Friday, October 30, 2015

Another Anniversary, You Say?

I know I already blogged this week, but this is something of note.

It's officially been one year since my last day at my former job.  (It was actually supposed to be the 31st, but I think they were all sick of my sulking silently around the office, and told me I could go home a day early.)

I don't really remember what I did that day.  A good guess would be: cry. (I'm sensing a theme with my blog posts about crying, aren't you?)  Later that night, according to Timehop, I went to my friend Erin's house and drank while she carved pumpkins with Roland and his daughter.

Obviously, the end of my job was not my decision.  Nor was it expected.  In fact, I had been explicitly told that I would not be losing my job.  And I had believed them.  But.  Things happen.  Apparently.

It wasn't the best of times.  I felt betrayed and hurt and worthless.  I had just finalized my divorce, which while being something I wanted, didn't exactly make me feel like a successful adult.  I had sent my ex thousands of dollars (and sent credit card companies thousands more) that I had borrowed from my parents.  I was living essentially on my own, solely responsible for all my bills for the first time in my entire life.  So to now be (mostly) unemployed and uncertain how I was ever going to be a successful adult?  Not great.

My mom immediately told me I'd have to move back in with them.  Like there was no doubt in her mind.  It was bad enough I got divorced (during which they also repeatedly tried to convince me to move back in), but now that I'd lost my job?  That settled it.  I should start packing my bags.

But.  I'm stubborn.  As usual.  I didn't want to move in with them.  I didn't want to leave my apartment (at least, not till I decided I was ready to).  I didn't want to lose the freedom that I'd worked so hard to gain.

So, somehow, I made it work.  I still had Fish Eye Fun jobs on the weekend.  I had the buffer of money in my bank account I'd been slowly building since getting a separate account.

And I made it through the next six months until I started working as the office manager for Fish Eye Fun, I job I'd wanted since I knew it was a possibility.

I love it.  Combined with the weekend photography jobs, I've never worked harder or longer hours in my life, but have never enjoyed a job so much, or believed so fully in what I was doing.

Plus, it's ridiculously fun.

And I get to eat free food.

And tell people what to do.

 So.  Did losing my job a year ago suck?  Unbelievably.  But I wouldn't go back to it for the world.

On that note, another happy anniversary to me.  And many more to come.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The No Good, Very Bad Day

News flash: not every day is fantastic.

I know I make an awfully annoying fuss about how happy I am, and how much better my life is now, etc, etc, etc.

And I am.  And it is.

But some days?  Some days suck.  Some days, everything goes wrong from the moment you get out of bed.

Last Thursday was one of those days.  To be honest, the whole week was off.  Mark and I fluctuated from amazingly perfect days to days where everything felt off.  But Thursday?  Thursday took the cake.

My kitchen sink was clogged from the moment I poured yesterday's coffee down the drain and it didn't go down the drain all, my roof was being replaced, and the roofers dumped old shingles all over my front steps to create an exciting and impromptu obstacle course.  We drove back and forth across St. Louis with faulty directions to get to a play.  Finally, when we got to dinner, at least an hour later than originally intended, I bumped my knees on the table and that flare of pain and frustration was the final straw that pushed me over the edge into a minor hungry/stressed meltdown that I'd been fighting off for the past half hour (or possibly since the moment I woke up).

The really annoying thing about the fact that I now feel the normal human range of emotions is that I also now cry a lot more.  I used to never cry, except in very dire circumstances.  Like when a dog dies in a book or a movie.  Or during approximately half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  (Seriously.  The whole Snape chapter was me sobbing uncontrollably.)

Honestly, there were times I felt a little heartless that I wasn't crying.  I didn't cry in marital counseling, or in most fights with my ex, even when he did.  The description "heartless" originated with him, not coincidentally.

Now?  I cry.  I cry when I'm overly stressed or tired, or when I'm worried about something, or when my plans get changed.  Or when I'm hungry.  Sometimes I cry because I was crying.  And I hate it.  I hate crying.  I hate feeling emotionally out-of-control.

But, apparently, crying is what I do now.  At least sometimes.  I'm not saying that I walk around clutching Kleenex in case someone looks at me cross-eyed.  Not by a long shot.  It's certainly not a daily event, and even far from a weekly one.  But it's a far more frequent occurrence in the past year and a half than in the seven years before that.  I'm still not quite used to it, and it can feel like a lot to me, the formerly dry-eyed ice queen of South City.

