My Top 12 books include memoir, a literary thriller, middle grade, historical fiction, and even a graphic comic book (an unusual choice for me). Interestingly, only two of the twelve books were written by men.
My 2018 reading goal was 50. I made it to 40. Of the 40 books, nine were written by men, thirty-one by females. (What does this mean and does it matter? Do I need to diversify?) I keep track on Goodreads, which is super fun and a way to stay organized if you like that sort of thing. So here you go, my TOP 12:
Always looking for book recommendations so tell me your 2018 favorites! And do you have any 2019 goals? I’m determined to read more!
When it comes to parenting, by far the biggest battle and discord we have had in our home isn’t drugs, sex, or rock ‘n roll.
I love it, I hate it. I’m always on it, I’m always vowing to cut back.
Our two oldest children had a phone upon entering high school, or soon after that. It was great for communication – and it still is. I text my son every day. I texted Cope every day until she left for her mission to Taiwan (I’ve got to write about THAT!) And I tell you what, I really miss NOT TEXTING her every single day. Or maybe I just miss talking with emojis.
We’ve got lots of tech rules. We’ve had many many discussions about usage. We’re all sick of talking about it. We have a technology contract. Children hand their phones in at night, cannot have it in their rooms without permission, and know that at any time, we, as their parents can access all of their accounts (Yep, we’re fun.)
And still, by far, arguments over technology use ranks #1 over all other issues.
This summer I really began to wonder why we continue to do this to ourselves. Actually, no one is doing this to us. We are doing this to ourselves. We are putting the internet in our children’s pockets, with all its pings and dings and apps and saying – but not too much! Get real.
I greatly dislike the worry and pit in my stomach I get when I see children reading less (Brynne: I WOULD STILL READ!) I worry we are training them to be more distracted as they are drawn into snapchat and social media time sucks. I dislike that we look at a screen first thing in the morning and the last thing at night.
This summer, an epiphany: we’re not giving our ninth grader a phone.
How very revolutionary.
Response: “That’s so unfair!”
Yes, it totally is. But you see, darling, we are evolving. Getting better at this parenting gig. We will change our minds, course correct, and generally do things that are very unfair over the course of your 18 years under this roof.
Brynne, you still love me, right?
Interesting to me, she got over it very quickly. Life went on without anyone disowning us.
She has an iPod and a laptop. She has access to the internet. Thus far, she has always been able to reach us, has never been kidnapped, stuck on the side of the road, shoved in a locker, been swallowed by a whale, or any other worst-case scenario that I, as a mother, regularly envision. (Brynne: uh, NOT YET!)
With an iPod, she can text. She can borrow someone else’s phone when she’s on the road with the team. So far, it’s not been a hassle. (Brynne: uh, not for you!)
I almost caved a couple of weeks ago when Cope left her iPhone behind and we suddenly had a spare. Why not give it to our ninth grader? (Brynne: yeah, why not?) Why not? It’s paid for. For $20/month we could just pass it on down. But you know what? I don’t want my Niner to have a phone. When she asks why, I say, Because I Love You. (Brynne: insert eye roll.)
You’ve likely Googled “phone” and “addiction” (or is that just me?) (Brynne: just you, Mom.) We know they’re addictive, especially for our children’s growing, impulsive frontal lobe brains. This impulsivity has advantages, making our teens bold, creative, risk takers, out of the box thinkers. What do we do to that brain when we put the internet in their pockets? What I see? Eyes glued to screens. Fights with mom. Ugh. So over it.
Caveat: the internet is not bad. It’s great! What a genius invention. I just want to hold off a little longer, knowing full well our teens are already accessing the internet for hours, daily. But do they have to have it in their pocket?
Maybe in a few months we’ll change our minds and my 14-year-old will have a phone in her hands. Maybe I’ll feel differently in a week. Maybe the time will be right.
And parents: take heart. My Niner is not the only one without. I’m seeing the tide turn a bit, in that respect. Other parents are saying no, too. When I see this, I think – YES! And it makes me feel not quite so witchy.
SOLIDARITY is a POWERFUL thing! It has further emboldened me to say – Not Yet. And perhaps you will read this and be emboldened, too.
