My 10 Favorite Books

Reading is my favorite pastime, and I think it always will be. I’ve always been a fast reader, and I’m sure I was just born that way, but I also like to think that I adapted that skill over time so I can read more and more and more.

Last month at book club, a good friend asked me what a few of my favorite books are. And I realized that I’d never put a lot of thought into that. There are books I read over and over, and books that I recommend to you all, but which of those are my favorites?

What follows is a bulleted list, meaning that these books are in no particular order. It was hard enough narrowing down the vast book universe to just 10; there was no way I could rank them, too.

MY FAVORITE BOOKS

    • Matilda by Roald Dahl: One of the first “chapter books” I ever read all by myself, and the start of a truly insane Roald Dahl obsession. (Runners up by him at The Witches, The Twits, and The BFG.) I love Matilda. I could cry just thinking about her. Yes, this is the Matilda of the incredible ‘90s movie starring Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman and Lane Pryce’s wife from Mad Men, about an unloved little girl and her love of books and unexplained magical powers.

      I love Matilda for so many reasons. As a kid, I probably loved her because she was naughty and liked to read just as much as I did. As an adult, I love her because she saved herself. She used her own smarts (and her own magic) to escape an abusive home and a horrifying school. She is strong and brave and imaginative, everything that every little kid should want to be.

      If you haven’t read Matilda, it’s not too late. Yes, it’s a children’s book, but it’s not just for children. You know?
    • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri: I was assigned a short story from this gorgeous collection in my first semester of college. I don’t remember which story is was, but that doesn’t’t matter. What I do remember is reading it and feeling very adult, like I was reading a book from the grown-up section of the library. There’s nothing particularly salacious in the book. I don’t mean grown up like that. I mean like I was reading the kind of book I’d read in a coffee shop or in bed after a long day of being a fancy woman. Which I was well on my way to being, in my 18-year-old mind.

      Now that I’ve read the book as an adult, I know that I was fascinated by the subtle way Lahiri describes relationships. Reading her stories feels like being an omniscient fly on the wall. There’s nothing flashy about her writing. It’s observational and richly detailed. Lahiri taught me to appreciate fiction that revolves around character development, rather than a complicated plot. I’ll always be grateful for that.
    • Misery: A Novel by Stephen King: I LOVE THIS BOOK. Oh, it’s just so creepy. The scariest books to me have nothing to do with the supernatural. They have to do with the crazies that lurk around every corner.

      If you’re not familiar, Misery is about an author who is held captive by his superfan, but it is SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT. It is terrifying and suspenseful. (I am pretty ambivalent about the movie, but Kathy Bates is in.cred.ible. as Anne Wilkes, the deranged superfan. She won an Oscar for the role.)

    • Bossypants by Tina Fey: There are so many good things to say about this book. It’s smart and laugh-out-loud funny. For years, I had a bootleg copy (please forgive my sins) of the audiobook, and I would listen to it on long car trips (this must have been pre-Serial). Sometimes, I’ll remember a passage from this book at a random time, and laugh out loud in the elevator at work or while doing my makeup or waiting for a coffee.

      But the story that left the strongest impression for me is this: Tina and Amy Poehler and Jimmy Fallon are joking around at SNL. Amy is doing a bit, and Jimmy jokingly says “Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it.”:

      “Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. “I don’t fucking care if you like it.” Jimmy was visibly startled. Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit.
      With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place. Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it.”

      I think of this all the time. If I ever think of not doing something because I’m worried about what others will think, I remember my pretend-friends Tina and Amy. I’m here to do what I want to do, and I do not care if you like it.
    • Heartburn by Nora Ephron: This book is a fictionalized telling of Nora Ephron’s marriage to Carl Bernstein (one of the reporters who broke the Watergate scandal). It is SO GOOD. Ephron’s writing is conversational and frank and hilarious. There are also recipes. Gossipy novel about marriage + food = my dream book. Also the movie is excellent.
    • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: I have loved this book since the first time I read it in high school. It is horrifying, suspenseful, introspective, and just close enough to believable to be truly scary. I’ve read my copy so many times (and written more than one paper about it in college and grad school) that it’s tissue-soft. If you only know the Republic of Gilead from the Hulu show (which is excellent, but not the same), read this book.
    • The Secret History by Donna Tartt: This book is a combination of two things I love — complicated relationships with long backstories and MURDER. Seriously, this book starts with a bang and then unravels the backstory throughout the rest of the novel, and I couldn’t ask for anything more. If you read and loved The Goldfinch like everyone else in the world, this is by the same author, but it’s even BETTER.
    • American Wife: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld: If you haven’t noticed a pattern, I love long, multi-generational stories about families or close friend groups. I love reading about how relationships change over time and about the ways that we change ourselves to fit (or not) in a group of people. This novel, which is a fictionalization of First Lady Laura Bush’s life, is so great. It’s a light, easy read, but the discussions it prompts about personal values and the nature of marriage and family dynamics are complicated and fascinating. When I read this book in college, I liked it because it’s an interesting story about a woman. Reading it now, as a wife, adds another layer of appreciation. 
    • Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin: I’ve written about this book at length before. Reading it was the jump start to my healthy lifestyle. Seriously, before I read it, I hardly exercised, didn’t eat healthfully, thought that I didn’t have time to pursue other goals outside of work, etc!!! Read this book and learn how to change your own life through habit formation.
    • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert: WOW. This book is insane, in the best way. It’s a collection of personal essays about the nature of inspiration and how to cultivate it. Reading this made me feel more creative, more confident in my skills, and more excited to develop skills that I thought were out of my reach. (Special honorable mentions go to State of Wonder: A Novel by Ann Patchett and The Signature of All Things: A Novel by Gilbert. Both EXCELLENT novels that are explicitly mentioned in Big Magic. The story of how the idea for State of Wonder developed is literal creative magic, and it’s worth reading the book for that anecdote alone.)

