When You Doubt the Value of a Lighthearted Book in a Tough World, Remember This

It's easy to think that, in a tough world, we don't need the lighthearted books, the "silly" ones. But when I saw what they could do--precisely IN those tough times--I changed my mind about that. I think you will too. | lucyflint.com

Well, we're coming to the end of this gorgeous month of Reading Recess

I don't know about you, but it has been SO GOOD for me to slow down, to focus on reading, and to remember why we read.

To set up good, nurturing structure around the reading habit (in the mornings! in a nook!), but also to remember why we have permission to do this amazing thing: falling into novels and reading, reading, reading.

We have that permission, because we're the makers of this art as well. We have to keep experiencing novels as readers, to remember, again and again, everything that they can do.

Because books can be the loveliest of vacations, the sweetest escapes.

Because books connect people: they link hearts with hearts, and remind us that we're not alone.

And sometimes, they do both of these things at once.

In my reading history, there is one moment that stands out above all others.

One moment when a light-hearted, even "silly," book gave an amazing gift to me, my parents, and someone else we didn't know.

In the midst of fear, heartache, tension, physical pain, and hope, there was a story. 

I've talked about it before on the blog, when the memory was especially fresh. (I can't beat that version of the story, so I'm just gonna reprint it below.)

But seriously: for amazing moments with a novel, nothing in my life beats this:

We were in my mom's hospital room.

Waiting with her as they tweaked her pain medication, waiting for her to recover just enough from the surgery to go home. We were looking out at the amazing view from the seventeenth floor. Letting her rest, grabbing coffee from the lobby, keeping each other company.

And then: we were reading out loud. 

My family has always read out loud to one another: it's something my parents did for us when we were kids, and none of us got around to outgrowing it.

So my mom packed a lighthearted novel for her hospital stay, and Dad and I read it out loud.

And something funny happened.

Instead of being overwhelmingly conscious of I.V. cords and hospital gowns, the smells of antiseptic, the sounds of the equipment in the room (I never knew hospital beds were so loud)

Instead of all our worries about the surgery itself, and the outcome, and what the rest of recovery would be like, and if any other treatment was needed

We all teleported. 

To 1930s England. To chauffeurs in uniform, to having tea and lemonade on the lawn, to entertaining the vicar.

To frivolous women and pompous young men and imperious great-aunts. To thwarted love and silly mix-ups and endangered inheritances.

It was one of those comedy-of-manners kinds of books, trivial and subtle and funny. 

The only thing I had to focus on was reading the very next sentence. Everything else faded away. Mom listened and rested. Dad and I wrapped ourselves up in the story. 

And at one point I looked up to see my mom's roommate standing there, listening to me read.

She was holding onto her I.V. pole, with a feeding tube snaking into her nose, but she was with us in the 1930s, standing there in England, just for a little while. 

(She told us—in a beautiful accent that none of us could quite place—that she and her husband had been listening to us for a while, that it was lovely to overhear someone reading, instead of the noise of the TV. "There's a TV in here?" I said later, surprised. We had never even noticed.)

In other words—I tell this emphatically to the doubting voice in my head—in other words, books are still important.

Even when your family gets all shaken around and can't figure out what normal is for a while.

Even in a land of diagnoses and tests and results and lab reports and waiting, waiting, waiting.

After all, anything that can make two women forget—even for an instant—that they are in a lot of pain; anything that can move a group of people over a continent and back about eight decades; heck, anything that can keep me from realizing I'm in a hospital

Well. That's a very powerful force.

Whether the story reminds you of green lawns and sparkling lemonade, or whether it's populated with aristocratic assassins and monocled crime fighters [like the one I'm writing!]:

Stories are important.

And maybe there is no such thing as too silly, when even the silly stories can remind us who we are.


In reading news: I finished Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat! SO much fun. And so I've started my final novel for this four-in-four challenge.

It is in the favorite-of-mine genre of British mystery. Thought I'd save the easiest for last! Somehow, I can never, ever read enough British mysteries.

