Reading Work

5 on a Friday: Humbug Edition

December 13, 2019

1- URI. This week’s busy social calendar? My usual weekly workout plan? Both derailed by G’s virus because I have it now. Oh well. Luckily it is not so bad that I cannot work. I have no voice however which is going to make my job challenging today. I’m off this weekend, though!

2- 20 for 2020. I haven’t jumped on the “XX for 20XX” bandwagon yet (I prefer setting goals each quintile!) but . . . the round number of 2020 (AND my milestone birthday in May) is just so alluring. I may have to. I see this not as a list of self-improvement items but as fun and/or important things I’d like to accomplish or experience throughout the year.

(And it will not replace my other goal-setting rituals 🙂 )

3- I am apparently in a phase of quitting certain things that are not sparking joy. Kon-mari-ing . . . life? I am not sure what inspired me, but I took a step back and realized that there were certain areas of my life where there was pressure that . . . didn’t necessarily need to be there.

I told the Josh-side of my family that I will not be making a family calendar this year (sorry family – maybe I’ll go back to doing it in the future, but I just need to keep the holiday simple this year).

I am thinking of letting the kids stop piano, because neither seem that excited about and the to-do item of asking them to practice has already gotten old. Josh seems to think they’ll miss out on the opportunity to get a solid music foundation if they don’t do it now. (To that I say — ahh well, can’t do everything! And of the two fo us, I am the one with the ‘solid music foundation’ cultivated by hours and hours at the piano growing up.)

4- Work holiday parties. At least 5 work-related holiday invites have shown up on my calendar (one was from Josh’s work group). Oy. I have already managed to miss two of them (due to being on call and then being sick). I don’t know if it’s just my mood this year but I am essentially dreading every event. There’s one next week that involves a 1+ hour drive through traffic each way at night and I’m thinking of skipping that too (Josh is on call). The thing is — for the GME side of my job, I’m sort of expected to come to these events. In all honesty, it surprises me that our residents really want to spend their off hours socializing with faculty, but apparently they do.

the beginnings of my 2020 book list started on a random page in my 2019 hobonichi – needs transferring!

5- 2020 books! I’m working on cultivating lists for each quintile (I think I’d like to aim for 40 books total next year, or an average of 8 per quintile!). Did you read something amazing recently? Let me know in the comments! Some tentative Q1 picks:

The Dutch House — Ann Patchett

The Antidote for Everything (Feb 2020 release) – Kimmery Martin

How Reading Changed My Life — Anna Quindlen

The Topeka School — Ben Lerner

My Year of Rest and Relaxation — Ottessa Moshfegh (this is a novel despite the memoir-sounding title)

Daily Rituals — How Artists Work — Mason Currey

Your Money or Your Life — Vicki Robin


  • Reply Meg December 13, 2019 at 6:52 am

    I always enjoy your book thoughts. I read and really liked Daily Rituals (and the follow-up book that included more women… sigh). It’s really interesting but can get repetitive, so I always recommend it for people who don’t mind not finishing a book or for popping in and out without reading big chunks all at once. Feel better soon!

    • Reply Penny Smith December 14, 2019 at 8:09 am

      I’d love it if you listed everything you read in 2019 (just screenshot your goodreads?) I’ve gotten great suggestions from you in the past! ❤️

      • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger December 18, 2019 at 5:53 am

        Was this for me or Meg?
        I don’t actually have Goodreads but maybe I’ll post a list 🙂

    • Reply Caitlin December 23, 2019 at 2:32 pm

      Another vote for Daily Rituals and the follow up, Daily Rituals: Women at Work. I actually liked the Women at Work even better and it felt less repetitive than the first one. But I am fascinated by the rituals of other people and could read about it nonstop.

  • Reply Robin December 13, 2019 at 7:18 am

    I’m Konmari-ing my holiday season, too! It feels good.

    Highly recommended books—
    Ginger Bread by Helen Oyememi
    Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows [not what it sounds like] – Balli Kaur Jaswal
    Red at the Bone – Jacqueline Woodson

    • Reply Ana December 13, 2019 at 9:11 am

      Ginger Bread was…so weird. I usually can get behind magical realism (and I liked her other book, about the puppets, despite it being super weird, too) but…I was disappointed with Ginger Bread

  • Reply Lisa of Lisa's Yarns December 13, 2019 at 8:30 am

    Sorry to hear you are sick, too! There is so much crud going around this time of year. I hope you feel better for her birthday gathering! I’m currently under the weather, too, so am working from home today. This is my 4th day of working from home this week as I was home with our son M-W as he had strep.

