Josh Ritter and Me: Redeeming the Past, With Hugs

Once, years ago, I hugged someone and I’ve had regrets about it ever since.

My aversion to hugging is no secret. I generally avoid it at all costs. I’ve learned to handles myself through goodbyes with my in-laws, and will occasionally hug someone if it seems like the socially correct thing to do, but as a general rule, I do not hug.

A Hug Gone Wrong, Twice

But once, I was at a sparsely attending music festival that my friends where helping organize. There were many good folks acts on the bill, but I was there for Josh Ritter. The lack of attendance at the festival was terrible for the organizers, but it did hold some perks for the attendees. We didn’t have to fight crowds to get to the front of the stage, we never had to wait in line for food and drink, we got to meet many of the artists, and as friends of the organizers, we were able to partake in some of the back-stage beverages.

The combination of those last two is killer.

I remember the day. It was fun! But I also remember drinking too much and being distinctly aware of being just on the wrong side of out of control. At one point I had a conversation with Zach Hickman, the bassist in the Josh Ritter’s band and a musician I greatly admire. The conversation went something like this:

“I like your mustache.”
“Thanks. Me too.”

That was it. That was my moment and all I chose to say was, “I like your mustache.”

And still, it gets worse.

Later in the evening, when I was nearing the pinnacle of my drunkenness, my brother-in-law approached Josh Ritter and said, “My sister-in-law over there loves you and you would make her day if you gave her a hug.” And so Josh did. And while he did, I stood like a cement column. It was so awkward that he didn’t know what to do to end the interaction and so just hugged me again. Which would have been awesome, if I could have appreciated it.

And so, I added a goal to my 100 Things list that read: “Hug Josh Ritter … sober this time.”

It’s a goofy addition to the list and one that I always thought would be difficult to achieve. But if I managed to have The Features over for dinner, why not a sober hug?

A Chance at Redemption

Over the years I have seen Josh Ritter too many times to count. My conservative guess is 8-10 shows. No hugs. Recently, while on a trip in Argentina, I got an email from the Mercantile Library that they were hosting a new series called the Words and Music Lecture Series and the first guest would be Josh Ritter. My wi-fi was too spotty to buy tickets overseas, but I managed an email to my mom asking her to purchase memberships to the Library for Wonder Boy and I and to reserve tickets for this event. She totally saved the day and hooked us up.

And so this past Thursday, I went to the event with one task in mind. A hug.

To start, the event was great. Josh Ritter sang several songs, including a few of my favorites. He answered questions from the crowd that reiterated the importance of being creative and how all sorts of creative ventures can add fuel to the creativity you need for your main venture. He was personable and smiling the whole goddamn time and it only reiterated while I love him as an artist.

After the talk, there was a book and album signing and I scooted my way immediately over to the line. Thought only maybe 15 people back in line, I waited a bit. Josh talked to every person, answering their questions and taking whatever time was necessary. It sounds like I am gushing, and I am, but I am not the only person who made this observation. As I moved up in line, I tried to prepare myself to do better than the mustache question and way better than the inanimate object hug.

It went lovely.

Josh Ritter was the first person to be featured by the Mercantile Library for their Words and Music Series.He greeted Wonder Boy and I with hugs (check!). Then I explained to him about the last time I met him and how my goal since then was to give him a hug sober. And he smiled and said, “But I’m a little drunk. Is that okay?” It was, so he gave me a hug. (Check again!) And then I asked him the question I would have asked during Q&A if my voice could carry across a crowd: For someone who is constantly touring, how do you make time to write and create? Here is how he answered … I’m paraphrasing but it’s close:

I used to travel with my family so it was great because I did’t have to take time off from them to write. Now my daughter is in school so I can’t do that and I have to write while I am on the road more. I’m lucky because my team is great and I can trust them to set up while I get to walk around and work on songs. I have to write every day in order for it to feel like a good day.

And then he gave me another hug. ANOTHER HUG.

I think this instance totally redeemed the first one. I asked a smart question, or at least I think I did, and kept myself more composed than I have in previous celebrity interactions, and I got my hug(s). I left the Library floating and smiling from ear to ear.

That 100 List has turned out to be an inspired idea. The most ridiculous things are coming true. I need to aim higher.

Redeeming two bad hugs with several good ones, by hugging Josh Ritter at the Mercantile Library.

