A Bringer of New Things

Musings on personal growth, books, motherhood, writing, and more.

Winter Mind Cleanup

Camille au métier by Claude Monet

Camille au métier by Claude Monet

I’m overdue for another “mind cleanup” post about what I’ve been reading and writing lately. I’m going to add the categories of listening and viewing as well (just the highlights). For a while now I have been keeping a daily log for these categories—writing, reading, listening, and viewing—to help track my mental input as well as my writing activity. This is because I’m actually kind of serious about the “mind cleanup” concept—I get easily overwhelmed when my mind is too full of unsorted input, ideas, feelings, and other tidbits! (See my post Input Overwhelm.”) So keeping a daily log helps with this. Plus, it’s fun!


Blog Posts

I know there are so many great blog posts out there that I missed, unfortunately, but here are a just few posts that especially grabbed my interest recently:

So Many Books: “Do We Need a Patronage System for Writers?”

Nillu Nasser Stelter: “The Burden of Communication and the Potency of Silence”

Whispering Gums: “Jane Austen on history and historians”


Almost all of the books I’ve read so far this year have turned out to be wonderful. I’ve been in reading heaven!

Books I’ve finished since my last mind cleanup post:

Children’s & YA Fiction

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

I had never read this before. It is entertaining but surprisingly violent!

The Phantom Toolbooth by Norman Juster

I loved this book as a child but hadn’t read it since; it was a delight to revisit.

The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

Guys, this was my FOURTH time reading these books. They have officially become my go-to books for when I’m not feeling well and need a great escape that sucks me in so completely I forget how crappy I feel (while my body is resting). Each time I read them, I feel even closer to Katniss and even more in awe of Ms. Collins’s writing.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

This excellent YA novel charmed me, captivated me, moved me to tears, and left me feeling reconnected with that deep and personal kind of joy–which I have had the privilege of knowing firsthand–that celebrates healing after brokenness, recovery, growth, new hope, rebuilt trust, and opening up to love.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I enjoyed this book, but the hopes its title had raised in me were not fulfilled. The novel wasn’t so much about peculiar children as a peculiar fantasy world and a mystery-suspense story, which was well done but not, to me, wholly gripping. I would have liked more character and backstory, for example, about the children’s struggles to fit in with “common” people. We hear tiny bits of backstory; but because we meet the children after they’ve already found a home where they can be who they are, the story fails to capitalize on the powerful, universal feeling of being different, which is what I felt promised by the title.


S Is for Silence by Sue Grafton

I had only previously read the first book in this Kinsey Millhone series (A Is for Alibi), which didn’t do much for me. But at some point I had picked up S Is for Silence at a yard sale, and earlier this year I found myself in need of a quick escape (and times like that are the reason I keep a bookshelf of unread, easy fiction purchased cheaply). Even though I hadn’t read the rest of the books in the series, I was easily able to follow this story—and I loved it! It featured the unique device of having every other chapter or so being told from the point of view of a different character in the setting of the mystery’s past, thirty years before Kinsey’s time. This allowed Sue Grafton to demonstrate her true skill, which I don’t think fully comes out through Kinsey’s rather boring character (in my humble opinion, and just judging by A Is for Alibi). This was a well-woven mystery; however, I felt the ending to be too sudden–I wanted more explanation of the solution to the mystery.

At Bertram’s Hotel by Agatha Christie

Ah, another delightful Miss Marple mystery. In this one she shares the glory of a mystery solved with a likeable Scotland Yard chief who hides his savvy under a disarmingly “cow-like” demeanor.


The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I enjoyed reading this story and found the prose engaging and witty. However, I felt I didn’t “get” the ending (the very end). I hope to spend some more time pondering it and/or reading some commentary and criticism about it to help enlighten me—because, as much as I knock the snobbery of literary criticism, the truth is it can be really powerful sometimes to help me fully digest and appreciate an author’s work of art.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Ahhh. I finished this book feeling like I had just eaten a multi-course gourmet meal or listened to a complex and beautiful symphony of several movements—I felt enriched and deeply satisfied. The story takes you through so much; it’s cathartic and delightful at the same time.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Oh man. I had always been meaning to read this book, without knowing anything about it except that it had been one of those controversial banned books–well, I finally read it, and I LOVED it. I was happy to read on the back cover flap that it took the author ten years to write that book, because damn that is some incredible writing!

Contemporary Literary

Villa America by Liza Klaussmann

I both enjoyed and was impressed by this very well-written and -researched novel. For those of you who have read it or know about it, I’m also currently reading Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Living Well Is the Best Revenge by Calvin Tomkins, which is a short nonfiction book about Gerald and Sara Murphy.

(Fun tidbit for my fellow library fetishists: my copy of this latter book is an inter-library loan that came from the Boston Public Library!!! Isn’t that cool? I hope I get to go there someday and see its beautiful interior that I fawn over photos of. But at least now I’m holding a book that’s from there!!!)


The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris

I loved this excellent, groundbreaking book, which I wrote a long post about here.

The Craft of Lyric Writing by Sheila Davis

Thanks to this book, I now have a mental structure with which to approach lyric writing, rather than just the half-poem-half-lyric-plus-whatever approach I used before. I think that my songwriter brother, to whom I give most of my lyrics, is grateful for the improvement!

