At Being Well-Read

I’ve gotta tell you a secret, guys. No matter what I’m doing—working, driving, sitting in class, hanging out with friends or acquaintances—I would always rather be reading.

Hermione gets it.

Hermione gets it.

Someone out there has read this and is now thinking, “But not when you’re talking to me, right?” Sorry, honey, whoever you are. There’s a reason the main thing I do with my closest friends is get together and read in silence. It’s not that I don’t like “real” life; books are just so much better.

I wish everybody felt this way—not just so folks would understand not to try and strike up a conversation with me when I’ve got my nose in a book on the bus, but because reading for pleasure is directly linked to future success in children and teenagers and higher levels of empathy in people of all ages. Plus, it doesn’t only actually make you smarter, it makes you look smarter, which is helpful if someone in a job interview or on a date asks you what your favorite pastimes are. Reading is essential, but it’s also fun if you do it right.

Not everyone had the same experiences I did growing up. Not everyone had parents who sat down and read with them at every given opportunity. Not everyone had access to public and school libraries filled with good books and helpful people. Not everyone went to a school where it was okay to think reading was exciting and fun. Because of these and other reasons, some people don’t discover the love of reading until adulthood. If you’re one of those people, get excited–you have SO much discovery ahead of you. Starting out on this adventure might seem intimidating, but don’t worry. Mama’s got your back. Here are some ways to start reading for pleasure that won’t make you want to tear your hair out–and some helpful links!

What is not sucking? Not sucking is defined on the journey to well-read status as honestly enjoying reading fiction—not just doing it because you have to.

  1. Sample lots of genres. Start with contemporary fiction—it’s super accessible and unbelievably varied, so no matter who you are, there’s a book out there for you. Don’t worry about what will be “useful” or what will impress people. Read what looks interesting to you. My favorite genres are realistic (sometimes called “literary”) fiction, fantasy and young adult (which, yes, is totally worth reading even if you’re no longer a teenager). Other types of novels include mystery, science fiction, and romance; I’ve found something to enjoy in every section. Don’t reject an entire genre based on your perception of it! You could very well be pleasantly surprised if you take a chance.
  2. Read what you said you read in high school. Classics are usually classics for a reason: they tap into human experiences and desires that transcend time and place and idiom. (Plus you can talk about them to impress a date.) If Great Literature seems daunting, it shouldn’t. At one point, even plays written by William Shakespeare were just considered entertainment for the uneducated masses. Today, the only differences between the Bard and an MTV reality show are rhyme, meter and some depth of feeling. If the idea of reading “older” English intimidates you, start with something from the 20th century, like The Great Gatsby, Beloved, or Catcher in the Rye, and work your way backward.
  3. Get some perspective. Read books written by men and books written by women. Read books written by people of every race and nationality and sexuality and gender identity and any other identifying characteristic you can think of. Don’t do this just to check off items on some diversity itinerary. Do it because all human stories are different from each other, and they are also all the same, and both of those things are vitally important.
  4. Go back to basics. The children’s section of any bookstore is home to some of the best stories you’ll find anywhere. As C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia, once said, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” Reread your old favorites, and then discover some new ones.
  5. By Grant Snider of Incidental Comics.

    By Grant Snider of Incidental Comics.

    Be a rebel. Banned books are some of the most important books you can read, because if something upsets people, it is likely worth a lot of thought. Some people jump at the chance to read banned books (“CONTROVERSY! ALL RIGHT!”), but others are a little more hesitant. If you’re in the second group, consider that before you disagree with something, you should probably find out exactly what it is you’re disagreeing with—and that involves digging a little deeper than reading a warning label. Reading banned books gives you the opportunity to decide how you feel about an issue, whether that’s profanity, prejudice or pornography, without having to rely on the opinions of a politician or a PTA. As you’re reading, see if you can find out why the book got banned. Considering the work as a whole, think about what the author was trying to say with the contested parts of the book. Should the entirety of the novel be lost because of a part of it that offended someone? If you read it, that becomes your call and not someone else’s.

