Did you hear about the new study that explains how our brain cells shrink when we sleep? Once the cells are all shriveled, more fluid squeezes in around the brain raisins and washes all the toxins away. In other words, sleep is important because your brain needs a bath.

(Okay, so the study didn’t use those exact words…)

I believe this explains why we have the mushy, foggy feeling when we wake up from a deep sleep: our brains are filled with water and half drowned. It takes a little for the brain to drip dry and suit up for the day.

Ever since hearing about this study, I’ve felt virtuous about my typical morning wooze because maybe I can’t walk straight but hey, at least my brain is clean.


I’ve been kind of going running in the mornings. I say “kind of” because it’s more of a weak trot than a fluid run, I don’t go every day, and I’m not training for a marathon or increasing my distance or doing anything athletic-like. Mostly I try to stay vertical and not get mauled by dogs.

(Seriously, the dogs are getting to be a bit of an issue. Up the dirt road, there’s a new-ish family with three beautiful, young dogs and no fence. The dogs are friendly, I’m pretty sure, but they swarm, charge, and bark with alarming vigor. Yelling at them to go home is useless. I’ve taken to chucking pebbles at them, but I’m afraid that might anger them. This morning the pre-teen boy was outside when the dogs charged. He called them back. I tried to run by. They charged again. So I stopped, hands on hips, and cheerfully said, “I’ll wait till you’re holding them,” and then stood there while he tried to corral them. What’s the best course of action in this situation? Talk to the family? Carry pepper spray? Scream bloody murder when they swarm me at six in the morning? It’s putting a real damper on my  runs, which are already  hard enough without adding a herd of dogs to the mix.)

Anyway, to me running feels like I’m giving my entire body—the inside of it, that is—a bath. Every bit of my insides gets oxygenated.  The blood is pumping, the heart is pounding, the lungs are doing their inflate/deflate routine triple time and it’s good. Of course, I really have no idea what’s going on inside my body because I’m no biologist, but that’s what I imagine is happening. (I also told my husband that if I don’t come back some morning, it’s because I either had a heart attack or the dogs won, so come scoop me off the gravel, please.)


I have not read a novel, cover-to-cover, in what feels like months. I start books. I tediously pick my way through non-fiction. I read articles and blogs. I read children’s lit and young adult fiction to the kids (and husband). I read emails and junk mail and magazines.

I miss immersing myself in a good book. A really good book. A book I can’t put down. A book that makes me lose sleep. Sinking into a book is a healthy form of escapism, I think. Reading requires a focus that allows me to sink down, down, down into something. I spend so much of my day multitasking and being distracted—partly out of necessity and partly out of habit—that a prolonged focus is more than I want to give. Yet putting everything else aside and plunging into a story is cleansing and rejuvenating, kind of like a deep sleep or a good workout.

In a way, I’m scared of a good book. It will derail me, eat up my time, force me to give up an element of control, and make me live another experience that may feel uncomfortable. And I’m scared of a book not being good enough. The book I read has to be perfect. I don’t want to read something that’s badly written, disappointing, or inane.

So I don’t read books. I have become a spoiled, scaredypants, finicky, lazy reader. This embarrasses me. I don’t want to be this way and so … I’m going to change it. I am going to make myself read one book—a fun book—each month. (Dang, I didn’t know I was going to do that until I wrote it. Shoot. Does that mean I actually have to do this now?)

Help a girlfriend out, will you? Pretty please tell me your true love reads?

My requirements are as follows: pleasurable, interesting, fast-paced (more or less), well-written, no dying children, nothing scary that will give me nightmares, and nothing sad that will depress me. To give you a better idea of which ones have passed muster, here are a few of my faves (* = top picks) (out of sheer laziness, no authors and no links—sorry):

Angela’s Ashes
The Bean Trees
Life of Pi*
Water For Elephants*
To Kill a Mockingbird*
Tiger Mother
Tuesdays With Morie
Poisonwood Bible*
Does This Church Make Me Look Fat?
The Kitchen God’s Wife*
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
The Da Vinci Code
The Brothers K*
A Severe Mercy

And some young adult that I’m crazy about: Wonder*, Okay For Now*****, A Long Walk To Water, Old Yeller, and Where the Lilies Bloom. (Though this isn’t a genre that I generally prefer to read on my own time.)

Hit me up, people. I’m gonna crack me some spines.

This same time, years previous: happy weekending, the family reunion of 2012, “That’s the story of mom and us”, and warts and all.


  • DnD_Saga

    I love Fanny Flagg! She is a fantastic author! She wrote Fried Green Tomatoes and all of her other books are just as amazing and wonderful. My favorite so far (and the longest) is Standing in the Rainbow.

