How do you combat reading slumps?

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Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

You might have noticed that my blogging and reading have slowed down considerably of late–or you might not have. (I am my own harshest critic, after all, and just a tad self-centered about these things.) Either way, I’m undeniably in a reading slump right now and it’s hard not to get so irritated at myself that it makes the slump worse.

The fact that I run a book blog is just the cherry on top: I hate going too long without writing a post or two, and it’s hard to do that when I don’t have any fresh reading to inspire me.

I’ve noticed that I experience a couple of different types of reading slumps. In one, I’m busy or ill and simply don’t have the brainpower to read. Netflix and video games are my “comfort food” relaxation activities, even if I find reading to be more rewarding in the long run. When I’m too tired to read, I just…stop reading, tuning out in front of a screen instead, which causes a slump.

The other type of slump happens when I’m reading a bad and/or difficult (read: dense nonfiction) book. I’m gradually curing myself of the sunk cost fallacy–I’ve become much more willing to bail on a book if I’m not enjoying it–but again, book blogging means that I have to tolerate bad books a bit more than I would otherwise. I rarely bail on a book once I’m over halfway through, because then I’ve put in a bunch of time and won’t even get a review out of it.

Right now I’m in a dreaded double-slump: I’m exhausted and I’m reading something I’m not loving. Wedding planning is fun, but it’s a huge mental drain. Ditto my job right now: what no one tells you about going into freelance writing is that it’s also a lot of reading, for research and communication with clients and such. I’m also finding my current read to be shockingly bad (for the curious, it’s Invitation to a Bonfire by Adrienne Celt) and it’s making reading a total chore while I rush to finish it before its library due date.

I know that this slump will pass in time because the wedding will be over soon (gosh! so soon! I have so much to do!!!), work will cool down eventually, and Invitation to a Bonfire will soon be a distant memory…but it’s so hard to not throw a mini reading tantrum. I want to be back to my regular avid-reading self right now, dammit!

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image description: a GIF of Veruca Salt’s epic tantrum from the original Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie.

So, I thought I’d throw it out to my readers: How do you deal with reading slumps? I’d love to hear about it, and if you have any surefire cures, I think leaving them in the comments should count as your good deed for the day. Don’t you?

Friday Bookbag, 8.3.18

FridayBookbag

Friday Bookbag is a weekly feature where I share a list of books I’ve borrowed, bought, or received during the week. It’s my chance to buzz about my excitement for books I might not get the chance to review.

This week I’ve added two slow-burn, thrilling literary titles to my shelf. Let’s dive in!


November Road by Lou Berney

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

November Road Coverthe premise: Frank Guidry is a loyal mob heavy in New Orleans, but after President John F. Kennedy is assassinated, all of his associates start turning up dead. Guidry knows too much about the mob’s role in the assassination, so he hits the road in a desperate attempt to save his own life. There, he meets Charlotte, a housewife who’s mysteriously on the run with her two young children. Each takes advantage of the other on their way to freedom; each tries to ignore their deeper feelings. If they’re not careful, they could both end up dead.

why I’m excited: I love literary thrillers and I love historical fiction (especially mid-century stuff). That makes November Road an easy choice for me to be excited about! I’m not really a Kennedy conspiracy theorist, but I’ll admit I’m intrigued by Berney’s mobster take on JFK’s assassination. I see a few places where this could dip into cliché, but I’m really excited about it and grateful the publisher sent me an ARC. November Road is currently available for pre-order.

Sunburn by Laura Lippman

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Sunburn Coverthe premise: Polly and Adam embark on a steamy affair one summer in Delaware, growing more and more entangled in each other’s lives until it all comes apart. Someone ends up dead, and one of them is lying.

why I’m excited: I always have a giant Gillian Flynn-sized hole on my reading list and Sunburn looks like it will fill that right up. Affairs, summers, crimes…I eat that stuff up with a spoon. It helps that this novel is getting glowing reviews across the board. I can’t wait! (Side note: Does anyone know if the character of Laura Lipp in The Mars Room was named after Laura Lippman? It was all I could think about during Lipp’s scenes in that novel.)