Bottom line: if you DO want to give your child a phone, it’s OKAY. I won’t throw rocks at your window. It’s a personal, family decision. Great! Good for you!
But also this – if you DON’T want your kid to have a phone – it’s OKAY. It’s a personal and family decision. Great! Good for you!
My girl thinks this post is lame. She would still like to have a phone. (Brynne: it’s not too late!) But I think she also understands. (meh.) And she’s still nice to me.
MUST READ HERE. “When I treat teens struggling with depression, anxiety, and ADHD, I tell them to get off their screens. In the hands of a depressed adolescent, phones can be dangerous. In my view, they are weapons. I wonder how we have gotten to the point in America where young children carry these weapons in their hands to school, soccer, parties, and even bed — and no one sees the danger?”
We don’t tend to like adversity and problems. Yesterday, these trees gave me a different perspective. The day after a wicked cold rain storm that raged through the night, I happened upon these trees sitting in cold flood water. They stood still and strong, with nary a root upturned. Missing leaves and small branches, but completely unmoved. And I thought: Strong winds and strong storms make strong trees.
My friend Kate brought us the most beautiful bouquet of flowers “just because.” Patty sent my daughter a bouquet of flowers when she got her mission call Taiwan. Such a small – but big – gesture that makes me happy every time I enter the house. Happiness tip: Send the Flowers!
Two of my girls are using matching planners from BAM, because, like their mother, they cannot survive life for one day without a physical, hand-written calendar (Google calendar is great for sharing schedules, but I also gotta write!) It makes me a bit giddy to see them planning and organizing their lives. Check.
Also: these pens with the planner. Goodness, I love them.
Wasn’t I going to post books more often? Well, here you go – 8 books I read this summer and into fall as I try to hit 50 reads for the Goodreads Reading Challenge (I’ve always loved reading challenges 🙂 )
Love and Ruin by Paula McClain: Historical fiction. McClain (The Paris Wife) writes the story of Martha Gellhorn and her infamous relationship with Ernest Hemingway. Gellhorn was one of the first and most well-known female war correspondents. RESPECT.
Where There’s Hope by Elizabeth Smart: Nonfiction, adult. I took notes upon notes reading this book. We know Smart’s kidnapping story, but here she offers more: hope moving forward. I’ve become a huge fan of this woman, watching her take control of her life and empowering women of every age. One of the most powerful stories is her father bringing Elizabeth and her little sister into his study to practice, “screaming” after a woman cornered Elizabeth in the bathroom at church (after she was returned from the kidnapping she still didn’t know how to fight back!) Elizabeth froze, not knowing what to do or react. It’s wonderful to be polite and have manners when the occasion calls for it – but do our children (esp our girls!?) know how and when to scream and bite and kick when needed? Really great book.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine: Middle grade, fiction. Take it from Paige: the movie does not do this book justice! Read the book! My girls read it over and over and over, especially when they need to curl up with an old favorite. I loved it, too.
Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin: Middle grade, fiction. Baldwin makes a lovely debut with her middle grade read about Della, the ups and downs of family and farm life, and a mother’s mental illness. Really well done! Just thinking about this book makes my mouth water and my body break out into the damp sweat of summer (that’s a compliment – Cindy brings great voice and language to this story.)
Calypso by David Sedaris: Memoir, adult. I’ve never read memoirist Sedaris before. He’s really funny, even when writing about family tragedy. He’s also extremely irreverent. Geez. You read a sentence and think did he really just write THAT? But no doubt, I get what all the fuss is about. He’s a great writer and I want to learn from him.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone Young Adult, fiction. This was my freshman daughter’s summer reading. She read it fast and said, “you should read this.” I casually picked it up and couldn’t put it back down. Real, sad, important. Justyce, a young black scholar is trying to balance two worlds – his old neighborhood and an elite prep school. It’s present-day, but he writes letters to the great Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, trying to figure out his place in a racist America. Head’s up: language.
