How’s everyone holding up? I figure a global pandemic is as good a reason as any to get back into blogging, so here goes it.
We’ve all heard of “inbox zero” — the rigorous approach to email management aimed at keeping the inbox empty — or almost empty — at all times. While inbox zero isn’t something I consciously work towards (it feels a bit like playing a constant game of boomerang — every email you send, turns into an email you receive), a few years ago you may remember me mentioning something I called “wardrobe zero.”
When I moved back to the West Coast back in 2011, I went from having a large closet and an entire room just for my shoes, to a small free standing wardrobe + mini closet that rivals what you’d find in a New York City apartment. Initially, I stored extra clothes in large Rubbermaid bins in my Mom’s garage. But that gold old fast. For me, getting to wardrobe zero means having a functional wardrobe (including shoes) that fits entirely within my current closet space.
Well, almost three years later, it finally happened! I’ve always been good at pruning my wardrobe and consigning items, but over the summer I decided to take the challenge really seriously and sold over $500 worth of clothing, shoes and accessories using the Varage Sale app — a popular buy & sell site in Canada.
I sold approximately 1/3 of my wardrobe & it felt so good to let go of things I didn’t need anymore. While I still have a few items left to sell (when it’s safe to do so again), they fit inside my wardrobe in a way that doesn’t make me want to pull my hair out.
When I originally wrote this post, I also mentioned wanting to get to “Bookshelf Zero” but if we’re being honest, I didn’t take this goal seriously at all. I love to read and love to buy books — so much so, that I finally started a Bookstagram to document everything!
Last year, I did really well when it came to reading more from the library and buying less and ended up reading 62 books, total. With that said, I still have a whole bunch of books sitting on my TBR (to be read) shelf that I haven’t cracked open. So, in 2020 I’m going to focus less on numbers and more on getting through the backlog before I go out and buy a bunch of shiny new books.
I’m still reading a bunch from the library (a mix of ebooks and hard copies), but I’ve managed to make a dent in my TBR pile by shopping my own bookshelf. Here’s what I’ve read so far from my collection of unread books (not including ebooks):
While I generally read a lot digitally (my local library is great for new release ebooks), there’s something about reading from a paper book that I’ve found especially calming right now.
Whatever I read and don’t want to keep, will be passed on to a new home (once again, when it’s safe to do so). I’m hoping this project will help keep my book hoarding tendencies at bay.
Do you have a “to be read” shelf or pile? What do you do with books you’ve read and don’t want to keep? Do you have any quarantine reading projects? Let me know in the comments!
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A bunch of you have asked me for book recommendations recently, so I finally decided to put together an updated list of the most memorable things I’ve read recently. Two years ago, I made a pact with a friend to read more books written by POC, women and gender non-confirming individuals (plus, I find I naturally gravitate to and enjoy books by these kinds of authors anyways.) So, this list reflects that. Also, I’ve read a lot in the last year (54 books to be exact!), which means that this list is by no means exhaustive. I have lots of other recommendations, but for the sake of keeping things concise I’m going to include them separate posts.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for some female-centric books to devour this summer, look no further. From YA and suspense to non-fiction and lush novels, I’ve tried to include a little bit of everything.
Part memoir, part investigative journalism, this is one of my favourite non-fiction books I’ve read period. “This is it. My rape. I knew it was coming. Every woman knows. And now here it is. My turn.” When Joanna Connors was thirty years old on assignment for the Cleveland Plain Dealer to review a play at a college theater, she was held at knife point and raped by a stranger that grew up five miles away from her. After her assailant was caught, she didn’t speak of what happened to her until 21 years later when her daughter was preparing to go college. When she realizes that the man who raped her was one of the formative people in her life, she sets out to do the seemingly impossible: to find out who he was, where he came from, who his friends were and what his life was like. What she discovers is a story of race, class and cyclical violence, that’s intertwined with her own. Connors writes with incredible bravery and empathy – both for herself and her attacker. The book is stunning and unputdownable.
When asked to name a book that’s just pure fun to read, Kill the Boy Band comes to mind. When a group of teenage girls accidentally end up kidnapping a member of their favourite boy band, all hell breaks loose (in the best way possible.) This pitch black YA novel had me laughing out loud at multiple points. It’s smart, it’s witty and provides a hilarious take on fandom and the cult of celebrity. Whether you loved a boy band, still do or (like me) used to roll your eyes while your friends worshipped the Backstreet Boys, this is a must-read.