Which brings me back to Thursday, when I bumped my knees and cried a little.  Mark put his hand on my leg, told me quietly that everything would be fine, and read his book while I sniffled a little bit, read my own book, and recovered.  Then we got food, saw a great play, and, somehow, called it all a good night.  In spite of the sink.  And the roof.  And the misdirection.  And the crying.

Apparently even no good, very bad days can be good days when you spend them with the love of your life.  I'm not sure if it's the fact that he makes me feel calmer, or the fact that everything just seems better with him, or the fact that we're just better at dealing with ridiculous situations when we're together because we've already been through so many other ridiculous situations.

But what's really amazing is having someone who understands that sometimes I melt down.  And who tells me that that's ok.  And who's usually more understanding of my crying than I am.  And who I can be emotionally, rawly open with.

Crying in front of my ex was something I rarely did, as I mentioned before.  When it happened, I felt exposed, like I'd been caught shamefully naked and someone was pointing a flashlight at me.  With my boyfriend now, while I still really freaking hate crying, it's not for lack of trust or sense of safety.  I trust him not to use my weaknesses against me.  And I feel safe crying into his shoulder and all over his shirt.  (Which I'm sure is an entirely pleasant experience for all involved.)

I suppose it's a good thing.  The fact that I cry more is negated by the fact that I'm happy and content even more than that.  I'm happy even when everything goes wrong and the roof is quite literally falling down around me.

So, I'll take a few more tears if it means that I get to experience more fully the other wonderful emotions that are out there.

And I'll keep some Kleenex in my purse, just in case.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Things That Go Bump

It's almost Halloween, the season for spooky things, and so, in honor of the upcoming holiday, I made the completely misguided decision to read The Shining.  Which has now become the decision to read The Shining only during daylight hours.

Because I really hate scary things.  I always have.  I don't watch scary movies.  I don't watch American Horror Story.  I don't do haunted houses.  I don't like creepy stories about hauntings or possessions or anything.  I don't like being scared.

As a child, I had recurring slasher-esque nightmares of being chased by horrifying creatures and monsters, in spite of the fact that I never watched anything remotely scary.  I didn't read Goosebumps or watch Are You Afraid of the Dark? because I was afraid of the dark, and of the dreams I had.  I would wake up, almost paralyzed by fear and by the certainty that there was Something under my bed, ready to grab my ankles if I dared to put my feet on the ground.  If I did work up the nerve to get out of bed, it was only through leaping several feet into the room and away from whatever was lurking.  I went through a phase where I would have to check the entire house for burglars or killers before I could feel safe.

I was also convinced that I was going to be kidnapped.  It was the early 90s, when stories of kidnapped kids were everywhere on the news, and I just knew I was going to be one of them.  My face was going to be on a milk carton one day.  Those fears also found their way into my dreams.

Now, I'm allegedly an adult.  I'm thirty years old.  I no longer think I'm going to be kidnapped and I (usually) no longer need to check the bathroom for murderers.  

That doesn't mean I'm not still scared of things.  It just means the fears have changed.  The monsters have changed, and some of them are all too real.

I also still have nightmares, but they've changed too.  Now my recurring nightmares are of my ex-husband coming back, of running into him unexpectedly, of him telling me that he's bugged my house and knows everything I do.  I wake up from those just as panicked as from the nightmares of my childhood, and the thing that makes it worse is that these nightmares are based at least somewhat in reality.  No, I don't think that my house is under surveillance, but the possibility that he could be anywhere near me brings on a panic that I never before understood.  It brings back the memory of the months I spent being afraid to be alone with him, of secretly moving in with a different friend so he wouldn't know where I was.

There are other things I'm afraid of.  Failure.  Judgement.  Of not being good enough.  Spiders.   You know, the usual.

And I'm scared of making the same mistakes I did before, scared that the person I love and trust will somehow stop being the person he has proven, time and again, to be.  I'm scared that I will become someone unloveable.  

These fears really have no more validity than the things that chased me in my childhood dreams.  (Except spiders.  Spiders are the worst.)  They are, like all fears and nightmares, things that come out at night when you're alone, or feel alone.  They prey on vulnerability and make you second guess every decision, every word.

