We came back yesterday afternoon from two weeks on the road in Oregon, the majority of those days spent in one of my favorite places, Eugene. We did take in two plays in Ashland (Much Ado About Nothing and Antony and Cleopatra), spent a bit of time in Astoria, and of course enjoyed half a day in Portland—most of which we spent at a bookstore. Where else?

It was in Portland last year on a solitary wander to Powell’s City of Books that I recommitted myself to the life of my mind, to the reader’s life. Bill had Katie and Eric at a nearby park, and over a latte and some journaling I decided to set reading goals for myself just as I had set health goals. I’d never quite stopped reading, but my turnover had sure petered out in the bustle of my life. Motherhood, homeschooling, Internet time, time mismanagement—all had chipped away at my reading. I had lost part of myself, I felt, if not entirely than at least enough to feel out of balance as a thinker and participant in modern ideas in the modern world. I did still read, here and there, but that reading lacked direction, purpose, and priority.

So I set a goal of five books a month, a modest goal given how I used to read. Over a year’s time (using July 1st as the marker), that would equate to 60 books.

I ended up reading 83 books this year, which averages to well over one per week.

It is amazing what a person can get done when she gives up TV entirely! I was already mostly off of TV anyhow, given my training schedule, though I would still watch the occasional movie after the kids were in bed. I don’t watch many shows or movies at this point anymore—I’ve had to decide what I want more for myself, I guess. I’ve also had to tighten up computer time. Due to lifestyle changes, I also don’t spend nearly the amount of time I used to baking/cooking/pouring over my cookbooks—that turned out to be a big hobby that I’ve been able to replace and that naturally needed replacement anyway for my own health. Homeschooling and planning for homeschooling still takes a CHUNK of time—I approach it like a 40+ hour job. There’s always stuff to do. But I’ve had to figure out what I can give up in my life in order to pursue these other goals, and it turns out it is possible to carve out quite a bit of time when we want to. It helps that I also read fairly quickly, I will say that! We just have to decide what we want MOST, for the self. I think it is different for everyone, but whatever we pick, well… I think we need to know first that we ARE choosing and second we need to know WHY we are choosing what we choose.

What I want most? Mens sana in corpore sano. A sound mind in a sound body. I’m pursuing this ideal with everything I’ve got at this point, after years of excusing myself on all counts with “I’m too busy” and the like. Setting goals in various areas of life is important, I find.

At some point, I want to write a little round-up of my favorite books of the 83 this year. Would I have liked to have read more? Oh yes. But it sure was a good feeling to walk into Powell’s City of Books this year and see book after book that I either had read in my past or, moreso, have come to know this year. Last year I almost cried in Powell’s with how out of touch I felt and remember choking back tears. This year? Totally different.

So, here are the June Six:

1. Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman (short stories, February 1, 2015)

I wonder, Are fictions safe places? And then I ask myself, Should they be safe places?” NEIL GAIMAN, introduction

Gaiman is one of my favorite authors (the kids’, too—his genre varies). Nothing is terribly safe about the short stories here. Recommended, if you like mash-ups of sci fi, fairy, myth, and haunting sorts of tales. Favorites: “The Thing About Cassandra,” “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains,” “The Case of Death and Honey” (a Sherlock Holmes homage), “Nothing O’Clock” (a Doctor Who installation), “Feminine Endings,” and “Black Dog.”

And thanks to my friend Rosa for the recommendation! I’ve been trying to pay extra attention to what others are reading, especially my friends. I think we know people better when we know what they read. I have several recommendations from people that I’d like to get to in the next few months. My friend Beth is a fount of good ideas, and I almost picked up the hard copy of Euphoria in Portland. I think I can read it digitally for less expense, though. Anyway, we love Neil Gaiman. This short story collection will keep you turning pages. Short stories are especially lovely at the beach.

2. How to Raise An Adult: Break Free of the Overprinting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims (education, sociology, June 9, 2015)

“We want them to be thinkers. But too many schools today promote rote memorization and regurgitation, and in our homes we’re doing too much overcorrecting, overprotecting, and hand-holding. We end up doing way too much of our kids’ thinking for them. They need to think for themselves…”

I first met Julie when she was in-house counsel in the Office of the University President at Stanford and I was working in his mail room. She then went on to become a Dean, and then in a totally inspirational move, left her job to return to school for an MFA. From there, she began working on a book based on her experiences as a Dean at Stanford and on current events happening at Palo Alto high schools and in the community.

As a recovered/recovering helicopter parent (a recovery that started when I got my health and life together three years ago), I had been anticipating the release of Julie Lythcott-Haims’ book for nearly two years. It released on June 9, and even though I was engrossed in Stephenson’s latest Seveneves, I dropped all other print in order to read it. Which I did, from cover to cover, throughout a single day.

Julie’s highly readable book positions itself vitally in the conversation WE NEED TO BE HAVING on a large scale about American parenting, while forming a dialectic with Carol Dweck’s work, offering practical advice about how to foster self-efficacy in our children, challenging the pathways that lead to “brand name” colleges (Julie is a fellow Stanford alum, as well as a former Stanford Dean), and looking gently but decisively at the harm we may be doing in the constant supervision and scheduling and management of our kiddos’ lives. Took the book in quickly but will be pondering it for some time. Such an important topic that I may blog more about this read soon. Much I winced to hear, but much I also cheered. Many moments spoke to some of my own anecdotal discoveries these past few years. Parenting is HARD. Read this, especially if you’ve got school-aged kiddos.

3. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (novel, sci fi, released May 19, 2015)

“The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason. It was waxing, only one day short of full. The time was 05:03:12 UTC. Later it would be designation A+0.0.0, or simply Zero.”