  6. For the love of God, read Harry Potter. In fact, just go ahead and start with that.

Have fun, new readers–and old ones, too! If you have recommendations for me, or if you’d like some, please visit this blog’s Facebook or catch up with me on Twitter.

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At Getting Your Toes Done

Open-toed shoes are part of everybody’s uniform in Florida, especially during the summer. This is nice, for the most part, but it can socially handicap you fast if you don’t take care of your feet. I’m not just referring to the ladies here. Guys, I’m sorry, but hobbit feet are just not cute. Hair, long toenails, calluses—if you’re gonna wear sandals, you have to get that nonsense under control.

Even great football players get pedicures--and so does Tim Tebow! Original photo from TMZ.

Even great football players get pedicures–and so does Tim Tebow! Original photo from TMZ.

Oh, stop complaining that it’s “girly”. I don’t know very many people of any gender who’d pass up the chance to soak their feet in hot water and let somebody rub pomegranate-scented lotion up and down their legs.

I’m not the best at doing this on my own (certainly not because I’ve got toenails that grow diagonally or something. Nope. Nuh-uh). Fortunately, my beach town has several great nail salons, and they’re more than happy to help out those of us who have difficulty in this area. However, as someone who’s more than a little socially awkward, getting a pedicure presents a unique challenge. How does one interact with someone who knows exactly how much dead skin has accumulated on your tootsies? Is it okay to focus on the backrub you’re getting from the massage chair, or are you required to make small talk? How much are you supposed to tip?

Lucky for us, in the grand scheme of things, getting a perfect pedicure isn’t that important. All that matters is that you let yourself be pampered—and treat your nail tech with respect. Here’s some ways to make sure your pedi is perfectly okay.

What is not sucking? In the realm of foot-related spa and salon services, not sucking is defined as getting your feet pampered without causing an awkward situation… or making a mess of your feet.

  1. Make an appointment. Nothing’s worse than waiting an hour for a walk-in foot massage, except maybe listening to somebody complain about waiting an hour for a walk-in foot massage.
  2. Dress right. You don’t want to wear a skirt to a pedicure—the cosmetologist will see far more of you than they ever wanted to. In summer, wear shorts. In winter, wear pants that you can comfortably roll up to your knees.
  3. Choose a color. There’s way more to a pedicure than getting your toenails painted, but if you’re opting to get some pigment on your piggies, try and expedite the color-selection process as much as possible when you get to your nail polishappointment. If you’re dedicated to regular pedi maintenance, feel free to pick a dark color or something neon. If you’re like me, the toenail polish you select is going to stay on your toes for half of eternity because you won’t bother to remove it, so try and choose something natural looking.
  4. Decide how social you feel. This is best done on the day of your appointment before you leave your house. Feeling like some silent contemplation is on tap today? Bring a book or magazine to the appointment. Feeling chatty? That’s awesome. Go forth and be pampered sans accessories.
  5. Then, act accordingly—and politely. No matter how social you feel (or not), you can never ever be too nice to someone who touches feet for a living. Say hello. Ask their name. Ask how their day is going. The conversation can end here if you’d rather be reading, but if you feel like bonding with your beautician you can ask about their kids or their last vacation or even start talking about your own life—as long as you keep in mind that there are other people in the room with you.
  6. Don’t. Move. Don’t move your feet when the person giving you your pedicure is painting your toenails. Don’t move your feet when they’re putting your feet back in your shoes or stuffing your toes into the little Styrofoam spacer. Don’t move your feet when you’re sitting under the dryer. Just don’t move them and you’ll greatly reduce the risk of screwing up your paint job.
  7. Tip. Fifteen percent minimum, folks. Budget for it.

Enjoy your pedicure, readers! If you want to share pictures of your favorite color choices or tell me funny stories about feet, like this blog’s page on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.

At Road Trips

Two months ago, my friend Alyssa asked me if I would go with her from our tiny town in Florida to her tiny hometowns in Kansas and Missouri. The drive was roughly 18 hours each way, including stops; on the way up we stopped at a hotel in Nashville, but for some reason we decided it would be better to just do the trip home in one straight shot.

