books

my early writing memories.

A lot of my free time recently has been dedicated to reading books from my childhood. (If you’re not sure why, you can read more over on the newly-launched SSR Podcast page!). While I’ve definitely experienced these stories differently the second time around, the simple act of cracking the binding has given me my fair share of flashbacks, too.

Reading one book brought back intense memories of sitting in a navy blue lounge chair near the pool at my grandmother’s old house while I was visiting her for summer vacation. I’m pretty sure we were snacking on cantaloupe.

Another book reminded me of a plane ride to Orlando.

Still another took me back to sitting on the front porch of our rented beach house at the Jersey shore. Back then, it felt like the biggest treat to be able to stay up as late as I wanted, alone with my book and the sound of other beachgoers walking back to their houses as the sky got darker. (For the record, the mark of a good beach trip for me these days is a 10 PM bedtime. Getting older is weird.)

And, yes, I obviously have the clearest memories of vacation reading. 

But how cool is that? The fact that a single chapter or passage in a book I’ve barely thought of over the past 15 years can make me so clearly sense what it was like to read that book the first time — where I was, what I was smelling, how the air felt — is pretty darn cool.

All of these reading throwbacks have gotten my wheels turning on a few writing memories, too.

Writing was a “thing” for me by the time I was eight years old, largely because I was lucky enough to wind up in an elementary school chock full of teachers who embraced more than just a required reading list. They wanted us to learn to tell our own stories, as well, and it quite literally shaped and changed my life. I didn’t know back then exactly what kind of writer I would be when I grew up, but I did understand that the practice of writing would play a major role in whatever happened to me in the future.

Here are some of my earliest writing memories…

… for years, I only took baths — never showers. I used to rest my notebooks on the edge of the tub so I could work on my stories while sitting in the cooling water.

… my first grade teacher had this spiral-bound reference book that was part baby name book, part thesaurus, part dictionary. The idea was to use it to make your writing more creative and to shake up the kinds of nouns and verbs you were using in your work. I pored over this thing so much that my parents ended up asking my teacher where we could order one of our own, and I carried it with me everywhere.

… my classmates and I were introduced to SSR (Silent Sustained Reading — the inspiration for my podcast!) in first grade, but in second grade we learned about SSW — Silent Sustained Writing. A few times a week, we got to sit at our desks and write whatever we wanted. It was the best.

… another staple of my elementary school experience was the “Read In,” a day near the end of the school year when we all got to wear pajamas to school and build makeshift campsites in the classroom where we got to sit and read all day. At some point, we got to have a “Write In.” I’m pretty sure I brought three empty notebooks to school that day, convinced I would be able to fill them with that time.

… my fourth grade teacher had a filing cabinet where we all got to keep our creative writing projects, and instead of working on a bunch of short stories, I asked if I would be allowed to try to write a book. She said yes. My first attempt at a book — which spent that year getting increasingly crammed into my folder in that cabinet — was called Carrie’s Ride Home, and it was about a girl who figured out how to teach her blind little sister how to ride horses. (I was super into horses at the time, too.)

… I always traveled with plenty of blank paper. I remember sitting on the deck of my grandfather’s house in Florida with a princess hat on, fervently scratching away at one of my beloved notebooks. I refused any notebooks that weren’t five-subject, with skinny lines.

… one of my favorite things was to read my work out loud to my mom, which is weird, since I now pretty much refuse to share any of my creative writing with anyone. It was always a “stop everything!” kind of moment, where I required her full attention.

… as a third grader, I decided that I wanted to start a class newspaper. I tried assigning out stories to my classmates and set up a little desk in the back of the classroom (with my teacher’s permission). I remember getting really frustrated because the other kids weren’t as excited about it as I was.

… luckily for me, most of my friends were as interested in writing as I was, and we experimented with lots of writing projects together — plays we would perform in my basement, “books” in alternating viewpoints, and stories we would simply work on together painstakingly, line-by-line.

Ah, these were so fun to revisit!

What are some of your favorite, most random childhood memories? 

 

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may giveaway winner announced!

It’s the most magical time of the month! (Except, in the case of this month, at least, Memorial Day weekend here in New York City, which was full of friends and fun and good food and golden retrievers. Crummy weather can’t stop us.)