It’s officially summer! School’s out, time to play. Yesterday was the longest day of the year. The sun was up around 4:30a.m., helping me rise and shine – along with the birds. SO MANY BIRDS singing in the morning. Now the days will start getting shorter…but never mind about that…
We have already spent many hours at our favorite summertime spot:
This one is actually a mermaid:
It took me days to get “organized” for summer. The rhythm of family life changes so much with the seasons. All the kids are home. Three of them have summer jobs. We have four drivers, two cars, many bikes. Vacations, pick-up soccer, a messier house. Hence the giant calendar and job charts now posted on the fridge. Hey, this mama doesn’t do it all.
I’m very very envious that Gregor bikes to and from work with our girl Cope every day:
In other news, I had my official book launch on June 16th at Morgan Hill Bookstore in New London, New Hampshire. SO grateful to all who came. It was surreal to see Guinevere lined up in a row. I literally felt dizzy.
And then I actually signed a book I wrote. More dizzy.
I want to say a huge ginormous THANK YOU to all of you who have purchased and have read THE UNFORGETTABLE GUINEVERE ST. CLAIR. Years of my life were spent writing, researching, editing, querying. There were many days when I wondered what the heck am I doing? Would I still be querying literary agents twenty years from now? Was this all for nothing? To say it’s a dream come true is a terrible cliche no good writer should use, but…that’s about it.
Thank you, also, for your feedback! Every time I see a review on Goodreads or Amazon, my heart skips a beat. Which leads me to another ask: if you read and enjoyed Guinevere, would you please consider leaving a review at Goodreads and Amazon? Word of mouth is the best way to get a book in someone else hands, so I hope you’ll keep talking 🙂
Some Guinevere official business:
I’ve created an “official amymakechnie.com author website” HERE. It was fun. And challenging. And frustrating. And oh yes, fun. Geez, my learning curve is slow. If you’d like to receive a monthly author newsletter, click HERE.
If you’re not already a maisymak blog subscriber, but you’d like to to be, click HERE.
That wasn’t really the last. Here’s the last: Thank you, dear friends!!!
The other day I asked one of my kids if they knew I loved and was proud of them. It was a rhetorical question, because of course – I DO AND I AM.
But the reaction? There was kindof a shrug. So I pulled over and said, “Wait a second, you DO KNOW THAT, RIGHT?”
Yeah, sure, mom.
It’s been looping inside my mind like a reel: they KNOW I love them, but do they know it’s absolutely unconditional? That NOTHING can separate the love I feel for them? No matter what?
There’s the rub: no matter what
I had a friend who told me that every morning her mom would say, “you’re so pretty.” This was absolutely well-intentioned, but when she went to college, no one said that to her every morning. Am I pretty? began to be a constant, nagging question. It began a serious struggle with worth. Would I still be loved if I weren’t pretty?
Will you still love me if I’m not skinny?
Will you still be proud of me if my best friend makes the team and I don’t?
Will you still love me if I’m attracted to my same gender?
Will youreyes always light up when I walk into a room – no matter what?
Many months ago, when one of my kids was having a hard life stretch, I realized that I really only wanted one thing. I could let go of all the awards, public acclaim, athletic talent, musical ability. The only thing I really really wanted was for my child to rise up every morning and walk out the door feeling truly and utterly loved. What we couldn’t do and overcome!
I am convinced that with this sure knowledge, that even through the hard days, there would still be happiness on the horizon. That’s it. She/He could be ugly, misshapen, failing a class, dumped from a friend group – whatever. I just wanted a child who knew who she was: a child of God. Divine. Created from love. And absolutely and unconditionally LOVED by her parents.
It’s come into sharper focus for me with these school shootings. I see myself standing outside a school, waiting for my child to come out. I can feel the desperation and panic start to rise, just imagining such a scenario. In that very moment, all I would want is for my child to come walking out the door and into my open arms. That’s it. I want them to be alive.
Alive. And running in a field together. That’s all.
I think we sometimes forget what our children need. We are so hell-bent (and I use that word intentionally) on getting them into lessons and schools and teams and social groups that I worry – do they know that without any of those things – we would still love them?
How could they know? When all of our effort, when all of our praise is focused on the accolades?
I’m not advocating false praise, or handing out a trophy every morning – that’s external, materialistic, and meaningless “stuff.” You can love your child and not like them every minute. And true love can be tough love: “you will get a summer job and pay for your own cell phone” because I love you.
