The “LibraRYAN:” A New Monthly Reading Experience Curated by Yours Truly

Friends,

As some of you know, I am writing a fiction series. The first book is currently at the self-editing stage, the second exists as an outline, and the third is more concept than reality at this point in time. If you know an agent who loves all things girlboss, food, and unconventional love, then I’m that agent’s person and it would be great if you could introduce us. I have a feeling we’d have fun conversations. For now, I’m so grateful for the privilege this lifestyle affords — creativity, the ability to make my own schedule, and having my time valued as much at home as it is by society — whether or not my work finds commercial success.

Don’t get me wrong. It hasn’t all been sunshine and daisies. There are days I have writer’s block so bad I can’t see straight, there are days I am fully capable but still dread writing (usually when a scene hits too close to home), and there are days I feel like I could write for days but then, invariably, life has other plans. This is all normal, I’m learning, and that learning is at least half my enjoyment at this stage. The other half is a mixture of generalized giddiness and an acute sense of purpose. I am blessed beyond measure.

There is, however, one thing about which I am constantly in conflict — unhappily at that (yes, it’s possible to have conflict and also to be happy, and no, this is not one of those times). As part of my early writing process, I’ve become exceptionally selective about what I read. That’s the political way of saying I haven’t done much reading at all — not if you don’t count the the things I’ve read as research for the series I’m currently writing. That’s work … and that’s different.

Those who know me will find this shocking. Those who don’t may also have some questions about my choice — and with good reason. While I’m generally not here for making people feel like they have to justify every decision they make, in this case, an explanation is 100% warranted, so I’m bossing up and sharing it. Here it goes:

I am first and foremost an empath. This means when I experience something, I tend to absorb it right down to my core. This is true whether the object of my concern is connected to me superficially or on the deepest levels. So, as a measure of both professional responsibility and as a way to guard my tender heart, I decided to step back from the heavy work that is losing oneself in the midst of others.’

At the time of this decision, I was all-too-caught-up in the security blanket that reading afforded me. Under the heading of “reading” all I’d really been doing was silencing myself, like I’d been doing for as long as I can remember, just under different titles and pretenses. Thankfully, with some chutzpah and an incredible support network, I put a stop to that behavior, hard as it was to do.

Come to think of it, taking reading away from myself was one of the hardest choices I’ve ever had to make. Necessary, but incredibly difficult. Especially because I had no idea when, if ever (it felt like), I’d allow myself to have it back in the same way — voracious reading, selfish reading, all-hours-of-the-day-and-night reading, the kind of reading people spend lifetimes reading and writing about.

My decision might be controversial, but it definitely paid off, because here I am, book one nearly done, looking ahead to the future, and having trouble deciding if I want to smile or cry from the sense of pride and accomplishment I didn’t know I could feel.

Then there’s the matter of what else this means.

Now that I have a strong handle on my own writer’s voice, and what I’m able and willing to contribute to this strange blue planet, I know I can trust myself to move forward, uncompromising in the special nature of these gifts, but flexible enough to allow myself back in to the metaphorical sandbox of life’s many wonders.

Looking ahead, past the heaviness of actually doing this life, I have a lighter, companion ambition in mind. The first order of business is to restore my reading privileges — though believe me when I say I’ll be monitoring myself for the types of behavior that inspired me to take my earlier hiatus (self-doubt, being overly self-critical, obsessive editing for no good reason, etc.). Those of you who know me in real life, please continue helping me in this regard. You’re all trailblazers — especially those of you who, without any promise of recognition, unwaveringly stand alongside me as I do the messy, uncoordinated work of clearing paths in the first place.

Now we get to the fun part!

Starting this month, there will be a new category on this blog. I’m going to call it The LibraRYAN, a playful reference to both my name and my love for reading. Each month, I’ll select a topic or theme, pick a few books that fit into that category, and share my experiences with them. To be clear, the resulting posts will be more personal essay than book review, and that is by design.

I do more “review-y” work through the Reading Words category, and that will remain a space dedicated to thoughts on specific works, presented one at a time, with the near sole intention of promoting that good work. I stand by that category, and will hopefully have reason to populate it with new content soon, but its greatest strength is also one of its greatest limitations — it leaves no room for you. The conversation basically begins and ends with “there is this great thing, and I want to make sure you know about it, because it is a great thing.”