What’s in your bookbag this week? Do you have any exciting weekend reading plans? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to link to your own book reviews and blog posts!

Book Review: SWEETBITTER by Stephanie Danler

Sweetbitter follows Tess, a 20-something who moves to New York in search of…well, New York itself. She miraculously lands a job at a high-end restaurant and begins a life full of heady food, drink, coke, and 3 a.m. benders with coworkers. She also falls hard for Simone, an aloof waitress full of Old World knowledge and mystery, and Jake, an otherworldly-beautiful bartender with secrets to keep. Sweetbitter feels miraculous, a wonderful novel superimposed onto the blueprints of a worse one. Coming to New York stories are cheap and well-trodden, but Stephanie Danler finds all the rough edges worth exploring. As I wrote last month, the novel’s vivid restaurant setting helps freshen it, but there’s other alchemical magic at work too. Danler finds the sweet spot between young adult and adult literature, turning the big swings and harsh failures of Tess’s 20s into a novel that feels decadent and rich, lofty without being bloodless. I loved every minute.

You can read my full review below. Please note that this review is a bit more NSFW than my usual and contains some sexual content and swearing.


Sweetbitter Cover

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

  • publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • publication date: May 24, 2016
  • length: 368 pages
  • cover price: $25.00 in hardcover, $16.00 in paperback

Does anyone come to New York clean? I’m afraid not. But crossing the Hudson I thought of crossing Lethe, milky river of forgetting. I forgot that I had a mother who drove away before I could open my eyes, and a father who moved invisibly through the rooms of our house. I forgot the parade of people in my life as thin as mesh screens, who couldn’t catch whatever it was I wanted to say to them, and I forgot how I drove down dirt roads between desiccated fields, under an oppressive guard of stars, and felt nothing.

Sweetbitter, page 4

20-something Tess comes to New York from Ohio as a blank slate with a vaguely alluded-to education in English literature. She doesn’t come to New York striving to be an actress, singer, writer, or artist; she just arrives for the sake of arriving, hungry for city living. She decides that working as a waitress is her best chance at making life in the city work, so she gets a job at a high-end restaurant in Manhattan and begins an education in good food and something called the 51%–the “something special” about back- and front-of-house staff. From there, she falls headlong into a love affair with food and two of her most mysterious coworkers. Hijinks (and a beautiful coming-of-age story) ensue.

For all the effort we put into getting kids and teens to read, I think that we put very little cultural effort into keeping adults readers during and after college. There’s a massive jump between the work of offbeat YA authors like A. S. King and the cloistered world of adult literary fiction.

That’s what struck me most about Sweetbitter: that it is a young adult novel in the sense that it intimately captures the things I care about as a 23-year-old moving through the world, in a way that very few literary novels (except maybe Nafkote Tamirat’s flawed The Parking Lot Attendant) have captured recently: love, hard work, love, hard pain, love, hard joy, love, with the intensity of it all dialed up to eleven.

Danler’s writing is dramatic, almost to the point of melo-, but not quite. At first when reading Sweetbitter’s mythology-tinged dialogue, I thought, no one talks like that. But because Danler writes a dazzling amount of dialogue for a dizzying array of characters, it works. For every allusion to Greek myth and the terroir of Old World wines, someone’s talking about puking after a night out and the latest girl the office manager is screwing under his desk. It’s hi-lo writing that perfectly captures the hi-lo atmosphere of restaurant work, no matter how “fine” the dining is at a particular establishment.

Sweetbitter hews so close to the border of cliché that it’s a miracle it never crosses into it. For one, a love triangle with an older, mysterious bartender and an icy head waitress is at its center. For the other, it’s a coming-of-age story about coming to New York. But in Danler’s hands those elements have an unexpected emotional immediacy. Tess snorts obligatory coke in a bar bathroom, but she also then buys a leather jacket with a heady (and recognizable to any 20-something) mix of self-consciousness and pride. She has hot sex in the back of a cab but also masturbates, miserably, in her overheated apartment in the middle of a damp December.