 

2016: Reviewing A Year of Reading

This horrendously long image shows all of the books I read in 2016. I love many things about Goodreads: It helps me share books I love with friends and get recommendations from the books they loved, it alerts me to new books I might like based on past books read and, most importantly to me, it keeps track of the books I consume so I can refer back to them later.

In 2016 I read 86 books, a total of 27,993 pages ranging in book length of 186 pages to 766 pages and averaging out at 341 pages per book. My average rating to the books I read was 3.2 stars, giving some validity to Outside’s theory that I rate books a little too critically. Goodreads isn’t perfect, at all, and was quick to point out what I read turned out to be most and least popular with it’s members, I had to work to see what got my highest and lowest ratings.

My favorite books of 2016 were:

  •  The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
  • My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Frederik Backman

I tried to locate my least favorite book for the year and all I will say is that it was the longest book I read. That earned only one star. I was pretty liberal with two star ratings, handing out 11 of those.

My 2016 reading list

At the beginning of 2016 I started to do a reading challenge that would put me on course to read books by more diverse authors. I hated the challenge through. I found myself selecting books based not on if they interested me but on the color of the author’s skin. I felt guilty about it but I quickly dropped the challenge. I needn’t have worried!

This past year I read more books by people of color and people from different countries that I ever have before. My embracing audio books, I was able to consume more and persist through some more difficult books that, in truth, if that had been in print, I might have stopped. I feel better, smarter and like my world is bigger for heaving had so much diversity in my literary life.

Some common themes across this past year are four authors: Matthew Quick, Kathy Reichs, Alan Bradley and Kerry Greenwood. It’s such a wonderful thing when you find an author or a series you really like!

All of the books I read in 2016, listed in chronological order by date read:

  • The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro
  • Ghosts of Bergen County by Dana Cann
  • What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman
  • The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag (Flavia de Luce, #2) by Alan Bradley
  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
  • At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen
  • The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce, #1) by Alan Bradley
  • Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
  • A Red Herring Without Mustard (Flavia de Luce, #3) by Alan Bradley
  • The Considerate Killer (Nina Borg, #4) by Lene Kaaberbøl
  • A Good Doctor’s Son by Steven Schwartz
  • In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  • I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Flavia de Luce, #4) by Alan Bradley
  • Speaking from Among the Bones (Flavia de Luce, #5) by Alan Bradley
  • Lucky Us by Amy Bloom
  • The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
  • My Brilliant Friend (The Neapolitan Novels #1) by Elena Ferrante
  • Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
  • Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick
  • No Shred of Evidence (Inspector Ian Rutledge, #18) by Charles Todd
  • The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
  • The Girl in the Well Is Me by Karen Rivers
  • The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (Flavia de Luce, #6) by Alan Bradley
  • The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
  • Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
  • What the Waves Know by Tamara Valentine
  • The Doomsday Key (Sigma Force, #6) by James Rollins
  • Boy 21 by Matthew Quick
  • The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor
  • The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
  • Summerland by Michael Chabon
  • The Passage (The Passage, #1) by Justin Cronin
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen,
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  • Me Before You (Me Before You, #1) by Jojo Moyes
  • Weep Not, Child by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
  • The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
  • Nor The Moon by Night by Joy Packer
  • And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
  • Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick
  • How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu
  • No Direction Home: A Novel by Maria Silver
  • A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray by James Renner
  • Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
  • Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb
  • Girl at War by Sara Nović
  • Virals (Virals, #1) by Kathy Reichs
  • Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  • The Rocks by Peter Nichols
  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  • What Is Visible by Kimberly Elkins
  • Seizure (Virals, #2) by Kathy Reichs
  • Code (Virals, #3) by Kathy Reichs
  • The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel
  • Cocaine Blues (Phryne Fisher, #1) by Kerry Greenwood
  • Flying Too High (Phryne Fisher, #2) by Kerry Greenwood
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  • Murder on the Ballarat Train (Phryne Fisher, #3) by Kerry Greenwood
  • The Yard (Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, #1) by Alex Grecian
  • Britt-Marie Was Here by Frederik Backman
  • Death at Victoria Dock (Phryne Fisher, #4) by Kerry Greenwood
  • The Guineveres by Sarah Domet
  • The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick
  • The Green Mill Murder (Phryne Fisher, #5) by Kerry Greenwood
  • Blood and Circuses (Phryne Fisher, #6) by Kerry Greenwood
  • The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer
  • Ruddy Gore (Phryne Fisher, #7) by Kerry Greenwood
  • Exposure (Virals, #4) by Kathy Reichs
  • Terminal (Virals, #5) by Kathy Reichs
  • The Black Country (Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, #2) by Alex Grecian
  • We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
  • Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir
  • Best Kept Secret (The Clifton Chronicles, #3) by Jeffrey Archer
  • Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows, #2) by Leigh Bardugo
  • Trace Evidence: A Virals Short Story Collection by Kathy Reichs
  • Smoke by Catherine McKenzie
  • My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Frederik Backman
  • Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
  • Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule by Jennifer Chiaverini
  • Urn Burial (Phryne Fisher, #8) by Kerry Greenwood
  • Raisins and Almonds (Phryne Fisher, #9) by Kerry Greenwood

