Don’t Judge a Gas Station By Its Murdery Exterior

A few times a year, I drive from Texas to Arizona, and back again. It’s a 14 hour drive total, and I generally do it in two days. Why? you ask. Great question. It’s because my parents live in Arizona, and I go to visit them. Why not fly? you ask. Also a fantastic question. It’s because I have a 14 year old lab mix who is not happy when I leave her behind with my husband. Version 2She likes him well enough… until I go away. So I make the drive with two dogs in tow. Which makes it even more fun.

 

So anyway, I was driving home from Arizona when I realized that the cup of coffee I’d had wasn’t a spectacular idea. I was in the middle of nowhere, praying for a gas station. I was listening to the audiobook of Food: A Love Story, by Jim Gaffigan. While the book is great, I was at the part where he was describing poutine. And, I don’t know… for some reason, I had to turn it off. It just added to my torture. When I saw the sign telling me that salvation was in a half mile, I almost cried.

When I got off the exit, I didn’t see the gas station at first. The road bent left, and the first thing I saw was this:

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By this point, even if that had been the gas station, I probably would have gone in. It was like that.

The one I was looking for was right after it, and while it looked better than the abandoned, busted down one, it still looked a little… murdery. There were signs all over about “fresh jerky.” (This is an Arizona thing. Roadside stands are always advertising fresh jerky.) I texted my husband with my location, just in case the jerky was made from the flesh of desperate travelers.

I did my business, and then, wanting a drink, I wandered inside. I know, I know… I never learn, right? The inside had nuts and jerky on shelves along the walls, with handcrafted items in the center. It actually was quite homey. I ended up buying a wind chime (because I love wind chimes). While I was paying, the cashier offered me a sample of jerky. When I declined, she then said, “We have sugar free jerky, in case that’s your concern.” I wasn’t sure what to say to that, except to murmur, “No thanks.”

Do I look like I’m worried about the sugar content of jerky? Was she trying to get me to eat it because it actually contains a sedative, and that’s how they get a fresh supply?

I really liked the place, so the next time I’m traveling that way, I’ll probably stop in. Maybe I’m pushing my luck, but it’s hard to find really nice wind chimes.

Why I’ve Started Giving Books As Gifts

I’ve always been a lousy gift giver. I want to give great gifts, but my brain mostly doesn’t work that way. My sister-in-law is one of those talented people who always seems to know the perfect gift. Over the years, she’s gotten me a subscription to Writer’s Digest, a subscription to the Book of the Month Club, and Alice In Wonderland pajamas. And this clock:

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Every once in awhile, I’ll be out somewhere and spot the perfect thing. But mostly… not.

A few years ago, I had an inspiration to start requesting other people’s favorite books as gifts. It seemed like a fun idea, and I liked seeing what other people picked. Then I realized that one thing I know pretty well is books. People come to me for recommendations, and since I read across many genres, I’m usually pretty good at figuring out what others will like.

As adults, most of us no longer want to receive more stuff. Sticking to consumables just makes sense to me, but does anyone really want to receive more food at Christmas?

Enter books. They’re personal gifts that never expire. They’re decorative. They’re fun. And best of all, they’re thoughtful gifts that I can actually give. It’s fun to think about what each person on my shopping list might like.

What’s the best gift you’ve given or received?

Why I Love To Re-read

In December, I read All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, by Bryn Greenwood. I stayed up until 2:30 a.m. reading it, and then I went to bed. In the morning, I started reading it again. I later posted a picture of me re-reading it, which then started a conversation about re-reading books.

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Some people never re-read a book. Others, like me, love to re-read. I have a few books I read almost every year. When I love a book, I might read it twice, back to back. I own several books that have post it notes stuck in my favorite parts. That way, if I’m having a bad day, I just go back and read the super-abridged version, and it never fails to cheer me up.

Re-reading a book I love never gets boring to me. It’s like visiting old friends. Sometimes I find details I missed during the first reading. Or I may make connections I missed. As a writer, a second reading can allow me to appreciate the structure of the book, or character development. Some books may have a particularly great ending that I enjoy going back to read over.

In particularly stressful times in my life, I read books I know I love; I call them “comfort books.” When life is hard, the last thing I want to deal with is a mediocre book. Plus, since I’m a moody reader, if I’ve already read a book, I know exactly what’s wonderful about it, and exactly which mood it will suit.

Are you a re-reader? Or do you read once and only once?

 

My Most Popular Posts in 2016

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At Austin Trail of Lights, Photo credit: Doree Weller

It’s always fun for me to look back on the year and see what posts were most liked by other people. I published 71 posts last year, and these were the 10 you liked most.

  1.  But What if There Are Bad People? Written in 2015, but my most popular post for 2016, it’s my opinion that we shouldn’t give into fear or allow bullies to win.
  2. 10 Best Novels from Over 100 Years Ago– A perennial favorite, this was penned in 2011! I think the title is self-explanatory. 🙂
  3. E is For Encyclopedia Brown– My A to Z Challenge theme in 2016 was “Books that have influenced me.” This series was one from my formative years, and I reflect on them in this post.
  4. B is For Behind a Mask, the Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott– Did you know she wrote thrillers?
  5. Z is For Zen Pencils– Have you read this webcomic? If not, you should.
  6. N is for Nineteen Eighty-Four– Terrifying book, but it’s a classic for a reason.
  7. H is for Happy Money– Money can buy happiness, depending on how you spend it.
  8. How My Former Bullies Are Doing Now– I was a weird kid who was picked on by others. But the magic of Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with some of those bullies and get a different perspective on them.
  9. How to Win At Life– How to reframe “failure.”
  10. The Timelessness of Stories– Why stories matter.

