3 Reader Resolutions to Help you Ring in the New Year

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Tonight is New Year’s Eve, which means that your facebook newsfeed is currently saturated with New Year’s resolutions. People pledging new diets and new attitudes—all with the purpose of bettering themselves. Although I am all for personal improvement and goal making, I have always been slightly cynical about resolutions because they tend to be big, hard to maintain goals. Flipping one’s life around the exact minute the clock strikes twelve is tough, but not impossible. However, for me I always felt that I could only maintain a goal if it was very targeted. My goal would focus on one subject, so I didn’t have to overhaul my entire life in order to become successful with it.

Those targeted goals are what led me to creating this book club. I wanted to read more, and I wanted others to read with me. It only required me to focus on the “targeted” subject of reading one hour a day, and the rest of the 23 were mine to live as I did. That targeted focus allowed me to keep up with the NSBCBC, and it also made me realize a few things I’d like to strive for as a reader. And so, here are my 3 Reader Resolutions for 2014.

 

1. Accept that you will not love every book.

 

To be completely honest with you, I could not get through “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth.” I’ve been pretty mad at myself about it too because I made it a NSBCBC book! When I first heard about it, it sounded so interesting and seemed like it would be a great fit for me, but unfortunately it wasn’t. That’s not to say it’s a bad book. It’s well written and at times I did find it really interesting, but for where I am in my life, I didn’t connect with it the way I hoped I would.

Maybe one day, I’ll pick it up and try again, and maybe then it will be what I need. But for now, I have to learn that it’s completely OK to put a book down if it’s not working for me. True, we read for knowledge, but we also read for fun, and if it’s not fun, move on to another book. That book will always be there for you when you’re finally ready to give it another go.

 

2. Be true to your opinion, even if others disagree.

 

I loved “The Night Circus.” I know I’ve said that before, but I really enjoyed the hell out of that book. However, a friend of mine told me that her roommate thought it was “the worst book ever written.” I was shocked. Could she possibly be referring to the same book? My perfect little night circus—the book that transported me to a world of beauty and mystery and love—terrible?!

My initial reaction was to feel embarrassed to have loved a book that was so hated by this person. When I love a book, there is no hiding it. I get completely wrapped up in it and laugh and cry and feel so much for the characters. But when I heard that this person hated it so much, it made me feel like maybe I threw myself into something that wasn’t that great. Then 5 seconds after I had that scary thought I snapped out of it and decide to stand by my love-filled opinion for that book.

As a reader, I think it’s important to speak honestly about our experiences with the books. They have a way of connecting with us more than TV or film because we actively participate. We paint and construct the scenery, we give the characters faces, and we give a characters’ voices sound, all with our minds. We meet the authors in the middle and use our imaginations to fill in the blanks, making it a more personal experience. Because of this, maybe it’s a bit harder to share an opinion about a book with an audience of people who disagree, but those are your thoughts and feelings, and who is to say they are wrong?

 

3. Open yourself up to new subjects and genres.

 

A few years back I decided to pick up the Anthony Bourdain memoir “Kitchen Confidential.” I didn’t know much about his travel shows, I didn’t know anything about working in a restaurant, and I wasn’t much of a cook. So why pick up the book? I picked it up because I knew NOTHING about his world and experiences, and I wanted to learn about them. Had I not picked up that book, I wouldn’t know when not to order fish at a restaurant, how much of a badass Bourdain is, and how much I enjoy reading about chefs. In fact, reading his book made me want to read “Blood, Bones, and Butter” because I wanted to get back into the kitchen…or rather the literary kitchen.

When we open ourselves up to new authors and genres, we open ourselves up to new worlds. As I realized two bullet points ago, you may not love every new thing you read, but there is a chance that you will, so why not take the risk?

 

I will try to keep these reading resolutions in mind as I continue to tackle my targeted reading goals. I hope you do the same.

 

Have a happy and healthy new year!

Happy reading, not so book club book clubbers!

Cheers!
– Nina Sclafani

January’s Reads – Why These Books?