After twelve hours of the car getting steadily hotter and stickier, we realized that we were idiots.

“Oh my God, I want to cry” is not normally the first thing I say when I walk into a Panera Bread. It’s probably not the first thing anybody says when they walk into a Panera Bread, which is probably why the cashier in Olive Branch, Mississippi, treated me so gingerly while I ordered my sandwich, but I couldn’t help it; it was the first air conditioning I’d experienced all day since leaving Missouri in Alyssa’s 15-year-old car, Marv.

If you’ve never driven through the entire state of Mississippi with no functional A/C, you should know that it’s not something I recommend.

You should also know that the time I did that was totally worth the sweat, because it was the time that I returned from the best two weeks of my entire life. I met new friends, I did some shopping, I got unbelievably borderline-Siamese-twin close with Alyssa and I learned more than I ever thought it was possible to learn in a two week vacation. (In Holden, MO, there is a Pizza Hut in the middle of a cornfield. Just picture that for a sec.) Even so, I think one of the best parts of that trip was the actual traveling—the day and a half, total, that it took Alyssa and me to get there and back.

What’s funny about really long road trips is that on paper, they look like a terrible idea. Being stuck staring straight ahead in a tin can with the same person or people for hours or even days at a time shouldn’t be fun, particularly if you add in limited bathroom access and late June southern humidity. However, something about the small space and the rush of seeing unfamiliar territory rush by your window is… well, magical. People open up. Minds expand. Friendships grow. It’s dangerous and uncomfortable and expensive and you should totally, totally do it.

Of course there are safety rules to follow, but we’re not going to cover those today. You can read about them here. What we’re going to discuss are the plethora of non-safety related pitfalls that your road trip can fall into: hunger, boredom, and crabbiness are just a few. Here’s how Alyssa and I avoided them while we were Thelma and Louising it through the American Midwest.

What is not sucking? In the realm of extended vehicular travel, not sucking is defined as making it from your point of origin to your destination, not only without dying or killing your fellow passengers, but while having fun along the way.

This is what hair looks like when you're having fun. 1. Gather provisions. Get some water bottles—they’ll keep you hydrated and make sure your skin doesn’t break out on the road. Everything else is up to you. Try to get an even balance of sweet and salty, unless it’s summer and your A/C is broken, in which case anything with high sodium is counterproductive. Check with your fellow travelers if you’ve got an affinity for snacks with strong smells (sorry about the salt and vinegar chips, Alyssa).

2. Roll the windows down. I love air conditioning as much as the next girl—maybe more. However, road trips are way more interesting when you’re relying on fresh air to stay cool. Listen to the wind. Figure out what a river smells like. Stick your hand out the window and do that wavy-arm thing. Experience the world outside your car.

3. Select your soundtrack carefully. Tunes are the number one most important thing to bring with you on a road trip… besides, you know, a valid insurance card. Happy, bouncy, danceable stuff is best, but there’s also a place for quieter, more pensive music while traveling. Read the mood in the car and DJ accordingly, or use an app like Songza that provides you with lists of potential playlists just for driving. (The pure organizational nirvana of this app makes it maybe my favorite ever.)

4. Stop where it looks interesting. On your way back from wherever you’re going, nobody will blame you for just trying to get from Point A to Point B as fast as possible, particularly if you’re driving through the entire state of Mississippi with no air conditioning. However, on your way to your destination, take some time to pause at the places that catch your eye. Some of my best travel memories happened during the interlude between point of origin and destination, and they were almost never planned. America is full of weird stuff—enormous versions of everyday objects; tiny, oddly specific museums; restaurants that claim to be “international” because they serve fried chicken next to “Italian” marinara sauce and “Chinese” sweet and sour sauce on a buffet. Embrace the weirdness. You’ll end up with good stories.

5. Go with people you love. A road trip by yourself is just a commute. What makes long-distance car travel so memorable, so joyful, so… fun are the companions you choose, and the new ones you find along the way.

Shout out to my new friends in Missouri and Kansas! If you’d like to share some of your favorite road trip memories with me, visit this blog’s page on Facebook or follow me on Twitter