the habit of being—may 2015 reading

“A baby opens you up, is the problem. No way around it unless you want to pay someone else to have it for you. There’s before and there’s after. To live in your body before is one thing. To live in your body after is another. Some deal by attempting to micromanage; some go crazy; some zone right the hell on out. Or all of the above.”
―Elisa Albert, After Birth

I read After Birth in March. I picked it up again in May for another read through. The writing is incredibly fierce, incredibly honest. There were moments I was embarrassed for Ari, other moments I wanted to hug her close and whisper, You are going to be okay. This is a combination of raw and funny and a smidge pathetic but it I think if we’re honest with ourselves we’ll recognize pieces of ourselves in the story.

Elisa Albert is a bit of a literary darling right now. Read an interview with Elisa Albert here. Listen to an interview on NPR. Also worth reading is her essay Where Do I Write? All Over the Damn Place and My Friend Breastfed My Baby.


“Time punishes us by taking everything, but it also saves us — by taking everything.”
―Sarah Manguso, Ongoingness: The End of a Diary

I pre-ordered Ongoingness and read it the day it came from cover to cover. It’s a short read but it deserved more attention so I returned to it this past month. Manguso writes of the difficulty in recording the mundane aspects of her daily life—aware all the while that even the most conscientious documentation missed moments: “To write a diary is to make a series of choices about what to omit, what to forget. A memorable sandwich, an unmemorable flight of stairs. A memorable bit of conversation surrounded by chatter that no one records.” Her desire to record was accompanied by a fear that she might be recording (remembering) the wrong things.

You might find it worth reading A Life Examined on NPR. As well the New Yorker piece, Dear Diary, I Hate You. You can also read more here and here.


Monday kicked off Anchor & Plume’s open reading period which means I’ll spend the next two months reading through collections and manuscripts to build our 2016 list. I decided to splurge and read a few escapist books over the last ten days since my personal reading time will be cut short. In a rare turn of fortune, I was at the library to pick up books for the Poulette who has been blazing through books while recovering from Mono and on one of the display tables I noticed The Silver Witch. This caught my eye as I had read and enjoyed The Witch’s Daughter a few years back. Then I thought that what I really need is a good reading binge so I did a little search and found two more titles by the same author: The Midnight Witch and The Winter Witch. I also picked up Fangirl which was definitely not Eleanor & Park but was still a fun read. It’s Wednesday and I plan to start reading through submissions next Monday so this means I might be able to indulge in another title or two before then!

What are you reading?

  • i finally read the language of flowers last month, i enjoyed it so thoroughly. it had been on my to read list for so long. i fear the Girl on the Train will suffer a similar fate.

    currently reading Shanghai Girls by Lisa See, which i don’t love but don’t hate enough to quit… i’m on the library waiting list for Judy Blume’s latest novel.ReplyCancel

  • I finished Girl in the Dark by Anna Lyndsey and highly recommend it. It’s a short memoir about a British woman whose skin is so sensitive to light that she must remain indoors and in a blacked-out, completely dark room much of the time. She also happens to be a wonderful writer.ReplyCancel

  • I adored Ongoingness. Loved, loved, loved. oxReplyCancel

  • ooh, i’m putting that witch series on my wishlist, thanks.

    i’ve been re-reading Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra and currently on The Songlines, a travel memoir.ReplyCancel

  • Right now I am reading All the Light We Cannot See and am enjoying it. Next up on my list is The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welsh.ReplyCancel

  • Wouldn’t you know it…I’m currently in the middle of The Silver Witch and I’m enjoying it immensely! Lots of wonderful words (so very important for my little obsession) and of course, love the setting….a secluded cottage, a lake and a fireplace…ahhhh!! The Winter Witch was good too!

    Enjoy these indulgent reading moments!

    Take care,


  • I absolutely adored Ongoingness. So beautiful. xoReplyCancel

This morning I posted this photo Instagram with this caption:

the habit of being—on uncertainty

Friday morning. Texts with friends. An Irish mammy working the drive thru window at Starbucks. Decided to buy beignets for the kids’ breakfast because it’s Friday & the sweetness will soften the news that this house is getting cleaned today. I think I’m winning at Friday.