The winner of this month’s giveaway — and a $30 gift card to Barnes & Noble — is…

Natalie!

Congratulations! I’ll send you your prize via email later today! Can’t wait to hear what book(s) you pick up : )

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Thanks so much to everyone who entered! I noticed a lot of new faces (well, new names that are associated with new faces) getting in on the giveaway action this month. It’s great to see this community growing! Be sure to come back on June 22 for our next giveaway. There’s something new and a little different in the works and I know you’re going to love it.

I’ll see you back here on Saturday (special weekend edition!) to talk May and June goals! You can check out last month’s goal post here to get a head start : )

 

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may giveaway.

The holiday weekend is (kind of) quickly approaching, which means that even though it’s only Wednesday morning, you’ve almost conquered the week. I’m not entirely sure how the math works out on that, but I’m pretty sure it does… and mostly I’m just trying to give us all (myself included!) a hump day boost.

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It’s been four days since I ran the Brooklyn Half over the weekend and I think I’ve finally defrosted. Given the cold and rainy weather, I honestly didn’t know when I woke up on Saturday morning whether or not I was going to run it, but I’m nothing if not stubborn. When I left the apartment and told Matt I was “just going to walk toward the start line and see what it’s like outside,” I kind of already knew I wasn’t coming back. Oops! It definitely wasn’t the most comfortable race I’ve ever run, but because of the circumstances, it may have been the most satisfying. The icing on the cake? I got my best time yet! A girl’s gotta get out of the cold ASAP, right?

It’s GIVEAWAY DAY, and to celebrate the fact that my half marathon is over and I mostly find myself wanting to curl up with a good book…

The May giveaway prize is a $30 gift card to Barnes & Noble!

With Memorial Day around the corner, we all have summer travel to look forward to, which — for me, at least — means summer reading (picture me dancing as I say this)! A $30 gift card should be enough to get you a hardcover or two paperbacks. I’m happy to pass on some recommendations to the lucky winner to make your beach and pool hangs as good as they can possibly be!

To enter, add a comment to this post below. It’s that simple! If you want to take one more step to brighten up Wednesday for someone else (and to help share the Finding Plan A love), please, please go ahead and send this link to a friend or post it to Facebook. If they win, maybe they can lend you the book they buy with their gift card!

I’ll draw the winner randomly one week from today, Wednesday 5/30. The winner will be announced right here on the blog! Good luck!

And don’t forget…

Friday is a big, big day! I’m FINALLY sharing all the details about my soon-to-be-launched podcast! You’ll be able to read more about the show right here on the blog, and I’ll also start releasing the social media handles you’ll need to be able to start following along behind the scenes so you don’t miss any news or episodes! Can’t wait to see you right back here for all that excitement before you leave for your Memorial Day adventures : )

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march giveaway winner announced!

It’s time to announce the winner of the March giveaway, and I’m over here dancing in my PJ’s and desk chair because I get to gift a very lucky reader with their very own copy of Hannah Howard’s Feast. (I’ll let you and your imagination come up with the dance moves.) I’m just a few pages away from the end of the book now and I am so impressed by it. Hannah, I am so grateful to you for partnering with me on this month’s giveaway! Thank you for sharing your work with all of us : )

The winner of Feast is…

Victoria Munn!

Congratulations! I’ll send you an email this morning to work out the details of getting the book in your mailbox.

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Thanks so much to all who entered this month! Don’t forget to come back for next month’s giveaway on April 23. If you didn’t win, I still hope you’ll consider grabbing a copy of Hannah’s book, because it’s really a great read. Check it out on Amazon here, and note that if you purchase through that link, I’ll earn a small fee for recommending Feast to you!

In the meantime, I’m off to do a nine-mile run (half marathon training is heating up!) and finish up some projects here in the office before Matt and I head to Pennsylvania for Passover and Easter celebrations with family. Sending you all the good vibes for a great weekend, no matter what you celebrate (or don’t celebrate)!

I’ll catch you back here next week. I’ll be talking March and April goals on Tuesday!

 

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march giveaway.

