Snow Day Reading

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I’ve resisted the urge all day to clap my hands and giggle like a five-year old on this rare snow day from work – the fact that I’m home alone and have no one to join me in a snowball fight certainly helps.

Instead I’m using the opportunity to catch up on my reading list, a pleasure I’m finding is increasingly more difficult to make time for lately. With 12 more books (not including 37 Shakespeare plays) to read by September, I made sure to start the year off strong.

Earlier this month, I finished “A Clash of Kings,” book two in George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, and I’m now simultaneously reading “The Better Angels of Our Nature” and “Henry Clay Frick: An Intimate Portrait.”

The first is the current selection for Mark Zuckerberg’s book club of sorts, which I decided to check out on a whim. It’s slightly tedious at 802 pages, but a nevertheless enlightening look at how violence has actually declined over the course of human history, despite popular belief.

The second – which must weight at least five pounds! – is a biography of Frick I picked up on my recent trip to his New York City house-turned-museum.

In case you’re snowed in too and looking for something to do, I thought it would be fun share 10 of the books I’m looking forward to reading this year, and maybe pick up some suggestions along the way! The list below is a mix of new or upcoming releases and books that I’ve been had on the proverbial shelf for a while, as well as a good bit of fiction to balance out all the non-fiction I plan to tackle this year.

  1. The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life, Andy Miller – As a bibliophile, it feels like my duty to read any story about “a literary odyssey” where one discovers the “transforming powers of great (and downright terrible) literature.”
  2. The Secret Wisdom of the Earth, Christopher Scotton – Just because.. I’ve heard so much about it and it looks to be good. But I’m almost skeptical because of that, which I hate to admit. Has anyone else read it yet?
  3. Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell – I don’t read much young adult literature anymore, but I can also go for a well-written book that captures the angst and drama of being a teenager in love because God knows, I had my own share of infatuations. Plus, people have been absolutely freaking out in the reviews, so I might give this one a shot.
  4. A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab – There also seems to be a fair amount of excitement about this book, coming out on February 25. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to escape to a literary world of magic, and by all accounts, this book will let me do just that. Plus, the cover is cool.
  5. Bon Appetempt: A Coming of Age Story (with Recipes!), Amelia Morris – Food. Career. Growing Up. Enough said.
  6. Is He Popenjoy?, Anthony Trollope – Unfortunately, I had never heard of Trollope until recently when The Paris Review highlighted this book in their staff picks series. The writer and the book sound promising and I always love a good story about 19th Century British scandals.
  7. Savage Park: A Meditation on Play, Space, and Risk for Americans Who Are Nervous, Distracted, and Afraid to Die, Amy Fusselman - I can’t get enough of these social science books lately. The title alone was enough to hook me.
  8. All The Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr – Mostly, I want to read this because I liked his thoughts on writing and building a story (I also quoted him here, in my post about the role of talent in good writing.) But, he’s also racked up a ton of literary awards, so I imagine I can’t go wrong here.
  9. Men Explain Things To Me, Rebecca Solnit – At first glance this looked like just a wry feminist essay, which I guess was okay with me. It is that (her essay of the same name received wide acclaim) and much more, including a look at gender issues through a variety of lenses.
  10. The Opposite of Loneliness, Marina Keegan – I’ve been wanting to read this book since I first heard about it. It’s a collection of essays by a former Yale student, who died in a car crash just a few days after she graduated.

What are you all reading? I’m always collecting recommendations.

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Lost in Time at The Frick

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I spent a few hours this Saturday transfixed by the magnificent works at The Frick Collection, including the above painting “Lady Agnew of Lochnaw.” On loan from The Scottish National Gallery, the masterpiece is on exhibition until February 1, after which it will continue its tour to San Francisco and then Fort Worth.

