though, everything clicks — like in this sketch from episode 16 — and when it does, the results are hilarious.

#12 – Melanianade

Beyoncé, political commentary, and the women of SNL — what’s not to love about this Lemonade parody?

#11 – Kellyanne Conway’s Day Off

I love all of Kate’s Kellyanne sketches, but this debut impression is my favorite because it’s smart and funny without being too on-the-nose (because, you know, Trump kind of made that impossible). It pokes fun at Trump, the media, and the craziness of the election, but it also humanizes Kellyanne Conway, which — let’s be honest – is a feat I thought impossible.

#10 – The Second Presidential Debate

I haven’t been able to laugh at the debate parodies since the election, but Kate’s awkward leaning and Alec’s shark-like stalking still deserve a spot on this list. Also — can I get an amen on Cecily’s opening line?

#9 – Cold Open, Saturday Before the Election

“By the third debate, it had become so blech and toxic, there was nothing more we could say,” Kate recently said about this cold open in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “We just wanted to remind everyone that we all live in the same country and that there still is goodness in the world because I think we had all lost sight of it.” Amen.

#8 – The Return of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Kate McKinnon has been the real MVP this season, and when it comes to political impressions, there’s nothing she can’t do. Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, Kellyanne Conway, Betsy DeVos, a sheepish Jeff Sessions — it doesn’t matter if they’re German or American, Republican or Democrat — she’s got ’em nailed. But perhaps my favorite impression (at least, when it comes to laugh-factor) is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her November Update visit added some much-needed humor to my post-election mood.

#7 – Hillary Actually

I blame this sketch for my odd sense of affection & tenderness toward Hillary Clinton.

#6 – Jingle Barack

One of my favorite things about SNL is that it manages to make me giggle even while I’m low-key panicking at the thought of the months to come. This Christmas reminder that “Barack’s still here” was the perfect way to close out a disheartening year.

#5 – Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer Impression

Radical moose lambs. ‘Nuff said 😂😂👌🏼

#4 – Thank You, Scott

I’m not saying that “you fight for our rights while you’re on the toilet” is my favorite line of the season, but… it’s my favorite line of the season.

#3 – Black Jeopardy with Tom Hanks

I can’t decide which I love more — Tom’s grizzled performance or Kenan’s astonished expressions.

#2 – Christmas Miracle

If you haven’t met Colleen Rafferty, you’re seriously missing out. This third installment of the misadventures of Kate’s chain-smoking abductee was indeed a Christmas miracle, and wins my vote for best sketch of the season.

#1 – Post-Election Cold Open

As funny as SNL has been this year, it isn’t Ms. Rafferty or Drunk Uncle or even Ruth Bader Ginsburg that comes to mind when I think about this season. Instead, it’s Kate’s teary-eyed cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” the Saturday after the election. I’ve written about it before and I’m sure I’ll write about it again, but for now, suffice it to say, it was a formative experience.

Over the past eight months, Saturday Night Live has become more than a comedy show to me. It’s made me laugh when I could barely smile, encouraged me to care about politics, and given me something to look forward to amidst the fog of depression. I’d say that’s pretty remarkable.

Here’s to a great season.


“Greatest Hits” honorable mentions:

Ten Years in the Tub

“All the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal” – Nick Hornby


21944945I debated the wisdom of reviewing this book, because if I do my job right and convince you to read it, too, I’ll have put myself out of business. In fact, after reading the first chapter of Ten Years in the Tub, I almost packed up and left the blogosphere, because nothing I can produce could ever come close to rivaling Nick Hornby’s insightful wit. Fortunately (or unfortunately, I’ll let you be the judge), my narcissism and need for immediate validation came to the rescue, and my blog lives to see another day.

Ten Years in the Tub is a compilation of Nick Hornby’s “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” column, as featured in the bimonthly lit mag The Believer. (The column is ongoing, but the book collects installments from September 2003 to June 2013.) At the beginning of each month, Hornby includes two lists, “books bought” and “books read,” and then spends five pages chatting about the “books read.” I say “chatting” because that’s exactly what he does. He strikes an easy, conversational, occasionally hyperbolic tone that makes you feel like you’re sitting in a pub swapping stories rather than reading an award-winning author’s thoughts on a bunch of books.

What kind of books? All kinds. No, seriously — all. There are recurring themes, of course (his devotion to Dickens almost rivals mine to Annie Dillard), but as a rule, Hornby reads all over the map. Fiction, nonfiction, children’s, YA, sports, biography, nine-hundred-page histories of the life of SNL — genre and demographic don’t matter, so long as the book is interesting. (And if it isn’t, he abandons it, listing it as anonymous literary novel or biography (unfinished) in his “books read” column, and provides a colorful account as to why he stopped reading it.)

And yes, Hornby freely admits to abandoning books. In fact, he says it’s essential to one’s health as a reader, because “we often read books that we think we ought to read, or that we think we ought to have read, or that other people think we should read,” and in doing so, spend less and less time reading the books we really want to read. This is perhaps the best (and, depending on who you talk to, the most controversial) advice Hornby has to offer: reading is supposed to be enjoyable. Always. And if it’s not, well, then you’re reading the wrong books.