It's little wonder that Stephen King is capable of terrifying so many.  He doesn't just use monsters and crazed dogs and things that go bump in the night.  He taps into other, more real terrors: losing family, having those we love and trust turn on us, the inability to stop the inevitable, and the inability to overpower our own personal demons.  These are the things that are truly frightening, the things that can happen to any of us.

Luckily, life is not a Stephen King novel.  And I'm very rarely laying in bed, paralyzed by fear.  Anymore, things that go bump in the night are usually just my dog and my upstairs neighbors.  And, for the most part, the scariest thing that happens to me is my kitchen sink being clogged and my roof being replaced all in one day. 

And, in spite of being a giant scaredy-cat, I do like Halloween.  Of course I like Halloween.  I love dressing up.  I love costumes.  I love themed parties (so long as I can avoid any and all slasher movies on the TV), and Halloween is the ultimate combination of dressing up, costumes, and themes.  

Girls in a graveyard is always a good theme.
Honestly?  The biggest fear I have right now is finishing my costume in time.  

Stephen King's got nothing on that.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

One Year Later, Again

I think you all can tell that I'm big into anniversaries lately.  For me, they've become milestones of a sort, markers on the road of how far I've come the past year and a half.  I assume I'll eventually stop caring quite so much about these dates, but until then, bear with me.  Because this past Saturday, I hit another one.

One year of being divorced.

That's a big, really exciting one.

That's a year of me being really and legally free from my financial black hole of a crazy ex.

Honestly?  I thought it would be harder.  I thought I would struggle to pay bills on my own, with only one paycheck.  I thought I would have to give up and ask for help.  I thought I would fail at being an adult.

These fears were something I vividly remember talking to my friend Katie about before I actually decided I did want to get divorced.  I spent a great deal of time adding up my projected living expenses and comparing them to what my projected paycheck would be.  After all, I'd never really lived on my own.  I'd never had to do this.  The closest I came was going away to college, but I didn't have bills.  I didn't have rent or utilities or much in the way of groceries.  And then I got married, and he took over the checkbook.  I deposited my paycheck in our joint account, and he took the bills off to work to (allegedly) pay them.  I had my "allowance" of what I could spend on going out and buying things for myself.  I don't think I need to detail how this was all a terrible idea, and how I'm never going to not have my own separate bank account again, no matter who I do or do not marry.  Sometimes, you live and learn.

Strangely enough, I've actually been a fairly successful adult, in spite of being mostly-unemployed for almost six months.  I am, quite frankly, impressed with myself.  I think that's allowed.

In some ways, it seems like the year has flown by.  I don't know where most weeks have gone.  I don't know how it got to be October.

But in other ways, I feel like it's been ages since I got divorced.  It feels like something long-ago that happened to someone else.  All the unbelievable, stranger-than-fiction things that happened seem like something I read in a book, not actual events that happened to me.

So, how did I celebrate my one year divorce-aversary?

By working my 13th day in a row, of course.

Sandi helped.
I may be celebrating my year of divorce, but that doesn't stop the rest of the world from getting married.  Nor should it.  In spite of being jaded and cynical as I might be, I truly like working weddings.  I remember a few months ago sitting at my desk, reading an e-mail from a bride-to-be, and being suddenly struck and amazed by the fact that some brides (most brides, really) are genuinely excited about getting married.  That their wedding day is one of the best days of their life.  That was suddenly amazing to me.  And depressing, all at the same time.  That's the way I should have felt about getting married, after all.  That's the way anyone should feel about it.

Instead, I feel that way about my divorce.

Last year, I celebrated in an entirely different manner.  I didn't find out about my finalized divorce until a week later, poetically, the day before I performed on stage for the 7th Annual Michelle Mynx Pole Dance Extravaganza.

Some of you may not know that I have been taking acrobatic pole dance classes for the past six years.  It was a decision I made after going to my first burlesque show years ago and seeing Michelle perform.  I knew immediately that it was something I wanted to do, even though I had never before seen anything like it.  It was a decision I didn't tell a lot of people.  For one, I worked for the church. Morality clause and all that.

For another, it was not a decision my ex-husband approved of.  At all.