Happy Friday, everyone! I’m lucky enough to be coming to you from Chicago this morning. I flew out of snowy New York City late yesterday afternoon  and am so excited to spend the next few days hanging out with two of my very best friends. The three of us live in different cities — New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. — and we’ve tried to make a better effort over the last few months to get together for these girls’ weekends on a regular basis. It’s a great excuse to get away for a weekend, too, and I secretly love the way it feels to do a little solo plane travel. Matt’s actually coming to Chicago later tonight because we have another set of friends celebrating their upcoming wedding here tomorrow. He’ll be able to snag some QT with one of his best college pals while I’m with the girls, and we’ll meet up for the couples’ shower. It couldn’t have worked out more perfectly!

In the meantime, though, it’s GIVEAWAY DAY… and I couldn’t be more excited to share this month’s prize with you. 

For the first time ever, I’ve teamed up with  an author for the March giveaway. How cool is that? Meet Hannah Howard.

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Hannah and I met at the very beginning of my freelance journey when we both took a Freelance Bootcamp class at the Brooklyn Brainery. At that point, Hannah had recently sold her debut book to a publisher, and although I was having some serious writer FOMO at that point (guilty!), I was so intrigued by the premise of her memoir that I got over it pretty quickly. I was so excited when Hannah reached out a few weeks ago with the opportunity to work together to share Feast: True Love in and out of the Kitchen with my blog community. Thank you so much, Hannah!

Many of you already know that a healthy relationship with food hasn’t always come easily to me personally, and since Feast (just out this month!) shares the story of Hannah’s own journey to find self-acceptance in spite of her disordered eating — all while exploring the unique and colorful food scene of New York City — I knew even before cracking the cover that it would be right up my alley. I started reading the book on the flight yesterday, and before I knew it, I was 100 pages in. Hannah’s writing is absolutely stunning. I love the way she describes food and the city that I love, and her reflections on how we feel about ourselves as we grow up (just wait until you read about middle school!) are wildly relatable.

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Even if your relationship with food has never crossed the threshold to disordered, you surely have had other moments of self-doubt, and Hannah’s narrative will really resonate with you at that level. Plus, her writing is beautiful and offers a fascinating peek into the NYC food scene.

Here’s a quick summary:

Hannah Howard is a Columbia University freshman when she lands a hostess job at Picholine, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Manhattan. Eighteen years old and eager to learn, she’s invigorated by the manic energy and knife-sharp focus of the crew. By day Hannah explores the Columbia arts scene, struggling to find her place. By night she’s intoxicated by boxes of heady truffles and intrigued by the food industry’s insiders. She’s hungry for knowledge, success, and love, but she’s also ravenous because she hasn’t eaten more than yogurt and coffee in days.

Hannah is hiding an eating disorder. The excruciatingly late nights, demanding chefs, bad boyfriends, and destructive obsessions have left a void inside her that she can’t fill. To reconcile her relationships with the food she worships and a body she struggles to accept, Hannah’s going to have to learn to nourish her soul.

The winner of this month’s giveaway will receive their very own copy of Feast! So cool, right?

All you have to do to enter to win this giveaway is COMMENT on this post! I’ll draw the winner randomly one week from today, Friday 3/30. The winner will be announced right here on the blog.

(Unfortunately, you’re not eligible to win this contest if you live outside of North America, due to shipping concerns. I’m sorry about that!)

… and if, as you’re typing in your own comment, you feel so inspired, I’d love for you to pass the giveaway along to a food- or book-loving friend who might also be interested in entering. Grab that URL at the top of your screen and text it to a loved one or share it on social media. It means so much to me to able to share Finding Plan A with more and more people — and I would be all the more excited to have more eyes on this post in particular, since it will allow us to help Hannah get the word out about Feast!

Happy commenting! And happy weekending! 

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february giveaway.

Friends, you did it. You made it to Friday!

This afternoon, Matt and I are leaving for our spring getaway weekend — and not a minute too soon, either, because after all of the warm temperatures we had here in New York City earlier this week (I was almost too hot in a light sweatshirt!), we’re looking at a colder, rainier forecast for the weekend. For a few days there, I was worried it would be colder in Charlotte than it is here, and that would have pretty much defeated the whole purpose of this southern adventure! Anyway, I’m really excited to get a change of scenery and to enjoy the kind of down time you can only get when you’re removed from your usual routine and environment. I can’t wait to tell you all about it when we get back!

