Magenta Chicken | No. 1
Introducing a new adventure
If you have been with me since the beginning of this newsletter, you know the Magenta Chicken story. A refresher: when I was in kindergarten, I was scolded by my teacher for coloring my chicken the apparently offensive color of magenta. Mrs. Z said, “Missy, chickens aren’t magenta.” Without looking at her because I was too busy getting those wings just right, I said, “Mine is.”
Magenta Chicken has become my ethos. It’s about following your own path — even if it’s just slightly off and runs more or less parallel to the norm. This additional version of the newsletter, published in between Juniper Discos, will focus on that little drumbeat inside that sends us all off in our own directions — a tiny waver here, a giant detour away from the crowd there.
Embrace your weirdness — however faint it may be — and let’s take the rambling road together. Oh, I wonder what’s over there! Keep going, I’ll catch up with you.
When I left Harvard after almost two decades, people kept asking me what I planned to do next (because doing equals value in The Palace of the Overachievers.) I said I really didn’t know, I couldn’t sense anything clearly ahead on my path, but I was determined it would be something small, something I could see the edges of.
Harvard trains you to assume the world is watching everything you do. It’s deeply narcissistic and definitely paranoia-producing, while also occasionally being true. To this day, I have Elf moments (I know him!) when I see people I worked with on the news.
Now, instead of
cleaning up after helping those people, I’m living a quiet life doing small things that matter to only a handful of humans. Harvard taught me that a large, expansive life is possible and my quiet life has taught me that I am happiest focusing on the small things, away from all that.
One of those small things is living a rich and adventurous reading life.
There have been years when I’ve read 100 books (thanks to the holy grail of the single forward-facing-seat-of-solitude on my perfect end-to-end commute on the 64 bus) and ones where eight was a struggle. It is one of the easiest and cheapest things you can do to enhance your life, no matter where you are or what your circumstances. Libraries have everything you need!
One of the things I’ve learned as I age is that deep joy comes from things you work on a little a time, day after day. These are my life-long reading goals:
Ages ago, I set a goal of reading 1,000 books. I’m currently at 851. Inspired by my father who recorded every book he ever read in tiny notebooks he carried in his pocket, I’ve captured my books in an Excel spreadsheet, categorized 70 ways from Sunday. At this rate, I should reach the goal in 2023.
I’ve also been reading all of Mary Oliver’s work. I’ve been savoring her writing, only reading a few books a year.
My newest long-term goal is reading my dad’s Aubrey–Maturin series. My father loved these books and I have his personal collection in my house. Shortly after he died, The Super Mr. and I watched Master and Commander again, so we could feel connected to him.
I’m so incredibly excited about my 2022 Reading Year and, in case you need some inspiration to not just read, but to make it an ADVENTURE, here’s the plan. (I should warn you, I LOVE a good syllabus!):
Year-long goals for 2022:
It’s a Backlog Year, inspired by this quote:
“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
—Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood
I selected books that I already own to focus on this year. It’s a relief to just read what interests you and not try to keep up with the latest releases.
My Goodreads 2022 Reading Challenge goal is 50 books this year. I read 59 last year.
The Read Christie 2022 challenge. The Agatha Christie family-run organization organizes this annual challenge of reading one Christie book a month, organized around a theme (this year is travel). I read The Man in the Brown Suit last month and am in the middle of the February book, Death on the Nile. This is a fun one and their website has tons of information.
My long read for the year is Middlemarch, which was my long read goal last year, too. I only read 93 pages. My mother gifted me this book while I was in high school and it has traveled with me through all my moves, destined to be read at just the right moment.
Smaller reading goals for 2022:
The first book I read every year is a classic I have not yet read. This year’s was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which is at least as entertaining as the “Hyde and Hare” episode of Bugs Bunny.
The second book I read each year is a book I’ve started, but haven’t yet finished. I read How We Fight for Our Lives, the Saeed Jones memoir of what it is like to be a young gay black man in the South.