Sweetbitter is both archetypal and vulnerable, something in the vein of Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar but also something entirely its own. It’s both claustrophobic and expansive, confined to a restaurant that somehow contains a whole world within it. The tenderness with which the staff treat their regular customers is in sharp contrast to the vicious way they treat each other, yet both feel like manifestations of love. They’re a family. A completely fucked-up family, but still.

Sweetbitter is yet another book about a beautiful, thin young white woman, but it’s perhaps the best one of that ouevre I’ve ever read. It’s a book about the aged optimism–not quite pessimism–of your twenties, and how it mellows and deepens. I want to read more stories that live in that niche, ones with different specificities and desires and homes.

If you’re disaffected and bored and in a reading slump, I couldn’t recommend anything else to shake you out of it more highly than Sweetbitter. It’s sad and thrilling and cathartic at once, both a mirror-image of our world and a bright still life full of artistic license. Get some good grapes and cheese and take a hot bath while you read. You’ll lose yourself and your troubles, too. ★★★★★


My copy of Sweetbitter came from my local library and I was in no way compensated for this review.

Friday Bookbag, 7.27.18

FridayBookbag

Friday Bookbag is a weekly feature where I share a list of books I’ve borrowed, bought, or received during the week. It’s my chance to buzz about my excitement for books I might not get the chance to review.

This week in my bookbag, I’ve got a sober meditation on climate change, a literary take on Korea’s Gwangju Uprising from the author of The Vegetarian, a futuristic video game-themed YA adventure, and more. Let’s dive in!


Rising: Dispatches From the New American Shore by Elizabeth A. Rush

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

New American Shore Coverthe premise: Author Elizabeth Rush reports on areas on the East Coast, Gulf Coast, and beyond that are threatened by rising seas and climate change. From worsening natural disasters like hurricanes to islands literally drowning beneath incessant waves, Rising is a polyphonic portrait of a world on the brink of change.

why I’m excited: Excited is perhaps the wrong word for this one, as climate change is an issue I’m deeply worried about, and I think this book will cause me no small amount of anxiety. But I’m looking forward to immersing myself in Rush’s reporting and educating myself on what’s happening on the coasts. I currently live in Minnesota, which is about as far from an ocean as you can get in North America. (We have Lake Superior, but that doesn’t count in this case.) I’m not affected by climate change with as much urgency as the communities Rush documents are, and I consider it a duty to inform myself. Every review I’ve read of this book does praise Rush’s skillful, lyrical writing and interviewing, so I hope it won’t be an entirely self-flagellatory exercise.

Human Acts by Han Kang

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Human Acts Coverthe premise: Set against the backdrop of the bloody 1979 Gwangju uprising in South Korea, Human Acts is a series of interconnected stories about people desperately trying to make a difference–and survive. It spans three decades of lead-up and follow-up to Chun Doo-hwan’s declaration of martial law that led to the deaths of anywhere from 160 people to around 2000. (For more information on the premise of the novel, the history of the Gwangju uprising, and Han Kang’s personal connection to both, I recommend reading Min Jin Lee’s excellent article, “Korean Souls,” in the New York Review of Books.)

why I’m excited: I remain obsessed with Han Kang’s novel The Vegetarian, which I reviewed a few months ago as “extraordinary and…nauseating, like a spinning theme park ride with its speed cranked up one level past safety.” Where The Vegetarian was almost claustrophobically personal, Human Acts appears to break wide open, encompassing more stories and larger events. Also, I know embarrassingly little about the history of Korea (especially South Korea), and I’ve recently found fiction to be a good way in. From Mary Lynn Bracht’s White Chrysanthemum (about Japanese occupation and comfort women) to The Hole by Hye-young Pyun, which I wrote about in a previous Friday Bookbag, I’ve been striving to read more works by Korean and Korean diasporic authors, and I look forward to adding Human Acts to that list.