A rare bright, upbeat moment these last few weeks. Life is full of uncertainty right now. Uncertainty is hard for me. I like to know what is coming my way, I like to plan, I like to feel in control (I know, I know, control is an illusion). The last nine months or so have tested us, pushed us, stretched us. I thought we were passing those tests. I even thought we were passing them somewhat gracefully. Some days I’m not so sure.

I planned to relaunch both Write Now and Wholly Ordinary in April but opted instead to delay it. I planned to launch a new e-course this past month. Didn’t happen.

Since these last months (almost a year!) have tested me in every way, I’ve decided to ride it out. I crossed out the launch of the new e-course, the relaunch of the other two courses, and penciled them in for the fall. The rebranding of this site and the press, delayed.

What I am doing is keeping my head above water. Taking on a limited number of clients. Gearing up for our 2015 open reading period. Reading. Writing when the words come. Enjoying my people. These are the things that keep me going, the things that come together to produce that secret hum on which I run and thrive. The rest will happen or not. For now, I’ll listen for the hum and know I’m on the right path.

PS: The creative prompts for June are over here if you’re so inclined.

  • I am so glad you are listening to your instinct. And know that you are loved through it all.

  • ha, this morning’s post of mine was on uncertainty-trust.

    ride those waves good woman, keep to the hum and pulse….ReplyCancel

  • I’ve noticed you haven’t been around quite as much. I understand that need to feel in control. I don’t do well with uncertainty either. I like the nice steady hum of rhythms. It sounds like you are doing a good job of listening to what you need right now. Thank you for the writing prompts each month. They are greatly appreciated!ReplyCancel

  • I am so glad that you are listening to your heart and putting your self and your family first. I am well acquainted with living with uncertainty and feel it is especially important to listen to your intuition during these times and to enlist healthy doses of self-compassion. You will come through this better for it. xxReplyCancel

  • I’ll be praying for you amanda, I hope you get the certainty that you want, maybe move up closer to me :) I also dislike uncertainty and that is certain. I find praying, knitting and talking all helps me when I’m stressed.ReplyCancel

  • living with uncertainty keeps one able to appreciate our daily moments more and more. stay calm through it all, even if control tends to elude you…only focus on the moment. mariReplyCancel

  • Uncertainty is so difficult. Wishing you rest, and a growing of that secret hum that helps you thrive. XOReplyCancel

  • Kirsten

    I’m so sorry things have been difficult, Amanda. I hope things settle down and firm up soon. XReplyCancel

  • Dearest Amanda,
    Sending you lots of space to hold things lightly. There is such a beauty in letting things go knowing the time will come again to hold on again. I am feeling your quiet too. Just remember all of the beauty growing underneath. XxooReplyCancel

  • Your words resonate so much with me. I feel I have been riding the wave for the past school year. Very little work done, very little writing or blogging. My soul misses it so much and yet i couldn’t add it to my daily life
    To renewal and keeping our heads up!ReplyCancel

  • Uncertainty is such a great teacher…helping us soften into the transitions that move us into possibility. I appreciate how you have given yourself permission to rest into the moment with the things that nourish you most, trusting that the winds of change land you where you need to be. Blessings to you along the way.ReplyCancel

the habit of being—BeachTown

I was introduced to the work of Mary Kay Andrews last year and I was happy to see Beach Town arrive just in time for summer reading! Ready to get lost in hot and hazy Cypress Key, Florida? Beach Town will take you there as it serves as backdrop for the movie Beach Town.

In Beach Town, you’ll be along for the ride with movie location scout Greer Hennessy. Her last job as location scout ended in disaster. Beach Town is her chance to redeem her career. Only there is a small problem. Or problems. The director is ambitious and he has unrealistic expectations. The lead actor is the new “It Boy” with a quite a few problems of his own. Throw in the town’s mayor with no intention of letting anyone mess with the pristine natural environment he calls home and the plotting local ex-socialite and well, you have the makings of a blockbuster.

