Thinking

I think I am thinking too much. The flood gate that held in and held up this grief is lifting, slowly, and in its wake: thinking. A rush so fast, when I wake in the morning, I hear its swooshing and pulsing, traveling from dreams to the day. Dreams filled with corridors and missed meetings, days suddenly steady-paced and interesting again.

IMAGE: Ann, Thinking, with Flowers by John Bratby.

The thing about books is…


“Perhaps the book opened a door; books have a way of causing ripples.” ― Erika Swyler, The Book of Speculation


There is a particular joy in the serendipity of books. How one leads you to the next, how one echoes another without your choosing. How someone can ask have you read…? and you have, or have wanted to for a long time. How someone can say you must read… and you do and you know exactly why you should have.

I look forward to the new year, if for no other reason than the possibility of new books, new open doors, and new ripples upon which to surf. Join me?

I’ve just signed up for my 8th annual Goodreads Reading Challenge with a goal of reading 50 books. You can too!

CLICK HERE to take the challenge now.

Then let’s open the door and talk about books! Click here to connect with me on Goodreads.

©2020, Jen Payne. Photo from LOOK UP! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness, which can be purchased here.

2019: The Year in Books


“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” ― Charles W. Eliot


As the years winds down, I have a book in queue (The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler) and the manuscript for a dear friend’s new book in my lap. It’s my favorite reading time of year: this hot coffee, chilly air, fire in the fireplace, cat on the lap season that it is.

In this week’s in-box, the Goodreads “Your Year in Books” reports that I have read 51 books this year, and some 13,451 pages. The shortest, at 40 pages, was Wabi Sabi, a wonderfully collaged children’s book by Mark Reibstein; the longest at a whopping 545 pages was The Witches of New York by Ami McKay.

Speaking of pages, this was the year I instituted my 29-page rule: if I’m not all-in by page 29, I’m all-out. Life is too short to be half-in on anything, isn’t it?

Books with 5-star, all-in ratings this year included:

  • The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly
  • Almost Everything, Notes on Hope, Anne Lamott
  • Witchmark, C.L. Polk
  • The Alice Network, Kate Quinn
  • Peony in Love, Lisa See
  • The Forest Lover, Susan Vreeland
  • Beyond the Bright Sea, Lauren Wolk

Through no fault of her own, Barbara Kingsolver earned the only one-star rating this year for Unsheltered. My review said something like this: “I adore Kingsolver’s work and her commitment to helping us better understand the natural world and our environment, but…we. are. still. living. the. nightmare. I’m off to read some escapist fiction now. Thank you. And no hard feelings.”

Which could explain why I devoured Ottessa Moshgegh’s book My Year of Rest and Relaxation, in which the protagonist drug-sleeps her way through an entire year.

But who needs drugs when you have books? I mean, what better way to escape for a moment or week than to time travel (Time After Time, Lisa Grunwald), get lost in a mystery (The Clockmaker’s Daughter, Kate Morton), consider other monsters (Melmoth, Sarah Perry), or just find solitude (The Salt House, Cynthia Huntington ).

What better way indeed?

Now, here’s some happy news with which to start your year…the new Ransom Riggs book, The Conference of the Birds, hits shelves January 14! I’m pre-ordered. Are you?

Happy New Year and Blissful Reading!

©2019, Jen Payne. IMAGE: The submissive reader, Rene Magritte

Goodreads: A Year in Books (2018)

Several years ago, actress Lena Dunham tweeted “Let’s be reasonable and add an eighth day to the week that is devoted exclusively to reading.” Would that it were possible, right?

Lacking an eighth day, we’re left to our own devices to make time for reading. For me, there are treasured Sunday mornings — pre-dawn, coffees at the ready, reading side-by-side with my boyfriend Matt. Then good habits, like carrying a book in my purse, weekly visits to the library, and reading before bed help keep the spirit alive through the work week right back around to those quite Sunday hours.

And all of that good reading mojo has paid off…for the first time in six years, I exceeded my personal Goodreads Reading Challenge goal, reading 54 books in 2018! This year’s tally of 15,121 pages included fiction bestsellers and some classics, one cookbook, poetry and nonfiction, along with a handful of self-published books by some amazing local authors.