This one's a recommendation from my mom (who is totally healed and healthy now, by the way!). It's called Bellfield Hall, Or, The Deductions of Miss Dido Kent, written by Anna Dean. 

Wahoo!! I'm super excited to dive in!! 

How's your reading going? Can you spend the last week of July splashing around in some fun-for-you (or dare I suggest it, even silly) novel??

Maybe in a lovely nest or nook? Maybe while eating something nourishing and delicious?

(Or a crisp gin and tonic: also fine with me. Heck, have two. It's been a tough summer.)

Wherever you are, whatever's going on: Save some time for yourself and a splendid book. 

Re-anchor yourself in the worlds of what you're reading. Switch your perspective for a while. Nourish yourself with words.

It's vital.

Happy reading to you, my friends!

Give Yourself This Simple, Powerful, Life-Sustaining Gift This Weekend

Let's not underestimate how sweet, blissful, and powerful a reading vacation can be! (Not to mention cheap. And totally doable!!) | lucyflint.com

And then sometimes, reading is just a blissful escape.

A cheap—but incredibly effective!—mental vacation. 

Obviously this can be abused, and of course it's not the most healthy idea to keep checking out in the midst of circumstances that need your attention. (So let's not do that.)

But a well-timed book escape can also be balm

Find a good, absorbing novel, and it's a ticket away, a mind-spa. Nourishment.

When they're set in an exotic locale, a book escape makes me feel like I really have "seen" other places and other times. (Love Mary Stewart's books for that!)

But more importantly, reading in this way protects space and time for me to rest, to be nurtured. To remember what I value.

To hear about courage, to read about other people's struggles, and through that, to feel steady enough to re-enter the fray of my own life. 

Books have filled this place for me again, and again.

Let's never underestimate the delicious ability we have, to escape into a book. To give ourselves a getaway, just by tumbling into a novel for a while.

(Or that we are writing such getaways for other people. It's a huge service, and a wonderful one, too!)

The most vivid memory I have of taking a "book vacation" was a little over ten years ago. I was in an emotionally brutal living situation. My roommate convincingly hated me, and there was no getting out of it.

To put it mildly, I wasn't thriving.

One week, I worked extra hard to clear all my homework by Friday night. And then I walked to our college library. Hiked up the five floors to the children's department. And I grabbed two thick novels by Robin McKinley. (Swoon!)

That Saturday, I woke up early. I carted some snacks out to our balcony and dragged out a chair.

And then I just read.

I snuck back inside for more food or for a bathroom break, but otherwise I spent the whole day on that balcony, in that chair...

but in an entirely different world.

No terrible roommate, no passive-aggressive behavior, no manipulation. I was Elsewhere, and it was marvelous.

By the time the book was over, it was night. I fell into my bed and dreamed story-inspired dreams.

The next morning, I started the second book. This time in my bed. It was a top bunk, so I made myself a little reading nest: I brought my meals and snacks up with me, snuggled under a blanket—and roared through the second book.

By late Sunday night, I'd finished them both. My eyes felt a little warm, a little sore.

But I clearly remember having this exquisite, deeply-rested feeling. 

Like I'd truly been gone. 

Like I'd been able to catch my breath.

I had enough space and time and words pouring through me, and somehow that helped me remember who I was and how I thought and what I liked. (All things which had been under attack in my living situation.)

It can sound like a small thing: two books, one reading-binge weekend

But there was also rest, delightful words, stories of courage. They were big, beautiful books of adventure and facing obstacles, which was exactly what I needed to hear.

And which, I guarantee, helped me survive the weeks to come.

So, let's never underestimate the value of a reading holiday. The power of a well-placed story. The way good books shine light into dark, difficult places.

Mmmm. This is no small thing we do, my novel-writing friends!

Every story we write is a powerful gift to someone else. 

Have you ever had a "reading vacation"? (Or, do you maybe need to take one right now??)

