Book review: Sold on a Monday

Dear friends,

Just finished this book.  It’s a tear-jerker:

Image result for sold on a monday

The book is a fictionalized story based on this depression-era photograph:

Image result for 4 children for sale

In Sold on a Monday, we meet a 1930s newspaper reporter named Ellis Reed, who is young, ambitious, and desperate to get a byline in the paper.  He needs a big break.  One day, while driving around looking for a story, he comes by a country house with a sign in the yard announcing “2 children for sale.”  He takes a photo.

His boss, upon seeing the photo, commissions a story, but then both the photo and negative are ruined, so the story can’t run.  Ellis, being resourceful, returns to the remote area, retrieves the sign from the front of the now-abandoned house, and props it up in front of another house in order to re-create the picture.  Then two kids and their mother emerge from the house to see what he is doing.

Later, when the kids go missing, a mystery ensues.  Were they kidnapped?  Taken into care?  Purchased?  Did the mother take advantage of the idea and actually sell them?

Ellis faces a moral quandary – Did his “staging” of the photo make all of this happen?

Together with his coworker Lily, Ellis seeks to locate the children and their mother, and to ensure that the family is doing all right.  Along the way, we meet Ellis’s parents, Lily’s boyfriend, and a gang of mobsters who might be connected to the kids’ disappearance.  Ellis and Lily find themselves getting in deeper and deeper, both for their own reasons.  And Ellis is desperate to assuage his guilt and ensure that he didn’t harm this family.

I found the book to be a fascinating character study.  Ellis is desperate for a byline in the paper, but did he go too far?  Were his actions innocent, and just turned out badly?  Or did he set this chain of events in motion because of his own ambition?  We see Ellis twisted and turned by this moral quandary, all while trying to put things right.

There are many plot surprises along the way.

Definitely recommended.


Winnie and the Professor

Book review: On Writing

Hello friends,

I just finished listening to the audiobook of “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King.  I had read the book years ago and enjoyed it, and since I am going through a bit of a writing struggle, I thought it might be helpful to revisit it.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

I’ve never read any of King’s fiction, as I’m not fond of the horror genre, but I’m always willing to listen to the voice of experience.  In this book, King narrates the story of his life, interweaving memorable incidents with his writing adventures.  As a child, he was drawn to science fiction and scary stories, so those are the stories he set out to write.

I found the book meaningful and useful as he addressed the struggles of writing, especially with a full-time teaching job, and the inevitable rejections a writer must be willing to face.  I also appreciated his advice to read a lot – he contends that a successful writer needs to also be a voracious reader.

Upon finishing the book, I watched some YouTube interviews.  He’s an interesting man, and surprisingly endearing.  I felt a kinship with him when he stated something I’ve always believed – that anything we have in this world is “on loan.”  We enter this life without anything, and we leave it the same way.  The things and people we call “ours” we don’t get to keep, but to enjoy for the time we are here.

It’s a useful idea for keeping perspective.



A is for anxiety

Dear friends,

Let’s talk about anxiety.

There are basically two kinds: social anxiety, and clinical anxiety.  You may experience one or both.

Let’s start with social anxiety.  This is the common form of anxiety that most of us feel when we have to make a speech, perform to a crowd, or attend a party where we don’t know anyone.  When you stand on the threshold of a room before a job interview, for example, and your stomach has butterflies, that’s social anxiety.  This is perfectly normal, and it’s “organic,” i.e., it’s a chemical reaction in your body.

Image result for nervous person

There’s a little gland inside your brain called the amygdala, and it’s the seat of the “fight or flight” impulse.  It’s there to protect you.  When you’re in danger, it sends hormones through your body to alert and agitate you.  We live in community with others, and we depend on the goodwill of our “tribe” for safety.  When you stand at the front of the room and everyone is staring at you, your amygdala sends a message that you’re under attack – even when you’re not.

This type of social anxiety is very common, and normal.  Remember, it’s a chemical reaction in your body, not a character flaw.

Now let’s talk about clinical anxiety, i.e., the type that’s diagnosed by a doctor, and that you may need to be medicated for.  This type of anxiety often goes hand in hand with chronic depression.  I experience this type of anxiety/depression.  My doctor explains that it’s not a willpower thing, but how my brain is “wired up” – it doesn’t make sufficient “happy hormones,” which can leave me continually sad and anxious.  Medication that helps increase my serotonin levels has helped tremendously.  I am able to stay on an even keel, emotionally, and my quality of life has improved a lot.