In the meantime, though, it’s GIVEAWAY DAY, which means that it’s all about you and showing my gratitude for your continued support.

The February giveaway prize is a $30 gift card to Barnes & Noble!

This is pretty much the prize of my dreams, and I hope you’re as excited about it as I am. A $30 gift card should be enough to get you a hardcover or two paperbacks. If you’re the lucky winner, I’m happy to give you some recommendations!

All you have to do to enter to win this giveaway is COMMENT on this post! I’ll draw the winner randomly one week from today, Friday 3/2. The winner will be announced right here on the blog. Good luck!

As you’re getting ready to type those comments below, can I just ask you for one quick favor? Just one? I promise it will be really easy!

If Finding Plan A has resonated with you and you love reading the content and entering the giveaways, could you please grab the URL up at the top of your screen and pop it in an email or text to one of your loved ones? Give them the opportunity to enter for the Barnes & Noble giveaway and to be part of this awesome community! The more we can share, the better. It would really mean the world to me if we could work together to get the word out, friends!

Have a great weekend! xo

 

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new year, new book recommendations.

I think a lot of people out there must have “READ MORE” listed among their New Year’s resolutions for 2018, because I’ve gotten so many requests over the last few days for book recommendations. These are requests that I’m more than happy to get, since there are few kinds of talk that I love more than book talk — plus, they give me the opportunity to put my handy book log to good use.

That’s right, friends — I have a book log.

I started tracking my reading back in 2014, and it’s turned into a seriously hefty Google Doc in the years since. At that time, I was working in publishing, so it was really helpful from a work perspective to keep tabs on exactly what I’d read and how I felt about it, but I loved logging my books so much that I kept it up even when I didn’t “have to ” for work anymore. People know that I’m a bookworm and tend to ask for my recommendations fairly often, so it’s actually been really helpful to have a central list of what I’ve read, what I’ve loved, and what I’ve (sadly) hated. I won’t reveal my organization or ratings system because it’s a little embarrassing (nerd alert! nerd alert!), but I will tell you that if you’re a reader like me, you might want to consider creating your own!

Thanks to my book log (yes, that’s exactly what it’s saved as in my Google Drive), I could go on and on with recommendations for thousands of words, but I’m going to keep it short with a few quick suggestions for the new year! You may have seen me mention some of these in my recent monthly goal recaps (check out the latest one here), but I’m sharing a few more details below so it’s even easier for you to pick your next read!

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#1: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls: It’s challenging for me to find a memoir that I stick with start to finish because I just tend to prefer books that are totally fictional, but The Glass Castle was so mind-blowing that it was hard to believe that it was actually a true story. But it is! Jeannette Walls shares the story of her untraditional (to say the least) upbringing in West Virginia, with a father whose alcoholism is matched only by his kindness and imagination and a mother who simply wanted to keep her family together. The author’s journey out of her moldy (literally) childhood home and into New York City is inspiring and emotional, and I found myself wanting to learn even more about her lfe when I’d finished.

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#2: The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe: I read this for the first time just after I moved to New York, and it quickly became a favorite, since it tells the story of young women working in the publishing business (just like I was when I first came to the city!) in the fifties. I recently reread it, and it was amazing to realize the perspective that I’ve gained in the few years in between. It read almost like a different book entirely! I firmly believe that every woman should read this book, especially given today’s extremely important dialogue about professional parity and safe workplaces. You’ll especially enjoy it if you were a Mad Men fan, since it has the same sense of New York City glamour and excitement.

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#3: Amanda Wakes Up by Alisyn Camerota: The most interesting thing about this book was the extent to which the storyline predicted much of the media landscape during the 2016 presidential election. Author Alisyn Camerota (also one of my favorite CNN anchors) actually wrote much of Amanda Wakes Up prior to the height of the frenzy around Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and yet somehow, much of the events of the book came true in real life! So interesting! The world of cable news is also just fascinating to me, and if you feel the same, you’ll really love this read.

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#4: Breaking Free by Rachel Jeffs: I’m crazy intrigued by stories of cults and fringe religious communities in the same way that other people are fascinated by true crime, and this account of life in the FLDS (a more extreme, militant offshoot of the Mormon church) by the daughter of one of its scariest leaders was about as shocking as I expected it to be. I read it cover to cover in less than two days!