  • narthex

    hullo, i see that i have read and loved several of your selections making me bold enough to toss in my two cents (not committed enough, apparently, to properly utilize capital letters. SLACKER). good, good, GOOD reading can be an elusive thing.

    some past summer reading:
    -mennonite in a little black dress (a memoir by rhoda janzen)
    -a change in altitude (anita shreve) an organdy vignette, just a whisper of a story in my memory.
    -slow love (dominique browning)
    -a tree grows in brooklyn (betty smith)
    -isabel allende: the house of the spirits, eva luna + the stories of eva luna
    -my french whore (gene wilder) LOVE. super fast. you will read it in one sitting i think.
    -like water for chocolate (laura esquivel)
    -redeeming love (francine rivers)<–this is a (very) hard read in spots, its based on the book of hosea but one of only a very small handful of books i've read more than once.
    -i enjoy the lord peter wimsey books by sayers
    -stepping heavenward (elizabeth prentiss). this book is not fun.
    -bird by bird (anne lamott)
    -how the garcia girls lost their accents (julia alvarez– one really neat lady)
    -shrewd: daring to live the startling command of jesus (rick lawrence)
    -for whom the bell tolls (hemingway) -after reading this i immediately gobbled up everything by hemingway
    -read all of salinger one summer (can be heavy, though, for sure)
    -the true confessions of charlotte doyle (avi)
    -the wonderful story of henry sugar and six more (roald dahl)
    -holes (louis sachar)
    -a year down yonder, a long way from chicago, here lies the librarian (in that order. xoxo richard peck 4-eva)

    (a long one from jackie in new york)

  • Second Sister

    I'm not sure why I should comment at this point. After so many others, you must be plumb flush with ideas for reading. Well, now that I've started, might as well finish, eh? I've read more books in the last two years than I'd read in the previous 10 and I don't think that's an exageration. I've read everything- cheesy, boring, great, fast, slow, fiction, nonfiction, juevenile, really old. Ok, that said, I read two books in the last week and I enjoyed each. I'm not saying they are the very best ever, just good for different reasons and thought you may find them interesting. First: "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage"- Alice Munro. This is fast paced in that she develops here characters very well and quickly. Each of the short stories was about obscure and average people which I liked. They experienced things that most of us could identify with to some degree- subtle, poignant and yet day to day. Then there was "An unquiet mind"- Kay Redfield Jamison. This was good to me because it provoked a lot of questions in me and I identified with various aspects of her experience. It was a gutsy and complex topic to try to take on if you ask me.


    Gone Girl, any of Gillian Flynn's novels I had a really really hard time putting down. I restrained myself to just reading them on my lunch breaks… otherwise I would have been pulling all nighters to finish them.

  • JDM

    Some of us keep coming back to this post…I'm joining them! 🙂 My non-reader 12 year old is loving an adventure story he recently picked up, called "Leepike Ridge" by N.D. Wilson. (Think along the lines of "Tom Sawyer" or "Huckleberry Finn", but set in the present.) I haven't read it yet–only glanced through to see what it was like–but it's great, descriptive writing without that slowing down the adventure at all. I have no qualms recommending N.D. Wilson, as I've wanted to read his imaginative stories ever since I heard he was an author. I worked for his grandfather for a few years, at a time when N.D. was still a high school student, and though I don't know him personally, he comes from a family very well-read in good literature and with quite a few authors in it. He's learned from the best. Other novels by N.D. Wilson, if you find you like his style: "100 Cupboards", "Dandelion Fire", and "The Chestnut King."

    I don't envy you all the great choices you have before you! 🙂

  • Lauralli

    Ok, I'm back as promised……here are a few others…..The Year of Wonders (historical fiction again–the black plague), Mudbound, Still Alice (everyone needs to read this since Alzheimers is touching most families in some ways), My Name is Mary Sutter (Civil War nurse), Call of the Midwife (I think they've renamed it in newer editions to just Call the Midwife–that's what the PBS show is called. You should read the book, then go back and watch the old episodes on Historical fiction from post WWII London.) If you've ever read The Glass Castle (which is really depressing), but haven't read Half Broke Horses, then you must read this "prequel". Just about the opposite–really good, upbeat stuff! Ok, that should do it! Please let us know what you are reading!

  • Unknown

    I stumbled across David Mitchell's "Black Swan Green" in a thrift store and loved it, only to later discover that he has another much more widely-known book, "Cloud Atlas," that was recently also adapted for a movie. I recommend both: BSG is a bit more introspective and immersive (like listening to a nocturne), while CA is more of a literary feat that starts slow and builds into impressive arpeggios, with a nesting-dolls plot.

  • Lauralli

    I love historical fiction. Two of my very favorites are I, Mona Lisa and Pope Joan. I very much liked Cutting for Stone (that makes 3 recommendations for it!) too. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is wonderful (though a little weird). There are a couple of books that continue this story, but the names of the books escape me at the moment. All of them are good. I'll probably think of more in the next day or two I should have mentioned. I'll be back!