Image result for confident woman

Please understand that such medications are not “happy pills” – they don’t make a person feel joyous or exuberant.  They just bring you back to a baseline where you aren’t too depressed or anxious to do your work and live your life.

Why do I share this information?  Because we need to debunk the stigmas around these conditions.  You’re not “weak” if you experience anxiety, and you’re not “ungrateful” if you are depressed.  Mental and emotional issues are not character flaws, and our challenges can’t always be overcome with willpower or personal strength.  If your anxiety and/or depression are debilitating – if they keep you from living your life at your best, every day – please talk to a doctor.

Sending love,


Book review: The Book of Useless Information

Dear friends,

I just finished this one, which was my bedside book for a few weeks:

Image result for the book of useless information noel

This book is filled with “fun facts” about lots of different topics: food, animals, geography.  As I read it, I thought it would really appeal to fans of Jeopardy!  It’s a great book to carry in your bag, or keep in the bathroom, so you can just read a page or two to pass the time.  Here are some pages from inside the book, to give you a taste of what’s in store:

Inside book

This book would make a great gift for Father’s Day, or for anyone who likes “nerdy” information (I count myself there)!

Cheers –

Winnie and the Professor

The perils of “Booktube”

Hello friends,

I enjoy watching Youtube videos about reading and books.  Do you?

Creators of such videos refer to themselves as “booktubers,” and post videos with themes like reviews, hauls, current reads, DNFs (“did not finish”) and TBRs (“to be read”), along with various other features such as anticipated new releases, unhauls, and reading marathon vlogs.  For book lovers, these videos can be fun and informational.  I learn about a lot of new releases and popular books from watching these videos.

Some of my favorite booktubers are:  Books with Emily Fox, Lauren and the Books, Jean Bookish Thoughts, Peruse Project, and Chelsea Palmer (there are many others).  Booktube leans heavily toward the YA (“young adult”) genre, but these particular creators tend to read more widely.

Image result for many books

While I enjoy these videos, I find that watching too many can “mess with my head.”  Many booktubers post monthly hauls of 20 or more books, which they never seem to get around to reading (and ultimately unhaul).  Many post ambitious TBRs that are impossible to finish.  Some talk about feeling guilty about not reading more, or post stats of how many pages they read during the month.

All of these things seem to take the joy out of reading.

This is why I don’t believe in huge hauls (I plan to show a few books at a time), and why I don’t believe in TBRs (every book I own is a TBR).  When I finish a book, I consider whether it deserves a permanent place on my shelf, or if I will pass it along to someone else who would enjoy it.  I have a large “pass along pile,” which will ultimately be given to my university’s book sale when it comes around each spring.  I believe that books should have a life – either through re-reading (we are a different person each time we approach the same text), or by sharing with someone else.

I also feel like a strict and lengthy TBR list doesn’t allow for whims.  Sometimes I feel like reading something light and fluffy (usually after I’ve read something dense and difficult).  Or I learn of a brand-new release that I’m willing to buy in hardcover because I know I will love it, and I want to read it right away.  Or something comes across on Kindle Unlimited that looks like fun, so everything else gets pushed back.

Reading should bring you joy.  Booktube videos are fun to watch.  But if you ever start to feel guilty, or inadequate, or caught up in comparison with these voracious readers, it might be time to step back.

Do it for fun.  Do it for you.


Winnie and the Professor

Give yourself grace

Dear friends,

The other day, I was watching a Youtuber talk about books she plans to read.  She gave a brief synopsis of each, and explained why it appealed to her.  One book was about a couple who had fertility issues, an experience the Youtuber herself had gone through in the past few years.

She stated that she wasn’t sure if she was ready to read the book, although she’d heard it was good, and it might be healing for her.  So, she said, “I’ve decided to give myself grace” in approaching this subject matter – the grace to bail out at any time, the grace to decide she wasn’t ready after all, the grace to start the journey with permission to not finish.

Related image

I was struck by her words.  We often talk about showing grace to others, but showing grace to ourselves is an important part of self-care.  We need to give ourselves permission to fail, permission to decide that we’re not ready after all, permission to back out of our choices if the time comes when they don’t seem right for us anymore.

Look, I’m all for “seeing things through.”  Perseverance – what my mom calls “stick-to-it-ive-ness” – is essential for completing many of our life journeys.  But just as we would be gentle and understanding with others, we should show ourselves the same consideration when it comes to challenges that may be – just for a moment – more than we can bear.