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#5: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan: One of my friends has been recommending this to me for ages, and when I saw the beautifully lush preview images from the upcoming film adaptation in Entertainment Weekly recently, I knew the time had come for me to finally read it! With the holidays, I didn’t have as much time to read as I would have liked, but this is definitely the kind of book that I would have devoured in hours-long chunks if I’d been able to. The characters are amazing, the descriptions are beautiful, and the whole thing just made me want to jump on a plane to Singapore ASAP.

How about you? Have you read anything that you’ve just loved recently? I’d love to hear more in the comments below!

(Please note that, while I’ve included Amazon links for each of these books to make your life easier, I am also super in favor of you heading out and supporting your local bookseller. If there’s one in your neighborhood, don’t forget to help them out. They’re doing such important work in our communities! )

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december giveaway!

I’ve been writing a lot of astrology content for Bustle this week, and between that and all of the last-minute holiday shopping issues I’ve had, I’m now fully convinced that this whole Mercury retrograde business is very, very real. (Good news, though — retrograde is over as of today! I’m basically an expert now.) The sick irony of the whole thing is that this year, I did all of my shopping online a few weeks ahead of time precisely to avoid the last-minute scramble. Typically, I buy gifts in-person, because I actually like the experience of being in the store, but I tried to catch up to the rest of the world by sticking to online shopping this year. Anddddd of course (as I’ve now been assured by customer service representatives at no less than three vendor help lines), I somehow ended up as part of the very unlucky 1% of people who find themselves at the receiving end of incorrect tracking information and/or items that just don’t seem to have shipped even though I was told they’d been put on a truck days ago. What. are. the. odds? HAH! So, that’s where we are. Thanks, Mercury!

All of that being said, I am extremely happy that it’s GIVEAWAY DAY, because it means I have the chance to gift one of you with something fun — absolutely no hassle required.

The December giveaway prize is a $30 gift card to Barnes & Noble!

You all know how much I love to read, so this is a prize I would definitely like to win myself! The amount should cover one hardcover or two paperbacks, and I’m happy to offer a few recommendations to the lucky winner. I already have a few ideas in mind!

All you have to do to enter to win this giveaway is COMMENT on this post! As always, I’d love to see you share this link with friends so that more people have a chance to win and ring in the new year with a great read (and to check out the blog!). I run a giveaway every month, so you can count on another opportunity to win something else very soon. I’ll draw the winner randomly one week from today, Friday 12/29. The winner will be announced right here on the blog. Good luck!

In the meantime, I hope that all of those celebrating have a very merry, cozy Christmas! May you eat lots of cookies and stay in your pajamas for as long as possible.

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my fave summer reads of 2017.

Word on the street is that I missed National Book Lovers Day.

I know, I know — I’m so embarrassed.

If you’ve been following the blog for any length of time, you’ve probably figured out that I’m a serious book lover, so the fact that yesterday’s celebration was so far off my radar feels to me like a failure to wish my mom a happy birthday or to celebrate Valentine’s Day (and I love Valentine’s Day). I can’t believe I didn’t know anything about it until I checked Twitter in the late afternoon to see that just about every one of my favorite authors and publishing pros was sharing their thoughts on the books that had changed their lives. Way to drop the ball, Alli. Way to be out of the loop. (picture me slowly dragging my hand, palm-down, from my forehead to my chin)

I know everything is supposed to be super immediate and quick these days, but I can’t let the opportunity pass to share some book recommendations — even if it’s a day late.  I’ve been planning to put together a summer reading list before the end of August, anyway, and I don’t think there could be a better time than National Book Lovers Day (or, well, right after that) to do it.