And just for fun, a Q & A with Mary Kay Andrews on the process of writing Beach Town and a hint at what comes next:

Q: The main character in Beach Town, Greer Hennessey, is a movie location scout. What made you choose to write about Hollywood and the movie business?
A: I’m the nerd still sitting in a darkened theatre waiting for the location credits to roll at the end of every movie. I’ve always been a big movie buff—and I’m always as intrigued by the real settings of films as I am with the film itself. Also, my daughter Katie issues filming permits for some of the dozens and dozens of film, television and advertising shoots that take place every year in our town.

Q: What research did you do into the movie business and the various roles on a movie set when writing Beach Town?
A: I actually went out to L.A. to research the places where Greer lived and worked. I took the Paramount Studio tour, visited a movie costume house, and shadowed a film location scout during a shoot in Atlanta. I interviewed three location managers and the hair and make-up artist who became the inspiration for CeeJay in the book.

Q: Is Cypress Key a real place? If not, is it based on any place particular?
A: Cypress Key is based on the real, charming Florida town of Cedar Key. I fictionalized the town heavily in the book which is why I didn’t call it Cedar Key.

Q: How did you settle on the FL Gulf Coast as the setting for Beach Town?
A: I wanted a sleepy, virtually untouched town for the setting of the book—which the fictional movie producer Bryce Levy describes as “a cross between the town in Jaws and Body Heat. Most of the East Coast is so heavily developed, I thought the Florida Gulf Coast was virtually the last frontier. Just as Greer does in Beach Town I started looking for my setting in the Panhandle, in Panama City Beach, and then worked my way down the coast until I discovered Cedar Key.

Q: Did you run away from home again when writing this novel? Where did you go this time?
A: I actually ran away to Cedar Key, FL! The first time I stayed in a tiny tourist motel somewhat like a mini version of the fictional Silver Sands Motel in the book. The second time when I came back I rented a tiny cottage overlooking the Gulf. I find “embedding” myself in the inspiration setting helps put me in the world of the book when I’m writing. But the largest portion of the book got written at our Tybee Island vacation home, Ebbtide, which is named after a beach house in an earlier novel, Summer Rental.

Q: In Beach Town, Eb Thibadeaux is the mayor, town engineer, and owner of the grocery store, motel, and boat yard. What or who inspired this small-town Jack-of-all-trades? Have you known folks like Eb?
A: I’ve lived in a couple small towns where it seems that a small number of people take responsibility for making things run. In my own town in the Atlanta area, years ago the city manager was also the chief of police. Eb is purely a product of my imagination, but I wanted Eb to be the kind of person who sees what needs to be done, then rolls up his sleeves and makes it happen. He’s an entrepreneur as well as a do-gooder.

Q: There is a dachshund in Beach Town. How did you select this breed? Tell us about your own pets.
A: I liked the idea of having an outdoorsman like Eb having a small rescue dog—because Eb is a rescuer. And dachshunds just strike me as funny. Golden retrievers are the Heidi Klums of the dog world—and dachshunds are the Amy Poehlers. Our own dogs are English Setters—bird dogs, although the only thing they hunt these days are hand-outs around the supper table.

Q: What qualities make up the ideal beach town for you?
A: I love an old-school feeling. No high-rise condo towers, no fast-food joints. Just a couple of narrow, sandy roads where families meander down to the beach or ride bikes to the ice cream shop, rows of beat-up wooden cottages, a couple of good hang-out type restaurants with ice-cold beer and good seafood, and of course the beach—preferably wide with sugar white sand.

Q: What is your all-time favorite beach town and why? 
A: I suppose the beach town I grew up near—Pass-A-Grille, in St. Pete Beach, FL is my all-time favorite. It’s where my siblings and I learned to jump into the waves from my father’s broad, sunburnt shoulders, where my teenaged girlfriends and I hung out summers, slathered in baby oil and iodine, and where I went “parking” with my very first boyfriend, necking in the front seat of his mother’s Dodge Valiant. It’s also where I got very drunk on under-aged purchased beer the weekend of high-school graduation—with my now-husband.