A humorous novel about heroin addiction and mental health? Yes, that’s a thing. Dark, raw, and very funny, Problems introduces us to Maya, a young woman with a smart mouth, time to kill, and a heroin hobby that isn’t much fun anymore. This book follows the life of a functioning heroin addict as it begins to unravel. I wouldn’t say this book is laugh out loud funny (although I have a very dark sense of humour and LOL’ed a few times), but some of the situations and Maya’s fuck-ups are so painfully relatable that you can’t help but smile. Problems is about more than just drug addiction, it’s also about the struggle to be alone and a woman while trying to be a decent person in an imperfect world.
In this memoir, Valenti explores the toll sexism takes on women’s lives, from the everyday to the existential. From subway gropings and imposter syndrome to sexual awakenings and motherhood, Sex Object reveals the painful, embarrassing, and sometimes illegal moments that shaped Valenti’s adolescence and young adulthood in New York City. Disclaimer: I haven’t read any of Valenti’s other works, so I have nothing to compare this to. While this book isn’t perfect (some of the chapters felt abrupt to me), I thoroughly enjoyed it. I know men who read this and found it “shocking” which is funny, because to me it just seemed real. My experiences aren’t identical to Valenti’s but I can relate to so much of her story – from her experiences with self-medicating to feeling like she’s not good enough.
I’ve read a lot of short story collections over the past two years and this is by far one of my favourites. I mean, the title alone. I won’t give you a run down of all of the stories because you can find that on Amazon or Goodreads. I will say this: the writing is amazing. It’s fearless, sassy, hilarious and insightful. Holmes has a way of saying a lot without using too many words. I can’t wait to read what she writes next.
I adore Engel’s writing – she’s the author of one of my other favourite books Vida. Set in the vibrant coastal communities of Miami, the Florida Keys, with forays to Havana, and Cartagena, The Veins of the Ocean follows Reina, a young woman, as she tries to re-start her life after her brother dies on death row. I love Reina as a character – she’s complex, funny, insightful and has a sassy, scrappiness to her. The book is an exploration of what happens when life tests the limits of compassion. In the wrong hands this story could be totally depressing, but Engel tells it in a way that’s gorgeous, lush and full of life.
On a warm spring evening in South Los Angeles, a young man is shot and killed on a sidewalk minutes away from his home, one of the thousands of black Americans murdered that year – crimes that more often than not won’t be solved. This riveting piece of non-fiction follows Detective John Skaggs & his colleagues -a brilliant and driven group of detectives whose creed is to pursue justice for forgotten victims at all costs – as they set out and solve this crime. This is crime reporting at it’s best and should be required reading for humans.
It’s not often that I pick up a book of poetry and read it cover to cover in one sitting, but these poems are beautiful, relatable, life affirming and dare I even say, healing? That’s really all you need to know. Oh, and Rupi Kaur is Canadian, which makes me like her even more.
Henriquez is another writer that I absolutely adore. I read this book when it came out two years ago and have recommended it to dozens of people since. When fifteen-year-old Maribel Rivera sustains a terrible injury, the Riveras leave behind a comfortable life in Mexico and risk everything to come to the United States so that Maribel can have the care she needs. Once there, Maribel becomes involved with Mayor, a neighbourhood boy, setting off a chain of events in the process. A story about immigration, guilt, family and star crossed love; like Diane Guerrero’s story, this book feels more essential than ever given the current political climate.
I’m so, so, glad I read this memoir. This is actually the first book I’ve read by a trans author and it gave me insight into an experience that’s foreign to me as a cis-gender woman. Mock relays her experiences of growing up young, multiracial, poor, and trans in Hawaii, while imparting vital insight about the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of a marginalized and misunderstood population. Read the book & then greedily consume every interview, piece of writing and podcast featuring Mock (like I did) because she’s just the coolest.
Mireille is the strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she has an adoring American husband, a precocious infant son and by all appearances a perfect life. But her fairy tale comes to a terrifying halt when she is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men, in front of her father’s Port au Prince estate. This novel explores Mireille’s horrific captivity, her release and what happens when she tries to rebuild her life in the face of trauma. This book is fast paced read that’s as brutal as it’s compulsively readable.
