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Listening to Strangers
2016 was a tumultuous year outside of this blog, but it was also a pretty amazing year inside of DadvMom.com. We published our first book, put up more content than ever before, and connected with thousands of new readers. It was so great to hear from folks we know who enjoyed our book. But our friends are also totally biased. They even said nice things about the weirdly dry potato soup that Annmarie made last Wednesday. (How can soup be dry? I dunno, but it was. It really was.) So even more fun than the encouraging words from friends were the cool words from total strangers, folks we met on this writing journey who read the book, dug the book, and happily spread the good vibrations and glad tidings across the Interwebs. To them, we say a big merry thank you! And we encourage you to check out some good work via the links below.
Army Amy is a super lovely random stranger I found via an article she wrote about moving in the military. I so related to watching television and eating snacks with cardboard boxes judging me in all directions. Army Amy’s writing is simultaneously hilarious and heartfelt, and totally worth checking out, and she was kind enough to review our book:
The book bills itself as a parent’s guide but I think it’s so much more universal than that. Annmarie and Ken narrate alternating chapters as they recount their journey from college co-eds to a family of five in the span of 17 years with 11 (yes, 11!) moves in the middle of it all. Annmarie worked as a teacher with challenging students and her husband was in the Navy. They both eventually moved on from those careers, but you can tell that they answered a calling to forge a difficult path. I really loved that! Hat tip to people who choose the tough road. They shared their wisdom through all of life’s changes and challenges, and that’s what I was needing to hear right now. (Not to mention, the writing is beautifully lyrical; you don’t need to be going through a tough time to appreciate it.)
. . . You will love this book if you are in the military or a family member, if you live a topsy-turvy life, or if you appreciate a well-told tale. . . . This was a can’t-put-down book for me, and I can always use more of those on my nightstand.
Read the full review, and check out Amy’s site here.
Another lovely review came from a writer at Queen of My Fairy Tale. (I know her name, but since she is sweetly anonymous on her site, I am not sharing it here.) I stumbled across her thoughtful blog late one night, and I immediately connected to the battle of raising three children and trying to keep your cool. About Here Be Dragons, she says:
Hands down one of the best books I have ever read. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend that you go buy it now….I mean right now! It should be given out to newly weds, new parents, 2nd 3rd 4th time parents, grandparents and everyone in between. There is something within these pages for everyone.
. . . It made me laugh, cry, shake my head yes (so many times!) that I felt like I knew these people. I related and it was a breath of fresh air, knowing that I am not alone in the crazy cyclone of a parenting world.
Read the full review and check out the fairy tale queen here.
There is still time to have this book in your hot little hands – or in the hands of someone you love – in time for Hanukkah, Christmas, or Festivus. Order yours today.
And thanks for hanging in there with us during 2016. Such a difficult year in lots of ways, but it felt great to have this safe space to call home. Happy holidays, everyone.
Sure, they want gift cards. But what could be less personal than 10 or 20 bucks towards a meal at Panera or a mani/pedi?
Give the folks you love permission to turn off the phone, the television, and global politics, and disappear into a good, juicy book.
Here are just a few of our favorites:
For people who need a laugh, try Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris, or Today Will Be Different, by Maria Semple (though if you have not read Where Have You Gone, Bernadette? maybe read that one first).
For folks who might want to think about religion and the way it both hurts and heals, Searching for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans, is haltingly lovely and wise.
For someone who needs a story to disappear into for awhile, Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, took the immigrant tale I thought I knew and made me rethink the promises of our nation. It was a sweeping story with really beautiful writing. In a different vein, Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad really is as good as everybody has said, making us imagine what if there really had been a railroad beneath the ground transporting slaves, and what, if anything, freedom might have looked like on that journey northward state by state.
For the World War II buff, All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, Mila 18, by Leon Uris, and The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, all take a familiar story and make it both strange and somehow more important. Similarly, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies take us inside the court of Henry VIII to consider a story we thought we knew through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell.
For folks who keep skipping book club, but want to catch up with both new and old favorites, try The Paris Wife, by Paula McClain (or her newer one Circling the Sun, for the Out of Africa afficionados on your list). Life of Pi, by Yan Martel, is beautifully written and metaphorical, and The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah stayed with me more deeply than I initially anticipated. Or try a Brooklyn trilogy – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson, and Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín, would make for a great comparative series.
And if you are looking to escape into a world of romance, try the debut novel Just Enough, by Elizabeth Oaklyn, Austenland, by Shannon Hale, Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series, or the Outlander series, by Diana Gabaldon.