Ok. That was a lot. And now I have the NEED to reread all of those books immediately. Seriously, after I took photos, I just left them next to my nightstand. 

What are your favorites? I’m always looking to add new books to my reading list!  I especially want to hear if you’ve read any of my faves (even if you hated them).

Day in the Life: Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018

Hi, friends! Lots of you have asked for this post (or versions of it), and I needed an easy post to write in the post-vacation haze, so HERE WE ARE.

Like so many of you, my days are packed from the time my alarm goes off until around 7 PM. I picked a random day (yesterday!) to document, and it ended up being pretty representative of a normal weekday even though we had just returned from vacation the day before.

4:00 am: My alarm goes off and I get out of bed. No snoozing, ever. Joy the Baker taught me a long time ago that the secret to getting up early is just putting your feet on the floor. So I do.

4:00-4:30: Splash water on face, brush teeth, brew coffee, and pack lunches for G and I. Leftovers and pre-chopped veggies for snacking makes this go relatively quickly.

4:30-6: Catch up on emails and write an Amazon listing for a freelance job.

6-6:30: I’ll be busy this evening, so I prep dinner now. Pasta sauce with onion, garlic, fire-roasted tomatoes, and red lentils.

6:30-7: Pilates time! I am very, very sore from some Fitness Blender videos I did the other day and very, very tired from a day of travel yesterday, so I keep it simple (but still really sweaty) with three 10-minute pilates videos (1, 2, 3) from The Balanced Life.

7-8: Shower, dress, hair, makeup. I love this part of the morning. I finish what’s left of my coffee, relax, and listen to my podcasts. This morning it was Totally Married, Up First, and The Daily.

8-8:20: Breakfast! I really wanted a smoothie, but my blender was in the dishwasher, and I could NOT bring myself to hand-wash it. I ended up with two pieces of sprouted wheat toast with almond butter and no-sugar-added jelly.

8:20-8:30: Mad dash to find my laptop, sunglasses, wallet, and security badge (things I should have put in my bag last night).

8:30-9:20: Drive to work. Traffic and my above-mentioned mad dash made me a little late.

9:30-12: Meetings and computer work at the office. (Short break for a piece of leftover Valentine’s Day cookie cake.)

12-1: Eat lunch, look at Instagram stories, and write the beginning of this post. I ate carrot coconut soup from Shutterbean, spinach and arugula with pepitas and balsamic, and grapes.

1-5: Work, work, work. Not a lot to report here.

5:00-5:45: Drive home. Yes, I spend almost two hours in the car each day. It’s the worst, but I really try to make the most of it. Lots of days I bring a La Croix to drink, and I always listen to podcasts. Today,  I listened to Criminal and Reply All, both excellent.

5:45-6:00: Clean the kitchen, which I didn’t get around to in the morning after I prepped dinner.

6:00-6:15: Boil pasta and heat up frozen peas. Glamorous, I know. 

6:15-6:30: Eat dinner. Grant’s not home from work yet, and normally I’d wait until around 7, but I need to get ready to be interviewed for my friend’s new podcast.

6:30-6:45: Take my makeup off and apply all my skincare so I don’t have to after my phone call. I also change into jammies and make myself a nerve-calming cocktail. 

6:45-7:00: Quickly paint my nails while I listen to My Favorite Murder. They’ll dry while I’m on the phone.

7:00-8:00: Chat with Becca for her new podcast. (I’ll share more about this when I can!)

8:00-8:15: Put dinner away. Don’t do a single dish. Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow. 