I realize that at 450+ pages, Hornby’s is a hard book to sell, but trust me, friends, this one’s worth the read. To borrow from the author, “I understood about one word in every four” of Ten Years in the Tub, and it was still the most delightful and engaging book I’ve read all year (with the exception of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please). And if you’re worried that you’re not well-read enough to enjoy a book about books, don’t be, because in the end, Ten Years in the Tub is less about books and more about reading, specifically

the how, and when, and why, and what of reading — about the way that, when reading is going well, one book leads to another and to another, a paper trail of theme and meaning; and how, when it’s going badly, when books don’t stick or take, when your mood and the mood of the book are fighting like cats, you’d rather do anything but attempt the next paragraph, or reread the last one for the tenth time.

Toss in a few fist-fights with nineteenth-century novelists (“We fought, Wilkie Collins and I…”) and the solid declaration that “pizza always beats art,” and you’ve got a winner. 4.75/5 stars.

The “Books I Will Shove in Your Face” List

This is supposed to be a book blog, but I haven’t written a proper book review in forever. And by forever, I mean September.

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I have plenty of excuses (tax season, job search, book proposals, letters, falling deeply in love with both Grace & Frankie and Bates Motel), but in the end, it all comes down to effort. Book reviews are hard. They require energy, and for the past several months, all my energy has gone into cold calls, fellowship applications, and guest posts on other blogs.

But never fear! Bookworming‘s book reviews are back!

Or they will be.

As soon as I finish a book.

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Seriously, though, I’m reading eleven, and as soon as I finish one, I’ll give more than a 1-sentence summary. I promise. In the meantime, here’s a list of my favorite reads, aka, the books I love to talk about and desperately need you to read.

Fiction

the ones I’m most likely to convince you to read
(well okay, except for the Russian)

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Certain Women by Madeleine L’Engle
A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle
My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
Caucasia by Danzy Senna
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
A Mercy (& everything else) by Toni Morrison
The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan
“Three Girls” by Joyce Carole Oates
“A Temple of the Holy Ghost” by Flannery O’Connor
anything by Rainbow Rowell
the prologue to Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Nonfiction

books you’re less likely to read because aPPARENTLY most people prefer fiction, but I don’t care, these are vitally important
(especially Rilke and Coates)

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Diary of a Young Girl: Definitive Edition by Anne Frank
Revelation of Love by Julian of Norwich
Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
She Who Is by Elizabeth A. Johnson
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
“The Poet” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Poetry

poems that made me forget I don’t like poetry

“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver
Domestic Work by Natasha Trethewey
Quilting (& everything else) by Lucille Clifton

The Holy Trinity

the kind of books I want to write
(if you read any of them, advance to GO and collect $200 my undying affection)
(also: contact me immediately so we can discuss)
(unless you didn’t like them)
(in which case you should never speak to me again)
(and probably enter witness protection)

Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

52 Lessons in 52 Weeks

It’s okay to cry.

Writing is cheap therapy.

Be there for the people you love.

Don’t be so afraid to put the “I” in front of “love you.”

“No” is a complete sentence.

You have nothing to prove.

If you apply for a job against your better judgment and your first reaction is to worry yourself into a fever & upset stomach, chances are, this is not the job for you.

No matter how hard you try to ignore something, it will not go away.

Keeping up with politics does not have to be scary or overwhelming (c.f. NPR Politics Podcast).

Parks & Recreation is the pinnacle of American television.

Liz Gilbert is amazing.

Twenty-two years is way too long to go without knowing about Saturday Night Live.

Never apologize for loving the Ghostbusters reboot.

It’s the second Bald Knob exit, not the first one, you dummy.

People who spend three hours talking to you aren’t just being nice. They love you. Stop selling yourself short.

Voting is more exciting when you know what you’re voting about.

Donald Trump has no business determining your mental health.

Sometimes a broken heart is more effective than an angry one.

Suicide is not the answer.

Know when to ask for help.

The temperature gauge in a car in very important and you should absolutely pull over if it’s red.

Annie Dillard will always make you cry.

Watching five hours of Kate McKinnon interviews is not only accepted but encouraged.

However, moderation makes everything taste better, and hangovers of every kind suck.

Watching an R-rated comedy with a bunch of senior citizens is a great way to spend your day.

Clean sheets, Vitamin D, and spontaneous one-woman dance parties do wonders for your mental health.

“RSVP” is French and stands for répondez s’il vous plaît.

An easy way to get ripped is by lifting weights while watching Netflix.

If something is hard to do, chances are it’s worth pursuing.

But seriously, if you don’t feel like running, just walk. It’s fine.

The New Yorker is worth the subscription price.

Cold calls will not kill you.

Running yourself ragged is neither noble nor romantic, and if you do it too many times, you’ll hit your introvert wall and melt down in public.

Touch starvation is a real thing and should be avoided with a regimen of weekly hugs & shoulder bumps (thanks Laura!)

When in doubt, wear flannel.

APPLY FOR THE FELLOWSHIP

No one cares if you watch Mona Lisa Smile every Friday for a month.

No matter how much you love Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story is too much for you.

Sometimes you read a book too soon, but that’s okay; you’ll find it again when you’re ready.

Letters are the best gifts.

If someone says “I love you,” believe them.

Be brave, be vulnerable, be extravagant with your love.

But you never have to share part of yourself that isn’t ready to be shared.

If you really need to hear someone’s voice, you’re not a clingy maniac. It’s okay to call — they probably miss you, too.

Your professors have your back.

Your professors have your back.

Your professors have your back.

Make the leap, even though it scares you.

Listen to your gut.

Love yourself.

Accept yourself.

Grace upon grace upon grace.

we did it

Thank you to everyone who helped me through this year. I couldn’t have done it without you.