Summer reading to improve your life

An occasional dollop of life improvement can be tasty in the summer — but eventually we just have to live life! These are books that could be labeled as “self-help” in the most positive sense of the phrase. Below are my suggestions for great summer reading for a better life, the fourth of my four favorite types of summer reading. I have found both of these books hugely useful to visit to over the years.

A Conversation with Fear by Mermer Blakeslee helps me get up my courage to downhill ski in the winter and tackle scary activities throughout the year. The book also give me the courage to sometimes say that I’m not going to do some activities. My friend Vanessa suggested this book, and I highly recommend it to people like me who aren’t adrenaline junkies but also want to push ourselves to do some scary-feeling things.
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The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace by Jack Kornfield is a lovely little book, full of wise, thoughtful, and gentle words from all over the world. My mother gave me this book, and I return to it often. A short reading often helps me take a deep breath and face life with a full and open heart.
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You can see my other recommendations in my blog post about my four favorite types of summer reading.

Note: if you buy books from these links, I will receive a small payment from Amazon or Powell’s. This helps cover the cost of this website. Thanks!

Summer reading for work

These books are good for us and help balance the richness of other summer reading. My learning for work books may not match yours, but they’re both books that you may find intriguing! Below are my suggestions for great summer reading for work, the third of my four favorite types of summer reading.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande is an excellent book for thinking about the role and importance of checklists. I love making lists, and I love crossing things off a list. But I hadn’t thought much about the different kinds of lists (or the history of lists) until I read this book. Gawande uses fascinating real-life stories to help illuminate and clarify the strengths and weaknesses of different kinds of lists, as well as how their usage has evolved. I highly recommend this book to anyone who uses lists, particularly for recurring activities. And it’s fun to read too!
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Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott makes me laugh and helps me be a better writer! I have read this book straight through a couple of times, and I also like to read individual chapters. Lamott provides specific, concrete advice with wonderful stories about writing. It’s great for writers (professional and otherwise), but also just an interesting and funny book if you are interested in the craft of writing.
Buy from Powell’s Book Store
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You can see my other recommendations in my blog post about my four favorite types of summer reading.

Note: if you buy books from these links, I will receive a small payment from Amazon or Powell’s. This helps cover the cost of this website. Thanks!

Dense, interesting summer reading suggestions

Ahh, summer: full of big, open stretches of time to read. I love having hours to dig into a big, sprawling novel with intricate, gorgeous language. Below are my suggestions for  interesting fiction books, the second of my four favorite types of summer reading.

These are dense, engaging books that we feel like we need time and mental space to properly read and absorb.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke is full of political machinations, magic posturing, and competing visions of the world. I loved it. The writing is reminiscent of a dense nineteenth century novel, full of ludicrous names, very specific details, and  footnotes. Heavy enough to hurt if you drop it on yourself, I recommend reading this book with a cup of tea overlooking a mountain forest.
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Blindspot by Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore follows a Shakespearean-esque gender-bending adventure of passion (for art and love), injustice, and miscommunication set in pre-revolutionary war Boston. The writing is dense and lovely, and requires attention when reading. There is explicit sex, so consider yourself warned. You can read my Goodreads review here.
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The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón freaked me out. In a wonderful, horrible, creepy, full of dread kind of way. Similar to the Master and Margarita, nothing to overtly horribly happens in most of the book, but I was far happier to read this book in bright sunlight. Aside from that, the book is a wonderful glimpse into Barcelona, Spain in the first half of the twentieth century. Read it.
Buy from Powell’s Book Store
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You can see my other recommendations in my blog post about my four favorite types of summer reading.

Note: if you buy books from these links, I will receive a small payment from Amazon or Powell’s. This helps cover the cost of this website. Thanks!

Writing romance novels using Dungeons and Dragons

My Greywater Chronicles books are a relatively normal exploration of friendship and love. There are no monsters and no one gets stuck in a dungeon with orcs or evil sorcerers (not that I don’t want to write that book someday). But I definitely used the traditions of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) while writing my first novel.