8:15-8:45: Get in bed and read. Right now I’m reading The Restless Sleep, about the NYPD Cold Case Unit. SO GOOD.

8:45: SLEEP! I’m normally up until about 9:30, but yesterday’s travel day just killed me. I also normally write in my gratitude journal before I go to sleep, but I turned off the lights before the reminder went off on my phone. Oh well.

Like I said up top, this was a pretty typical day for me. It’s not every day that I’m interviewed for a podcast, but I usually have something or other keeping me from my book until around 8. Hopefully that answered the questions you had, but I’ll always answer more. Leave a comment here or message me on Insta!

How do you spend your days? I need to know everything!

Pep Talks to Myself: Killing time is a waste of time

This is advice that I’m still learning to take. Advice that Instagram, specifically, makes it really hard for me to follow. Advice that would make my life more productive and HAPPIER if I followed it the majority of the time? I should be doing my damnedest to take that advice and apply it. Liberally.

Caitlin, killing time is a waste of time. Killing time is a WASTE of time.

I do pretty well. I don’t have games on my phone, I don’t go window shopping to fill a gap in my day, and I’ve always got a book in the car.

But INSTAGRAM, man. Instagram gets me. I follow so many women that I respect and admire, and I just want to see what they’re up to! And, to a certain extent, I need to be active on Instagram. I’ve gotten new readers to this Little Blog That Could from Instagram, I’ve made new friendships, and I’ve learned new tips. Instagram is an awesome space for knowledge growth and community. But it’s also an unholy time suck.

Because here is the hard truth: every minute that I waste on Instagram is a moment that I could be spending on myself or my work or my marriage.

We tell ourselves that we don’t have time, but we do. We’re just allocating that time the wrong way.

It’s called killing time for a reason. I’ve only got so many hours in each day, and I should be using those hours to their fullest, not killing a single one of them.

Do not get me wrong: leisure time is invaluable and indispensable. World domination is only possible if you take time to rest on the way. But this is where I really screw up: I waste the time I could use for purposeful leisure on mindless scrolling. I may be really, really up-to-date on messy Real Housewives drama, but I don’t have any time to read my book today.

I feel the most fulfilled, relaxed, and productive when I plan intentional time to decompress. Not killing ten minutes of time before the laundry is ready to be switched, not killing an hour before I meet my friends for drinks. There’s a big difference in my mood when I am spending the time in a way of my choosing, not in a way that happens to me.

If I know I have an hour between work and meeting friends, I’ll often bring my laptop so I can get writing done during that time. Or I’ll bring my book. Because I would rather spend that time doing an activity of my choosing, not scrolling on my phone.

Just like I plan out the rest of my day, I build in time for relaxing, watching T.V., reading my book, whatever. Maybe that means I’m no fun, but I know you all know me better than to think I care about that. I may be too structured or too busy or too un-fun, but so what? Who am I trying to impress?

MYSELF, that’s who. I’m trying to be the best version of me, and the best version of me doesn’t kill time. She uses her free time in a way that actually feels restorative and enjoyable. This can include Instagram (but with a timer set so I can’t get sucked too far into the hole), reality T.V., and Pinterest, but it should include more reading. My Goodreads goal for the year is to read 50 books, which is totally doable, but only if I make the time to read!

Scheduling time to relax is also very motivating to me. Knowing that I have an hour or two of solitude in the evening waiting for me (but that I can only have it if I cross off those deadline items) makes me work harder and more efficiently. Chipping away at that relaxation time with ten minutes here and there on Instagram ultimately means that I enjoy my day less.

When I kill time, I’m wasting my day. Life isn’t made up of what I do occasionally, it’s made of what I do consistently. And if I’m consistently wasting my day? Ugh. UGH! There are too many things I want to do. Too many experiences I want to have. Too many words I want to write.

Using time wisely is the greatest asset. People who are more successful than me, fitter than me, with stronger marriages than me — they’re not better than me. They’ve just spent more time perfecting their craft. Time is the secret. And I’m wasting those opportunities to be better when I kill time.

So, no, nope, I don’t believe in killing time. It makes me cringe when I hear the expression. Sure, maybe the movie doesn’t start for an hour. Is there an errand you could check off the list? You’re twenty minutes early to an appointment? Read the article you bookmarked on your phone last week. Ten minutes between meetings? Ok, that’s the perfect chunk of time to watch some Instagram stories. Or you could go over your plan for the week and assess your to-do list. Ten minutes are as valuable as you make them.

The difference between killing time and using it well can be so small. As with everything on this site, it’s about intention. It’s about doing the things you have to do so you can do the things you want to do.

Because, ultimately, the life I want isn’t going to just happen. I have to build it. For myself. And there’s no time to waste.