Driven: A White-Knuckled Ride to Heartbreak and Back by Melissa Stephenson

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Driven Coverthe premise: For Melissa Stephenson, cars are (and were) an escape, from her blue collar childhood in Indiana, to her brother’s suicide, to camping trips with her kids in a VW bus. Driven is a memoir of her relationship with her brother and her healing after his death, structured around the cars she’s loved over the years.

why I’m excited: I can’t say that the “cars” part of the premise sets me on fire. My partner’s a mega-gearhead, but I’m not. This memoir seems to be about more than cars, though. It seems like it’s also about family, and healing, and independence, and how sometimes running away from something can also mean running towards our better selves. It’s being billed as similar to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, a book I adored. I certainly hope it scratches the memoir itch I’ve had recently.

Warcross by Marie Lu

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Warcross Coverthe premise: Warcross is an immersive international video game sensation: think Fortnite meets Overwatch meets World of WarcraftEmika Chen is a hacker and bounty hunter who scrapes out a living hunting down people who bet on Warcross illegally, but she risks it all when she decides to make quick cash by hacking into the Warcross championships. She’s caught–but instead of getting arrested, she gets an appointment with the elusive founder of Warcross, who offers her a job in Tokyo as a spy…where she uncovers fortunes and dangers greater than she’d ever imagined.

why I’m excited: It’s hard to beat a good YA sci-fi thriller–they’re like a surprise trip to an amusement park in the middle of a dreary reading schedule–er, work week. I’m especially excited about this one because I loved Marie Lu’s Legend series (Goodreads) when I was a teen, and also because Lu worked in video game design before she was an author, so I think Warcross will be full of cool (and maybe even accurate!) details.

The Occasional Virgin by Hanan al-Shaykh

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

The Occasional Virgin Coverthe premise: Two women–Yvonne and Huda–were raised in restrictive households in Lebanon: one Christian, one Muslim. When they meet on vacation in Italy, their complicated pasts threaten to interfere with the powerful and successful professional lives they take pride in now.

why I’m excited: I enjoy fiction that delves into religion and its effects on our lives, and I especially enjoy that one protagonist is Christian and one Muslim. Christianity and Islam are so often set up as an either/or that a novel that deals with their similarities is hugely exciting to me. I also love novels that explore how the values we’re raised with can interfere with the values we wish to have now. This novel could turn out to be sloppy or melodramatic in execution a la The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso (which has a semi-similar premise), but I like the idea enough to give it a shot.


What’s in your bookbag this week? Do you have any exciting weekend reading plans? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to link to your own book reviews and blog posts!

Ballyhoo #3: THE PROPOSAL by Jasmine Guillory

Ballyhoo

Ballyhoo: “an excited commotion” or a blog feature? Both, obviously! Ballyhoo is an on-again, off-again feature where I chat about an upcoming release I’m particularly excited about.

Today I’m featuring The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory, the follow-up (but not sequel) to her absolutely, incredibly, wonderfully, superlatively delicious debut romance, The Wedding Date. This time, Guillory is exploring what happens when a public kiss-cam proposal goes horribly wrong. Let’s dive in!


The Proposal Cover.jpg

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Coming October 30, 2018

When someone asks you to spend your life with him, it shouldn’t come as a surprise–or happen in front of 45,000 people.

When freelance writer Nikole Paterson goes to a Dodgers game with her actor boyfriend, his man bun, and his bros, the last thing she expects is a scoreboard proposal. Saying no isn’t the hard part–they’ve only been dating for five months, and he can’t even spell her name correctly. The hard part is having to face a stadium full of disappointed fans…At the game with his sister, Carlos Ibarra comes to Nik’s rescue and rushes her away from a camera crew. He’s even there for her when the video goes viral and Nik’s social media blows up–in a bad way. Nik knows that in the wilds of LA, a handsome doctor like Carlos can’t be looking for anything serious, so she embarks on an epic rebound with him, filled with food, fun, and fantastic sex. But when their glorified hookups start breaking the rules, one of them has to be smart enough to put on the brakes…

A public proposal is one of my worst nightmares (hence why I proposed to my now-fiancée in complete privacy) and I love, love, love the idea of using a failed one as a jumping-off point for a romance novel! The idea of a celebrity’s girlfriend getting painful internet hate for turning him down is also unfortunately prescient. I also love that the love interest in The Proposal is a hot doctor, just like in The Wedding Date (Goodreads). And hey–this protagonist is a freelance writer! Just like me! YAY!