I’ve just finished reading the most terrific and heartbreaking book I’ve read in a very long time: EDUCATED by Tara Westover. What she is able to overcome is one of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever read. It also makes me want to weep – Tara is fiercely unique in her ability to get out of a family that is completely dysfunctional and literally crazy. I want to think I would be her, but I doubt my own strength, especially as a sensitive, compliant child. While you read, you can’t help but hurt for all the others left behind.
Amazingly, without ever going to school, Tara studies on her own to learn trigonometry (okay, right there, I’m dead in the water) and takes the ACT, earning a 22. She studies harder and earns a 28. She’d never seen a bubble sheet before.
Remarkably, she is admitted to BYU (where she sees all sorts of heathens showing their knees and ankles 🙂 ). She eventually earns a scholarship to Cambridge (you HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK!)
A professor observes how uncomfortable she is, how she “knows” she doesn’t belong. Dr. Kerry says,
“You act like someone who is impersonating someone else…it has never occurred to you that you might have as much right to be here as anyone….You should trust Professor Steinberg. If he says you’re a scholar – ‘pure gold,’ I heard him say – then you are.”
“This is a magical place,” I said. “Everything shines here.”
“You must stop yourself from thinking like that,” Dr. Kerry said, his voice raised. “You are not fool’s gold, shining only under a particular light. Whomever you become, whatever you make yourself into, that is who you always were. It was always in you. Not in Cambridge. In you. You are gold. And returning to BYU, or even to that mountain you came from, will not change who you are. It may change how others see you, it may even change how you see yourself – even gold appears dull in some lighting – but that is an illusion. And it always was.”
So good. Pure gold.
I am sometimes heartsick to think of all the ways we mess up our kids after they come to us, as small babies, so completely perfect. For all of our good intentions, it sometimes goes horribly awry. But all is not lost. I think it’s actually very very simple. WE JUST LOVE. Tell them their beautiful – but not just on the outside. Tell them their souls are beautiful, that their hearts are kind. Tell them you’re proud of them – but not just when they excel – but also when they fail. Because failing is perhaps the greatest show of courage; they can fail and they will still be forever and unconditionally LOVED. Teach them what goodness and true love is; use words if necessary.
Our kids are in the arena. They are fighting a daily battle. They are warriors just for enduring. I don’t think we know the half of it. And they sometimes forget – because we do – that they are already golden. That gold should SHINE, not dull, by the light in our eyes.
It’s that time of the year, when many many kids are being awarded, graded, applauded. But not everyone is, are they? I don’t begrudge any of the above. Achievement is important and good for our personal growth.
But in all of our effort to make our kids “great again,” let’s not forget that they already are.
Books! Podcasts! Shows and Songs! Here’s what I’ve been loving the last three months.
First: BOOKS. Got book goals? I keep track using a notebook (and pink ball point pen) and the Goodreads Reading Challenge. Haven’t signed up? It’s free, easy, and a great way to track books.
Here’s what I’ve read (and liked!) since January:
1. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes: An inspirational kick-in-the-pants guide to what happens when you say YES to more opportunities. A bold account from a minority woman in show business, self-described introvert, writer (creator of hit shows Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal), and single mother. I went back and forth between, “I need to say yes to more,” and “This is exhausting. Can I have a nap?” But no doubt about it: Shonda Rhimes is a FORCE.
3. IQ by Joe Ide: The lovely literary agent, Zoe Sandler, sent me IQ and the follow-up, RIGHTEOUS, as she also represents Joe Ide. What I liked: A Sherlock Holmes in the hood mystery, and a needed diverse teen figure in literature. What was hard: the language. Like, it ain’t for the faint in heart. I’m kinda faint.
4. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: This one is getting all the feels, and for good reason. I’m a sucker for a great family drama, and Celeste Ng can articulate the great nuances in family life SO WELL.
6. The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn: As a huge “Rear Window” Hitchcock fan, I dove right into this psychological thriller. Does she see what she thinks she sees – or is Anna crazy? A satisfying page-turner.
7. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion: A stunning, unflinching account of Joan Didion’s husband’s death, daughter’s illness, and navigating the world without them. Sad, but heartbreakingly readable. I loved this.