How or where has reading done that service for you? How has it lifted your burdens for awhile, so that you could re-enter the struggle with new energy?

In all honesty, I've had a pretty chaotic summer, and I'm not always landing on my feet these days. So my decision to spend July falling into novel after novel? Has actually been a pretty great one. 

It is so, so lovely to hit pause on all the worries and concerns and challenges. To slide into a book for a while.

And then to step back into the day with a fresher perspective, a little more energy. A clearer head. More words.

It's just one more way that books are beautiful things, right?

Give yourself that gift today, or this weekend. How can you make some space, clear some room for reading, and splash around in someone else's world for a while?

It's worth it. Especially if you feel like you don't have the time.

Take a delicious, story-fueled break. 


Okay, so, reading report: I'm about two-thirds the way through Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, and snickering all the way through. I love books like this!! It will be no trouble to finish it by the end of the week. 

How about you? What have you been readingand lovinglately?

When Do We Do Our Most Important Work? (Let's Refresh That Reading Habit!)

Making a fresh commitment to a definite reading schedule on the blog today! Because "whenever it happens" isn't a good enough answer for me anymore. | lucyflint.com

It used to be that I didn't have to think about it.

I didn't schedule it, plan for it: that would have been silly. It was simply something I did, because I loved it. 

As a kid, I had this incredible drive to read.

To read all the time.

I mastered the ability to pin a book under my chin so I could, say, make up the bed and keep reading. Or clean up my room and keep reading. 

Okay. I know. It was pretty counterproductive. (Sorry, Mom!)

But I read all the time. 

In high school and college, I read what I wanted to in and around the school requirements. Even when I was overwhelmed with homework, I still snagged Sunday nights for rereading stuff like  The Chronicles of Narnia or A Year in Provence. 

In the full-time writing life, I've had to experiment a bit more.

Next to the mega-challenge of learning to write a novel, remembering to read them seems like a less urgent task.

A reading habit fits for a while, and then falls apart, needing a redesign.

And that's where I'm at again: realizing that lately (okay, okay—for basically all of 2016 so far!), I've had no real plan for reading fiction.

Which means, I haven't been reading fiction.

I know that part of this relates back to that issue of having permission.

It's hard, sometimes, to know that I still have a bazillion emails in my inbox, or that I'm behind on my work-in-progress, and yet I'm going to do something that's always been classified as "fun." 

That's why I love the idea of a schedule, a routine for reading. 

Because, frankly, adding something to my routine is the best way I have for protecting it, and for proving its importance to myself. 

Mmmm. But what would that look like now?

I've been mentally browsing the possibilities, remembering how I used to get my reading in.

Sometimes, it was the last forty-five minutes or so of my writing day, a late-afternoon habit. But it got too easily pushed out of the way by other projects.

Then I experimented with a once-a-month reading holiday, which was glorious, but also felt a bit exhausting too.

And then, for the longest time, reading was my last act for the day. Cramming words into my head before turning out the light, hoping to brew dreams from my reading material. 

I still love the peace of that, but my days have been too hectic, and I'm too exhausted to read before bed. Which feels weird, but ... it's true.

So I'm looking for a new time slot for reading.

I love how Heather Sellers talks about reading in Page after Page. She writes,

You can't get too far off track as a writer if you are reading. ... Writers read. Reading completes the gesture. Reading is what we do. An enormous part of learning how to write better is learning how to read, sensitively, attuned to all the colors and emotions. ... The best way to tune your ear for this work is to read with passion and abandon. 

WHOA. Right?! 

That's such a helpful, corrective message for me. Something I need to keep hearing.

Because I always know, in my head, that reading is important, that it isn't just "for fun," that it's something that must be part of my daily life. 

But I sometimes forget it with my heart. It feels like I'm stalling, procrastinating, dodging the more difficult tasks.

It's a false belief that I have to just keep shedding, over and over again. 

A couple of pages later, Sellers adds,

I like to read, like Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty ... in the morning, before I talk, before I write.