Part of why I loved The Wedding Date  is that it managed to bundle real-world tensions (like, say, fatphobia and racism) into the happily-ever-after romance mode. When those characters got their HEA, by golly, they’d earned it.

It seems that The Proposal will include other real-world issues, like celebrity worship and social media mishaps, but hopefully with just as many happy-crying and fist-pumping moments as The Wedding Date had.

Romance frequently gets dinged for its happily-ever-afters, which isn’t fair at all: they’re a genre convention, and they’re amazingly valuable and comforting in our effed-up world. But I do understand being reluctant to give yourself over to romance for exactly the reason that we do live in an effed-up world. Maybe happy endings in that context feel disingenuous or straight-up unbelievable to you.

Well, if you’re looking for something that bridges that huge gulf between the unjust world we have and a world in which people live happily ever after, you couldn’t do better than The Wedding Date…and The Proposal looks to be in the same mode. I can’t wait.

Oh, and that cover? SWOON. It’s so cute and sunny and seems to perfectly convey what will be inside. Guillory has an amazing cover designer!


Have you got your eyes set on The Proposaltoo? What’s your ballyhoo this week? Let me know all about it in the comments–I’m always looking to add to my TBR list!

Friday Bookbag, 7.20.18

FridayBookbag

Friday Bookbag is a weekly feature where I share a list of books I’ve borrowed, bought, or received during the week. It’s my chance to buzz about my excitement for books I might not get the chance to review.

This week in my bookbag I have a novel with an unusual vision of the end of the human race, a coming-to-New-York story with a delicious twist, and an angsty Soviet American love triangle that promises to set me on fire. Let’s dive in!


Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Future Home of the Living God Coverthe premise: Evolution has started moving backwards, with women across the world giving birth to what appear to be early versions of humans–and Cedar Hawk Songmaker is pregnant. Caught between a well-meaning adoptive family and her Ojibwe birth family, Cedar desperately tries to keep her pregnancy a secret as martial law descends on the world and pregnant women are registered and interned in a desperate attempt to move evolution forward once more.

why I’m excited: I love when literary authors like Louise Erdrich jump the fence to genre (and vice versa, as you could argue Jeff VanderMeer did with Annihilation). Future Home of the Living God plays in the same sandbox as other sudden evolution/sudden infertility classics like Children of Men and Darwin’s Radio, but where those books are stolid and grim, I’m hoping Erdrich will bring a touch of sly humor to the proceedings. After all, the apocalypse means something different to Indigenous folks who have already seen the end of one kind of world. Plus, that cover is gorgeous. Using an ultrasound image as the background was a stroke of genius.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Sweetbitter Coverthe premise: From the post I wrote yesterday about this book, restaurants, and other underutilized settings in literary fiction:

Sweetbitter follows a woman who moves alone from a small town to New York City, where she lands a job at a landmark restaurant as a backwaiter. She falls into a dizzying love triangle with Simone and Jake, two otherworldly-beautiful folks with secrets to keep, and tries to survive New York’s punishing restaurant scene.”

why I’m excited: Well, I’m already halfway through this one, so it seems a tad like cheating to say what I’m excited about now. The reason I jumped this book to the front of my TBR queue was because I wanted a sensual, melodramatic bildungsroman in my life, and boy, does this book fit the bill. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s soapy and funny and loud and sad and beautiful. I’m loving it. It’ll make you hungry, too.