Thanks for another great year.

My Relationship With the Library

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A partial stack of my most recent library books. There are others… somewhere.

Dear Library,

We’ve had an on again-off again thing for years. When I’m into you, I’m all in. When I’m not into you… well, let’s just say, it’s not you; it’s me.

When I was much younger, I had a thing going on with a huge, gorgeous old library. I remember it as having like 5 stories (though that may be the memory of youth) and checking out stacks and stacks of books.

As I got older, it became easier to just buy books when I wanted them. I stopped visiting that library, and eventually, I moved away.

My next library was small and unimpressive. It was one big room in a repurposed building. It had none of the character or history of my first library. I borrowed books sometimes, but I just wasn’t that into it.

You don’t need every detail of my history, do you? The next serious relationship I had with a library happened in Arizona, where I joined my first library with a network. Even if my library didn’t have what I wanted, I could log on and “reserve” any book in the system, and they’d bring it to my library. This worked for books, CDs, and DVDs. Suddenly, I was in love again. I was borrowing like crazy, stopping by the shelf of librarian picks and grabbing books based on their covers. (This is how I discovered John Dies at the End).

When I moved, we had to end that relationship. It was tough; I’d grown accustomed to how… well… easy it was. I was afraid that the next one wouldn’t be as accessible.

Lucky for me, my current library is super easy. It has the same “reserve” feature. It also has digital borrowing, so I can get library books right on my Kindle! This is great for me, since sometimes, I have to read something RIGHT NOW, and if I don’t own it, this can be a problem. Often, I’m able to get it from the library when I want it.

I still buy a lot of books, especially ones I want to mark up or reread. But the library is a great source for me to feed my book habit without having to buy every book I ever want to read.

So, Library, I guess what I’m saying is that, for now, I’m committed to you. I can’t be exclusive because you don’t meet all my needs, but I want to see you regularly. And I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Love,

Doree

What I Read in November

Apparently, I was in an eclectic mood again this month.

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  1. Another Man’s Moccasins & The Dark Horse, by Craig Johnson (Longmire 4 & 5) It’s the continuing chronicles of Walt Longmire.
  2. The Darkest Part of the Forest, by Holly Black This was a reread for me. It’s an excellent YA book about a town where fae folk live, and one day one of them breaks out of the glass coffin where he’s been imprisoned. Hazel has to solve the mystery before the monster from the forest kills all the townspeople.
  3. This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab This may be one of my favorite books I read this year. It’s about a town overrun by monsters, and how the daughter and son of the opposing factions meet and, after a failed kidnapping attempt, go on the run together. My only complaint about this book is that there’s a sequel, but it doesn’t come out until summer 2017. This can be read as a standalone book, but that’s not much consolation when you get to the last page.
  4. The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware This book got rave reviews, and lots of people loved it. But it just didn’t do it for me. I liked it, but I didn’t get caught up until about halfway through the book. It’s good, worth reading once, but I found the main character somewhat annoying.
  5. The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George This was a surprising hit with me. The main character runs a bookshop and is the book apothecary, dispensing books like medicine for what ails people. But the main character has a secret, that he’s been pining for a lost love for 20 years. And when he finally starts to process it, he ends up going on a journey and finding out he’s not the only one with secrets. An interesting, life affirming read. (Plus, I loved the idea of a book apothecary.)
  6. Infomocracy, by Malka Older A friend and I both started reading this book together, and we both hated it. To be fair, we both abandoned it about 10% in, so maybe it gets better. I’m not entirely sure what it was supposed to be about, but something about politics set in a future where everyone is wired in to information.
  7. I,Robot, by Isaac Asimov There’s a reason he’s considered one of the best science fiction writers of all time. Plus, he came up with the three laws. While the movie of the same name is quite a bit different from this book, there’s enough similarities that I can see how the book inspired the movie. I love all the robot psychology in the book. I can’t believe I’ve never read this before.

What’s the best book you read this month?

Why I Didn’t End Up Doing a Book Challenge This Year

img_7065In 2015, I did the reading challenge, and I enjoyed it.  There was a different theme every month, and I did about 10 months out of 12.  In 2016, I started the Read Harder challenge, and ticked a couple categories off.

And then I lost interest.

I ended up reading a book I didn’t like.  I tried and tried and tried to get through it, and I couldn’t.  As of this writing, I haven’t finished it, though I still want to.  It wasn’t that I hated the book; it was more that it had no discernible plot.

After putting that book aside, I thought about going back to the Read Harder challenge, but I’d lost my taste for it.  I realized that I have a lot of book lists I’m working on.  I have a classics list I’m working my way through, a book club, and a friend and I who choose books together.  That’s not including the fact that I read a lot of YA books to stay current on what’s being published (since I write YA) and reading books for fun.

While I liked the idea of the Read Harder challenge, in the end it just didn’t work for me.  I may look at the challenge for 2017, and if I like it, I’ll give it a try.  Or maybe I’ll look for a challenge that doesn’t have as many books on it, or fits with my tastes a little better.

I think I lost sight of the fact that the challenge was meant to be a game instead of a task. It became work, rather than a scavenger hunt. I love books that make me think or books that make me see the world differently. I love discovering books I wouldn’t have read on my own. But I don’t like taking it all to seriously, and that’s what I did for a little while.

What do you think of book challenges? Are you planning to join one for 2017?