WELL. That just sounds like the most delicious possible start to the day. 

And it got me thinking of one of my favorite reading memories. One morning, after an early drop-off at the airport, I came home around 5:45 and felt too awake to try and sleep again.

So I made tea and found some lemon biscotti. I sat by the window reading A Very Long Engagement, savoring the beautiful prose and the tea and the sunrise. 

... Which is also why I always love the opening of the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, watching Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet starting her day with 1) a walk across English countryside, and 2) a good book.

Mmmm.

... Okay, so, seriously, I just fell into a little daydream about that. 

Here's the thing: it is so easy for me to realize and affirm that if I put writing first in my day, it'll get done. 

SUPER important. Super worthwhile.

And what about reading—the other half of a writer's job? When does that get the best schedule treatment?

I want that level of intentionality with my reading.  

So I'm wondering about shifting my reading to the morning

(Just typing that feels rebellious somehow!!)

Maybe not every day. Maybe twice a week. 

Oooh. 

I love that. I love that! It feels like a good change.

So, how about you? If reading is of critical importance to a writer—and it totally is!—then where does reading fit into your life?

Do you have a specific time when you make sure you get to it? Or is it kind of "whenever it happens"?

What tricks do you have for preserving your reading time? Or is it time to shake things up, start a new reading routine?

Wanna join me for morning reading? I'd love to know in the comments!


P.S., And yes, I did finish reading my first novel of the month! It was a good story, but A Thread of Grace felt like too heavy of a read, with all the heartbreaking news and the tragedies that have been happening lately.

Whew! I need a lighter book for my second read, just to give my heart a break. So, I'm going back to an easier-for-me category of fairytale retellings, with Gregory Maguire's Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. Here goes!

Three Critical Questions to Ask Right Now (to Transform the Rest of Your Year!)

Can you believe 2016 is half over? Time to check in! These three questions will help us map a good course for the rest of the year. | lucyflint.com

Happy July everyone! And happy Independence Day to all the Americans! (To my British friends—no hard feelings, I hope. Wish it could've gone down differently, because I really do love y'all!)

Can you believe that we're in the second half of 2016?

I mean—WHOA. The first half just flew past me! It's like I stepped on a banana peel somewhere in the middle of January and just sailed all the way to this point.

Halfway through the year. Whew! 

It's been such a blur! So this is a really good time to pause and take stock, right? To check in with how everything is progressing and to see what's needed next. 

How are things going for you? What's been awesome in the first half of the year? What's gotten a little off track

Wherever you're at, midyear is the ideal time to ask three things:

1) What wins from the first half of the year can you celebrate? 

2) Where do you need to release guilt around anything that hasn't gone well?

3) How can you tweak, reframe, and readjust, so that some things run more smoothly during the next six months?

Yes? Can I get an amen? 

Personally, I'm celebrating a renewed dedication to cultivating my creativity. I'm rereading The Artist's Way and looooooooving it!! You will definitely be hearing more about that in the months to come! 

I'm also reading Brené Brown's work and dealing with some scars I have from the past—weird messages that I picked up about using my gifts, creating, and being noticed.

It's a little heavy, but oh-so freeing!

And I can't tell you how excited I am for the next chapter of my writing life. It's gonna be amazing, thanks to all the (totally unexpected!) head and heart work I'm doing this summer.

Whew! So, a fistful of confetti goes into the air over all that! 

What about you? What can you celebrate?

It's so important to appreciate the good stuff that's happened. Otherwise, if you're like me, you can overfocus on all the tough things, and forget how far you've come!

And that's a self-defeating mindset to bring into the rest of the year. Mmm.

So: let's dance for a sec. 

Okay? Cool.

... And now, what needs some attention, some extra love, some change?

For me, there is one part of a healthy writing life that I have totally neglected for the last few months. As in—completely. 

I haven't been reading fiction lately.

Eeek!

I know all the things. I know how critical it is to read TONS as a novelist, and how reading stretches you in such good ways.