 The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

I had been afraid to read this runaway bestseller because I thought it would leave me feeling guilty and judged about my messy house. But, it turns out–after I finally broke down and bought it in a fit of desperation about the clutter in my house–it’s not at all like that. It’s a very specific (and apparently very successful) method for “tidying up,” and I just adored Marie Kondo’s personality as it shone through her writing. She is one of those people who lets her unique passions and ideas burst out in the brilliant glory of unashamed enthusiasm.

Granted, some of her Eastern-influenced ideas are a bit extreme and strange to me, being a very Western person in my background and thinking, but I found that I could still appreciate those parts in some way or other, even if just for the interest of hearing about how different life is in Japan, as in the section about how to tidy one’s shrines. As another example, I don’t believe that objects such as a house or a shirt actually have feelings (though I don’t know how literally she means that), but I can still appreciate this concept. While I don’t believe they have a soul, I think they can have soul. Anyway, I’m very excited to try out her KonMari method!


I’ve been listening to Rachel Platten’s inspiring pop album Wildfire, the one with my new all-time favorite song that can still make me cry when I listen to it: “Fight Song.” I’ve also been spending some time getting to know the Indigo Girls and Joni Mitchell. As a fun/wildcard listen, my brother introduced me to the Piano Guys, who make beautiful piano-and-strings arrangements of popular songs.


I’ve been slowly re-watching my all-time favorite show, Parks and Recreations—I wish Leslie Knope was a real person so she could be my friend! My husband and I, maybe for lack of better grown-up shows that we haven’t yet watched and can both enjoy, have been indulging in the world of teenage vampire drama with the show Vampire Diaries. Finally, not long ago I watched the relatively new movie version (starring Kiera Knightly) of Anna Karenina. At first I didn’t know what to make of the film’s weird playfulness with highly stylized elements, but the format grew on me; and, as with the book, I loved the movie.


Not much has changed in my writing life since my thorough description of it in my post “Why Writing a Novel Is So Difficult.” I’m still plugging away at my novel; it’s still difficult but I’m still having fun. Last night I went to my monthly writers’ critique group, which is always uplifting, and had a long conversation afterward with another woman who is working on a novel. We commiserated with and encouraged each other. I’m always very grateful for opportunities like this to talk at length with fellow writers.

Well, thanks for reading–my mind is feeling cleaner! 

9 comments on “Winter Mind Cleanup

  1. Nillu Nasser Stelter
    March 11, 2016

    Thanks so much for the mention, Sarrah. Am inspired by how much you read to go to bed very early with a book 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. whisperinggums
    March 11, 2016

    Lovely post, and thanks for the link. I feel chuffed that you chose it as one of your three interesting ones.

    I was given the Kondo book for Christmas but haven’t read it yet.

    And I just have to say how much I love Parks and Recreation too. I met someone the other day who likes Poehler but said she couldn’t get into that show. That competely mystifies me. How could you not?


    • Sarrah J. Woods
      March 18, 2016

      You’re welcome! I feel the same way about Parks and Rec–I have a friend who said the same thing, and I was baffled too. But, to each their own, I guess. I just started listening to Amy Poehler’s memoir called Yes, Please!, and so far I love it. She is a real treasure.


  3. Stefanie
    March 15, 2016

    Does it help to know that Blithedale Romance is based on real people? I read it a number of years ago and I can’t remember the name of the main female character, but she was modeled after Margaret Fuller. Keep going with the novel! 🙂


    • Sarrah J. Woods
      March 18, 2016

      Thanks for the comment! My copy of The Blithedale Romance is a Norton Critical Edition, and I haven’t finished reading all the commentary in the back yet, but so far it contains a lot of lively debate about how literally Hawthorne’s book was meant to relate to actual people and experiences at Brook Farm. This is especially true of the contemporary reviews (reactions to his work at the time it was published). They take different opinions on this, but my general impression is that, despite Hawthorne’s preface to the book declaring that it is NOT based on actual people, he did indeed draw inspiration from real people for his characters (possibly including Margaret Fuller). However, of course, he takes this inspiration and runs with it to create his own original story. I like what Brownson’s Quarterly Review wrote about it in 1852: “There was no actual Zenobia, Hollingsworth, or Priscilla there [at Brook Farm], and no such catastrophe as described ever occurred there; yet none of these characters are purely imaginary.” It sounds to me like Hawthorne had great fun putting just enough of real life into his work to raise all this fascination, and then went beyond to create his own artful work of the imagination.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Stefanie
        March 18, 2016

        Yes, I think he probably intended a bit of satire with it. I found it really amusing that all these middle class people who thought they would work a farm and have all kinds of extra time to be creative were so surprised about how exhausted they were and wow, farming isn’t easy after all. Go figure. 🙂


        • Sarrah J. Woods
          March 18, 2016

          Yes, that was definitely fun to watch (this really is a very witty book). For example (since I still have the book close at hand), here’s one way he describes this aspect of their experience: “”The peril of our new way of life was not lest we should fail in becoming practical agriculturalists, but that we should probably cease to be anything else. While our enterprise lay all in theory, we had pleased ourselves with delectable visions of the spiritualization of labor. It was to be our form of prayer, and ceremonial of worship…But…the clods of earth, which we so constantly belabored and turned over and over, were never etherealized into thought. Our thoughts, on the contrary, were fast becoming cloddish. Our labor symbolized nothing, and left us mentally sluggish in the dusk of the evening. Intellectual activity is incompatible with any large amount of bodily exercise.” I love this, because I can really relate to having my idealized hopes turn into disappointing realities and being left feeling a bit sheepish!

          Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on March 11, 2016 by in Mind Cleanups and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .
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