Q: What can you tell us about your next book? 
A: It’s set on an imaginary barrier island off the coast of North Carolina, and I’m actually considering throwing a murder into the plot, just to keep things interesting.

the habit of being_NEWmarykayandrews

Mary Kay Andrews is the New York Times bestselling author of Save the Date, Ladies’ Night, Spring Fever, Summer Rental, The Fixer Upper, Deep Dish, Blue Christmas, Savannah Breeze, and Savannah Blues. A former journalist for The Atlanta Journal Constitution, she lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Born in Jacksonville and raised in St. Pete, Andrews describes the Florida gulf coast as only a true native could.

Beach Town is available in stores today, just in time for Memorial Day and your summer reading. The publisher has given me one copy to giveaway (sorry, US residents only) to a reader. Leave a comment and let me know your favorite part of summer. One winner will be chosen at random, Wednesday, May 27.


Buy Beach Town
Read more about Beach Town here
Follow Mary Kay on Facebook
Follow Mary Kay on Twitter

  • Jenny

    Hello! Probably way to many to pick a favorite. I’m a preschool speech therapist so I’m out in the summer. That in its self is reason to celebrate. I guess I would say the ability to sit down in my backyard chair in the mornings when the air is still cool and the light is sweeping across my yard instead of the usual rush out to feed the dogs, let out the chickens and breathe in one big lungful of fresh air before heading to the school building. Only 3 more weeks! Yay!
    Thanks for the giveaway.ReplyCancel

  • I have been waiting on this book! My favorite part of summer…well, beside the beach, it’s all the fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season.
    Thanks for another fantastic giveaway.ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Tracey, Send me your mailing address and I’ll have the publisher pop a copy in the mail to you!ReplyCancel

  • I’m a big fan of the beach, which I miss tremendously now that I live several hours away from the shore (rather than the half hour trip of my earlier years). So the summer is when I can convince folks from around here to go to the beach with me (although I am a fan of it year-round).ReplyCancel

  • My favorite part of summer is that my husband has most of the summer off and we spend a lot of time together. We like to take short road trips in our 1940 bright red Ford pickup. I’ve read and enjoyed some of Andrew’s books. This one sound good!ReplyCancel

  • Heather S

    My favorite part of summer is spending most of my time at the beach! Ahhhhh :) can’t wait!ReplyCancel

  • This sounds like the perfect summer read! My favorite part of summer? Sitting in my adirondack chair, under the shade of our big old maple tree, book on lap, Popeye by my side, iced tea with lemon in my hand, with nothing on the agenda!ReplyCancel

  • Cheri

    This book sounds so good! My favorite part of summer is beach vacations and grill outs at various friend’s houses. There are backyard games, good food, laughter, and usually some alcohol (which I would partake in if I were not pregnant with my first child).ReplyCancel

  • Pam Beecy

    I love the beginning of summer because it seems like it will last forever and the possibilities are endless. Here in the Northeast we look forward to it for so long that when it arrives it is so special!!!ReplyCancel

the habit of being_DaddyDiariesCoverThe Daddy Diaries was a much-needed change in my reading—a chronicle of the day-in-day-out of family life written by a stay-at-home-dad, Jay. As the family transitions from life in San Francisco to life in Florida, Jay struggles to keep his family happy, something that has become harder to do as the children get older. The day-to-day struggles are sprinkled with misadventures with Jay’s childhood friend and his older brother’s mid-life crisis—through it all Jay learns how to be the rock his family needs.

In The Daddy Diaries, Joshua Braff tackles the issues that plague us as we move through life no matter our role, no matter our title. Navigating his own sense of isolation and then feeling estranged from his son, Braff never strays from the love and responsibility he feels for his family. The Daddy Diaries is a relatable yet unpredictable romp through the ebb and flow of family life.


When asked about the challenges of writing with kids in the house, Braff had this to say:

I’ve been writing with the intention of publishing since 1993. I learned very early on that my job as a parent could never overlap with my job as a writer. When my kids were young, the second I began to think like an author one of them would need me in a desperate way, clinging, weeping, “Daddy!” I had a moment when I said to myself—there will be writing time and parenting time and they will never, ever overlap. My kids are 14 and 11 now so there are many times I can wear the writer hat while they’re still in the room. However briefly. I work when they are off to school and finish, normally, well before I pick them up. So it’s a 9AM to 2PM job. Then I put on the Daddy hat. Lately, as I put the hat on my head I see my kids busy with their own lives. I might clear my throat, making it known I’m in fact donning the hat, ready to be the ever-loving and available dad. The boy smirks and walks this way. The girl says, “Oh, Daddy,” and goes that way. I have the thought— “Wow, the whole thing really is fleeting.” And then, “If it stays this quiet, I might write.”