Short stories are always a good bet for folks in between lengthier reads. Jhumpa Lahiri is one of my favorite writers of this genre. The first story in Interpreter of Maladies might be my all-time favorite, though Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth collection is also quite stunning. Similarly, books of essays are always a great gift. I love to revisit E.B. White essays, and love any edition that includes “This Is New York.” I disappeared into Joan Didion’s collected nonfiction last year. We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live is some of the best writing I have ever encountered. And though I love Ann Patchett’s fiction, I especially appreciated her nonfiction collection from a few years ago, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage.
Poetry books are perfect stocking stuffers. The Trouble with Poetry, by Billy Collins is always a good place to start for the poem-o-phobes in your life, and you can’t go wrong with anything by Mary Oliver. Dream Work is one of my favorites.
As a writer, I am a sucker for books about writing. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird was one of my first loves. And, though I never was a huge Stephen King reader, his slim book On Writing is a great look at the writing life.
And it is never too late to become the parent, the partner, or person you always thought you might be. Try Siblings Without Rivalry, by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish, Love Warrior, by Glennon Melton, or Shrill, by Lindy West, to examine the assumptions many of us have about women, men, children, and marriage.
And finally, of course, there is always this old thing. If you have not yet picked up a copy of our book, we’d love to come hang out under your tree. Here Be Dragons: A Parent’s Guide to Rediscovering Purpose, Adventure, and the Unfathomable Joy of the Journey is a love story for families just trying to make every day a blessing.
All of these books are available NOW at your favorite independent bookstores or online stores and they are also super-easy to wrap. Grab some for people you love today.
Godspeed, Pat Conroy
I can’t believe he is gone. My wife is usually the one to write these eulogies – she has far more literary heroes than I do. But Pat Conroy changed my life. He is why I decided to teach at The Citadel. He is why Annmarie agreed to let us move to Charleston. And when it came to writing, he taught me everything I know. I once bumped into him South of Broad, as I walked our dog down the same streets he wrote about in Lords of Discipline. I mumbled a hello, and stared awkwardly as he rounded a corner and disappeared. I have repeated that encounter a thousand times in my head, imagining myself saying something profound, something that would tell him how much he meant to me. He described brotherhood better than anyone. And family. And even though he never served in uniform, he had a knack for writing about war. Next to Pericles, he wrote the greatest eulogy ever delivered, for the real Great Santini. Now, there’s no one left to match him, no one on earth to write the farewell his passing deserves.
You will be missed, Pat Conroy.
“Whatever you do, don’t bother Mom while she’s writing,” cautioned Ken as he zipped out to the garage.
Which is why Katie only asked for a little help with her candy-making stand. She needed marshmallows. And caramels. And Rice Krispies. And chocolate molds. And wax paper.
“Mom is writing, so just let her be,” reminded Ken as he opened his computer.
Which is why Lizzie only needed me to photograph three of the costumes that she put on her stuffed pig.
And why Henry crawled into my lap and fell asleep.
Our kids drive me batty sometimes. They do not understand the sanctity of my work time.
Then again, they are the inspiration for my work. Their shenanigans fuel my stories; their silliness softens my heart. Because of them, I get to say all manner of things I have never said before.
No, Lizzie, it is not ‘illegal’ to kick a volleyball.
No, Henry, you cannot bring three owls and a puppy into church.
No, Katie, I will not eat that spider for a dollar.
Yes, Lizzie, I would love to see your pig’s new talent show.
Girls, stop fighting over that cucumber.
Lizzie, even if Katie said she would pay you a dollar, please do not shoot that arrow at your father’s butt.
No, thank you, Katie. I do not want a chocolate-covered hard-boiled egg.
I sometimes envy my writer friends who have offices, computer desks, and uninterrupted hours in which to create.
When I really need to do serious writing, I drive to the grocery store. They have a couple tables near the check out. It is quieter there. Plus, afterwards, I can buy milk.
But mostly, I prefer to write past bedtime. I tuck myself here in the alcove, just me and the spiders, and maybe a cup of tea. I type through the shadows, thankful, always so very thankful, that the kids’ stories light up the dark.
He skulks around my desk, ribbing me about how all the really great authors used typewriters, hurrying me so we can get down to the bar. All the great thinking, he tells me, takes place in a bar. Or a café. Or sometimes alone. But not like this. Not like whatever you have going on in this jumbled alcove here – the stuffed animals, the extension cords, the cap-less glue stick. He doesn’t like my adjectives. Or most of my nouns either. Did you go to school for this? he asks. I shake my head. Did you? He launches into a fishing story as his reply. At first I think it is a metaphor, a story of persistence and writing against the odds, but then I think it’s just a story about a fish. I ask about The Old Man and the Sea, and how he would frame a discussion of the text with high school freshmen. Instead, he lights a cigarette and asks me to dance. Aren’t you married? I ask. Yeah, he replies. But so are you. So we dance, me and Hemingway, instead of writing. Him because all he had to say he lost years ago. Me because I cannot find the words.