This novel left me breathless. It takes place in California in the 1960’s and follows Evie, a thoughtful and lonely teenager as she slowly becomes enmeshed with Suzanne, a charismatic girl that belongs to a cult that bears striking resemblance to the Charles Manson “family.” It’s a coming age story about girlhood, sexual awakening and how even in the free love 60’s, women weren’t really that “free.” It’s also how as a girl, you’re always essentially a target and dangerously close to having one bad choice turn into the worst thing ever. Some reviewers found this book slow, but for me it was more hypnotic. Since my Mom was a young adult during this era, I gave her The Girls to read. Everything about the book rang true to her – from the confusing sexual politics of the free love 60’s to the violence at the end. Consider this one officially “Mom approved.”
(My mom also loved Veins of the Ocean and The Book of Unknown Americans.)
This is another awesome non-fiction read. Helen Thorpe follows the lives of three women over twelve years on their paths to the military, overseas to combat, and back home…and then overseas again for two of them. These women, who are quite different in every way, become friends, and we watch their friendship evolve and also what happens when they are separated. This book explores PTSD, brain injuries, sexual harassment and the socio-economic challenges that drive people to enlist in the first place. But the real draw of this book are the women. Like Random Family, I couldn’t stop thinking of these women and spent a good chunk of time googling them to see where they are now.
Is this Megan Abbott’s best novel? I’m not sure, but it was the first one I read and after finishing it, I went on to read four more of her novels – all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s been said that no one writes teenage girls and women like Abbott – and it’s true. A masterful mystery writer, she totally nails the darker side of teenage girlhood, while creating suspense that makes your skin crawl. I listened to the audiobook of Dare Me, which I highly recommend.
Spanning eras and cultures from ancient Rome to medieval England to 1950s Hollywood, Jennifer Wright’s It Ended Badly guides you through the worst of the worst in historically bad breakups. This book has everything: heartbreak,beheadings, uprisings, creepy sex dolls, and celebrity gossip. It’s also absolutely hilarious. The perfect read if you’re looking to laugh and feel better about your own breakups(s) while learning a bunch of interesting historic tidbits in the process.
What are you reading right now?
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It’s been a rough week, friends. Heck, it’s been a rough year. I know that many of you, like me, are still reeling from the US Election results.
Even though I’m Canadian, I woke up last Tuesday full of hope. I went upstairs, made coffee in my sun-filled kitchen and declared to my Mom, “today looks like a great day to elect a Female President!” Well, unless you’ve literally been living in an underground bunker Kimmy Schmidt style, you know how the rest goes. Wednesday morning I woke up shaken and teary eyed like I’d just been through a terrible breakup.
My heart still feels heavy, but the show must go on. I’m working on finding a balance between awareness about what’s happening in the world and self-care. This means engaging in media (books/music/podcasts/art) that makes me feel empowered and inspired. If you’re in need of some post-election inspiration or just some good ole’ distractions, here’s what I’m loving this week.
1. Kali Uchis
Karly Loaiza, known professionally as Kali Uchis, is a Colombian-American singer-songwriter, record producer and music video director. I stumbled across one of videos while browsing through a friend’s Instagram late one night and was promptly drawn in by her blend of R&B, pop and sultry Amy Winehouse-esque sounds. But it’s Kali’s self-directed videos that really sealed the deal for me. Kali’s created a dreamy, pink hued visual world that’s part California bad-girl, part Francesca Lia Block. She’s exactly what I didn’t even know I needed. Make sure you watch her videos for I Know What I Want and Loner.
Kali is tough, sassy and exactly the kind of friend you want to invite to your next breakup – Presidential or otherwise. Also, these song lyrics and gifs are everything.
2. Tribe Called Quest: We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
If there’s one good thing that came out of last week, it’s this album. A Tribe Called Quest have created the perfect soundtrack for the Trumpocalypse. Filled with their signature wit and bounce, We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service is political without being overly dark, mournful without feeling sad (RIP Phife) and just a damn good album all around. With songs like “We the People” and “The Donald,” ATCQ will make you want to fight the power and dance around your bedroom. ATCQ’s performance on SNL and their new video for We The People are giving me life this week.
There’s a reason why critics have called this movie “visually mesmerizing” – it’s absolutely stunning. Moonlight is about a young man coming of age in a disadvantaged Miami neighbourhood while grappling with his sexuality. I won’t say too much because you should really just go and see it, but know that it lives up to the reviews. It’s both timely and timeless, and one of best movies I’ve seen in a long time.
It also doesn’t hurt that it stars my favourites Janelle Monae and Mahershala Ali (House of Cards) and features some really amazing performances by everyone involved. Watch the trailer here.
