Links I love and what’s on my nightstand.


My favorite finds from around the web:

What would my mom do? Drink Tab and lock us outside. The Tab clinches it: that’s my childhood, right there.

Joanne Harris condemns Clean Reader app for replacing swear words in novels. “This – from an author’s point of view – is an obscenity: algorithmic censorship of ebooks.”

The illusion of free. “However we share, we’re exposing ourselves to a wide audience. We have so much more to worry about than future employers seeing photos of us when we’ve had too much to drink.”

What 17 adults learned from re-reading their favorite childhood books. “I think the mark of a truly great book for kids is that it seems, in retrospect, so rich or subtle or smart that it must have been wasted on your tiny child brain.”

What I’m reading this week:

The Canterbury Sisters by Kim Wright. Just arrived at my house; hitting bookshelves May 19.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. The description on this one never grabbed me—despite the great reviews—but I’m so glad I picked it up.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Finally! 

On the blog:

40 great book club novels. “Many of these books tackle big—even uncomfortable—issues. Many are polarizing. All are “discussable”—you’ll have enough material to last all night long.”

Raising kids who are grounded, generous, and smart about money. “When it comes to kids and money, won’t requires more conviction than can’t.”

Book Club 101. “I get bookish questions in my inbox all the time, and a frequent one is this: I want to form a book club but I have no idea where to start.”

Have a great weekend!

The Fab Four habits for a better life.


Gretchen Rubin’s new book Better Than Before is all about habits. If you’re interested in improving your habits but aren’t sure where to start, consider starting with she talks about building a foundation of good habits. Gretchen Rubin pinpoints four habits as “foundation habits.” These habits greatly affect our well-being and directly strengthen self-control, which is why we should focus first on habits that help us to:

  1. sleep
  2. move
  3. eat and drink right
  4. unclutter

I was not at all surprised by sleep, move, and eat, and am diligent about tending my habits in these crucial areas. (I’ve read the book, after all.) I know I need my 8 hours each night, and I usually get it. Rubin calls physical activity “the magical elixir of pretty much everything.” I’m a little obsessive about my 10,000 steps. I’m vigilant about what I eat, because there are too many foods that make me feel like crap.


I understand why these habits form the foundation for a clear head and happy life. But I was flabbergasted by “unclutter.”

I know clutter is a major trigger for me, yet I struggle to give it the attention it deserves. In any given moment, I’d rather be writing than filing, or reading instead of doing the dishes. I love to pull books off the shelves to take photos and I hate to put them back again. This is unsustainable behavior—and yet I persist in trying.

(It is unquestionably true that some people thrive in messy environments. Also true: I am not one of those people.)

But I think (hope, pray) I’ve had a breakthrough—or, more accurately, a Lightning Bolt.


In Better Than Before, Rubin explains that while many habits are established over time, sometimes we’re hit by a bolt from the blue and are suddenly able to change our habits, instantly—even when making such a change had previously seemed daunting, or even impossible. It’s a highly effective strategy, but it’s not something we can control: it’s something that happens to us.

Milestone events often trigger a Lightning Bolt: a marriage, a move, a diagnosis. For many mothers, pregnancy is a Lightning Bolt: the knowledge that another tiny being now depends on them enables them to quit smoking, stop drinking, or finally start exercising.

One of my relatives, a decades-long smoker, was finally able to quit after a Lightning Bolt moment: his receptionist mentioned that she could always tell when he was about to walk through the office door. Flattered at first, he inquired how she knew. When he found out his smoker’s cough gave him away, he threw his cigarettes in the trash, never to smoke again.


In Better Than Before, Rubin tells about her own Lightning Bolt moment. All she did was read a book, but the new ideas she discovered there overturned her existing beliefs about food. She radically—and instantly—changed her eating habits, permanently.

My Lightning Bolt also came in the form of a book. I’ve been devoted to “eat move sleep” for years. When I read Better Than Before and saw my Foundational Three turned into the Fab Four, something clicked. Unclutter became something I chose to do because it’s part of my foundation, not a nagging task I feel like I should do.

Time will tell if this is truly a Lightning Bolt. If I’m still uncluttering—as a lifestyle, not as a crisis response—this time next year, we’ll know for sure. For now, I’m grateful for the insight.

I’d love to hear about your Lightning Bolt moments, and any other tips and tricks for eating, moving, and sleeping well, in comments. 

40 great book club novels.

40 books to read with your book club: because it takes more than a great book to make a great book club novel.

In Monday’s Book Club 101 post, we talked about how a fabulous book club discussion starts with the right book—and it takes more than a great book to make a great book club novel. it takes more than a great book to make a great book club novel.

To gather this list of 40 book club favorites, I polled you on the MMD facebook page, asked you on twitter, and combed through your suggestions here. I also included some of my personal favorites.

These novels are packed with discussion fodder.This list contains old books, modern classics, contemporary fiction. You’ll find character-driven novels, novels that don’t resolve, novels with unreliable narrators. You’ll read about characters who were forced to make a life-changing decision, or an impossible one. You’ll read classics that you can’t believe you didn’t “get” in high school.