At this point in my career and life, that feels pithy. I’m not in middle school. I don’t do book reports anymore (there’s a time and place for that, it’s just not here or now). I’m also not a book critic, in personality or by choice, so instead of making my singular commentary meatier and/or more cutting, I’d like to elevate the blog overall by including more voices, more frequently, in the hopes of building (or maybe simply inspiring?) a stronger community. If indeed you’ve read this far (a large ask, I’m aware), you’re probably wondering, “great, Ryan, but how will you do this?” Don’t worry, I’ve got you.

The answer: The LibraRYAN.

Many of you are readers — or else, why would you be here, certainly at this juncture in a long blog post. As far as I’m concerned, there are endless opportunities to connect through this shared identity, and the internet can feel like a super isolating place, so I’d like to address both of those points in one swoop. With The LibraRYAN (a new category on this blog, not a new standalone project), we’ll get to read some neat books together, which we’ve chosen together, and then, together, respond. Other than timeline and topic specificity, and my request (insistence, actually) that we keep things civil (differences of opinion never need to degenerate into attacks of any kind, ever), the rest can evolve as we do. Here’s how I see this starting at the very least:

At the end of each month, I’ll select a topic or theme to guide our reading and conversations for the month to come. I will announce that here, on the blog, as well as on social media (@rvmcgonigle). Once that happens, I’m happy to consider all thoughtful recommendations for what we could read until the first day of the month we’re intending to read them. By the end of that week, we’ll have our list of possible reads. You may choose as many or as few as you like from the list. No matter which books we choose, we’ll all have the rest of the month to read them and reflect on our experiences (pictures, essays, drawings, the options are pretty endless). By the last week of the month, I’ll post an essay, and you’re welcome to either share or guard your individual response, whatever makes you feel happy and safe. Either way, the cool part is that we’ll have already shared these specific experiences, and by extension, made the world a little bigger and a little smaller at the same time. Think about that for a minute … pretty neat, right?

Since I dislike procrastination, let’s kick this off right now, with March 2020 being our “starting month.” Welcome to The LibraRYAN Reading Group, loves. I’m so glad you’re here.

The LibraRYAN: March 2020 Reading Group

This month, we’ll focus on love and/or marriage. Suggested works may include both topics or just one. I’ve gotten us started by selecting two nonfiction books from authors whose work I don’t already know, Molly Millwood’s To Have and to Hold (2019) and Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women (2019). At least one more book would complete my rotation. Who has the right fit (or several)? If it moved you, challenged your thinking, or both, I’d love to hear about it. Ideally it’d be written no earlier than the past decade (2010-forward), so that it will be accessible to most folks in a variety of places; however, I’m not opposed to considering recommendations that fall outside this boundary where a thoughtful case can be made. You’re game? Great! We have until March 1st to solidify our shared reading list. Let’s make it happen, shall we?

Thomas’ “The Hate U Give”

“What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”

Starr Carter, p. 252

The Hate U Give

If your skin is white like mine, for most of the hours of most of the days of your life, you probably won’t think about your whiteness. Why? Because the culture white America created over centuries makes it really easy not to on the daily. And, in fact, it makes it that way precisely so you don’t think about it … ideally at all. If you did, things might be very, very different.

If that makes you feel uncomfortable, good. It should. It means you’re thinking. It means you’re on the journey to awareness. And from that point, you have the potential to make a serious difference — not just make things different. Yes, that subtlety matters. A lot.

I came to this uncomfortable realization for the first time in middle school, when I was given a chance to study the life and works of two incredible Americans — the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dr. Maya Angelou. The realization I had from these studies bothered me. Not so much because the reality itself was hard to acknowledge (though it was), but because I knew, without having the vocabulary to properly vocalize this yet, that I’d have few — if any — other white people to talk about it with. So I kept my feelings and opinions close to my heart. That’s about as far as they went back then, and since then I’ve learned lesson after lesson about the importance of speaking truth to power.

I could cite countless other examples of uncomfortable realizations like this. Between school and work, across three states and six cities, and yes, also in my personal life, confronting race in a post-racial America has been challenging. This means it’s worthwhile — and ultimately, of importance. But I’m not here to give you a run-down of these moments. The point is that I have them, and yes, white America, you have them too, whether or not you’re aware of it yet.