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Ring in the new year with one of the January 2014 #NSBCBC Reads!

I must be honest—putting together the January Read’s list was a struggle and it was a blend of these three issues/goals that made it so. First, I wanted to make sure we started the year out strong. Second, I wanted to select a variety of books that would encourage and enable more people to read. And third, there were just too many options! But with a lot of review reading, sifting through “best of” lists, and allowing my sheer curiosity about these books to take over, I was able to put together what I think is a great list to start the new year with. So without further ado, here are your January NSBCBC Reads!

1. “Cinnamon and Gunpowder” by Eli Brown (Fun fact: Everytime I type the name “Eli Brown” into Facebook, it autocorrects it to “Chris Brown,” which is driving me completely insane.)

This book originally captured my attention because of its beautiful cover. Yes, I know I have judged a book by its cover before, but that was a huge success in my opinion! (For those of you just starting, it was “The Night Circus,” and I loved every second of it.) The beautiful hues of blue and green, along with the flowing red hair of the female pirate wrapping her arm around the shoulders of the stern looking male chef—the whole image just evokes adventure and beauty. But this book isn’t all about its pretty looks. It also caught my attention because of its regular placement on many 2013 “best of” lists.

But even more so, what made me think this had to be on the list was the role reversal of the traditional gender stereotypes. A group of female pirates in the early 1800’s kidnap a renown male chef and spare him his life as long as he provides amazing food for the women? I’m in.

Lately I have been struggling with gender roles in our society. The constant bombardment of sexist images and words in media has made me feel that there isn’t enough respect for women in this country. Blame my new awareness and concern on a viral video by the women’s advocacy group, The Representation Project, (you can find their inspiring video here: http://www.upworthy.com/a-glimpse-at-how-the-media-treated-women-this-year-is-a-look-at-way-too-many-cringe-worthy-moments-aa3-5c-2?c=upw1), and because of the new Beyonce album. What can I say? She really gets me pumped about being a woman.

Either way, I wanted a story that showed strong and powerful women in charge, and so “Cinnamon and Gunpowder” made the cut.

2. “S.” by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

I have always been a fan of the mysterious, and to be more specific, I have always been a fan of the mysterious worlds that J.J. Abrams has been able to create over the years. Lost, Cloverfield, Super 8—these are the stories that kept me up at night, as I tried to piece together what I just experienced. So when I saw that he had a hand in creating this book, (which has made its way onto almost every 2013 “best of” list I encountered) I knew it had to be a January Read.

This concept book, also authored by mystery writer Doug Dorst, illustrates the experience between a writer and his readers through the story itself, and the conversations written within the novel’s margins. As always with a J.J. Abrams work, I didn’t look too into it for fear of spoiling the experience, but I do think it’s worth checking out the trailer for the book here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/mpd/permalink/m134GPVMJP2P1G/ref=ent_fb_link.

3. “Fun Camp” by Gabe Durham

With winter starting to really hit its stride, I thought we could use a little sunshine in our reading list. Welcome “Fun Camp,” a collection of “monologues, speeches, soliloquies, sermons, letters, cards, and lists” that tells of the highs and lows of the summer camp experience.

I have always been fascinated by sleepaway summer camps. Although I never attended one myself, many of my friends did and as much as I wanted to hide my jealousy of their experiences, I couldn’t. As a child, I coveted their newfound freedom, nightly sleepovers, summer romances, and campfire storytelling sessions. I lived vicariously through movies like “Camp Nowhere” and shows like “Salute Your Shorts” because I knew that would be the closest thing I’d ever experience to summer camp. And even still, as a full grown adult (equipped with a home and all the freedom I can handle!) I must admit that whenever a show comes on about summer camp, I drop what I’m doing and get sucked in.

“Fun Camp” also made the list because it’s great for people with little time to read (this gem is less than 200 pages).

So that is the list! I hope you all enjoy these books as much as I enjoyed picking them out. Stay motivated in your reading and encourage your friends to join the Not So Book Club Book Club as well! Together we can create a community of readers and continue to grow as people by sharing these stories with each other. It’s truly a wonderful experience doing this for all of you.

