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Notes on Gratitude

Happy Sunday y’all,

It’s a quiet day in Lexington at the beginning of a frantic week. I write this as I’m curled up in my house, pumpkin muffins baking, preparing to hunker down for my two assignments due today and two exams tomorrow. It feels like the part of the year when the beginning adrenaline wears off, when the daily starts to feel like the daily, when your body’s just a little bit too tired. But it’s been a good year.

This’ll be a quick post because, as I’ve mentioned, two exams. (I’m a humanities major; I’m used to papers, so accounting and chemistry are unfamiliar domains for me.) But I often reflect on everything I’m grateful for, all the little bits of my life that add up to make me happy and appreciative.

I gravitate more towards a philosophy of fulfillment rather than bliss. The texture of hardships feels necessary to appreciate the good. Certain experiences and relationships are only meaningful because you work through them and accept the natural dips and peaks. Doing poorly at something reminds you how much you care about a pursuit. Missing people reminds you that you love them. Running out of time forces you to be intentional.

To a certain extent, gratitude feels more conducive to being good to others than simply chasing delight. This morning, I read a Brain Pickings piece about Ursula K. Le Guin’s words on suffering and pain, and loved the phrasing.

If you evade suffering you also evade the chance of joy. Pleasure you may get, or pleasures, but you will not be fulfilled. You will not know what it is to come home… Fulfillment… is a function of time. The search for pleasure is circular, repetitive, atemporal… It has an end. It comes to the end and has to start over.

We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give.


One of the discussions I’ve had with friends lately, in the wake of certain tragedies, is about what it means when people say that you’re strong. Over the summer, I read How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick, an anecdotal and casual look at how to help out when somebody’s suffering. One of the main points was that that phrase doesn’t feel helpful because being strong isn’t a choice; you have no other option, and so it doesn’t necessarily feel like a compliment. Comfort feels different from blind acceptance in acknowledging the value of everything someone’s been through.

I read it because I wanted to compare how I treat others to what would be most helpful. In hindsight, I’m glad for that read because I can apply it to help friends through rough patches, to fully understand the values of the friendships I care about senior year, and to be effective when I volunteer. It’s one of the books that’s shaped my gratitude for those around me and for the opportunities I have ahead.

Senior year has been refreshing and comforting in that everyone’s dealing with a newfound acceptance or reevaluation of their identity. It’s been a full three years, crammed with a variety of experiences, and now it’s just time to relish all of it and prioritize the things that matter in the end.

I’m a huge happy list girl. I love to make lists of all the little bits of my day that bring me joy. There’s plenty of science that maintains that spending a few minutes a day compiling your gratitude is so good for you. It’s a natural practice for me, mostly because I want to remember all the details of a given time and place, but I’ve been especially conscious of it senior year. I do Lexington-specific ones at Happy List Lex, and maintain a running list on a blog page.

My mood in writing this is more curious than anything else. What matters to you? Who matters to you? How do you show it?


One of my most poignant reads comes back to me now. Gratitude by Oliver Sacks is a marvel, a poignant and understated read in reflection on a well-lived life.

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

Even as I go to bury myself in the library for an afternoon, fueled by espresso and vague stress, I’m glad to be here and have my time to look back on, and now I’m just appreciating all the pieces.

What are you grateful for?

The Summer in Books!

Hey y’all!

I’m currently writing this on the floor of a dance studio — which, admittedly, is where I’ve spent a majority of my summer. It’s been an absolute dream. Although my prevailing sentiment is that of simply needing more time, there’s never a perfect time to start sharing again.

I love the amount of memory imprinted on each of these books from my travels, and how interconnected they all ended up being to the summer that I had.

As you might notice, it’s pretty devoid of fiction because I’m on a nonfiction kick — and don’t totally feel like reading about many of the conflicts present in most of the fiction that I read! I’ll be back to that soon enough.

I was lucky enough to indulge a lot of my interests this summer, but always ground myself in what I read (although that’s a little different this summer too.) I’m going to go in-depth on many of the reads I mention now as I review and process them, but for now, here’s the overview of the top fifty.