At 861 pages, this tome earned a position of priority on my summer bucket list. This book was its own goal. It took ten days of various dedicated reading levels, because at the front of the month I had quite a bit going on.

What’s it about?

Setting: present day annihilation of humanity on Earth (what WOULD happen if the moon spontaneously broke apart?) to 5000+ years in the future. First two thirds are orbital mechanics, social and political ramifications, plans for humanity to try to survive, lots and lots of “hard” science fiction (the good stuff). Back third is Stephenson’s imagination gone gloriously wild: inventing words and worlds. A modern answer to _Lord of the Flies_, writ large. Within the last two (!!!!) pages: set up for a sequel, for SURE. Incredible.

I have tried to select several works this year that deal with the potential end of humanity/evolution of humanity/end of Earth. This book is essential to such a reading list. Loved the female kick-butt power, too. (The titled parses as “Seven Eves”).

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Although I read this one digitally, I found a hard copy at UCLA during Bill’s dorm reunion late last month. It becomes increasingly strange to see the actual copies of books in real life that I’m reading on the Kindle.

4. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (sci fi, dystopian, novel, August 2011)

“I’d come to see my rig for what it was: an elaborate contraption for deceiving my senses, to allow me to live in a world that didn’t exist. Each component of my rig was a bar in the cell where I had willingly imprisoned myself.”

My friend Dan recommended this book to me, and I loved it. Bill also had it in our library and read it years ago during the period where I was out of touch with current reading material. Ah well, books find us in their own time I think. Definitely a favorite of mine this year. Dan’s rec was right on point!

What is the nature of reality? This book is fabulous fun for this 80s kid: the premise is that a multibillionaire has hidden a virtual Easter egg (the key to his entire fortune) in a massive online world. There’s a big gamer, geekazoid scavenger hunt with clues from 1980s pop culture. WarGames, Rush (the band), Schoolhouse Rock, Rubik’s cube, Family Ties—all play a role. Incisive social commentary, too. Fun read, despite the fact that I’ve never been a huge gamer past some of the classic Nintendo stuff. I loved the music, film, and literature references. Spielberg is set to direct the coming film. I’d read it while you can, before the movie hits.

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Finished this goody on the first day of our road trip last month.

5. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey (sci fi, dystopian, January 2014)

“Melanie said she didn’t think it was right to blame Pandora for what happened, because it was a trap that Zeus had set for mortals and he made her be the way she was on purpose, just so the trap would get sprung.”

Another sci fi post apocalyptic thriller for me (clearly my favorite genre)!

Although the overall premise of this book is, at this point, a bit hackneyed (I am OVER zombies despite their more interesting sociopolitical origins), and although it structurally follows The War of the Worlds and therefore makes me question originality, I have to say the prose was HIGHLY readable, the ethical questions inherent to the genre were solid, the ending gave reward, and the relationship to Greek myth offered interest and pleasure. Great road trip book. Held my engagement despite the more trite moments. Certainly a variation (though not done as well) on the themes in Seveneves. Rec? Overall, fun but not essential to a reading list. But sometimes fun is good enough!

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Took this book with me on a solitary wander around the U of O for a couple of hours one night on our road trip. Bill had been spending all day and most evenings at Hayward Field to watch the Nationals, and so I had solo duty with our kiddos. We got up to all kinds of shenanigans (three hikes, swimming, two waterfalls, rock climbing to a summit, a movie, fro yo, picnics, all kinds of adventures!) and although I relished the time with them. by the third day Bill had an early day and I really craved a bit of alone time. So I got to walk and read, and I found this awesome huge pine on U of O’s campus near Fenton Hall. I went underneath it and sat on a stump and read hidden in the pine. Oh, it was a secret lovely world. One of my favorite memories in a trip of favorites. Kind of a creepy little story to read at twilight under a pine tree, but so much the better!

6. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (novel, sci fi 2007)

“You must remember, family is often born of blood, but it doesn’t depend on blood. Nor is it exclusive of friendship. Family members can be your best friends, you know. And best friends, whether or not they are related to you, can be your family.”

Summary: group of genius little kids overthrows a potential dictator in slightly dystopian, present day sci fi world. Looking for one to augment/teach substantial vocabulary? Girls and boys both in the role of hero instead of princess? Homage to learning, education, and clever intelligence? Celebration of friendship and the way a powerful group has many different personalities to contribute to it? What a great read with children! Katie, especially, loved solving some of the embedded puzzles/riddles, learning Morse code, and the abundant word play (there is a character named S. Q. Pedalian). Looking forward to the others in this NYT Bestselling Series. Highly recommend.

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Reading to my children at Nana’s house one day last month, as we celebrated her birthday.

And the promise of intellectual excitement to come:

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Our haul from Powell’s City of Books. I’ve already polished off the Hitchens, and the kids and I have been loving the others. I am working through Astoria (history, nonfiction) right now, but I might divert into something else for a bit. Eric ADORES “The Book with No Pictures.”

The life of the mind is as important as the health of the body; I’d venture to say at this point that, for me, they are necessarily developed together. I am a better athlete when my mind is primed; I am a better reader/thinker when my body is worked and full of proper nutrition.

Eager for more reading this month, and I need to work on a list of my favorites this past year.

Off to swim lessons this morning for the kiddos! It’s great to be back home: I had my first run (5 mi) and swim (1.5 mi) this morning back in Temecula. I miss Eugene, but these are my home training grounds. Butte to Butte went so well (post to come), but I have work to do and less than a year now to do it!

Happy Reading to all!

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