Invitation to a Bonfire by Adrienne Celt

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Invitation to a Bonfire Coverthe premise: Zoya Andropova, a Soviet refugee who feels lost and isolated at a New Jersey boarding school, gets swept into a whirlwind affair with Russian author Leo Orlov, only to discover that it’s really a love triangle–his wife Vera lurks ever behind the scenes. As the affair grows more heated and more sinister, Zoya tries to disentangle the heady threads of national and ethnic identity, class lines, and, er…great sex, it would seem.

why I’m excited: Man, I don’t know! This could go either way, from being icky and terrible to being beyond great. Adrienne Celt based the story on the complicated marriage of Vladimir Nabokov, which I freely admit I know nothing about. I’m getting a little bit of a Sweetbitter vibe in that Invitation to a Bonfire seems to be a sensual coming-of-age story. I also love reading refugee stories, and though Soviet refugees constitute one of the biggest chunks of the American refugee population, they don’t seem to get their due in fiction. I’m ready to give myself over to this Soviet-angst-love-triangle drama, whether it lives up to my high expectations or not.


What’s in your bookbag this week? Do you have any exciting weekend reading plans? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to link to your own book reviews and blog posts!

Are you a reading perfectionist?

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Ah, the Goodreads reading challenge: it’s a New Year’s resolution that’s probably more keep-able than just “working out and eating healthy” (at least it’s tangible!), but for me, it’s also a source of major overcommitment and stress.

This year, I intended to read 100 books, which seemed pretty simple at the time. I’m a fast reader, and a little under two books a week seemed eminently doable. Right?

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Wrong. Between my busy life and my own perfectionism, I feel like I’ve had to fight for every single book I manage to read this year–not a good feeling, since ostensibly reading is supposed to be fun.

Where did I go wrong?

I can think of at least one clinical reason that’s outside my control: I’ve had obsessive-compulsive disorder since I was a kid, and it often causes this same kind of overcommit-and-crash-and-burn pattern. (My obsessions and compulsions relate to organization in ways that are less “helpful” and more “quagmire.”)

But I’ve heard a lot of other avid readers and book bloggers complain of this problem, too, so I don’t think it’s just me.

After all, there are so many new books and old favorites to enjoy, and never enough time–an essay by NPR’s Linda Holmes, titled “The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re Going to Miss Almost Everything,” gets to the heart of this. That’s one source of perfectionist tendencies.

But worse, when you’re a book blogger, you notice that there are always others who read more than you, who write reviews better than you, who publish more content than you, and are generally just “better” at being a reader/blogger than you. It creates this weird cycle of admiration and resentment, of “I could be like that if I just put my mind to it” and then despair when you can’t measure up.

This game of comparisons that I play with myself is tremendously unhealthy, unrealistic, and unfair, and I’ve noticed it spoiling my enjoyment of reading. It’s so frustrating that my oldest and favorite hobby is getting poisoned by something so pointless.

I started this blog as a way to get myself to read more and, by extension, also to write more. It began in my final semester of college (I graduated in December 2017), when I was feeling thoroughly burnt out on my coursework and uncertain about my life path–I was initially planning to go into the public health field before I switched to freelance writing.

Reading was my escape from that, and falling in love with reading all over again convinced me that I made 100% the right choice by striking out as a freelance writer. I already accomplished my initial goals for this blog–so I think it’s time to revisit them and make some newer, healthier ones.

I want to blog as a way to celebrate the books I love and process the books I don’t. I want to blog as a way to connect with other people who love books as much as I do. And in conjunction with that, it’s time to put my foot down and read for myself and not for other people. It’s time for me to stop putting my every reading choice and habit under the microscope in comparison to others.

I’m working on eradicating perfectionism from my life wherever I can, since the thing about perfectionism is it’s not about creating something “perfect” as it is about avoiding the nasty monologue of criticism that runs 24/7 in my brain. If I let that monologue get the best of me, it’s going to eat up everything I love and continue to make me miserable. Enough is enough.

Next year, I’m skipping the Goodreads reading  challenge. This year, I’m giving myself permission to ignore it (though I’ll continue to use Goodreads–you can friend me here.)

I’m tired of being a reading perfectionist–I’d much rather enjoy reading than be some arbitrary kind of “best” at it.


Are you a reading perfectionist? Have you overcome that perfectionism? (If so, how?!) I’d love to hear all about it in the comments!