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It doesn’t feel like there’s a particular theme to my reads — other than meaningful or vaguely existential! I went down rabbit holes for particular subjects. Water, musical psychology, urban planning, design, philosophies on kindness, digital minimalism, habits, silence. More on those topics in my next post — as well as links to each of these reads.

What books have y’all read this summer?

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Spring Reads
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In the spring, I chase pure feelings: the sun on my back, the coolness of slipping into the water, the simple pleasures of being outside, being quiet, being golden.

While those are feelings I should always chase, the weather helps. I get definite spring fever. Since freshman year, I've always found a spot and camped out: on my favorite bench, or on a quilt on one of the commons. I'm my best self when I'm soaking up the good weather.

One of my favorite habits this year has just been going and sitting outside, no phone, no distractions unless I take a book. Forcing myself to have some much-needed mindfulness of just people-watching and absorbing my surroundings. When I do take a book, my preferences drift towards books that are sparse — evoking the pared-down, stripped qualities I love in a summer. Bare, simple, and fresh, while still having enough detail to sweep me away for a little while! I'm definitely going to post more of these as I hunger to read them — for a series — but for now, here are some picks to get you started if you're eager for the same feelings.

Novel: Moonglass by Jessi Kirby | Goodreads
Release Date: May 3, 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

I read once that water is a symbol for emotions. And for a while now, I've thought maybe my mother drowned in both. Anna's life is upended when her father accepts a job transfer the summer before her junior year. It's bad enough that she has to leave her friends and her life behind, but her dad is moving them to the beach where her parents first met and fell in love — a place awash in memories that Anna would just as soon leave under the surface. While life on the beach is pretty great, with ocean views and one adorable lifeguard in particular, there are also family secrets that were buried along the shore years ago. And the ebb and flow of the ocean's tide means that nothing — not the sea glass that she collects on the sand and not the truths behind Anna's mother's death — stays buried forever.

I read this book years ago -- when I first started blogging -- and it's one of the books I think about most often. The main character, Anna, is gentle but still vibrant. Her descriptions of the beach capture the sacred sensations of it, connecting it to family and her own coming-of-age, rather than the glorified bits of it that appear in so-called "beach reads." I read Moonglass for the feeling of being on the beach alone at night, or the cyclical nature of revisiting a place and realizing how much you've changed since you've been there last. It's lovely.

Novel: Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson | Goodreads
Release Date: June 13, 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins

midnight at the electric by jodi lynn anderson

Divided by time. Ignited by a spark.

Kansas, 2065.
Adri has secured a slot as a Colonist—one of the lucky few handpicked to live on Mars. But weeks before launch, she discovers the journal of a girl who lived in her house over a hundred years ago, and is immediately drawn into the mystery surrounding her fate. While Adri knows she must focus on the mission ahead, she becomes captivated by a life that’s been lost in time…and how it might be inextricably tied to her own.

Oklahoma, 1934. Amidst the fear and uncertainty of the Dust Bowl, Catherine fantasizes about her family’s farmhand, and longs for the immortality promised by a professor at a traveling show called the Electric. But as her family’s situation becomes more dire—and the suffocating dust threatens her sister’s life—Catherine must find the courage to sacrifice everything she loves in order to save the one person she loves most.

England, 1919. In the recovery following the First World War, Lenore struggles with her grief for her brother, a fallen British soldier, and plans to sail to America in pursuit of a childhood friend. But even if she makes it that far, will her friend be the person she remembers, and the one who can bring her back to herself?

While their stories spans thousands of miles and multiple generations, Lenore, Catherine, and Adri’s fates are entwined.

When I wrote my review of this book originally, I noted that it was difficult to go into after having read Tiger Lily-- a complex, aching, gorgeous book that's one of my favorites. They're different: Midnight at the Electric is odd and muted but still has the same haunting lines that remind me why Jodi Lynn Anderson will always own me with her words. Although historical fiction (and to a certain extent, science fiction) elements within this book can make it heavy, the quiet lines make it a stunning and relatively quick read that you could lose yourself in during a few hours tucked away on a quilt outside.