Hidden Figures and Being a Critical Consumer of Media

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. The book is an important contribution to the body of knowledge out in the ether about African American history.According to Nielson, “U.S. adults spent 10 hours, 39 minutes a day consuming media in the first quarter of 2016.” When you consume so much information, how do you evaluate what is legitimate, accurate and useful information? This is something that’s become increasingly prevalent over the last few months in the new/fake news storm that has occurred around the election, but it applies to more than just news. It applies to all media.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought over the past few days while I read Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. The book is an important contribution to the body of knowledge out in the ether about African American history. It helps reshape stereotypes about the roles of women in general, and African American women specifically, in science, math and history. It sheds new light on the American history of discovery.

But here’s the thing. I found the book dreadful. It was like listening to someone read out a timeline of facts, at time repetitive and frequently reliant on clichés.

I believe in holding up all media, which certainly includes books, up to high expectations. And I’m torn on if I evaluate Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race as it’s quality as book or its value to our greater historical knowledge.

I have friends who comment on how harshly I evaluate books I read when I log them on Goodreads. I don’t think I am harsh but I do think I am critical. My system is consistent and straightforward, though influenced by the headspace I am in during reading.

  • Five Stars: Loved it, adored it and will be recommending it to everyone I know.
  • Four Stars: Really liked, will likely recommend it but don’t love it so much I have to keep a physical copy of the book on my shelves.
  • Three Stars: Entertaining and enjoyable, but likely forgettable. Most books get this ranking.
  • Two Stars: Didn’t care for the book.
  • One Stars: Hates the book. Few books have received one star from me.

So what do I rate this book?

I’ve gone back and forth on this and think I will be giving it three stars. As a contribution to my knowledge of history, it gets five stars. But as a book, which is how I approached it, maybe two stars? I know no one else might care how I rate my books, but it’s important to me that I apply a critical lens on my media consumption so I can make the best use of the 10.65 hours of media I am consuming each day. I try to apply all media I consume to the same set if high standards, because without those standards, we end up in situations where the headline of the day is about fake news.

I do want to add that I am excited to watch the movie Hidden Figures. I am interested to see how the script for the movie was adapted from what is shared in the book. And I am, always, excited to see the work of Taraji Henson and Octavia Spencer.

Book Series Featuring Strong, Smart Women

A girl detective obsessed with science. A teen who solves crime using science, special powers and a pack of friends. A lady detective who, when she’s not landing her latest conquest, is catching the bad guy.

We all need someone to look up to, and thanks to three book series, readers of all ages can have a strong, smart female role model.

Flavia de Luce Novels by Alan Bradley

Flavia de Luce is obsessed with chemistry and has a passion for poison.Flavia de Luce is obsessed with chemistry and has a passion for poison. In her constant quest to find out what’s happening in the adult world around her, Flavia frequently stumbles across murder scenes. Not one to make a discovery like a dead body and leave it alone, Flavia of course investigates to solve the crime, usually helped along with some scientific know-how.

As the Flavia de Luce series progresses, there is a larger plot afoot, making it clear that Flavia is destined for great things. Along the way, readers get to accompany her on many adventures and learn some along the way.

These are 8.5 books in this series so far, beginning with The Sweetness in the Bottom of the Pie  and ending with Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d. These are written for adults, but can be enjoyed by children ages 11-12 and up.