But I just haven't. I lost my appetite somewhere in all that happened this spring. And instead of my usual reading material, I drowned myself in non-fiction.

Maybe it was because I suddenly felt like I had a zillion problems to solve? 

I plunged into The Desire Map, and I re-re-re-re-reread A Writer's Paris, and fell into The Artist's Way (hallelujah!!), and tumbled into Brené Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection (WHOA, recovering perfectionists, you gotta grab that one!!), and Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

I've been reading plenty!! 

Just not that lifegiving and gorgeous stuff we call fiction.

I'm not going to feel guilty about it: I know exactly how and why I got here. So, guilt, begone! 

But I still want to make some changes about that. I need fiction. So guess what July is going to be about for me. ;)

At my college—hopefully this happens at every college!—we had two days off right around finals time, for studying. But they didn't call it "Order a Bunch of Pizzas and Study Your Brains Out" days, though that's what we did.

They gave it the somewhat old-fashioned (and in my opinion, totally adorable) name, Reading Recess.

I always loved the image that conjured up in my mind. A recess, a break, just for READING.

Welp, that's exactly what's needed right now. I'm declaring July the month of Reading Recess.

Specifically? I'm gonna launch myself into reading four novels in four weeks.

I know—for you mega-readers, that's not much. But part of why I haven't been reading fiction is because my life and living situation is craaazy right now. I'm in a kind of survival mode. 

Four novels in four weeks is gonna be a big deal for me. 

So, I have to clear some time for reading somehow! To make the space in my schedule, my Thursday posts for July are going to be a little different—much more brief, just quick check-ins.

(Unless I get super carried away talking about what I'm reading. Which, let's face it, can definitely happen around here.)

Sound okay with you? 

So that's my challenge. That's what ambitious looks like for me this July.

What about you? How has your reading habit been lately? Do you have a stack of books calling you? A genre or a reading project you need to check in with?

Do you have this nagging feeling that, like me, you haven't been reading nearly enough lately?

Because I'd love the company! What if we all took July to plunge in, to go deep, with whatever we most need in our reading lives?

Or, maybe your fiction habit is tip top. Maybe there's something else tugging at you.

What little challenge feels exciting and daring right now? What sounds inviting? What would be completely yummy for your writing life?

Look, it's July. And where I live, it's the summeriest part of summer.

This is the perfect time to look around, take stock, and clear the space for moving toward whatever you most need. 

For me, that's a few weeks of gulping fiction. 

What does it look like for you?

Ooooh. I'm excited.

Second half of 2016, here we come!!


What are you celebrating after the first half of 2016? And what do you most need to do next?

Anyone else want to do a bunch of reading in July? I'd love to know! Tell me all about your plans in the comments.

On Thursday I'll let you know how I'm doing. And next Monday, I'll report that I've (hopefully!) crossed the first title off my list.

Not planning on being legalisticyou know how we operate on grace around here! Just looking for a little good-natured accountability. 

Til then, I've got some books to fall into!

The Ultimate Traveling Companions

Why I literally can't, won't, and shouldn't leave home without a book. | lucyflint.com

When it comes to "what to pack," this is the hardest decision:

Not what shoes to pack. Not what kind of jacket. Not how many pairs of jeans.

But this: What books will I need?

I am, possibly, the last person in the universe without an e-reader.

I just have a ridiculous fondness for the printed thing, the physical object of the book.

Even when it doesn't make sense. Even when you can fit forty thousand copies, apparently, of all the best novels in a teeny little device, therefore making it perfect for traveling. Even then.

So choosing which books I'll take: that's a major issue! There's obviously the question of weight/bulk, but far more importantly: how to cover all the possible emotional needs, the psychological issues that arise when journeying.

Whew! I spend a LOT of time thinking about this.

Because I just love traveling with books.

(Please, please, tell me someone out there still feels this way!)