  1. Get them all in a dungeon: Before the action even starts in Mistakes Were Made, Jules breaks both her ankles. This allowed me to keep her stuck in a recovery center–Misty Forests–for the first section of the book. Similar to how exploring a dungeon keeps role playing characters from wandering off from the intended quest, Misty Forests keeps the action and characters under control.
    My second book, Best Laid Plans, uses a different kind of limitation with the structure of the book (two chapter a season with alternating point of view). This was much more challenging and not nearly as much fun, but did force me to really try to see things through the eyes of both of my protagonists. Misty Forests was more fun, though!
  2. Alignment: a quick shorthand for the moral code that governs characters behavior in D&D, this is a fun way to think about how my characters in novels approach life. On the lawful-neutral-chaotic scale, most of my characters are in the lawful to neutral range, but I have two who tend to me closer to chaotic. On the good-neutral-evil scale, I have one brother who behaves pretty poorly, but even he is not firmly in the evil camp. And yes, the D&D Classes (or Jungian archetypes) are also helpful!
  3. Fighting when stakes are low: some of the most amusing moments in D&D can happen when the stakes are incredibly low–who drank the last goblet of ale? why are my tights stretched out? why does he always get to ask for directions? I try to remember this when my characters are starting to drift a bit. They can fight about stupid things.
  4. Adventure: what is D&D without an adventure? (rhetorical question) And so, what are my stories without some sort of adventure? This is both the larger arc of their exploration and also in little moments in a new place or in a new social interaction. Life (and stories) are more fun if we can see the adventure that we’re having, even if there aren’t any actual dragons or orcs.

I’m sure there are other D&D elements I’m using without even realizing it, and I will add them in as I realize. And someday I promise I’ll write an adventure novel. With a bard.

 

Summer reading for escape and entertainment

We’re entering the season of summer trips, hopefully with lots of lazy, unscheduled time. It’s when we seek out summer reading lists to find new reading suggestions and old favorites. Below are two fabulous book series for escape reading, my first of four favorite types summer reading.

We forget where we are when we read these books, staying up too late and gobbling up the story.

The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde: this delicious comedy series is full of absurd situations with enjoyable characters. Thursday Next lives in a world where books are very real and their storylines must be protected. The first book, The Eyre Affair, was published in 2003 with the latest book, The Woman Who Died a Lot, in 2012. They are all great fun!
Buy Eyre Affair Thursday Next Book 1 from Powell’s Book Store
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The 44 Scotland Street Series by Alexander McCall Smith: an entertaining group of residents live at 44 Scotland Street trying to make their way through the trials and tribulations of regular life. I love gentleness and affection that McCall Smith has for all his characters and the delightful web of friendships. The first book in this series is titled (shockingly) 44 Scotland Street, and was published in 2005, and the tenth book, The Revolving Door of Life, was published in 2016. They are all quick, delightful reads and I have particular affection for Bertie.
Buy 44 Scotland Street from Powell’s Book Store
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You can see my other recommendations in my blog post about my four favorite types of summer reading.

Note: if you buy books from these links, I will receive a small payment from Amazon or Powell’s. This helps cover the cost of this website. Thanks!

Summer reading: what makes a good beach read?

Reading at the beach. Credit: Minh Nguyen

Reading at the beach. Credit: Minh Nguyen

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about reading during the summer (and on vacation). For many of us, the summer is an opportunity to unwind and catch up on our reading. If I’m actually at the beach, I love reading a book and being able to look up over the edge of the book (or e-reader) and see the ocean waves. But what makes a good summer read? I have several kinds of summer reads that I adore, and certainly let me know if you have additional thoughts.

For me, the most traditional summer read is an escape. Not so much that the book has to be very simple or completely different from my regular life, but that I am transported somewhere while reading the book. I love a book that causes me to forget where I am or what I am worrying about these days. These are often fantasy or adventure novels. I have two book series I particularly enjoy for escapist summer reading.

I also love an interesting book that I don’t think I’ll have time or mental energy to read at other times of the year. I know this is bit of an illusion that I only have time during the summer, although for books that take a substantial amount of time to read, it is nice to not lose the thread of the book. For me, these summer reads are very intricate novels or lengthy history books. I love these three dense, interesting fiction books.

Summer reading can be related to work — but only if it’s something I’m excited to read. If it’s been assigned or feels like an obligation, I end up carting the book around with me and not reading it. Maybe I will absorb the information through my fingers? But I do like a chance to step back from my day-to-day labors and think more broadly about the work I am doing. I usually only have no more than one of these books in me each summer.

In a similar vein, my summer reading can also include a self-help book. This book could be a more philosophical reflection on our world or full of practical strategies or techniques for surviving life. A summer vacation can be a great time to step back and take stock of how I’m living life, as well as an opportunity to change habits and behaviors.

And of course, all of these things could apply to reading year round, if I can make the time!

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Progress on my next book, Good Fortune

I’m currently working my way through the first round of editing on Good Fortune, the sequel to Best Laid Plans. I’m very excited to start getting feedback from my very early readers on my next book! If you’d like regular updates on my progress, you can sign up for my email newsletter.

When I work on my books, I mark each section by their status: to-do, hot mess, first draft, etc. I’ve successfully gotten much of the book out of the hot mess status, although I’m sure there will be some new hot messes I introduce later this month.

