The Great American Read--Did Your Favorite Novel Make the List?

May 21, 2018

Since reading is one of my favorite simple pleasures, I’m looking forward to watching The Great American Read, an eight-part PBS series which premieres tomorrow, May 22. The documentary will explore and celebrate the power of reading in American culture “through the prism of America’s 100 best-loved novels”. The books were chosen in a national survey, and you can find a list of them here. You can join the Great American Read Book Club here

Viewers will have the chance to vote for their favorites online and on social media starting when the first episode airs. The finale will take place in October, when the winner will be revealed. See your local PBS station for details.

As I write this, I’ve read 36 of the 100 on the list, and I’m in the middle of a 37th (Great Expectations). Several on this list I’ve tried to read and couldn’t get through (I’m looking at you The Catcher in the Rye). I plan to read at least a few more of them, including The Giver, War and Peace, and Stephen King’s The Stand. And there are some on this list that I won’t even attempt to read because they’re just not my cup of tea, life’s too short, and my TBR list is already (wayyyy) too long. That’s the beauty of the modern age of books: there’s a meaningful book out there for everyone. And often they’re freely (literally) available.

Some of my favorites from the list include Anne of Green Gables, The Alchemist (I wrote briefly about both Anne and The Alchemist here), Pride and Prejudice, The Help, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Two of my favorite authors who were not on the list: Barbara Kingsolver and P.G. Wodehouse.

(In 2003, the BBC undertook a similar search for the best-loved book in the United Kingdom. The winner of The Big Read was J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.)

Let’s talk about books! Which of the 100 have you read? Which are your favorites and which ones didn’t you like? Why? Was your favorite on the list?


Our Most Important Tool

May 18, 2018

“Attention is like energy in that without it no work can be done, and in doing work is dissipated. We create ourselves by how we use this energy. Memories, thoughts and feelings are all shaped by how use it. And it is an energy under control, to do with as we please; hence attention is our most important tool in the task of improving the quality of experience.”
—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience


Are You Mean to Yourself?

May 14, 2018

On the bulletin board next to my desk hangs a sign with the following words:

I’m mean to myself sometimes, and I’m betting you are, too. For instance:

  • When you goof up, do you replay the mistake in your head, over and over again, mentally cringing at your error? Do you think you shouldn’t have made a mistake?
  • When you’re sick, tired, or just not feeling up to par, do you always “power through,” regardless of how you feel? 
  • Does your inner critic receive your full attention and agreement when he/she begins to speak? 
  • Do you practice real self-care on a regular basis? By real self-care, I mean things like eating a healthful diet, sleeping enough, using stress-relief techniques when you’re feeling anxious—generally, just taking care of yourself.
For our own happiness’ sake, I think we should be nicer to ourselves all the time, even when we feel we least deserve it.

A few ways to be nice to yourself include:

Talking to yourself with respect. Reprogram your thoughts. Next time you begin to mentally beat yourself up for a mistake or criticize yourself for some real or imagined failing, STOP. Take a breath. Admit, yes, I made a mistake. I’m human. I will do better next time. I’m doing the best I can. Treat yourself—even in your thoughts—as you would a much-loved friend.

Treating your body lovingly. Feed it well, move it, let it rest. And talk to it nicely. Go slow enough, or take enough breaks during the day, that you can hear what it has to say.

Having more fun! Schedule at least one thing just for fun every day. Working out doesn’t count, unless you do it for fun. Maybe it’s a half hour of reading at lunchtime, a glass of wine with your partner before dinner, or playing a game with a friend online. Whatever simple pleasures make your heart happy.

When you are kinder to yourself, you’ll probably find it easier to cut everyone else some slack as well. We’re all imperfect, we all lose concentration now and then, we—gasp—make mistakes! It’s much easier to be patient and forgiving with others when that’s “where you live,” so to speak.

Being nicer to ourselves is not only a way to feel happier, it is also one way to add to the sum total of kindness and gentleness in the world—something the world desperately needs.

How are you mean to yourself? What can you do today to be nice to yourself?

George Santayana

A Happier State of Mind

May 11, 2018

“To be interested in the changing seasons is…a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.”
—George Santayana, “Justification of Art”

Beautiful things

Happy Little Things--Beautiful Books

May 07, 2018

I’ve had an influx of beautiful books lately, so I thought I’d share this simple pleasure with you.

I was shopping at Target a couple of weeks ago when this book caught my eye:

First the pretty cover and then the enticing title: A Book That Takes Its Time: An Unhurried Adventure in Creative Mindfulness. I picked it up to flip through and found that each page was unique. Thoughtfully written pieces were interspersed with happy illustrations and interactive goodies, such as tear out “Notecards for your beautiful moments jar.” The clincher that made me drop it into my basket—it is “a flow book.” (Flow is a magazine I’ve heard of but not yet seen in person. Since flow is my word of the year, my reticular activating system is constantly bringing it to my attention!)

I’m taking my time going through this book, savoring the simple pleasures within. On the back cover, it’s described as “A mindfulness retreat between two covers….” It has sections on kindness (to yourself and others), creativity, learning and more, as well as writing prompts, mini-journals, postcards, and decorative papers. I can see it sitting on a coffee table, available to browse through at whim. This was an impulse buy, but well worth the price.

Prudy likes it, too

The other beautiful books came to me by way of a contest! Rizzoli Books sponsored a giveaway on Instagram recently, and I won! The books arrived Friday. They’re all beautiful, and I know I’ll spend many happy hours browsing through them. 

 Two were of particular interest to me: Gardens of Style, by Janelle McCulloch, and Paris in Stride, by Jessie Kanelos Weiner and Sarah Moroz. Janelle writes and photographs the most beautiful books, and I’ve read her blog A Library of Design for several years. I claim her as a blogging acquaintance and hope to meet her someday as she sometimes visits Florida. 


Paris in Stride comes at just the right time, as I will be joining Laure Ferlita on her sketching tour in Paris in October! Paris in Stride is subtitled “an insider’s walking guide,” and is arranged by arrondissements, so I think it’s going to be helpful in planning our visit. Plus it’s charmingly illustrated in watercolor! (The books also came with a watercolor of the Eiffel Tour as seen below left.)


It will be hard to get my work done with these tempting beauties around!

What happy little things and simple pleasures have you savored lately?

Look for my travel writing here