    I did 19 for 2019 and it was really fun. I put a lot of fun/family type things on the list to balance out some of the less fun goals, like getting a will/health care directive. I didn’t accomplish everything but I did more than I would have if I hadn’t made the list!

    As far as books, I’m reading “Red, White & Royal Blue” right now – it’s total fluff but sometimes you need books like that (especially when sick/dealing with a sick child). Other favorites from this year include Ask Again, Yes; Inheritance; Shoe Dog; and Bad Blood. I also really enjoyed The Dutch House and The Nickel Boys was heavy but good (and sadly based on an institution that existed in N Florida for many years).

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger December 13, 2019 at 8:50 am

      Oh I totally want to read red white and royal blue!!!

      • Reply Marthe December 16, 2019 at 10:37 am

        I kindle’d Red, White and Royal Blue Friday night after reading this post and the comments, and just finished it (monday afternoon). It’s supercute, funny and a lovely story which gives me so much hope for a kinder world! It’s a feel good read. Very moving. Really enjoyed it, should you not have guessed that from my second sentence. Also it’s about filibustering 😉 O and there are a lot of literary references in it, and winks to actual political weirdness. Go read it!

        • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger December 18, 2019 at 5:50 am

          I am definitely going to read it!

  • Reply Ana December 13, 2019 at 9:17 am

    Recent reads that I gave 4-5 stars: There, There (Tommy Orange), The Testaments (sequel to Handmaid’s Tale, by Atwood—though I LOVE pretty much all Atwood), Evicted, What the Eyes Don’t See, Next year in Havana & When we Left Cuba, Daugher of Molakai (and Molakai is fantastic, too), Home Fire, Lucky Boy, Maybe you Should Talk to Someone, Stories of Your life and Others (sci fi short stories, most of which were awesome)

    • Reply Amanda December 13, 2019 at 10:30 am

      I second Next year in Havana & When we Left Cuba and a bonus for living in south Florida is appreciating the parts of the story that take place in Miami and vicinity. She’s a local (Miami) author, too.

      • Reply Jennifer December 13, 2019 at 11:24 am

        I third Both Next Year in Havana & When we Left Cuba, two of my favorites from this year!

  • Reply Ana December 13, 2019 at 9:19 am

    I’ve been skipping my work holiday party for a few years, I’m always tired & sick around this time of year, too. I may pop in today (its AT our work so, I can go for 30 minutes and call it done). I was invited to G’s next week but I’m not going, since I have my book club holiday dinner and another outing with a friend next week already scheduled—and those are things I REALLY WANT to do, vs. a holiday party obligation I dread.

  • Reply Omdg December 13, 2019 at 11:06 am

    Station Eleven. Best book I’ve read in a few years. I’m with you on Kon Mari-ing the holidays. I think I probably should go to the department holiday party, but I’m currently contemplating whether it will actually be fun to make cookies with Dylan, or whether it will just be a lot of work from me, with her getting bored quickly. We will probably hang lights though.

  • Reply Laura V December 13, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    I love the idea of removing things from life that aren’t sparing joy!!
    Book recs:
    The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
    Talk to Me by John Kenney
    Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
    Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

  • Reply Connie C December 13, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    My fave read of this year was the Silent Patient. LOVED it.

  • Reply Emily December 13, 2019 at 1:47 pm

    The Dutch House is so good! I love Ann Patchett and I think this is my favorite one ever 🙂

    I also just read Disappearing Earth and loved it. The setting of Kamchatka (I place I knew nothing about) is also so cool. I know My Year of Rest and Relaxation was highly acclaimed but i just couldn’t really get into it.

  • Reply Emily December 13, 2019 at 1:50 pm

    Also I wholeheartedly second some other recs here: Ask Again Yes, Station Eleven (really any of Emily St John Mandel’s novels are fantastic), What the Eyes Don’t See, Evicted, Home Fire, and Lucky Boy.

  • Reply Sue December 13, 2019 at 3:13 pm

    The Overstory and Leaving the Witness!

  • Reply Natasha December 13, 2019 at 8:14 pm

    Re piano: This reminds me of when we told my (now teenage) son at around age 7 that he could take a break from karate if he wanted to. He was like “wow are you serious? you won’t be disappointed?!” For a couple of years he was hanging on to an activity he didn’t enjoy because he thought he would disappointing me, and I was shuttling him there 3 times and week and paying a fortune for it because I thought he liked it! Glad to have that straightened out, we finished out the month and quit.