9. A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel: Have a phone? Do your children have phones? Do they drive? Read this RIGHT NOW. So sad, so scary. DON’T TOUCH YOUR PHONE WHILE DRIVING. Your brain cannot pay attention to more than one thing at a time. Think you’re the exception? You’re not.
10. How We Die by Sherwin B. Nuland: Nuland writes that most people don’t die with “dignity.” Calm and descriptive, Dr. Nuland breaks death down from the point of view of the body. Fascinating – and also disconcerting. I kinda thought it wouldn’t happen to me. It will. I’ve been thinking about my coronary arteries a lot more.
11. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast: I DO NOT enjoy graphic novels. I LOVED this one. NYTimes Bestselling cartoonist, Roz Chast, wrote a memoir about her parents aging and dying (what’s up with my reading choices?). Honest, funny, poignant. It’s so so good. Highly recommended!
12. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant: I’ve finally read Anita Diamant! All the girls and the cousins and the moms in my family raved about this book until I finally read. A good coming-of-age novel about a Jewish immigrant becoming a woman in 1900 America.
I’m a firm believer in cheese. It really does make life more fun, even as you’re rolling your eyes at the cheesiness.
In high school I constantly began saying, “that’s so cool” or “that’s so uncool.” My twin, irritated at my black and white view of the world, snapped – “Everything to you is either cool or uncool.”
“No, it’s not!”
“Yes, it is!”
Yeah, he was right. My own insecurities were leading me to judgmental conclusions about everything. Cool or uncool. And if it was uncool, well then.
I began to ponder my relationship with cheese on a deeper level. Perhaps I needed to embrace my inner cheese. Perhaps that was the ultimate expression of confident.
This embracing was solidified for me in college when I was regaling a dramatic love story gone awry to my best buddy. I said, “I know it’s so cheesy,” and she laughed and said, “Amy, everyone loves cheese, whether or not they’ll admit it – everyone loves cheese.” Oh, yes, she was right! I was sold.
We are embarrassed by cheese and emotion and vulnerability. We squirm and cringe – and deep down I think we love it. And as humans – we need it.
I declared from that day forth, cool would NEVER crush my inner cheese.
Just ask my kids!
I consistently have to remind them (esp when they are rolling their eyes at me, and saying utterly ridiculous phrases like, “Oh my gosh, mom, are you SERIOUS?”) that EVERYONE LOVES CHEESE (even when it gives you gas.)
I have numerous examples of cheese working in my favor, and most of them have to do with The Professor, aka, dear Husband – THE LOVE OF MY LIFE, MY CUPCAKE, MY EVERYTHING (see? You probably cringed reading that. He will definitely cringe reading it and it will make me laugh and laugh. Laughing is good for you. You’ll live a longer, happier life. CHEESE IS FUN, especially at the expense of Husband – in the kindest of ways, of course.)
The first time I was really cheesy with Husband was our first Valentine’s Day. Dismayed when he staunchly declared Valentine’s a “Hallmark Holiday” designed by companies who just wanted your hard-earned cash, I reconsidered our union. Could I marry a man who did not value the cheesiest of holidays?
I decided he must be given a test. I emptied an entire bag of Hershey kisses all over his college bedroom floor and wrote a note: Now that I’ve kissed the ground you walk on, will you be my Valentine? Very cheesy.There was A LOT of cooing from my roommates – so I know I was on the right track.
To achieve more cheese, you must be BRAVE. Cheese requires BOLD. I believe the resistance to cheese is fear. You’re waiting for someone else to make the first cheesy mood. Because what if you’re rejected? What if your cheesy move is not reciprocated? Will you die of mortification?
Go read or watch the Queen of vulnerability, Brene Brown. I’m positive she loves cheese!
I was lucky because I went to BYU, where, believe me, there is not better Cheese Ball training than BYU (and I LOVE BYU so don’t think I don’t!) There are dances every month and there is this expectation that you will ask and respond in the cheesiest of ways. (Not coincidentally, it’s a huge Utah Mormon thing – just ask my nieces!)
Another generation of cheese…and the absolutely most coolest girls!