Good Fortune has a similar structure to Best Laid Plans, in that we get Sam’s and Wil’s perspective in each of the four seasons. Instead of covering three years, Good Fortune will cover two years — between the two books, we will cover five years. I’ve enjoyed writing books with a more rigid structural requirements. It’s been an interesting challenge!

I absolutely adore the characters in Good Fortune, particularly Sam’s sisters. The Queezy sisters are a force to be reckoned with. Their affection and support for each other is loosely based on the relationships between my mom and her sisters, but they also very much have their own identity and dynamic.

Some of the early feedback has focused on drawing out more about Wil and how he’s growing and learning (or not). I’ll be working on the next draft later in June and early July, and then the manuscript will be off for the round of edit.s

I’m aiming for mid-November to officially launch the e-book and print editions. Sign up for my email newsletter if you’d like regular updates.

I’ll be looking for reviewers in the fall — drop me an email if you’re interested. And you can sign up for my email newsletter for regular updates on my progress.

Portland and the Greywater Chronicles

Portland plays an active role in the Greywater Chronicles books. The map below breaks down some of the key Portland locations. Mistakes Were Made locations are in blue, Best Laid Plans locations are orange, and Good Fortune (coming November 2016) are in green.

There are other key Portland things that don’t quite line up with a pin on a map, including Bridgetown Comedy Festival and Forest Park.

I really enjoyed making this map and seeing a visual representation of the various locations (real and imaginary) in Greywater Chronicles. I clearly need to have more locations in SE Portland and heading further south into SW Portland, and someday we’ll get to leave the central core of the city.

And remember that in the Greywater Chronicles, we’re in the future. New buildings have been built. Not all restaurants have continued. Businesses that are institutions in the Greywater Chronicles don’t even exist yet. Bikeshare: we don’t have Biketown (Bikey-town) quite yet in spring 2016, but it’s going strong in the 2040s.

Did I forget anything? Drop me a note and I’ll update this post!

Party for Best Laid Plans at Taborspace

We had a wonderful party in May for the launch of Best Laid Plans in print and digital editions. Many great friends — new and old — came out to celebrate the launch, and we spent a great couple of hours laughing and talking.

We were at Taborspace in SE Portland, and the venue was a delightful, all-ages space. I’m looking forward to coming back soon.

Interested in attending future parties? You can sign up for my email newsletter for monthly updates on all things Taylor Rush.

Coming home

An original essay by Taylor Rush, reflecting on returning home many years ago. Enjoy!

I volunteered to take the middle seat. My boyfriend sat on my right, dozing. The woman to my left claimed the arm rest with an unyielding elbow.

Plane to go home

I’d been traveling for two months with Devon, and neither of us knew what awaited us back home in Portland. My job had been unraveling before I left and Devon was unemployed. Our landlord had sent us a nastygram the previous week about subletting the apartment. I already missed traveling between Dutch towns on rented bicycles and drinking coffee at ten in the morning in the town square.

The seat in front of me pushed back, and I contemplated the safety message about water landings. What body of water between the Dakotas and Oregon would we find to land in?

Devon nudged my side. Out the window, the North Cascades disappeared into the distance. Furthest away, I could see Mt. Baker with its bevy of small peaks. Mt. Rainier was always larger than I expected. Closer, Mt. Adams sat in the midst of a patchwork of forests. Unlike the mountains and hills of Europe, each volcanic mountain rose from the valley floors in majestic isolation.

The plan flew. We were over the high desert of Eastern Washington and Oregon, where the sky is enormous and the air is effervescent. We were over the ponderosa pine forests that creep up the hills into foothills, with puzzle bark that grows in deep grooves smelling of summer.

We were over the douglas fir forest higher up the foothills. The snows hadn’t yet arrived for the winter, and the trees were dusty. The slanting light tinted the mountains pink, glinted off of the mountain lakes.

From St. Helens, close to home

From St. Helens, close to home

I could see my favorite mountain: St. Helens. She was still sending up poofs of steam. I elbowed Devon. Before we left, I had spent the summer watching Mt. St. Helens from our porch, taking photos of each small burst of activity.

The Columbia River rolled beneath us, dammed but still mighty. The plane jostled over the air that always bubbled out of the Columbia River Gorge. I squeezed Devon’s hand. The engine noise shifted and the plane began dropping back towards earth.

From the other side of the plane, there were gasps as we traveled just over the edge of Hood, the pointy mountain of our city. I knew they could see the Cascades heading south—Mt. Jefferson, the Sisters, Mt. Bachelor—lining up all the way to California.

I stretched across Devon, pressing my nose against the window, squeezing every glimpse of the northern mountains. Adams was gone and I was losing St. Helens as we dropped towards Portland. Houseboats clustered along the banks of the Columbia. Light spilled out in front of us. The sun was up. I was home.