The fact that I wanted to pole dance was a source of contention for most of my marriage.  We fought about what I could and couldn't wear, who I could and couldn't perform with, where and when I could and couldn't perform.  We fought about the fact that I bought shoes to perform and practice in.  We fought about the fact that I wanted to buy my own pole (with my afore-mentioned allowance).  I was only "allowed" to perform once-a-year at the yearly extravaganza/student showcase.  I wasn't "allowed" to take any costume piece off, even so much as a glove.  None of this was not open for discussion.  It had to be that way, because the fact that I pole danced in public, usually wearing more than most swimsuits, was somehow shameful.  I was told that if I ever took anything off on stage, he would drag me off of it.  It was a joke, but I knew that it really wasn't a joke at all.

But I persisted.  It was one of the few things I thought worth fighting about.  I am and always have been stubborn when I want to be.  I even won a few battles every now and then.  I performed when I could, took classes when I could afford it, fell off the pole during a performance and got back up and finished (after doing a cartwheel and landing on my knees in jazz hands).  And, along the way, I found a group of the best friends I could ever have asked for.  I've found self-confidence and support and love.  And even a few muscles.

From my first, and favorite, pole performance.

It was worth the fighting for what I gained, and I don't for a second regret deciding to start pole dancing.

I'm not saying I'm a great performer.  Far from it.  But I do it because I love to.  The pole community is a wonderful place where everyone is accepted and supported, where you can be any shape or size or gender.  You can be sexy or cute or funny, or all three at the same time, and no one cares.

It was really only fitting that I found out that I was officially divorced the day before last year's Extravaganza.  I had actually backed out of performing after going through the stress of my separation, divorce, and job loss.  But I performed a thrown-together routine at a Pole Kisses show a few weeks prior to the Extravaganza, and Michelle looked at me and said, "Why don't you just do that number?"

And so I did.

One of the things that I remember most about last year's show was standing in the wings, waiting to go on, and the host announcing that my divorce had just been finalized.  The cheer that went up (from some strangers, yes, but mostly from friends) was deafening.

And so, appropriately, I danced my way into my first days of being a divorcee.

I won't be dancing this year, regrettably.  It's my first year in six years that I'm not performing at the Extravaganza.  The reality of it was I don't have time.  And I hate it, but I know it was the right decision.  But it's still where I'll be Friday night, cheering on my friends and fellow pole dancers.

And you should be too.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Sort-of Anniversary

People talk about how love is hard.  It's work.  It's not easy.  And yes, that's all true.  It's not always easy to love someone who's sometimes all-too-human, who can disappoint you or say the wrong thing.

But it can be even harder to not love someone.

I should know.  I tried to not love someone for a decade.

I only met my boyfriend by chance 12 years ago.  If I hadn't been at a certain graduation party in the summer of 2003, and if I hadn't agreed to tag along with a few friends to a rehearsal for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, I don't think we ever would have met.  

But I was at that graduation party, and I went to that rehearsal.  And one of the first people I saw was this goofy bald guy, who made some ridiculous joke (some things never change).

And I knew.

I knew that this guy was going to be a part of my life, that I was never going to be done with him.  It's as close to love at first sight as I think can reasonably exist.

But I also knew that didn't make any sense.  I was eighteen.  I had just graduated high school.  I was going to Chicago for college.  Moreover, I didn't believe in love at first sight.

I was standing in a room full of strangers, being told that these strangers were named Sappy and Loopy and Woody and I remember wondering what alternate universe I had wandered into.  This guy, who was apparently named Woody, was obviously older than me, and so completely opposite of any other guy I'd ever had a crush on.  This was just another crush, I told myself, albeit an entirely inexplicable one.  I'd get over it.  Surely.  There was no way I was going to ever be in love with a bald guy nicknamed Woody who was thirteen years older than me and had a louder laugh than anyone I've ever known. 

No way.


I spent the rest of the summer suffering with this senseless crush, knowing that if I just made it through the summer and left for college, I'd get over it.  I'd find someone else.

Obviously, that worked well.
You can't say we didn't try.  I spent years convincing myself that I wasn't in love with him, including years spent not talking to him, and he did the same.  We were friends, sure.  I liked talking to him, sure.  I was attracted to him, sure.  But I wasn't in love.  How could I be?  He was too old for me, too conservative for me, too any-number-of-excuses for me.  I blatantly ignored the fact that I could always talk with him more than anyone else, that I wanted to be around him, that countless little things always reminded me of him.  I wasn't in love.