For instance, my freshman year, Ben Owens asked me to Homecoming by putting a note in a jar of honey and writing something like, “Honey, will you go to Homecoming with me?” I’m cringing just thinking about it….but of course I had to respond in a BIGGER AND BETTER WAY. So finally I came up with the idea of giving him a huge block of ice shaped as a heart (this was not easily done, mind you) and once the ice heart melted, a note inside read, “Now that you’ve melted my heart, I would LOVE to go to Homecoming with you.” You’re likely rolling your eyes, aren’t you? I even rolled my eyes at the time, but guess what – IT WAS FUN! Good, cheesy, fun.
So anyway, this is just to say, embrace your inner cheese. Just this last weekend I brought a group of teens to a “Super Saturday” where we went to workshops, listened to speakers, ate dinner, and went to a dance. Some teens in my group were NOT EXCITED. In the beginning there was a lot of sighing, slumping of shoulders, frowns, this is dumb, this is so cheesy, can I use my phone? And you know what, good wholesome fun is often very cheesy. It’s not “cool.” But what exactly is “cool”? Pretending you don’t care? Being on our phones? Watching movies alone? Nice clothes? The best cars? Making fun of people’s clothes and cars? Sex? Alcohol?
You know what’s really cool? Cheese. Cheese is the coolest. Cheese is kind. Cheese is goodness. It’s getting outside of your comfort zone to do something really “uncool.” It’s dancing in the middle of the room. It’s Mr. Rogers. It’s letting go of FEAR, and some silly societal expectation made up by who knows who.
So I’m sticking with cheese for life. BRING IT ON.
And those kids I brought to Super Saturday? By the end of the night, everyone was smiling.
If you have stories of cheese, please add your voice here. There is strength in knowing that you, too, LOVE CHEESE as much as I do.
Didn’t you know? We are the cheese we’ve been waiting for!
A month ago I was ready to throw in the towel. Maybe it was time to quit the blog life. What do I have left to write about anyway? Posting the smallest detail about the kids is like trying to gain clearance for a special ops mission (mom, stop blogging about my underwear). And if I don’t have underwear, tell me – WHAT DO I HAVE?
Fine. I guess I see their point.
In addition, I’ve been so bummed out about the world of late that life was just too depressing to write about.
Also, I’m thinking about my web presence. I’m having a book published. JUNE 12TH!!! You can pre-order now 🙂 Am I now supposed to have a more serious presence? An official amymakechnie website? Who cares about my cream puffs? sniff.
I fell into the trap, an all-too familiar trap for me, in the form of you have nothing worthwhile to say in your little blog.
Post ideas would come. I didn’t write them down. The longer I went without writing, the more paralyzed I felt (get a grip, Amy, it’s only been a month.) Still.
I hadn’t given up writing altogether. No, I’ve been poring that creative energy into my latest novel. It’s been a bit torturous, probably my hardest project to date; very emotional (more to come on that…!)
Well. I guess you could say I was looking for a sign. And don’t I know it: we see the things we are looking for. I was looking for a reason.
Today a woman, Marci, whom I admire immensely, showed a class full of women a picture from a post I wrote last summer. I posted a picture of a dead butterfly that I thought was beautiful, even though the butterfly had recently met its demise. I wrote: I found this butterfly today. It was dead but looked ready to launch…there’s a lesson in there somewhere…
Really, I was thinking about the next spiritual journey of this butterfly’s soul. But Marci saw it in a different way. She said that this picture and my caption – I kid you not! – changed her life. She spoke about the girls that we teach. We might think they have it all together, like this shiny, beautiful, colorful butterfly. But inside they might be hurting or even feel dead. She said our girls need us to really know them, to watch for them, to lift them up. They need us to love them, to help them launch.
I sat there thinking, this is my sign. there is more to write.
Two lessons for me: when the universe calls on us to act (“the universe,” “the muse,” our “conscience,” “God” – call it what you might) we should act. My medium is writing. I feel compelled to do so. What you feel called to do, you should – that is your great gift to the world in whatever big or small sphere you operate in.
The other lesson is this: when we are moved by another, we should acknowledge the art or action and what it means to us. So, thank you, Marci and Danielle(!) for telling me that the picture I took of a dead butterfly with a caption meant something to you. That means something to me.