Following closely in the footsteps of 2017, you’ll find several Young Adult novels on my list again, including Ransom Riggs’ new book in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series: A Map of Days. (“Fair warning: you’ll realize about 2/3 of the way in that you’re going to finish the book soon and you’ll have to wait – again – for the next in the series to magically appear! Pace yourself.”)

Another fun find this year was the Penguin Drop Cap Series, 26 collectible hardcover editions of classic works of literature, each featuring on its cover a specially commissioned illustrated letter of the alphabet by type designer Jessica Hische. This year I read H, Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. My local library seems to have a good selection of these special titles, and it’s fun to try to spot them on the shelves. Click here to see all 26.

According to star ratings, some of my least favorite books in 2018 were Brida by Paulo Coelho (“insipid romance”) and The Book of Hidden Things by Francesco Dimitri (“Nope. Nope. Nope.”). I disliked 1984 by George Orwell so much — “a terribly wretched book” — it completely subverted my attempt to read the 100 books featured in The Great American Read.

Brida was not the only “insipid romance” that earned one or two stars. I was also not a fan of The Atomic Weight of Love (Elizabeth Church), An Obvious Enchantment (Tucker Malarkey), or An Itailan Wife (Ann Hood). Which is not to say I don’t like a good love story. I adored The Course of Love by Alain de Botton — “This should be required reading. For everyone. Period.”

New reads from some of my favorite authors included Keri Smith’s uber-clever book The Wander Society (“Solvitur ambulando!”), Anne Lamott’s  Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (“A balm, antidote, inspiration…Wow! and Thanks!”), and Brené Brown’s Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone (“We need this kind of thoughtful examination and heartfelt solutions now more than ever!”).

I recently recommended One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd (Jim Fergus) to a friend, and realized it was one of the most memorable books I read this year. (“we want this to be a true story…and are ever-surprised that it is not”)

Other books that stand out include Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy (“a clever piece of dystopian fiction”), Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffengger (“Wonderfully, weirdly delicious!”), and The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan (“I savored it slowly… ”).

But if asked specifically, I would put at the top of my list The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley (“Magically, magically good!!”)

It was, apparently, a good year for reading. But I suspect I’ll run out of superlatives if I don’t stop here. You can read my complete list of 2018 books on Goodreads (click here)…but I want to know about you, too. What were your favorite books in 2018? List them in the commend section below!

HAPPY READING!


The 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge (Yay!)

For the second time in five years, I successfully completed my Goodreads Reading Challenge, reading 50 books in 2017! In a year fraught with way too much reality, fiction was the name of the game: magical children, brave creatures, curious characters, time travelers, mystics. Yes, yes. yes!

This year’s tally of 11,193 pages otherwise included 8 books of poetry, 10 non-fiction, and 4 children’s books. Also on the list were a few Young Adult novels including the final book in Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series, as well as the Last Survivors series by Susan Beth Pfeffer. (The first of which, Life As We Knew It, remains the most haunting book I read this year.)

According to star-ratings, my least favorite books in 2017 were The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō and Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi.

There were a few other low-star rated books—mostly me wandering out-of-genre (Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Jaren Russell) or buying into hype (The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman).

I was generous with my five-stars this year, but I always am. If it captures my attention, makes me wonder, keeps me interested to the final page? Yes! Bestsellers like Dan Brown, Amy Bloom, and Mary Oliver, of course, but even more so for friends and local authors like Luanne Castle, Robert Finch, Gordy Whiteman and Nan Meneely. What delights!

(Was it shameless of me to include my own book, Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, in the mix?)

A few classics showed up this year—The Long Christmas Dinner by Thornton Wilder, and A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas—and a few personal favorites returned (Thanks Elizabeth Gilbert and Alice Hoffman!)

The most memorable books of the year? Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick, and The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey.

But my most favorite (also probably most recommended) was definitely the Roland Merullo Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner with Buddha series. I thoroughly enjoyed each book with equal measure and still pine for Rinpoche’s humor and wisdom—some seven months since turning the last page.