Happy reading!

Sincerely,

Your NSBCBC maestro,

Nina Sclafani

So What Did You Do Today? A Honest Look at the Life of an Unemployed Reader

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It had to be a selfie due to my dog’s lack of picture-taking knowledge and because I’m not crazy enough (yet) to think I can pull characters out of books to do my bidding.

2013 was really working out to be a stellar year. I had a new job, a new house, a wedding on the way, and a dream honeymoon booked for Thailand. Everything was falling into place. And then at the end of August, I got dealt quite a blow. 3 weeks before my wedding, my company made major cuts to the staff and fired 10% of the employees. Just as quickly as it came, I was let go from a job that I loved.

With the wedding 3 weeks away, I didn’t have time to dwell. I focused all my energy on the upcoming nuptials and when that was done, I focused solely on the honeymoon. Throughout that time, people would ask if I was nervous about how I’d feel when life slowed down, but I would respond that I wasn’t concerned. I was too wrapped up in all the fun. However, upon my return from Thailand, I began to feel it —the isolation from the world around me. The loneliness that comes without being able to chat with coworkers and the laziness that creeps into your body when you lack structure in your day.

I would soon find myself with unkempt hair, spending entire days in pajamas. I’d look at the clock, and the hours would simultaneously fly by when I yearned to be productive, and be painfully slow while I awaited my husband’s arrival. Unfortunately, even today I am still struggling to fight this. It’s been about 4 months since the layoff, and though I’m still searching for more structure to my days, I’ve been able to turn to my books for a place of solace.

Everyday when my husband asks how my day was and what I did, I almost feel hesitant to answer. To him, the answer would be that I sat on the couch and read, and then I read while I cooked dinner, and then read in our bed while drinking coffee. To me, I traveled back in time to the 1950’s and visited Kabul, Afghanistan. I flew to Paris and interviewed an Afghani-Parisian poet just days before her death. I lived in California with a doctor and his family while he tried to justify the life he led. I cried at the sorrows I heard and laughed at the things that brought my new companions joy. I learned, felt empathy, and felt motivated, all by the characters of a book. To me, I felt as though I spent the day living with purpose. I no longer felt alone.

That is the gift of literature, and it is this magical quality that I will never stop loving about the experience of reading. When we read we become students of life. These books can transport us through time and space, and introduce us to people we would have never met otherwise. It is through them that we are given the opportunity to think and feel, and question the opinions we have. And perhaps it is this opportunity, and the ability to fully embrace it, that is the silver lining to losing what I had.

Waging War Against My Biggest Reading Deterrent – My Own Attention Span

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Prior to starting this project, I frequently heard myself telling people that although I loved reading, I never had time to read. Unfortunate right? What a sad situation—a true book lover torn from her beloved novels all because of a busy work/life schedule. Strangely enough, this ultra-busy-never-finding-time-to-read book addict somehow managed to squeeze enough hours out of her day to marathon episodes of “Shahs of Sunset,” followed by “Top Chef,” followed by whatever else was on. And even when I’d watch these shows, I would also be feverishly surfing the Internet. Flying between Facebook, and Reddit, and back to Facebook, I’d see hours of my free time get completely consumed by an onslaught of information—none of which I was actually absorbing. Did I mention I’d also be playing with my phone throughout this entire scenario? Come time for me to buckle down and finally try to read, I couldn’t. My own attention span wouldn’t let me.

 

I had become accustomed to allowing my brain to switch from one thing to the next and lost my ability to focus on one thing at a time. Actually, I felt as though I gave myself ADD. Because ADD runs in my family, I thought maybe it was possible for me to have had it all these years, lying dormant, and that I triggered it by training my brain to become overactive. But luckily, such was not the case.