I love that for a while there Braff thought the writing time and the parenting time would always be separate and now, he has learned that they can indeed overlap even if only occasionally and for a short period of time. It gives those of us still in the trenches with small children underfoot a bit of hope, doesn’t it?


the habit of being_JoshBraffAuthorPhotoJoshua Braff grew up in South Orange, New Jersey, and graduated from Columbia High School and NYU. He earned an MFA in creative writing/fiction from St. Mary’s College of California. Josh’s first novel The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green (Algonquin Books, 2004), about a dysfunctional, Jewish family in late ‘70s was chosen as a Barnes & Noble Discover pick. Peep Show (Algonquin Books, 2010), his second book, was about a 17-year-old boy forced to choose between his Orthodox mother’s life and his father’s career in the porn industry. People Magazine raved, “Braff skillfully illuminates the failures and charms of a broken family. That teen longing for adults to act their age haunts long after the final page.” Josh lives in California with his wife of almost 20 years and their two kids. He is an avid baseball fan and an accomplished painter who plays guitar and drums. The Daddy Diaries is his third novel.

I am giving away one copy of The Daddy Diaries (sorry, US residents only). Simply leave a comment and tell me how you squeeze in time to read or write. One winner will be chosen at random, Wednesday, May 20.

  • I don’t know how you do it, but you always find the most interesting books Amanda.

    As far as squeezing time in, I will admit now that only one baby is still at home [and is over 6′ tall and not a baby any more except to me} I have too much time on my hands so there is no squeezing at all, I do what I want, when I want.ReplyCancel

  • This caught my eye…This journey as parents that we embark on and yet hope to find ourselves in the process. A challenge some days. An all out adventure other days. Yes, to writing and parenting and painting and playing the guitar. It’s what I hope for most days! In addition to love and lattes.ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Your name was drawn from the hat! If you email me your mailing information I will pass it along and have your copy of DADDY DIARIES mailed to you :)ReplyCancel

  • Jenny

    Thanks Amanda! There is definitely no separation at my house right now. I have a wonderful 2 year old and 6 year old. If I’m painting, they’re painting. If I’m writing, my daughter is making a book. I love it. My few moments are at night if I choose sleep deprivation :) I keep in mind how fleeting this time is in our lives.ReplyCancel

  • Annette

    My reading time has been condensed to the minutes (sometimes moments) between when I get into bed and when I can’t keep my eyes open any more. One day I know I’ll have my hours on my front porch or on the sofa in front of the fire, but for now, better a few pages/sentences/(words??) than none at all!ReplyCancel

  • Hi Amanda, long time no see here!

    I had to pop over and comment on this, as I used to see Joshua Braff when he and I were dropping our kids off at day camp one summer. I don’t know him, but I knew who he was, and I knew his brother is the director Zac Braff, so it was fun to spy. :-) I love the idea of a stay-at-home dad’s perspective on life.

    I’ve always done my writing in early mornings and the one night a week that I go out to a cafe to write on my own. For many years that night was the only writing I did, but it was something, and it was enough. I still take that one night out, even though I have more time to write, with only one kid left at home. It’s still a highlight of my week!


  • AHG! It’s been so long, nice to check in and see you and some of my old blog friends. Gosh…crazy. I miss you all. XOReplyCancel

the habit of being_april 2015 reading

Since my last bookish update I have been chugging right along. I have been reading but not necessarily reading what I had planned (oh yes, I had a plan, a loose one but a plan nonetheless).

Woolgathering is a wee book (it fits in the palm of your hand) that was gifted to me on my last birthday. It tells of young Patti Smith finding herself as she learns, discovers, cloud gazes, and wanders.

Such an interesting read from Smith, the embodiment of punk and badassery. In this slim little volume, we get a glimpse into the fragile, reflective side of Smith.