February is my Short Month of Reading Short Books when I only read books less than 200 pages. If you are having trouble getting into reading, it’s the perfect way to get back into it. Quick wins!
So far this month, I’ve read Mashpee Nine: A Story of Cultural Justice (God, we’re awful to Native Americans) and Mrs. Caliban (shades of The Shape of Water, but more thinky) and Consider the Oyster (I could just melt into her food writing) and Tentacle (not for the easily offended) and Moominland Midwinter (a wonderful wintery read) and four volumes of the Darth Vader comic (I found myself rooting for the jerk.)
The Sealey Challenge. Organized by the poet Nicole Sealey and usually taking place in August, the challenge is to read one book of poetry a day for a month. Choose books of less than 100 pages, if you want a shot at completing it. I made it to 23.
My favorites from last year’s challenge: Of Sea by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett (including “Meadow Grasshopper,” which lists 52 words for grass) and A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes by Madhur Anand, with its perfect balance of science and art: “The rejection of reds, gaps of blues, chlorophyll absorbing necessary wavelengths.”
A selection from this year’s longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Last year, Piranesi ended up being one of my favorite reads of the year. The world she built for him was so vivid. I still think about it.
Theme-month: I haven’t settled on which theme I’ll choose this year but here are the contenders: travel, short stories, sci-fi classics, independent magazines, banned books, YA, or dark academia.
I pick a few authors I’ve been meaning to read each year. The 2022 list: Haruki Murakami, Rachel Cusk, Tom Cox, and Helen Oyeyemi.
Reading retreats! One full day on the couch just reading. Winter is a great time to do this. // Participating in an online read-a-thon — I’m likely doing the Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon on April 30. // A weekend away. Last fall I went to a local inn in November and read all weekend. Off-season is perfect here on the Cape and I have some ideas for this year’s getaway.
This may seem like A LOT and may be totally overwhelming and the wrong approach for you (especially if you are a mood reader and choose books based on how you feel in the moment.) For me it’s a framework, an aspiration, and nothing but an immense world of possibility, of things to learn, of stories to inhabit.
Some more resources for your adventurous reading life:
The #22in22 Challenge. Visit 22 bookstores this year and get prizes! I’m committing to buy at least one book in each bookstore.
“52 Weekly Challenges to Up Your Reading Life in 2022.” Adding #27 to my summer list.
Book Riot newsletters. Anything you want to know about reading and books.
Goodreads Giveaways. I’ve won 25 free books! // Amazon First Reads. You get a free book each month with your Prime membership. // Early Bird Books and Book Riot Book Deals. Daily emails with ebook deals, usually for $2-$4.
Little Free Libraries. I always check the ones around town. You never know what you’ll find. I also give away most of my books after I’ve finished reading them. I love the idea of someone else opening up the doors and discovering something I’ve added.
Happy reading!! I’d love to hear what you have in mind for your reading adventure this year. Please share in the comments if you’re comfortable!
More Juniper Disco: Website | Instagram
Currently reading: Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
Oh, right! I mentioned STICKERS the last time we talked! I’ll tell you how to get yours in the next edition of Juniper Disco.
And if you missed the introduction of Captain J. Disco, here it is:
I absolutely love the reading ideas you shared so much! Agatha Christie sounds like a nice palate cleanser for my bookshelf full of too much non-fiction.
Your intro "because doing equals value in The Palace of the Overachievers" and "a large, expansive life is possible and my quiet life has taught me that I am happiest focusing on the small things, away from all that. One of those small things is living a rich and adventurous reading life." should be framed on a wall, btw. It might soon be framed on my wall to remind me of priorities and the need for sanity some days.
As a librarian, I adore hearing about what people are reading. I also love a reading challenge. Please keep this up!
You might enjoy Kaleidoscope by Brian Selznick. It's a middle grade book that deals with the different parts of grief via very short stories accompanied by illustrations. It's very quiet and contemplative - I don't know how many kids will actually enjoy reading it, but I know I did.