Here are five books I’ve read and loved this summer. Consider this your cue to run, don’t walk to wherever you buy your books and pick up any titles that aren’t already on your shelf. While these were my favorite summer reading books, I’m sure you’ll love them just as much as I did any time of year.

the animators

#1: The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker: Any book that tops my list is bound to be driven by incredible characters, and this is no exception. I loved the quirky and creative world of The Animators, and I truly fell in love with main characters Mel and Sharon. (Also, I hate to tell you that there’s a twist at the end, because then you’ll know to look for it… but it’s such a good twist that I just have to give it a shoutout. I promise you won’t see it coming, even with this subtle spoiler.)

wangs#2: The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang: I picked this up for our trip to Turks + Caicos at the recommendation of a friend, and I have to admit that it was a total surprise for me. The Wangs is the perfect mix of relatable familial dysfunction, laugh out loud hilarity, and twenty-first century cultural commentary. Also, who else gets addicted to a good road trip story?

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#3: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett: It’s been a long time since I fell so head-over-heels in love with a book written in interconnected stories and criss-crossing perspectives. If you’re looking to really get into the thick of a family’s history (we’re talking about some serious baggage here), this is the book you need to curl up with ASAP.

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#4: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly: Every once in a while, you find a piece of historical fiction that breaks your heart and gives you hope and makes you feel totally gutted — all at the same time. I’m still 100 pages away from finishing Lilac Girls, but this book has already made me feel all of these feelings (and more!), so it more than deserves to be included on this list.

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#5: Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss: I’ve already sung the praises of this book several times here on the blog, and each time I mention it, I find it harder and harder to describe just how much I adored it and why it’s easily my new favorite title (like, ever). Read it. Please just read it. Then call me or email me or text me so we can talk about it right away.

What an amazing summer of reading it’s been, friends! As far as I’m concerned, any season that brings me to this many great new reads is an incredible success.

How about you? Have you read anything that you’ve just loved recently? I’d love to hear more in the comments below!

(Please note that, while I’ve included Amazon links for each of these books to make your life easier, I am also super in favor of you heading out and supporting your local bookseller. If there’s one in your neighborhood, don’t forget to help them out. They’re doing such important work in our communities! )

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our first book club meeting.

Since I used to work in publishing, I’ve always wanted to start a book club. Over the years, various friends have told me that they would also love to find a reason to read more, so I’ve toyed with the idea many times, but it wasn’t until recently that I finally decided to make it happen. The book club was one of the “personal projects” I wanted to prioritize when I started freelancing, and while it was a little slow to get off the ground, we finally had our first meeting this past Tuesday!

The book club includes a small group of friends, most of whom live right here in Brooklyn. When I first put everything together, I thought it would be a great opportunity to bring together multiple friend groups and to get to know a few friends of friends who I don’t get to see as much as I would like.

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Putting this winter storm to good use as a photo backdrop!

We chose our first book back in mid-November when we were all feeling very fired up about the election results (although, to be honest, I’m more fired up now), so we chose How to Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran. Given the concerns we all had around issues of respect for women, we thought our first book club meeting would be a great opportunity to read something powerful and feminist, so we chose a book from Emma Watson’s book list.

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I never blogged about my experience at the Women’s March in January, so this seems like the perfect opportunity to share my favorite photo from that day — especially since I marched with a few other friends who are in the book club! That’s me on the left in the blue hat : )

Almost three months later (I know, I know, we dragged our feet a little), we finally had a chance to meet and discuss the book this week. The whole group was more or less in agreement — while the author had some funny observations and an interesting voice, we didn’t love the fact that she tried to position the book as some sort of feminist manifesto or universal rule book on how forward-thinking women should act.

Personally, I thought the most interesting takeaway was Moran’s musings on all of the things that women overthink or analyze or worry about — and that men don’t. It’s definitely changed my perspective on a few things, especially when it comes to sending professional e-mails! I’m working hard at not getting myself all worked up over asking questions or asserting myself, because I think that most men in the working world do those things without a second thought. As strong women, I think this is something that we could all keep in mind!

Even better than the book talk (which was great, because I do miss that about my publishing job!) was the chance to hang out with some of my creative, funny, interesting, and compassionate gal pals. Of course, I already knew how lucky I was to have such great friends, but I genuinely believe there’s something about discussing a book that really brings out people’s smartest and feistiest sides. Plus, we got to eat some really good snacks and drink plenty of wine on a Tuesday night, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that : )

I’m already excited for our next meeting in mid-March! We decided to read The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about.

Do any of you belong to book clubs? Would you want to read along with ours? Let me know in the comments below!

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