  • Melani

    Loved Cutting for Stone by Verghasse (someone else mentioned it). I also enjoyed Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Bradley (about a 12 year old blooming chemist girl detective) and the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. Both of those are mystery with a murder, but not in the scary way. I loved Evensong by Goodwin (I think) and Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, but neither of those fit your fast paced requirement (still worth reading though). I also really enjoyed Where'd you go Bernadette (can't remember the author)–a very fun, light entertaining read.

  • JAG

    I've been enjoying most of what I've been reading lately, but the Luminaries is definitely long-winded. Ruth Ozeki's first book "My year of meats" is one of my most often recommended books. It's been a while since I've read it, there may be a crying bit or two. Jane Smiley's
    "Moo" is another great funny book. Lately I've been thinking about rereading Annie Proulx because I can't remember any plot from her books, but just the clean windswept feeling I got when reading them. And I'll have to second Bleak House, as well as the time it will take you to read it.

    • Margo

      I keep trying to read Bleak House. It's like reading 10 books at once because of the amount of characters and plots. It's good in the Dickens way and I do want to get through it one of these winters, but it's not easy going for the modern-darting mind!

  • Anonymous

    JoJo moyes…her last 2 books…The Girl left behind andAfter You..No, After You…unusual stories..extremely well written. mary in cincinnati

  • Dottie

    Run by Ann Patchett was really good.
    Also, 600 hours of Edward and its sequel, Edward Adrift, are just great.
    Though in truth, all of these did make me cry a little. In a good way.

  • Mountaineer

    Several years ago the neighbors' vicious dogs broke their chains and attacked my wife on a morning walk. She screamed at the neighbor lady who promptly tied them up, went in the house for a gun, and shot them. Wife meanwhile went to the doctor to be checked out. I say carry pepper spray.

  • momma-lana

    To me the one author who never disappoints is Dickens. His words just get me caught up in the incredible way that he puts them together. I bookmark pages just to go back and read the poetry of certain sentences. Dickens takes weeks to read. You cannot just charge through. You must digest Dickens. I quote him at opportune moments and only my 30 year old daughter gets it because she loves Dickens, too. Bleak House is my absolute favorite. I hope you find the author who speaks to your heart and mind, too.

  • katie

    If my guess is that they are friendly, I try to stop and meet the dogs. Let them sniff, learn their names, maybe play with them a bit. Let them get to know you. Then you can greet them when you pass and then shoo them away home. That's best case scenario.

    If they're not quite that friendly, in addition to saying go away, turn quickly and make a step and an abrupt shooing motion towards them while yelling, "go! git! Go on! Go home!" or whatever you choose to yell.

    In my backwoods, the next step is to choose a different running route until the dogs bite someone else and they have to get a fence or get rid of the dogs. Around you, going and talking with the family might be a better option.

    What breed they are plays a bit role in whether I'm comfortable throwing rocks. My husband likes a "gentle" kick to scoot them out of the way for the smaller and most persistent ones.

    • Jennifer Jo

      Suggestion #1: did it. They are friendly.
      Suggestion #2: did it and they went wild and ran/chased me the whole way up the road. They were so tight around me, barking their fool heads off, that I was afraid I was going to get home with only half a butt to my name.
      Suggestion #3: A possibility, but there are dogs on other roads, too. Sigh.

  • marie

    My parents live in the country and they put their dogs on the invisible fence because they also might get run over; you might want to try that angle. Maybe a dessert would get them to fence them in?
    My book recommendation is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Thank you for posting this. I have the same predicament. I need to read something but am a little afraid to lose a few nights' sleep. My kids are just getting old enough for some really good chapter books, so at least I have that. Hugs!

  • Kate

    I second "The Fault in our Stars" sooo good
    Orphan Train
    The Language of Flowers

    I love finding out what people are reading and adding it to my list:)

  • Melissa @ thelittlegrayhouse

    Try Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. I loved it, it weaves food and life together in a most interesting way.

  • Margo

    I avoid most modern writers. Usually too much drama and gore passing for intensity and really shoddy writing.

    I've been wanting to read the Canadian author, Carrie Snyder – she wrote about Central America in one of her novels. Won tons of awards in Canada.

    Did you like the Mary Stewart I gave you? She's consistently great for me.

    Also: Tolstoi Lied by Rachel Kadish (great, modern love story)
    In the Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Luis Zafon (or something similar to that name – it's kind of a thriller but it's not bad-scary and it's very clever)

    Dandelion Wine – Ray Bradbury (have you read Fahrenheit 451? That's great, but scary in that it's science fiction that I'm watching come true in our lifetime)

    I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith

    if I wasn't so lazy, I could go get my notebook where I keep all kinds of book recommendations and a list of what I've read. It covers years now, and is a wonderful resource. Email me if you want more. I cannot abide scary books or movies, so I'm always looking for good that doesn't rely on that.