We talk about falling down and getting back up, but sometimes getting up takes time.  Healing and recovery take time.

Be gentle with yourself today.  Show grace to the person in the mirror.



The case against passion

Dear friends,

I was listening to a talk by author Elizabeth Gilbert where she made some important points about the saying “follow your passion.”  As educators, isn’t this the advice we often give to young people?

Elizabeth Gilbert Quote about Following Curiosity

How could such well-meaning advice ever be problematic?

As Gilbert has shared, she used to advise audiences to “follow your passion” – until one night, after a talk, she received a message from a woman who had been in attendance.  In a nutshell she said this: You made me feel worse about myself, not better.  I’m not passionate about anything, and your talk made me feel like I couldn’t find success until I felt like I was on fire about something – which I’m not.

This letter caused Gilbert to reflect on the “follow your passion” mantra.  She concluded that perhaps it’s more useful to say, “follow your curiosity.”

While some people are able to apply single-minded focus to one endeavor, others (like me) have a “hummingbird mind,” a mind that flits from one interest to another.  Instead of drinking deeply from any one flower, we take small sips from many.

Image result for hummingbird

Our culture tells us this is wrong, while it feels completely authentic to those of us who live this way.

Gilbert also points out that “follow your curiosity” may lead to a passion – through experimenting with a variety of interests, you may find one that fascinates you, that inspires deep commitment for a long period of time.

I’ve been reflecting on this when I consider the advice we give to students who are undecided about majors, and future goals.  There’s so much pressure on young people to make these decisions early in life, but for many of us (me again), we arrive at our “calling” via a long and winding road.  We try, and discard, many roles before we land upon the right one.  And that’s ok.  No experience is wasted.

I encourage you to follow your curiosity and see where it leads.




A wing, a torch, a promise

“I will not die an unlived life. I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire. I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me, to make me less afraid, more accessible, to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise. I choose to risk my significance; to live so that which comes to me as seed goes to the next as blossom and that which comes to me as blossom, goes on as fruit.”

Dawna Markova

Foggy mornings

Dear friends,

Visibility is limited this morning, and it strikes me that this is a metaphor for life.  I know the landmarks in my community, but at the moment, they’re obscured.  It doesn’t mean they’re not there.

In the midst of feeling worried, overwhelmed, anxious, I focus on the metaphorical “fog” in my head.  I become disoriented.  I can’t see clearly.  And I start to believe that my plans, my dreams, my hopes for the future are completely out of reach.

Fog always burns off.  It’s a vapor.  It can hide things from our vision, but it is only a fleeting part of our reality.

Wishing you clarity today.



Seeking attention / seeking relationship

Dear friends,

This one resonated with me, and so I wanted to share.

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If you participate in various social media platforms, you will inevitably come across a post that says “That’s it – I don’t need anyone!  I’m alone, and I’ll show them!” … to which others often reply with some variation of “Good for you!”  But it’s not.  It’s not good.

We live in community with others, and I see such posts as a cry for help, a declaration of isolation, of loneliness.  As the photo above suggests, when people engage in “attention-seeking behaviors,” it’s likely that they’re actually seeking relationship (or else why would they do it?  Something to ponder).  Under such circumstances, the person who answers the bid for attention, responds to the cry for relationship, might not be the most wholesome person to bond with.

Image result for seeking attention cats

So what does this mean?  Are we supposed to befriend every lonely person who crosses our path?  Are we required to break down their walls?  Of course not.  It’s not practical, or necessary, or good for our own emotional well-being.  But thinking about these things can help us to reflect more deeply on others’ behaviors, and on our own.

When someone “acts up” (behaves like a jerk), what if we stopped for half a second and considered that maybe he’s feeling disconnected from others?  And maybe his jerky behavior is the outward manifestation of this feeling of disconnection?  Would we become slightly more compassionate, perhaps?  And then there’s the need to reflect on our own behavior.  Do I push people away, when I’m really longing for connection?  And isn’t that a counter-productive thing to do?

It all comes back to this:  We live in community with others, and often, it’s hard.  We bump up against each other.  We want different things.  We don’t like being vulnerable, or admitting that we feel isolated even in a crowd, because it seems like nobody understands.  But instead of lashing out, we can count to ten and examine why we’re acting this way, and whether this behavior will really help us reach our goals.

Today, let’s be compassionate with ourselves and others.  This “being human” thing isn’t easy, but we can be kind to each other, one day at a time.