In person it was difficult to look away from Lady Agnew’s hypnotic gaze. Her relaxed posture and slightly mischievous expression hint at an intriguing personality, and I felt an instant connection the moment our eyes met – like we were both in on a little secret. Actually, the painting reminds me of the Mona Lisa, with that expression that could mean a million things.

I also loved that the work, which is by American portraitist John Singer Sargent, holds its own among the mostly European art in Frick’s collection.

While the piece has been on display in NYC since November, I only discovered it by chance as my boyfriend and I were making our way back from an afternoon jaunt to Central Park. A poster on Fifth Avenue caught his eye as we were admiring the architecture of Frick’s home and we decided to make an impromptu trip inside. We couldn’t have made a wiser decision.

The museum is the former home of Henry Clay Frick, whose exquisite taste in art and literature is reflected in his sprawling collection of lifelike paintings and intricate artifacts from the 18th and 19th centuries.

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Equally arresting is this portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger of Sir Thomas More, a councillor to Henry VIII who was killed after he steadfastly refused to acknowledge the king as the Supreme Head of the Church of England.

We were more than impressed with Holbein’s talent for capturing tactile details such as the invitingly soft velvet sleeves and the lush fur on More’s collar, and stood staring for quite a while, our noses inches away from the canvas.

But perhaps more impressive to me than the portraits is the house itself, built in 1913-1914 by Thomas Hastings, whose firm also designed the New York Public Library. According to the audio guide, Frick requested a simple, conservative home that was “not ostentatious,” but the majestic sweeping staircase leading from the vestibule to the upper floor or the detailed edges of the ceiling and intricately designed furniture in the living hall (nearly unchanged since he lived there) speak to his life-long appreciation for finery and attention to detail.

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Even on a dreary January day, in the absence of the pink spring-time blossoms of the magnolia trees and manicured green lawns of the garden, the mansion still declares its beauty to passersby.

Back at home, I’m still in awe of our visit to the Frick, which seemed to suspend time and transport us to an age of architectural beauty that we are unlikely to ever behold again in our lifetime. There is something about seeing so much creativity and artistry brought together in one person’s home, and I found myself moved by his very real appreciation for art.

In a moment of inspiration, we bought several books from the museum’s gift shop, including the biography “Henry Clay Frick: An Intimate Portrait,” which has kept me glued to the couch all weekend. It was written by his great granddaughter and talks about his psychological connection to his collections – he likely acquired many of his paintings because they reminded him of his past, especially his daughter, who died tragically at a young age.

While there are obviously many sides to the powerful coke and steel magnate – including a cold and often ruthless demeanor and a singular focus on amassing wealth – I can’t help but admire his dedication and careful commitment to surrounding himself with meaningful, well-crafted items. It’s what I hope to do in my own life, albeit on a much smaller scale.

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Blogging Anniversary

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Photo: barriebarrie

Today marks four years since I started my blog, according to WordPress!

Whoa. Looking back, I can barely recall what I had in mind when I decided to launch this blog. I think it was supposed to be a portfolio, which would certainly make sense since it was 2011, the year before I graduated college and would start looking for journalism jobs.

To be honest, this wasn’t my first attempt at blogging. There was an ill-fated baking blog that I’d rather not speak of (let’s just say food blogging is not as easy as it looks). But this is the first one I ever stuck with, and boy, has it been a journey.

For the last four years, I’ve posted infrequently — the blips in my stats reflecting my fleeting passion and commitment — and in that time, the content has evolved from amateur musings on the fate of media to a collection of thoughts on all the things that inspire me. In the last few weeks, I feel like something finally clicked. I’ve had a natural desire to take this space a little more seriously and the response has been phenomenal.

And so, I thank you. Thanks for reading, and liking and commenting and generally just being awesome! Most of all, thanks for letting me share a little part of myself. 

While many of my readers are still people I know in real life, I’ve also enjoyed getting to know this WordPress community and reading your amazing work. I look forward to learning from you and sharing with you in 2015!