 

I realized that when I turned off the TV, closed my computer, and moved my phone to another room, I had the capability to read again. But it didn’t happen overnight and in all honesty, it did take a little getting used to. While reading, I would catch myself wondering was that a text I heard? Did someone write me an email? Is Project Runway on? But with time, that stopped. I relearned how to focus my attention on the story in front of me, and allowed myself to become absorbed by the imagery of the book.

 

At the end of the day, I didn’t read because I didn’t have time, but because it required effort and attention. It was like I was choosing to only eat McDonalds, when I had a 5 star meal for me just waiting in the wings. Although the McDonalds was easy, it was never filling. I never remembered what I just consumed. But when I took the time to focus on and enjoy the 5 star meal, I would remember it for years to come. That’s reading for me. It’s the 5 star meal. And although it requires a bit more energy and effort, it is easily worth each and every drop of attention I can give it.

 

Our world is filled with amazing stories. All it takes for the big payoff is a little bit of focus.

Relating to Stories in the Most Unwanted Ways

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One of the reasons I thoroughly enjoy reading is because I like having that moment where I relate to the story—that moment when I read a passage and say “Yea! I totally know what they’re talking about! I guess I’m not alone in the universe!” I also love reading because it exposes me to things I have never experienced before. And just say that experience finds its way into my life, I can call upon the stories for help and sort of know how to handle the situation better.

The later happened to me recently and unfortunately it wasn’t anything sweet or wonderful. It was gross. Completely utterly gross. If you have a weak stomach, move along. This one’s not for you.

For those of you who read “Blood, Bones, and Butter,” you may be familiar with a passage in which Gabrielle Hamilton explains her sense of responsibility for her restaurant. In this passage, she describes a scene that took place in the back ally behind her now highly-successful restaurant, Prune. Behind her new, precious, dream-filled restaurant, lay a grungy looking rat who appeared to be not just on death’s door, but more like hanging out in death’s foyer wondering where the hell the grim reaper was to put him out of his misery. Despite the appearance that it was still somehow breathing, this little creature teetered on the edge of a windowsill that Gabrielle struggled to reach in order to help it/get rid of it. Unfortunately for both rat and Gabrielle, the struggle ended with her accidentally knocking the rat from the sill, where when it hit the ground (WARNING: DISGUSTING STORY GETS WORSE HERE) it exploded, freeing all the horrible maggots that were thriving inside the rat’s dead body. But like a champ, Gabrielle buckled down and said (I’m paraphrasing here) “This is my restaurant. This is my responsibility. I must clean this and take care of it.” Despite having people that worked for her, she felt she couldn’t make anyone else fix this ungodly mess. Prune was her baby and as the restaurant’s big mama in charge, she was responsible.

Fast forward to me the other morning. I decided to take my dog for a sunrise walk and when I let my pup outside, I saw him run toward an unusual pile located just beneath the tree in front of our house. Immediately I sprinted into action shouting “No! Get away!” (My dog has a real talent for finding horrific things and getting his nose right in there). Sure enough, his keen sense for all things “BLECH” worked again. When I reached the leaves I saw my own little back ally terror—a very dead raccoon… we’ll just leave the description at that. Almost immediately I thought of Gabrielle and the rat, and I thought “This is my house! This is my responsibility! I can take care of this! I am woman!” So, I got a shovel and a garbage bag and went to work. After 10 minutes of dry heaving loud enough to wake the neighborhood, my husband woke up to find his ill looking wife struggling, albeit trying, to take care of business. Together, we defeated the nausea and placed the raccoon in his final resting place—a very fancy black garbage bag that we put on the curb for pickup.

Now, although there are so many other parts of that book I wish I related to instead of THAT moment, I was happy that when I saw the raccoon I didn’t pass out. I didn’t puke or cry or call someone for help. I tried my hardest to take care of it myself because I felt empowered by Gabrielle’s desire to take charge.

We learn from what we read. We experience new things, feel compassion and empathy, feel joy, feel encouraged, feel angry, sad, ecstatic–all because of the things we experience through stories. And if and when the time comes, those stories we carry around within us will be there to help guide us…even through the grossest moments of life.