  • Rachael

    You might like Remembering Isaac by Ben Behunin. It is gentle and inspiring. Despite its technical flaws, there is something about the story that makes you feel good. You may also enjoy Home to Harmony…I can't recall the author's name though.

  • beckster

    OK, this is a challenge I can get into! I highly recommend:
    John Green – The Fault in Our Stars (beautiful book)
    Abraham Verghese – Cutting for Stone (epic, well-written)
    Wally Lamb – I Know This Much is True
    Tawni O'Dell – Fragile Beasts
    I could go on and on, but I will spare you! As for the dogs, I carry pepper spray just in case when I go out for long walks. Haven't had to use it, but it's there if in my pocket if the dogs (or anything or anybody) get a bit too aggressive.

  • Unknown

    I'm currently voraciously reading Orange is the New Black. Didn't think I would like it, but can't put it down. Well written story of mistakes made and how to cope with the results, and a real evaluation of the criminal justice system.

  • Daniel

    The City of Joy may break a few of your rules. Can't remember if there are dying children and it might make you depressed (that you live in affluent Western culture). This book is the best. You should read it.

    • Jennifer Jo

      My dad read it to us when we were kids. It made a HUGE impression. I remember him reading through tears. I have it in the back of my mind as one of our future read-alouds, but I'm making myself wait a year or two for the younger kids. Can't wait.

  • Becky

    I used to take early morning walks (before dawn) in our old neighborhood. The pitbulls (unfortunately numerous beyond reason around here) put a serious damper on my walks. Some were friendly and would jump on me, trying to lick my face. Some were seriously dangerous and once tried to bite me but it's owner took a flying leap and landed on the dog before the dog bit down on my hand. Why they were letting their dogs out off leash, knowing they were dangerous is beyond me.

    Now that I've moved 15 minutes further into the "country", the loose dog thing is even worse. People just let their dogs roam. It's infuriating. No one had a fence and my neighbor even throws scraps into their front yard to attract the neighborhood dogs!!! How am I supposed to have chickens in the future with all these dogs around? We recently got a puppy and I didn't want their likely unvaccinated dogs in our yard who could possibly get my puppy sick before she had all her shots. So, we spent almost $2,000 to fence in almost 2 acres of our property.

    Anyway, back to the walking/jogging situation. I started carrying pepper spray. I figured pepper spray wasn't going to permanently hurt anyone and it was better then carrying a stick and hoping I could beat a dog off of me. In your case, the repeated annoying dogs, I'd go talk to the neighbor and give them a chance to change their ways. If it doesn't change, warn them that you'll be carrying pepper spray and will have to use it to protect yourself.

    People sometimes don't realize how their actions affect others. It may not bother them that their dogs run free but it affects everyone that lives around them.
    Good luck! If all else fails, call animal control!

    • Jennifer Jo

      Pitbulls? That's crazy!

      Our dogs are fenced but I hate it when they run up to the edge to bark at a cyclist or runner—just the barking/running dog combo brings on a fear-adrenalin rush. Sometimes I think I'd appreciate it if a runner backed up our loud no-s with a spritz of pepper spray. If pet owners and pedestrians could work together…

  • Anonymous

    Since you liked the Da Vinci Code, the author has just relased Inferno–about Dante's Inferno. I haven't started it yet, but i just bought it this week:)

  • jennifer

    One of the books I read last (am like you, haven't read much recently in the form of a real book!) was Unbroken written by Laura Hillenbrand. Written about Louis Zamporini, POW in WWII. What he went through was AMAZING. You won't put it down, from start to finish…so just plan on that for about a day and a half.

  • Eldon

    On second thought, The Book Thief breaks several of your rules, but its such a well written story with an incredibly unique approach that Im still going to recommend it.

    • Jennifer Jo

      I read it in Guatemala. It was a good book, but I was so fearful that it was going to plunge me into the abyss that I had to force myself to pick it up…even though I liked it! I'm telling you, I'm a scaredy cat!

  • Eldon

    The Time Traveler's Wife
    The Book Thief
    The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    The first two are excellent but might break the make you cry rule, while the third one is guaranteed to make you laugh until you cry, which is very different.

    Also, I would be shocked if you have not read them, but I have to put All Creatures Great and Small and everything else James Herriot ever wrote on the list of must reads.

    • Jennifer Jo

      Yes, I've read all the James Herriot (or most of them, anyway)—a bunch of them to the kids. But it's been awhile, so maybe it's time for a reread, both for the benefit of the younger two who probably wouldn't remember the books and for the older daughter who sports some veterinarian-ish qualities.