Novel: Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour | Goodreads
Release Date: May 15, 2014
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers

A love letter to the craft and romance of film and fate in front of—and behind—the camera from the award-winning author of Hold Still.A wunderkind young set designer, Emi has already started to find her way in the competitive Hollywood film world.Emi is a film buff and a true romantic, but her real-life relationships are a mess. She has desperately gone back to the same girl too many times to mention. But then a mysterious letter from a silver screen legend leads Emi to Ava. Ava is unlike anyone Emi has ever met. She has a tumultuous, not-so-glamorous past, and lives an unconventional life. She’s enigmatic…. She’s beautiful. And she is about to expand Emi’s understanding of family, acceptance, and true romance.

I'm relatively certain I've reread this book every spring term at W&L, because it's so perfect for it: a colorful, poignant read that focuses on a passionate girl and an unsolved Hollywood mystery. The main character, Emi, is thoughtful and balanced, but also endlessly romantic about all the beauty around her. It makes for a compelling read, and it has so much sensory detail that wraps you up and doesn't let go. It's soft, detailed, and sensitive while still feeling larger-than-life.

Which books are your spring go-tos?

lists, reviewGraceComment
January To-Read List

Hey y'all!It's been a busy January here in Virginia -- one of those months that's almost over before I get the chance to blink. I've been thrown into a lot, but trying to take enough time to myself to rest and recharge while everyone around me seemingly has the flu. Fingers crossed!I didn't go into my semester with books I wanted to read this month, mostly because I knew it would likely be my most frenzied time of year. (Junior year has been my busiest year, and winter term should be my busiest season.) Still, I've had some titles tucked away as a breath of fresh air for me -- a 9 P.M., early-to-bed treat when I want my thoughts to quiet and a story to pull me away.Without further ado, here are the books I have planned for the rest of the month.

Heartless by Marissa Meyer | GoodreadsThe First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language by Christine Kenneally | Goodreads

I'm hoping to review Heartless when I'm done, because I want to share my LOVE for Marissa Meyer. As for the second, it'll result in two presentations and a ten-page paper. You, however, can avoid the academics by perusing some of my other favorite scientific reads!

What have y'all been reading this month?

listsGrace Comment
WLS Best Books of 2018

Hey y'all!It's Grace here, somewhat settled into my first week of school. Tuesdays will be my longest days, but I'm hoping they go well! I've been working hard on getting this list out because it's one of my favorite posts, and I'm thrilled to finally have some time to myself to give y'all the rundown of my best reads of the year. If you'd like to check out my previous years to find some new reads, here are some of the best.

WLS Best of 2017WLS Best of 2016 WLS Best of 2015WLS Best of 2014WLS Best of 2013WLS Best of 2012WLS Best of 2011

For each of the books below, I'll link their Goodreads pages as well as if there's any place on the blog in which I've talked about them! It was a phenomenal book year for me. Although I only finished 100 books, they were a great selection that also expanded my reading taste a bit.

The Breakdown

You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein | Goodreads | ReviewBlack Hole Blues by Janna Levin | Goodreads | ReviewThe Case for Jamie by Brittany Cavallaro | Goodreads | Review

The Wren Hunt by Mary Watson | Goodreads | ReviewSawkill Girls by Claire LeGrand | Goodreads | ReviewLittle White Lies by Jennifer Lynn Barnes | Goodreads | Review

Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton | Goodreads | ReviewSaving Francesca by Melina Marchetta | Goodreads | ReviewDumplin' by Julie Murphy | Goodreads

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor | GoodreadsThe Other Side of Lost by Jessi Kirby | Goodreads | ReviewFinale by Becca Fitzpatrick | Goodreads | Review

Normally when I'm putting this together, I have a few picks that emerge as the best of the best. I've considered it, and stressed about it, but each of these has been so phenomenal for me that I've had trouble narrowing it down. I would fully support each of these. The top of the top!

What are your favorite books of the year?