A legal drama come mystery set in LA that has a distinct California Noir, Veronica Mars vibe? Yes, please. Starring Billy-Bob Thornton as a brilliant yet downtrodden lawyer who decides to take on a major corporation, this binge-worthy show is perfect for when you feel like ‘fighting the man.’ Also, the visuals are amazing. Thornton’s character lives at The Ocean Lodge (the seaside motel I stayed at the first time I visited LA) and drinks at Chez Jay. Think lots of palm trees, gritty motels and moody neon (like the scenes below.)
(Just when I thought I got Los Angeles out of my system for the time being, this show has once again fuelled my Californiaphilia. Sigh.)
5. Diane Guerrero’s memoir, In The Country We Love
Diane Guerrero stars in two of my favourite shows: Orange is The New Black and Jane the Virgin. But it wasn’t until I heard her interviewed on NPR that I knew much about her story. Diane’s parents were deported when she was 14, leaving her in the USA to finish high school and basically fend for herself. In the Country We Love: My Family Divided is a memoir about her experiences. Given the current political state in the US, this book is more relevant than ever. I’m listening to the audio book & am really enjoying Diane’s soothing and animated voice.
What are you reading/watching/listening and loving these days?
Why does this matter? Because I’ve been an interior design nerd ever since I moved into my first solo apartment in my early twenties. In between homework and part time jobs, I’d spend hours poring over decor magazines and (later) blogs, soaking up inspiration. However, back then “decorating” often meant throwing a pillowcase over a Rubbermaid bin and calling it a nightstand. Now that I’m in my thirties, I enjoy having the ability and resources to create a more adult space. This includes being able to collect books that I can use for inspiration.
A few months ago, Overstock sent over a collection of (now classic) home decor books that I’ve been lusting after since my Rubbermaid bin days. O.co has been my go-to spot lately for all things home (see my nightstand update & home office posts), but it wasn’t until very recently that I discovered they also have an awesome collection of home decor and coffee table books available at prices well below what you’d find at a bookstore. But as I’ve learned, when it comes to both love and books, not everything (or everyone) lives up to your expectations.
So, do these classic home design books pass the test of time? Let’s find out.
Before there were a bazillion different design blogs, there was Domino. This colourful and eclectic home magazine was a major design inspiration for me in my twenties — not to mention, a welcome reprieve from the ubiquitous “I just bought everything at Ikea yesterday” design aesthetic. Although some of the room concepts no longer seem fresh, the advice offered is solid. From how to style an entryway and hang artwork properly to small space solutions; the pages are chock full of helpful decorating tricks that everyone should know. Plus, there’s also a “decorators handbook” at the back that gives the correct terms for various styles of upholstery and window treatments so that you’ll never have to go to another home store and ask for “that scrunchie style with that doohickey attached.”
This magazine cover isn’t featured in the book, but I’m including it anyways, because I love it and Mindy. (image found here)
I’m completely obsessed with all things Jonathan Adler, so it should come as no surprise that this was one of my favourite books of the haul. As the title suggests, this isn’t just a home book. It also touches on the importance of mental health. I truly believe that your living space affects your overall sense of wellbeing. Adler agrees. As he writes, “Your home should be like a good dose of Zoloft […] Coming home should be an antidote to the troubles and traumas of everyday life.” With advice like “be inappropriate;” “paint everything white and add colour with abandon” and “do whatever makes you feel happy;” this book is a cheeky, colourful manifesto on how to add joy to your everyday life.
My grandparents used to go to Palm Springs every winter in the 60’s and 70’s. I think their love for Palm Springs and all things California has rubbed off on me. Although this book of photographs by Nancy Baron isn’t technically a home decor book, there’s so much inspiration to be had within its pages (especially for someone like me, who describes their decor style as “bright, airy and with a touch of mid-century modern.”) This book definitely lived up to the hype — and then some. Airstream trailers. Backyard pools. Swinging 60’s prints. If any of this resonates with you, don’t sleep on this book. It’s timeless.
Tricia Guild is known for her bold fabric, wallpaper designs, and an extraordinary sense of colour and pattern. As I’ve learned, adding pattern and colour can make a world of difference in a space, but it can also be intimidating. Following the success of her books on colour, this richly hued coffee table book shares her skills with patterns. Of all the books, this one feels the most dated. Do you remember a time when every bar, hairdresser and boutique had the same obnoxious black and white, baroque, wallpaper? Well, there’s a lot of that in Pattern (which, makes sense since this book just celebrated its ten year anniversary.) But if you’re able to handle revisiting 2006 every few pages, there’s a lot of good stuff here. Guild schools us on everything from Kimono fabrics to European checks and stripes; making the book a good resource for anyone who wants to learn about interior design and maybe, just maybe, add some more colour to their life.