I could go on and on about all the romantic and practical reasons why I love traveling with books... But Cornelia Funke describes it so beautifully in this little excerpt from Inkheart (which should be on your must-read list!! and which is, itself, perfect to travel with): 

"Take plenty to read!" Mo called from the hall. As if she didn't always! Years ago he had made her a box to hold her favorite books on all their journeys, short and long, near and far. "It's a good idea to have your own books with you in a strange place," Mo always said. He himself always took at least a dozen. ...

"If you take a book with you on a journey," Mo had said when he put the first one in her box, "an odd thing happens: The book begins collecting your memories. And forever after you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it. ... Memories cling to the printed page better than anything else."

He was probably right, but there was another reason why Meggie took her books whenever they went away. They were her home when she was somewhere strange. 

Isn't that right? 

The books I travel with--they fill up with airline tickets and boarding passes, brochures and maps, receipts and notes and lists. Sometimes with sand, sometimes with a squashed bug or two. (It happens.)

And at the same time: they make me feel at home.

Can we just take a moment to praise the books that accompany us on our journeys? 

There are the books that were just good entertainment, ways to rest, to add flavor to the time away:

- There's the Dorothy Sayers mystery (Have His Carcase) I read in Louisiana, between playing with my nieces and my nephew... 

- I read most of So Brave, Young, and Handsome in a library on my sister's college campus, escaping the fluorescent lights for the Wild West... 

- And then I read a lot of The Mysterious Benedict Society in a guest house in Nebraska... 

- I reread The Secret Garden while reconsidering my entire life in Bermuda, and on another visit, I read Frederick Buechner's The Storm while getting hideously sunburnt. (Whoops.)

But then, there are three books that come to mind for saving in me, one way or another, in tricky places: 

- I read most of The Eyre Affair on a plane over the Atlantic--which kept me from bawling after saying goodbye to the friends I'd made during a semester abroad. It was the perfect distraction.

- I soaked up the words of The Summer Book while in England for two weeks. It is the sole reason that I am still sane after standing in a line at least two miles long in Heathrow Airport. 

- And then, there's my favorite book of E.B. White's essays (One Man's Meat). Gulping down his gorgeous sentences kept me from strangling the guy I was sharing a ride with, when he was eight hours late (!) to take me home for Thanksgiving. Honestly. Jail time averted. Thanks, E.B.

What about you? Which books on your shelves did double duty as traveling companions? Which ones hold memories of other places on their pages?

Which do you recommend for travel? What will you be reading on your next trip? It's a tough question, right? Let's pool our ideas. (Oooh. Reading at the pool...)

I'm Declaring Today a Reading Holiday

If it's been too long since you've gotten lost in reading: today is your day (and mine). Let's dive deep. | lucyflint.com

Stephen King wrote, "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut."

Let's all just stand and applaud that clarity, okay? 

I love that. I totally agree with that.

But can I tell you something? I'm so bad at making time to read. 

In spite of LOVING to read, my reading life has been pretty much crap for the last three months. I mean, I read here and there, a smidge at a time... but nothing like what I want. I'm pecking at it, not gulping.

And now and then, I really need to gulp. I need to drown a bit in words. 

I met a woman once who, now and then, would clear her schedule for a day. Run the errands early, get the dog taken care of, have everything settled, just as if she were going to be out of town for the day. And then she'd just read. 

Hero status granted.

I admire that. I love that. And I'll insist on anyone's right to read, to read all day.

AND YET. I have this weird resistance, a difficulty giving myself permission. 

ACK! Why is that?! Is it because reading was an escape for so much of my life--a way to relax and unwind. So, does it feel like I'm dodging work? Pffft.

Whatever the reason, that kind of resistance to reading doesn't belong in this writer heart! It's not at all what Lucy Flint stands for, as I hope you know by now.

So. Today, I'm declaring a reading holiday. June 12.

Me & a novel. I'll clear the schedule. I'll devote myself to reading.

You're welcome to join me. In fact, please do! Invite friends! Let's all do this serious wonderful work of reading together. Let's all give each other permission. 

(And tell me what you're reading in the comments!)