Virals Series by  Brendan Reichs and Cathy Reichs

The Virals series by Brendan Reichs and Cathy Reichs is about a pack of four teens and one wolf dog and the alpha of the group is a very smart girl.Readers of the Bones series will be familiar with Cathy Reichs’ quick, entertaining way of writing. The Virals series is a collaboration between Reichs and her son. In it, a group of teens catches parvo, a disease typically only contagious to dogs. The four teens who catch disease, and the wolf dog from whom they contracted it, become a pack with special powers. Tory, the leader of this otherwise male pack, leads the group to tackle crimes through the Charleston, South Carolina, area.

I’ve read each of the Bones books and a recurring complaint throughout the series is how the main character breaks off to explain scientific details. It reads as hokey and stops the flow of the story. Because the Virals books focus on a group of people, scientific facts can be shared in a more natural way, without interrupting the overall flow. It’s a welcome improvement.

There are five books in this series and one collection of short stories called Trace Evidence. These young adult novels can be enjoyed by adults, but are geared towards teens 13 and older.

Miss Phryne Fisher Books by Kerry Greenwood

The Miss Phryne Fisher Books short enough to consume in an afternoon or two and contain a perfect mixture of adventure, mystery and sex. With 20 books in the series, it’s a wonderful find.When Phryne Fisher decorated her boudoir, she did it in a specific shade of green that would look good against her naked skin. She’s also more than willing to tie herself to the back of a car, unbeknownst to the driver, so she can catch a criminal in the act. Those two sentences tell you all you really need to know about what makes Phyrne such an entertaining character.

Set in Australia, the Miss Phryne Fisher Books, of which you might be familiar with from the Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries television series, are delightful novels.  They are short enough to consume in an afternoon or two and contain a perfect mixture of adventure, mystery and sex. With 20 books in the series, it’s a wonderful find.

I describe the television series as being “PBS with sex.” The description applies for the books as well. They are definitely geared for adults but could be enjoyed by teens as well.

Developing a Sense of Community, On Foot

Here in Cincinnati, it’s cold outside. That awful kind of cold where you start trying to brainstorm ways to add more layers to your day’s outfit. Where you feel your eyes starting to freeze shut as soon as you walk outside.  Where cold gives way to numb so quickly, you aren’t sure if you’re okay. It’s also getting dark earlier in the evenings, which is a winning combination.

Last Spring I transitioned my commute to work from being in a car to walking. I live less than two miles from work, so it’s easily walkable. Because my drive is all city driving and takes me through many intersections where I am apt to catch red lights, my travel to work increased by only 14 minutes, from 18 minutes to 32.

I love walking to work. I’m sort of obsessed with it. I end up going through Over-the-Rhine each day, which is an area quickly being gentrified overhauled. I can truly say that every day I noticed a new thing I think is beautiful, be it architecture, murals, people or plants. It’s also been a nice way to ready myself for the upcoming workday or decompress from a long day while I head home.

During the six months I spent walking to work, I made friends with some folks renovating a local restaurant so it could re-open after a fire. I added in a daily stop to say hello to an adorable dog and an entertaining shop owner. I met a child who calls himself Batman. I feel like I became a recognizable addition to the daily comings and goings of the neighborhood and was able to learn a little more about my community.

A photo posted by Kate (@katespointofview) on

Despite my intense love of the walk, I also love myself and so, for my own safety, I had to switch over to the city bus when it started getting dark in the evening. And now that the temperatures are in the single digits when I wake up, my morning commute is also via the bus. I hear people knock the Cincinnati bus system pretty often, but I have found it to be wonderful. Their app works great, the drivers have been helpful, the buses clean and I am easily getting to and from where I need to go.

A few days ago I messed up reading the bus schedule and didn’t want to wait around for the next one. I knew Wonder Boy was downtown so started making my way towards him. Along the 12 block walk, I talked to a woman about her dogs’ cute outfits. I heard a man make one of the funniest insults I’ve heard in a long  while. I spoke with another woman who was trying to figure out bus schedules. I cut down a different path than I normally take and admired what has to be one of the cities tiniest parks.

When I got into Wonder Boy’s car, I realized what it is I love about walking to work and walking throughout the city that I certainly didn’t get in my car and I’m also not getting on the bus. I was part of the community. I miss that sense of community and the interactions that came with it.

I look forward to warmer weather and sunnier days when I can rejoin the community I so love.