Do you have any go-to home decor or coffee table books? I’m curious and want to know!
Thank you to Overstock for facilitating this review. I received these products free of charge in exchange for my honest opinion.
While I was writing my book, which is a coming-of-age memoir about (you guessed it) dating and relationships; I avoided reading anything similar out of fear that I might creatively psych myself out. Now that the manuscript is complete, I’m having fun binge reading female penned memoirs and books set in Toronto. Last weekend, I finally had a chance to pick up and read cover to cover, Danila Botha’s Too Much on the Inside.
When Danila got in touch with me a few months ago, we quickly bonded over the fact that we spent our 20’s hanging out at a lot of the same places along Queen Street West in Toronto. She remembers what the area was like before it became gentrified, when two of my two favourite bars, Nasa and Element still existed. From the excessively greasy pub food to the telephone poles made thicker by six-inches of flyers and concert posters, Danila captures this era and locale so perfectly that I was unable to put her book down.
Set in the sub-cultural heartland of Toronto’s Queen Street West, Too Much on the Inside explores the depths of human connection as the lives of four people in their twenties converge with the impossible task of escaping their pasts in Brazil, Israel, South Africa, and Nova Scotia. They wrestle with love, heartbreak and angst while trying to build new identities.
All of the characters feel like they’re bits and pieces of people I met in Toronto. Whether it’s a violent trauma or their own angst, all of the characters are trying to outrun something, while grasping at the new and unknown. But, as Too Much on the Inside unfolds, it becomes clear that escaping the past is easier said than done.
Told in the first person, each chapter alternates between the perspectives of the various characters, which gives Too Much on the Inside a voyeuristic, diary like feel. One of the characters I found the most compelling was Marlize – a young South African woman trying to rebuild her life after her mom and sister are murdered and she’s violently raped during a home invasion in her native Cape Town. Traumatized but tenacious, she’s determined to move forward with her life. I loved watching her character fall in love, stumble and get hurt while growing stronger and more sure of herself.
Like the characters in Too Much on the Inside, when I moved to Toronto I was also running – from my parents separation, the lethargy of small town life and an aimless relationship with a much older man – in search of a place where I would feel at home. On some level, I intuitively knew that I would find likeminded individuals in Toronto – and I did – but, not without experiencing my own struggles.
When I was 19, I was sexually assaulted. I’d just moved to Toronto. Although the circumstances of my assault were completely different than the rape described in Danila’s book, the effects were long lasting. At the time I really wanted to talk about it, but often just couldn’t; instead I carried it with me, like a weight that felt impossible to shed. Desperately homesick but also determined to build a life of my own; I wanted to say everything, but also nothing at all.
Too Much on the Inside illustrates this dichotomy so perfectly. Dez, Lukas, Marlize and Nicki – the protagonists of the story, literally have “too much on the inside.” Their hurts, anxieties and hopes for the future are concealed from others, but always on the verge of spilling over the top. The title of the book is a perfect metaphor for being in your twenties, but also for living in Toronto – a bustling, multicultural city where everyone is from somewhere else, homesick, striving, forced to coexist in a melting pot of everyone’s different histories, disappointments and ambitions. I’ve always said that it’s hard to describe the inherent tension and energy that’s unique to life in Toronto, but I think Danila does a damn good job.
[from my Queen West days circa early 2000’s. I was angsty but I liked flowers. Still do.]
For decades people have been writing stories about angsty twenty-somethings trying to find their way in the big city. But, with the exception of maybe Dionne Brand’s What We All Long For (also set in downtown Toronto), Too Much on the Inside is the first I’ve come across that takes place somewhere that I’m intimately familiar with. I can actually see, hear and even smell this story (the weird dirty greenhouse smell of Toronto never leaves you.) I think that’s why this book feels special to me.
When I think about the stories I’ve written about in my own book, Too Much on the Inside feels like a slightly different conversation, but a parallel one – like if I teleported myself back to the early 2000’s, I might look up from my beer and see Dez, Lukas, Marlize and Nicki living out their lives on the other side of the smoky dive bar. Knowing what I know now, I would wrap my arms around these characters and tell them, “This. All of this. It’s going to be OK.”
Too Much on the Inside is available on Amazon. I received a copy of the book (thank you!) in exchange for my honest review. All views are my own because that’s how I roll.