What I am here to do — in this post, but more globally on the blog — is to remind us that life is about understanding and compassion, rather than hatred or fear. Life is about striving for justice and equity, rather than perpetuating systemic oppression (in all forms!). Put more simply, life is about learning to love, choosing to love, and then, critically, actually doing it.  And sometimes love means we must do difficult things, uncomfortable things, things we aren’t sure we’re brave enough, ready enough, smart enough, strong enough, anything enough to do. That is usually when we need to try the most.

In the spirit of that message, I’d encourage you to read Angie Thomas’s masterful work, The Hate U Give. It’s been nominated for a National Book Award. It’s a best-seller. And, if you’ve been following the news, you may have heard that it’s becoming a major motion picture. It stands on its own.

But much more importantly, and I don’t say this lightly, it’s the essence of life itself. It’s a call-to-action we all must learn to answer. Not just for one person, or one movement, or one pivotal moment in history, but all the time, everywhere, for everyone. It’s that important. Please read this book. And when you’re ready, go in peace to speak, write, act, and generally L-O-V-E. Just remember that peace doesn’t have to mean silence.

***

P.S. Interested in other voices who’ve joined this conversation?

Here’s a few. I encourage you to find more — or even better, contribute alongside them:

(1) The Atlantic’s review of T.H.U.G., available here.

(2) An interview with Angie Thomas and Balzer+ Bray/Harper Collins, her publisher. Heads-up, their chat is about 20 minutes long, but you’ll want to listen all the way through over here.

(3) A Huffington Post review, available here.

Full concept and content by Ryan Vale McGonigle

When Without Internet

So y’all … I spent ALL of last week without the Internet.

know, I was surprised too. Nary a day goes by where my view doesn’t resemble the featured image (a flat surface and a computer). But we’re having the house painted, which is a huge job, so there’s been no web access here.

I wasn’t sure what to do with myself for the first few days. I hate sitting still, and watching paint dry isn’t as fun as it sounds. Thankfully I got past it and ended up living a way fuller life than I normally do. During our post-net reality, some of the biggest wins became:

(1) I talked to people — with our actual voices and sometimes even in person. Did you know that it’s possible to be social outside the world of social media? Spoiler alert: it is. And it’s glorious. We’re social creatures, humans. So put down or walk away from whatever screen you’re using to engage with the world … and actually engage.

(2) I cleaned my house from top to bottom. We do a major surface scrub down every week. Last week I also did the chores we have a habit of making less time for (i.e. wiping down the space between the window and the sill, where dirt and bugs can accumulate if you aren’t careful). While I can’t make this an honest celebration of willpower, I totally plan to celebrate not doing gross chores for at least another week.

(3) I thought up a bunch of cool places to go visit on Long Island. Husband is from here but I am not. This makes us in the extreme minority of couples, at least in the part where we live. One of my goals this year is to get out and experience more by myself, so I can feel as much at home independently as I do when Husband is around. Currently on the list? A few gardens and museums, the aquarium, and finding more small/local businesses to explore.

(4) I read two books. One was a novel from a Long Island-based author. One was history-based from a North Carolina journalist. Both were spectacular and you’ll hear more about them later — stay tuned, friends. Meanwhile, I had a blast kicking off my “find more local art/ists” project with these reads!

(5) I spent time outside. Beyond daily walk(s) with the dog, or short trips to the mailbox, my time in the great outdoors has been limited of late. Part of this is the weather — raise your hand if you’re over “Spr-inter,” too!  — and part of this is me. Last week I had a good excuse to get fresh air, so guess what? I did. Must remember to make more good excuses going forward.

(6) I joined a community group. I have this nasty habit of not wanting to get close to people, because I’m never in one place long enough to properly deal with the inevitable heartbreak of leaving. It’s been over a year since we moved into this house. It’s high time I put my self(ish) preservation aside and became a contributing member of our community. I was proud of myself for this small act of courage. Let’s hope it sticks.

(7) I got my introspection on. I hate, hate, hate to think about my life. It stresses me out, either because it’s not moving fast enough, or because it’s moving too fast. So I tend to avoid introspection. Sometimes it’s helpful, though. This was one of those times. Last week I reassessed some big goals, came up with creative approaches to current and future work, re-prioritized the people and things that matter most to me, and put the rest aside for the moment. That felt really. damn. good.

In the spirit of that feeling, I encourage you to spend less screen time, and spend more time doing the things you love, with the people you love, in the places you love. Because that’s what life is all about, no matter what corner of the world you call home.