Then, a little over two years ago, I got off the phone with him and realized.  Shit.  I was in love.  It was terrifying.  It was completely, horrifyingly inconvenient.  And worse, it was entirely undeniable and made me feel ridiculously warm all over.  A few days later (exactly two years ago today, in fact), in the parking lot of a Walgreens, he told me he was in love with me.

I'm going to pause here and go back to my first (and only other) first "I love you."  It was my sophomore year of college, in the basement of Mary Martha.  I'd been dating the man I would end up marrying and he told me after barely a month that he loved me.  I didn't say it back.  Instead, I felt vaguely panicked.  It had been a month.  I liked him.  But I didn't really know him.  He didn't really know me.  I was still learning about dating.  It was all physical, superficial flirting.  I had no idea what I was doing.  Holding hands in chapel.  Exploring the boundaries of what I did and didn't want to do.  So I didn't say it back until a week or so later, when I'd worked myself up to it.  In retrospect, I realize that I basically talked myself into saying I loved him so that I wouldn't feel bad that he was saying it to me.

I spent the next almost nine years talking myself into the relationship, wondering why I didn't feel loved, figuring it was just me being cold and heartless.  My ex-husband said he loved me.  He bought me things, apparently because he loved me and thought that was what would make me happy.  He told me I was impossible to make happy, and I was baffled by that.  There were so many things that made me happy.  Unfortunately, he usually wasn't one of them.  Instead, I spent years of my life walking on eggshells, putting aside what I wanted to do because it would make him unhappy, or because it would start a fight that I could never win.  I didn't go out with friends, because he couldn't go.  I didn't perform in public, because he didn't approve.  I waited on him hand and foot, because he wanted me to.  Besides, it was easier to do what he wanted than to argue that I was tired, or had other plans, or that maybe I just wanted to do something else.  Trying to express my feelings to someone who didn't care was too exhausting.

But two years ago, when Mark told me that he was in love with me, it was a relief.  I didn't panic.  I didn't wait two weeks to say it back.  I didn't want more than a few seconds.  The words had been bubbling up inside me for days.  I didn't have to talk myself into it, because I'd been trying to talk myself out of it for ten years.

I went home after that and this article showed up on my Facebook.  It was perfect in every way.  Either one of us could have written it for the other.  Really, the fact that I shared it as a surreptitious love note is the only way I know that this is the two year anniversary of that day.  (Thanks, Timehop.) 

Being in love, this time around, is completely different in every way.  Mark is my best friend, my confidant, and seemingly the other half of my brain.  We've shared everything from dreams to thoughts to food cravings.  I've never doubted that he loves me, though I've often wondered why he does.

And, in spite of all the reasons we probably shouldn't, we work.  

We have fights and disagreements and off days, of course.  Everyone does.  And they suck.  A lot.  He's the one person I tell everything to, and when I can't talk to him because I'm furious with him, it kindof limits my options. (Though, apparently, I can yell at him with my brain.  So that's a plus.)  

So.  It's been two years since we both gave in to the apparently inevitable.  I don't know what I would have done without him in my life, and I know he's probably turning multiple shades of embarrassed red while reading this.  But if I'm going to be honest on here about the bad parts of my past, I also want to be honest about the good parts of my past, and my present.  Because though I still have PTSD and emotional baggage, there are a lot of good things.  And it's not just my job and my friends and my dog.  It's the love of my life, too.  He makes my life better, and I hope that I do the same for him.

And so ends my ridiculously sappy post on this sort-of an anniversary.  Perhaps next time I'll talk about my experiences taking Fish Eye Fun pictures of body builders, or my hopefully upcoming trip to the brand new IKEA, or my tips on how to survive working every single day of the week (spoiler alert: coffee).

Anything but romance and emotions. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Inherent Tragedy of a Finished Book

Books Bought
Angels and Insects: Two Novellas, by A.S. Byatt
Babel Tower, by A.S. Byatt
Zelda, by Nancy Milford
Wild: from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

Books Read
Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books, by Cara Nicoletti
Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne (audiobook)
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow
Stuff I've Been Reading, by Nick Hornby
H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald (audiobook)
(most of) Angels and Insects, Two Novellas, by A.S. Byatt

It's the beginning of a new month, and I'm already exhausted.  It's been a full week of work (made fuller than usual with two weddings this past weekend and working from home on Monday). I've also been slightly more domestic than usual lately.  I blame the onset of fall.  Cooler weather not only brings out the leggings from my closet but also brings about a stronger desire to cook.  And snuggle under blankets.  There have been very few complaints about this from the peanut gallery.