“We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.”
―Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

I picked up my copy of Slouching Towards Bethlehem to read one essay in particular and then, as often happens, ended up rereading the entire book. Because Joan. The themes in this collection lean toward the myriad ways things in this country have fallen apart leaving many adrift without cultural boundaries or context. The subjects of the essays are varied. My favorite section is the second, “Personals”, where some of my favorite Didion essays (“On Keeping a Notebook” and “On Self-Respect”) can be found.


In an effort to read some of the unread books on the shelves, I thought I’d continue on with Didion and turned to Blue Nights which I’d been putting off reading for some time. I found myself annoyed with the book and yet lest I judge too harshly (Didion was after all writing about the death of her daughter, Quintana Roo), I tried, really tried to give her the benefit of the doubt. Ultimately this book that was supposed to be about her daughter’s untimely death smacked of name dropping and privilege and made me sad thinking about the little girl who must have been hungry for the attention of her parents.


“I could not count the times during the average day when something would come up that I needed to tell him. This impulse did not end with his death. What ended was the possibility of response.”
―Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking


Because there was one more unread Didion book on the shelf and because I really wanted Didion to be redeemed, I opened The Year of Magical Thinking. Wow.

This is the story of Didion’s first year after the death of her husband. She writes openly about the grief she experienced, the way she kept expecting him to come back despite knowing this was irrational. She remembers the little things he said about his life. She misses him. Actively. This is a look at grief like no other.


The Girl on the Train is for you if you like Hitchcock mysteries (think Rear Window) and unreliable narrators. Rachel is a girl with a self-esteem problem. An unemployed drunk, she rides the train to London each day past her old neighborhood. From the train she observes not only her old house but also the day-to-daya activities of another couple that live a few doors down from her old house. She names the couple and concocts a fairy tale love story for them. But let’s remember, this is real life and fantasy doesn’t exist. Shortly after discovering this couple doesn’t have a picture perfect relationship, a murder occurs, and Rachel becomes entangled in the investigation.


Not shown: Faithful and Virtuous Night| A Thousand Mornings | Sinners Welcome | Woods, etc.


Unrelated but bookish:
I have a dear friend that is about to be done with her semester and texting the other night about her summer plans, I suddenly remembered the stack of books I would begin to gather as the end of the semester drew near—papers to be written, exams to be taken—the whir of activity was made manageable by thinking of the light at the end of the tunnel: an abundance of time to read non-school-related books. And so as things would ramp up, my stack would begin. I have been making a mental inventory of what I might like to send her to read over the summer. If you have a suggestion, please do share!

  • I never comment, (because I’m lazy), but I did want to share that I always enjoy and look forward to your ‘reading’ posts. I always take at least one book from your list and very often will have just read, will be currently reading, or it’s already on my shelf, many of the same titles. :)ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Kristen, I get the lazy. I’m guilty of it too! Thank you for your kind words on my reading updates :)ReplyCancel

  • Knowing very little about your friend, I think of Crossing to Safety. I don’t think I have met a person who has not liked it.ReplyCancel

  • Jenny

    Amanda, you’ve done it again. You always get me to jump down the rabbit hole when you post a stack of books. :)
    I’m amazed by the complexities of being a human when I read your descriptions. How do we, as a world, have difficulty relating to one another? Why do we want to wage war, cause suffering, and on and on when we are all basically the same?
    Here’s hoping a little light from your beacon will shine on us all and obscure the differences we perceive.ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Sending you a warm hug, sweet Jenny!ReplyCancel

  • I absolutely agree on your Didion assessments — the favourites in _Slouching_, the frustrations with _Blue Nights_, and the awe at _A Year_. And I totally remember the end-of-term frenzy, too. I don’t have any recommendations for your friend just now, but I’m glad as always for your reading check-ins.ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Cindy, It is always encouraging to hear someone agree with my thoughts on books. Sometimes I think I might be way off base in my assessments since people I admire & respect praise books which I then read and find fault with. I’m happy to keep company with you.ReplyCancel

  • Hm, never read didion but now I feel that must go on the list. I am ramping up my reading since the last few weeks have been skimpy. I love kristen’s comment about being a lazy comment-er. too funny!!ReplyCancel