What's working for me these days

and notable reads from September-October

These three things aren’t a quick-fix for anxiety or a guaranteed method for staying calm as we wait for election results this week, but they’ve proven helpful to me over the last few months. I’ll be leaning on them heavily in the coming days, and my hope is that you might find something here to help you cope, too.

1. Walking without my headphones. At a minimum, I do this once a day. I walk Penny around the neighborhood, sans headphones, and take in the sights and sounds of fall turning to winter. I breathe fresh air while Penny sniffs the ground, and I let my mind wander from problems to ideas to worries to memories. By the end of the walk, I’m either feeling refreshed and steadied or I’m feeling motivated by a new solution or creative direction.

This works even better if I ditch my headphones for a long hike. Yesterday, I walked about 4.5 miles, and while I can’t remember exactly what I thought about, I do know that I’m feeling more focused in my work today. I love audiobooks and podcasts, but clearly my brain needs quiet. It felt uncomfortable at first, but I quickly noticed the benefits of removing distractions and letting my mind wander.

2. Baking (specifically, baking sourdough bread). I’m not sure what to call my cooking style. Intuitive? Creative? Reckless? I love cookbooks and food blogs, but I tend to use recipes as “inspiration” rather than a handy set of instructions. I’m constantly subbing ingredients and rarely measuring anything. But not when I make sourdough.

A friend gave me some sourdough starter in the spring, and I’ve since become a baker. A baker who WEIGHS THINGS with a kitchen scale. I’m still unlikely to measure spices or broth or anything in a regular dinner recipe, but I’ve found great comfort in making bread, following instructions, and carefully timing my day around a sourdough loaf. It makes me feel accomplished, even if the rest of my tasks are left unfinished at the end of the day. It also gives me a great excuse to stand up every 30 minutes to an hour, at least on dough-making days. Sourdough involves lots of steps (stretching and folding), at various intervals. The more complex the recipe, the more timers you have to set. I appreciate the extra push to get up and move, away from my laptop.

3. Placing library holds like it’s going out of style. We all need an extra dose of dopamine these days, and the library provides a healthy and safe way to get it. I’ve been placing library holds with utter abandon lately. This is partly because my reading mood is all over the place, and I need options—and partly because it’s just as satisfying as online shopping, but far more budget-friendly. Last week, I placed holds on four different cookbooks. This week, I get to pick them up and flip through their beautiful pages. For free!

For me, the joy of borrowing books from the library remains just as high as it was when I was five and got to write my name on my first library card. It is, however, even more pronounced during these weird times.

Book Reviews (just the notables)

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📚 hardcover or paperback

📖 ebook

🎧 audiobook

⭐ favorite

September

The Switch by Beth O’Leary ⭐ 🎧 I enjoy dual-narrated audiobooks and loved The Flatshare last year, so I knew I wanted to listen to her latest. I was completely charmed by the grandmother-granddaughter duo and their quest for happiness.

Recommended for You by Laura Silverman 📖 A book about books, bookstores, and holiday shopping. Do I think this was the most well-written YA book I’ve ever read? No. But it still delighted and distracted me.

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich 📚 A beautiful story of love, family, and home told in alternating perspectives and interconnected stories. Erdrich is a genius, and her language carried me through this literary masterpiece. Reading it felt a bit like floating.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi ⭐ 🎧 Maaaybe my favorite book of the year? I think about Gifty at least once a week. I need to get a paper copy so that I can reread and highlight all of Gyasi’s incredibly poignant passages.

One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London 🎧 I liked this Bachelor-ish story about a plus-size fashion influencer who finds herself on a dating show after critiquing its lack of diversity. When I recommend it to friends, I include a fair warning for lots of hard-to-hear-or-read fatphobia in the first few chapters. I understand why it was included, but it could be triggering.

Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest ⭐ 🎧 Forest writes pitch-perfect YA stories about characters having fun on the journey to finding themselves. This one features a budding starlet, her famous grandmother, and the vibrant streets of New York City.

October

The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda 📚 I need someone to read this Japanese mystery in translation so that we can discuss the ending. Atmospheric, eerie, and unique.

The Next Great Jane by K.L. Going ⭐ 📚 Austen-inspired middle grade that kept me up late reading. A mix of Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and small town east coast charm.

The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert ⭐ 🎧 This was just what I needed to read during election season. Empowering, delightful, and excellent on audio.

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam 🎧 It feels like everyone has read this literary hit. I appreciated Alam’s writing, but I didn’t love the reading experience. Maybe it was the format, maybe it was the timing. If you enjoy lots of imagery, metaphor and vague endings, this might be the book for you.

Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly ⭐ 🎧 A dark, yet empowering fairytale retelling with surprising historical fiction elements. I was completely absorbed by the audiobook.

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell 📚 WTF THAT ENDING?!

Three Romance Recs

For fans of the Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn: For the Duke’s Eyes Only by Lenora Bell

For fans of Jasmine Guillory: Like Lovers Do by Tracey Livesay

For fans of British rom-coms: Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

Podcast Episodes

On Friday afternoons, I record Novel Pairings episodes with Sara, and on Saturday mornings, I record He Read She Read episodes with Curtis. These bookish discussions are seriously sustaining me through the stressful combo of election + pandemic + deployment.

A few of my favorite Sept/Oct Novel Pairings episodes include: The Crucible, Campus Novels, Reading Challenges with Courtney Wallace, and our bonus review of the new Rebecca film.

If you missed the last few He Read She Read episodes, catch up at your leisure: we recommended books to each other, talked about award-winners, suggested books to read instead of doom scrolling, and discussed A Quiet Life in the Country by T.E. Kinsey.

Book Bossy

You MUST READ Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson. It’s a short middle grade novel (about 2 hours on audio) about a father-son relationship, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and friends who carry one another through anything. Woodson’s writing always works well on audio, but Guy Lockard’s narration on this one was exceptional.

For more bookish and baking content, keep up with my book reviews, podcast news, and photos of my dog at @chelseyreads, @hereadsheread and @novelpairingspod on Instagram.

Be gentle with yourselves this week.

Chelsey

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