It's also brought about an uptick in my reading.  I've been a bit more avid about burying myself in a book than in the past few months, and it shows in my accomplishments.  I really don't know where I find the time.  I think I've just given up on sleeping.

With the end of September comes a change in the way I do my reading lists on this blog, thanks to one of this month's books (a perfect gift from the lovely Anne when she came to visit last month).

Stuff I've Been Reading, by Nick Horby, is a wonderful collection of the essays Horby wrote as reflections on his monthly reading list and ruminations on his books bought list vs. his books read list, essays which, I must say, far outshine my past few "reading list" blogs.  So?  I'm going to rip off the format from Hornby... I mean borrow from.  Commandeer, if you will.  Nautical term.

Hey, writers snag ideas and inspiration all the time from other writers, so why can't I?  (Apparently I've decided since last week that I am, in fact, a writer. At least for now.)

Since there are far too many coincidences in my life to be coincidental, I wouldn't dare to say that it's a coincidence that I read Nicoletti's Voracious in the same month that I started cooking more.  I bought it one night after dinner with Mark at Pi, one of our favorite pizza places.  Left Bank Books is just a diagonal jaunt across the street, so it's hard to avoid "just looking."  It was the first of two "books about books" that I read this month.  I adored both, but Voracious, for some reason, thrilled me in a way that was surprising for how simple the book itself was.  I guess it's not that surprising.  It does, after all, combine two of my favorite things: books and the food in books, complete with truly delicious-looking recipes.  And no, I haven't made anything from the book yet, but it's only a matter of time before there's a cherry pie on the table.

Nicoletti's essay/cookbook mash-up is everything it promises to be.  She takes us through her whole lifetime of reading and food, starting with childhood and moving forward.  The essays are short, sweet, and heart-felt.  They are not long, drawn-out, soul-searching works, and that is fine, because they don't need to be epic works to show the deep-rooted love Nicoletti has for great food and great literature.  It's highly possible that I identify a little too strongly with her and am more than a little annoyed that I didn't keep up on my own blog about the food in books.  Such is life.

In the same vein, Stuff I've Been Reading is another book about books.  It's definitely more high-brow and sarcastic, which is fine by me.  I chuckled to myself throughout the whole book, constantly prompting my boyfriend to ask what on earth I was laughing about.  Needless to say, the list of books I want to read has sky-rocketed this month further and further into the unimaginably unachievable range.  But what else is new?

If there is a lesson I learned from both books, however, it is that I never, ever want to read Cormac McCarthy's The Road.  Ever.

Not all books can be winners.  Journey to the Center of the Earth was my least favorite book this month, which is almost unfair considering how excellent most of the books I read were.  Yes, it's a classic, blah blah blah.  But that doesn't mean I have to like it.  This view, I might add, is a more recent revelation to me.  Young, idealistic Ashley was of the firm view that classics were required reading and that if you didn't like them, you were missing something.  Older, lazier Ashley has learned that yes, you can and probably should read the classics, but you don't have to be their staunchest defender.  Some of them are boring and hard to pay attention to (particularly when read in Tim Curry's sonorous voice).  That's not to say they don't have merit.  But it is to say that I don't have to lie and say that I loved a book when I didn't.  So.  I didn't love it.  Moving on.

This brings me to a book I completely loved: Ready Player One.  Loving this book was a bit of a surprise to me.  It wasn't a book that was even on my radar, besides hearing that it was going to be a movie.  It sounded more like a gamer boy book, and I'm not a gamer in any sense of the word.  But I read this article about books "as enchanting" as Harry Potter, and it was listed on there, along with other favorites like The Night Circus and American Gods.  And while wandering around a bookstore with the boyfriend (Yes, we do a lot of that.), I picked up a copy of Ready Player One and mentioned the article I'd read.  Mark, having not-so-secret motives of wanting me to buy the book so he could read it, encouraged me to get it.  And since I never need much encouragement to buy another book, I did.