Many of these books tackle big—even uncomfortable—issues. Many are polarizing. All are “discussable”—you’ll have enough material to last all night long.


  1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  2. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  4. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  5. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Contemporary fiction

  1. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  2. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
  3. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  4. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
  5. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
  6. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
  7. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Contemporary literary fiction

  1. Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks
  2. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (2x)
  3. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  4. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  5. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
  6. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
  7. Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
  8. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
  9. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
  10. The Hours by Michael Cunningham
  11. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
  12. Lizzie’s War by Tim Farrington


  1. Gaudy Night: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers
  2. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
  3. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
  4. In the Woods by Tana French
  5. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn


  1. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
  2. Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett
  3. Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth
  4. Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan (good getting-to-know your group book)


  1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  2. All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior
  3. Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death at a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink
  4. The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese by Michael Paterniti
  5. How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
  6. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman
  7. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

What would you add to the list?

P.S. More of my favorite book club novels.

Raising kids who are grounded, generous, and smart about money.

Things I never expected to say: according to Ron Lieber’s definition in his new book The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money, I qualify as “wealthy”: I have everything I need and (insatiable book lust aside) most of what I want.

This makes me all kinds of uncomfortable, even though Lieber freely admits his definition is different than most people’s.


Will and I both read the book recently because our kids have started asking us tough questions about money. The typical stuff: Why won’t you buy me black boots? Can’t we afford to go out to eat? Why can’t I buy that LEGO set?

We can’t literally buy our kids everything. But relative abundance—we could afford those boots, or Chinese takeout—has its challenges. We could buy those boots, but we won’t. When it comes to kids and money, Lieber says “won’t requires more conviction than can’t.”

Since reading the book, Will and I have discovered some things we’re genuinely getting right with our kids. We weren’t exactly surprised to find some areas that need improvement, but now we’re inspired to actually tackle them—and soon.


What we’re doing right:

Money talk isn’t taboo around here. We talk about what we buy, and what we don’t, and why—from the grocery bill to the big picture stuff.

We went to a ton of trouble to rent our old house last spring (and we’ll have to do it again soon), and at one point Sarah asked me why we were bothering when we could have just sold it. I was surprised by her question: it hadn’t occurred to me she didn’t understand. When I told her it’s because now we get a rent check every month for x-number-of-dollars, she got it. And she offered to help.

Our kids know we give money to church each week (though they don’t know how much). They can tell you why we’d rather buy Christmas gifts from cottage industries than Target. They know (after a recent discussion) that we could afford to go out for tacos every week, but choose not to.

Our neighbor just got a new minivan; Will and I both drive old cars. Our kids told us we should get shiny new cars, too. We talked about how we really aren’t car people, but we care deeply about taking big (and expensive) vacations to visit far-off friends and family. That’s a trade-off we make because those are our values.

From a young age, our kids have all had ways to save money for the short term and the long term. Their wallets hold their petty cash (and rarely go to the store—that’s important!); larger Christmas and birthday checks go straight into their savings accounts. Their default pattern for their whole lives has been to save first, then think about spending.

Will helped Sarah make a spreadsheet to track her costs for her latest business venture. Jack recently rolled up every coin in his piggy bank and exchanged it for bills at the bank. We helped our kids calculate how much it costs to make tacos at home vs. eating at our favorite taco place.

2015-03-23 10.50.57

What we could be doing better:

Lieber believes the best way to get kids started with making financial decisions is to set them up with three transparent containers or jars labeled give, save, and spend. It’s up to us, the parents, to set guidelines for how to distribute their money between those jars. We don’t have any system in place for this right now.

Lieber’s recommendation is to give each child 50 cents to a dollar for each year of their life. (He doesn’t believe chores should be required, this is discussed at length in the book.) This is their learning money. Lieber says you want to give them “just enough allowance so that they can get some of the things they want but not so much that they don’t have to make a lot of hard choices.” I’m starting to think of an allowance as their financial “training wheels.”

Along with the allowance comes firm guidelines about what the kids are expected to spend it on: what they must buy for themselves, and what we will buy for them. Lieber says one of the hardest things about parenting in this context is establishing these guidelines and the reasons behind them. The challenge isn’t just articulating them to our kids: it’s articulating them to ourselves.

My inner maximizer has been way too concerned with “helping” my kids how to spend their money wisely. There is something to be said for this. But over time, kids need to learn—through trial and error—how to make their own decisions. Adults have to make tradeoffs; kids need to learn, too. Childhood is their practice round.

This isn’t just a nice abstract value: many of today’s twentysomethings carry crippling amounts of credit card and student loan debt. Lieber’s mission for the book is to teach the next generation how to be better at money than our parents were, and to be better at talking about money than our parents were, so that they can increasingly WIN their twenties financially. 

I recommend reading the book if you’re interested in exploring this topic further.

My family is just getting started with this subject: what tips do you have for teaching kids to be smart about money, based on your past experience as a child or your experience now as an adult?