    It’s hard when children are younger because we want them to try out all these activities and then find what they are good at- we have tried all kinds of sports, guitar, art, etc and now he has stuck with basketball for many years and plays on his high school team. I have found that the extra curriculars actually get easier when the kids are older. It was the same with my girls. So I hope that’s encouraging to you- it does get better!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger December 18, 2019 at 5:53 am

      Aww thank you natasha!!

  • Reply Amy J. December 14, 2019 at 12:08 pm

    I see that “Celine” is already on your list – it was great. If you haven’t read “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, it’s so wonderful. It was my favorite read in 2019, and I’m giving it to several people this holiday season. I also loved “The snow child” by Eowyn Ivey, though it is more appropriate for winter in Vermont (where I am) than in Florida.

    I think I found “Modern Mrs. Darcy” through you, so I suspect you’ve seen her 2020 reading challenge. I’m already pondering interesting books in her categories.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger December 18, 2019 at 5:53 am

      Haha I like reading wintery books – it’s the only way to experience it here!!!

  • Reply LEE A HILLHOUSE December 15, 2019 at 12:36 am

    I thought My Year of Rest and Relaxation sounded really good, but I hated it. The prescribing psychiatrist in that book is totally incompetent. It’s just painful.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger December 18, 2019 at 5:52 am

      I’m halfway through. It’s like The Bell Jar millennial style perhaps? I am not sure how i feel but I will say it has been interesting. The prescribing psychiatrist is clearly insane and a bad doctor but I think that was the author’s intent? (Also . . . I think there are some actual prescribers kind of like that in the world. Much to my dismay.)

      • Reply LEE A HILLHOUSE December 18, 2019 at 9:58 am

        I’m glad you’re able to enjoy it. I’m a lawyer, and reading legal thrillers that get it all wrong makes me cringe. Even TV shows – I’m always saying, “omg, no! That would literally never happen!”

  • Reply Kelsey December 15, 2019 at 4:44 pm

    I support your taking a break from piano. It can feel like we have to have kids into activities NOW if they will build real skills but I took up piano on my own (no encouragement from my parents) around 5th grade and continued through early high school. I am also all for skipping Christmas parties, especially if they have such a long drive! You’re still in the time of life where you have really young kids. I think folks would understand (or also it doesn’t matter if they understand…a holiday party shouldn’t be more stress than fun). I’m also getting on the 20 for 2020 this year for the first time. Planning to make my list similar to yours, little things that will spark joy or bring MAGIC to my year (my word for 2020 🙂 ).

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger December 18, 2019 at 5:51 am

      Thanks Kelsey and I LOVE your word!!!

  • Reply Dawn Burke December 16, 2019 at 4:24 pm

    totally support your piano and holiday Kon-mari-ing ideas. I have 2 fourteen year olds and everything they did at 5-10 years of age–no longer. I know their passions will pick up as they enter high school so I’m going to try to ride that train now. I think you are in a season of life where you have to rest and take care of you (you know the old “airplane” idea of your oxygen mask first) so you can balance motherhood and work. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and now my husband and I have added our aging parents to the mix and you just have to make decisions that work for you so you don’t lose your mind 🙂 I love reading everyone’s book lists, I’m in the midst of my Phd dissertation so reading for fun is far and few between kids, work and school however I’m making a super TBR list for later!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger December 18, 2019 at 5:50 am

      aww, great hearing that perspective from several years down the road! Thank you!

  • Reply Sara December 16, 2019 at 6:53 pm

    We just came back home from a week long vacation (Disney!) and while it was amazing, it has made the holiday season feel especially rushed. I think you have a wonderful perspective. I’m reading Couples that Work (thanks to your podcast!) right now and am enjoying it. Have you read Commonwealth by Ann Patchett? I’m leading a book club discussion on it in February. It’s so good!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger December 18, 2019 at 5:50 am

      I really enjoyed Commonwealth! I am excited to read The Dutch House!!

  • Reply Caitlin December 23, 2019 at 2:41 pm

    I’m a little late to this, and I’m not sure how it works in schools in Florida, but your kids could always pick an instrument when it’s offered as part of band or orchestra later in elementary school (here in NH that was 3rd-4th grade for orchestra and 5th grade for band). I took piano for a little while when I was six or seven but hated practicing, so I quit. A couple of years later I was excited to pick an instrument for orchestra and I enjoyed practicing. When I got to high school I took private lessons as well as participated in the school orchestra, but for the younger years it was just part of the school day once a week. I’m still interested in music today and dabble here and there, and my brother didn’t start any instruments until 5th grade band and he is a very enthusiastic drummer who is teaching himself guitar. So I don’t think it’s a big deal to take a break from piano and let the kids choose a new instrument in a few years (especially if it is part of the school day and doesn’t require extra driving from you!).

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