And just for kicks:

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Why We Hold Ourselves Back

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Photo: Thomas Frost Jensen / Creative Commons

I recently came across this blog post from Ramit Sethi, who blogs about money management, psychology and creating systems for personal improvement at I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Despite the somewhat shady name, his blog is full of thought-provoking content about what he describes as “living a rich life” in all areas (finance, fitness, travel, etc.)

Here’s what he wrote about wanting more:

I realized that most people want you to stay exactly where you are in life — and if you explicitly talk about how you want more, they get really uncomfortable.

This is why you see people telling you to “just be happy you have a job in this economy” if you talk about finding a Dream Job.

This is why if you tell your friends you want to lose weight (especially if you’re a woman), your friends will say, “Why? You don’t need to change. You look amazing!”

And this is why, if you tell your friends you’re staying in tonight to work on a project or study for a class you’re taking, what will they say? “Come on, man…it’s Friday. You can do that any time.”

But it’s not just other people who hold us back.

Ramit writes often about invisible scripts, the deeply embedded but often sub-conscious thought patterns that govern our lives. When they’re negative, they can cripple us and prevent us from taking actions toward our dreams.

Whether it has to do with money (“All wealth is bad”) or learning something new (“I’m just not naturally athletic/ good with numbers/ etc”), people often have certain messages on repeat that stop them from even trying to move forward.

Actually, the world wants us to be vanilla… They never realize that by creating a lifetime of deferred enjoyment, you never built up the muscle to know how to demand — and enjoy — more.

- Ramit Sethi

WHAT MORE MEANS TO ME

As I’ve been thinking lately about completing the goals on my list, I’ve naturally adjusted to a mindset of more. I could think of lots of reasons why this list is too ambitious and I won’t be able to do some of the things I wrote about. But frankly, that gets me nowhere.

Even if I don’t achieve everything on the list by September, at least I will have opened myself up to so much more just by trying.

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Photo: weheartit

This year, there are a couple of things I want more of:

  • Time for creativity – The older and more self-aware I become, the more I realize how little tolerance I have for routine and the workaday activities we busy ourselves with. One of the invisible scripts I used to say to myself was “I don’t like change; I like to follow the rules.” But whenever I’m not pushing boundaries, being creative and find ways to have an impact on the world, I’m extremely unfulfilled. This year, I plan to spend more time doing things that challenge me and that I enjoy.
  • Travel – The itch to get out and see the world is always present for me, and I’m starting as early as February this year. But Europe also beckons. I refuse to worry about how it will happen, and instead I’m trusting that I’ll figure it out (advice I got from Lesley Carter at Bucket List Publications.)
  • Family – I also want more for the people around me, and for me, that means spending more time with them and encouraging them to do more in their own lives.

I invite you think about your “invisible scripts” and what you could achieve if you destroyed them.

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Skydiving, anyone?

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Photo by Gonzo fan2007

With resolutions on everyone’s mind, January seems like a good time to revisit my 101 in 1001 list. It’s a list of 101 goals I need to accomplish by September 2015, and one of the cornerstones of this blog (full list and back story here).

I’ve checked off a few more things since my last update, which was 6 months in, back when it seemed like I had all the time in the world.

But there’s still plenty more (75, to be exact!) that I need to do before I can pat myself on the back  — and then immediately start coming up with a brand new list (see #101).

With that said, I realize I’m going to need help finishing this… which is where you come in, friends.

I’ll need someone to prevent me from talking myself out of jumping face first from a plane — because what the hell was I thinking? And where on earth will I find a cow to milk? Maybe you have an extra ticket to the opera or ballet (*wink, wink*)?

A few more things I’m looking forward to this year:

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2. Get my driver’s license/ learn how to drive.

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4. Fulfill my dream of going to Paris.

tumblr_m8pmxsPgsU1rtyqmoo1_50047. Read 30 new books (more than halfway there!)

What are your crazy resolutions?

Photo Credits: 2, 3, 4
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