Cline's fantastic debut novel is one I would never have appreciated as much a few years ago as I did now.  Correction: it is not a book would have appreciated as much without the influence of my boyfriend.  Without him, I wouldn't know half the references I did.  I wouldn't know Oingo Boingo, or The Last Starfighter, or Explorers, or Heathers (to be fair, Alexis helped with that one too).  As someone born in the mid-80s, my 80s pop culture knowledge is middling at best.  It was only a few years ago that I actually saw all the Back to the Future movies all the way through.

Ready Player One is a love song to geeks, gamers, and all things 80s.  That being said, even if I didn't have my new-found 80s education, I still would have enjoyed the book immensely.  The trivia knowledge that you may or may not possess is a cherry on top of the ice cream sundae of a wonderfully-told adventure story, or like an Easter egg you weren't expecting to find.

Following up on the books that became movies theme (also the reason I bought Wild, hopefully to be read next month), I read Here Be Monsters!, which I honestly only picked up because I realized it was the basis for the adorable The Boxtrolls movie (another thing I can blame on the boyfriend: he "made me" watch the movie.  Terrible man.  Truly.)  However, if that's also your motivation for reading the book, I'd caution you to reconsider, or at least to forget that the movie was allegedly based on the book.  Because outside of the existence and inherent nature of boxtrolls and a few characters with the same name and plot lines involving cheese, there's really nothing to connect the two stories.  Once I got over that dismaying fact, I was able to enjoy the book.  It's a quirkily dark young adult novel (there are strange creatures like cabbageheads, rabbit women, and pirate rats that run a nautical laundry, for starters), the first in a series that I probably won't be reading more of because really, I don't have the time.

Helen Macdonald's is a sadly sweet, compelling memoir of Macdonald's struggle to get over her father's death through training a goshawk.  She winds in stories of T.H. White's life and his own book about training a goshawk, aptly titled The Goshawk.  Both authors are tormented souls, grasping at straws and falconry as a means to stay afloat in their grief and pain.  The audiobook is wonderfully read by the author, but I think her aching voice would carry through any text, read aloud or silently.

There is, as Mark put it, an inherent tragedy of a finished book, a strange binding up of satisfaction and dismay.  Though I'm currently in a "read all the books" mode and have been tearing through books as fast as I'm able with limited reading time, I have often felt the internal struggle of I-want-to-finish-this-book-but-don't-want-it-to-end.  After all, a truly wonderful book wraps you up and doesn't let you go when it's finished.  You don't want to pry yourself out and ease into the unfamiliar arms of a new story.  Ready Player One came closest this month to reprising that feeling.  I know Mark, who dropped A Feast for Crows without hesitation to read Ready Player One when I finished, definitely felt it.  I'm not sure he's done much reading at all since.  Of course, A Feast for Crows is a definite swamp of a book, so I can't say I blame him.

We've both become apostles of sorts for Cline, having both recommended Ready Player One to friends and strangers alike, only just stopping short of going door to door passing out stacks of paperbacks.  There are all-too-few books I feel that way about, and I certainly never expected to feel that way about a book I was ready to write off as a gamer boy book.  Great literary fiction?  Yes.  John Irving novels?  Yes.  Books about books?  Yes.

But it's books like Ready Player One that keep me reading, and reading everything.  Correction: it's books like Ready Player One and people like my nerdy boyfriend that keep me reading everything.  I've become far less of a book snob since knowing him, and I'm a better reader (and person) because of it.  Not only does he introduce me to 80s movies and music, but he gets me to read things I never would have on my own.  Without him, I would never have read Terry Pratchett, or the Odd Thomas series, or the Myth Adventure books, or several excellent steampunk novels.  I mentioned the young, earnest reader I used to be earlier?  She still tends to stick around and turn up her nose at things like science fiction, fantasy, and Dean Koontz as a whole.

But I've gotten better at beating her down, as you can see by this month's varied book list.  There are two non-fictions (one even being half a cookbook), a memoir, a YA novel, a classic, and a contemporary fiction.  And the majority of a typical high-brow Byatt novella pairing.  These days, I read just about anything someone gives me (eventually - I do have a very long reading list, after all), but I'm always pleasantly surprised when a book outshines any pretentious expectations I happen to put on it.

I guess that cliche about not judging a book by its cover sometimes holds true after all.