That this year’s collection of favorites included the counsel of a Buddhist monk, pages and pages poetry, and a dystopian end-of-the-world series is not ironic. It is, I think, reflective of this new and startling world in which we find ourselves.

Thankfully, so is the book I’m reading today. In Braving the Wilderness, social scientist Brené Brown outlines a clear path out of our “spiritual crisis of disconnection” by advising that “People are hard to hate close up, move in; Speak truth to BS, be civil; Hold hands, with strangers; Strong Back, strong front, wild heart.”

And so we bravely go…2018. Are you ready? And are you reading?

Don’t Miss Evidence of Flossing!

Mark your calendar for these upcoming events to celebrate the launch of Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, then follow this blog, or Like our Facebook page for event detail as they become available!

OCTOBER 14
Launch Party for Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind
Saturday, October 14, 3:00PM – 6:00PM
Book Signing, Refreshments & More
Hosted by the Martha Link Walsh Gallery
188 North Main Street, Branford, CT


OCTOBER 15
Sunday Salon
Sunday, October 15, Noon – 2:00PM
Artist Talk with Jen Payne & Martha Link Walsh
Conversation, Refreshments & More
Hosted by the Martha Link Walsh Gallery
188 North Main Street, Branford, CT


NOVEMBER 18
Book Signing: Rock Garden
Saturday, November 18, 11-2
Book Signing, Refreshments & More
at the Rock Garden
17 South Main Street, Branford, CT


A Good Year for Books

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It was a good year for books. Book writing, book publishing…book reading. Thanks to the incentive of the Goodreads 2014 Reading Challenge, I read 32 book this past year — the highest total I can recall since my days as a tome-weary English major!

Apparently, I am not alone…in 2014, the Goodreads Reading Challenge had 678,678 participants with over 18,898,565 books read. If even half of those were tactile, printed books, my old-school heart can rest easy for another year.

Looking back over my own list of Books Read for the year, it’s hard to call out just one as a favorite. Apparently, I read a great number by Alice Hoffman, eight in total. Of those, I would most certainly share the dog-earred Green Heart, The Museum of Extraordinary Things and The Dovekeepers.

Other favorites included The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka, The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman, and Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton.

My goal of reading more from poets paid off — Adrienne Rich, Hafiz, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins — as did my goal of reading more books in general. Happily.

I am still wandering through The Paris Wife by Paula McLain and falling in love with the time period — Paris in the twenties — and Ernest Hemingway, of all people (and all writers). Will it inspire a detour from this year’s magic realism? We’ll see…

Where ever the new year takes me, I’ll be signing up for the next Goodreads Reading Challenge. Will you?


2014: GO!

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If you talk to me this time of year, or read my blog posts, you would think I am super zealous about New Year’s Resolutions. That I have an endless list of self-improvement tasks to make me a better human being.

And while I do select one thing I would like to accomplish each year…

Quit Smoking (2009)
Start Recycling (2010)
Learn Yoga (2011)
Take a Do-Nothing Vacation (2012)
Get Published (2013)
Publish My Book (2014)

…the truth is, my New Year’s resolutions — I call them INTENTIONS — have been the same every year for many years:

Write More
Move More
Travel More
Read More

So New Year’s, to me, is more of a reset than a gauntlet-throwing challenge to my self-worth. It’s a chance to clear the board, put the dog back at GO! and see what happens this time around.

1914This year, in the on-going effort to READ MORE, I have once again signed up for the annual Goodreads Reading Challenge. This will be my second effort at this and I’m excited about it!

Last year, I managed to meet more than 50% of my goal — 28 books! That’s more than I’d read in previous years, and a pretty cool feat.

Want to join me in the 2014 Reading Challenge?
• Sign up here: www.goodreads.com
• Follow me here: www.goodreads.com/user/show/16014792-jen

So, what are you doing for the new year? Do you have a one thing? A list of things? Or do you prefer to wing it—move your piece around the board unfettered?

• • •

One More Walk Around the Boardwalk, by photographer Eric Endow. Reprinted with permission. You can see more of his work on his website, www.endowphotography.com.

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