I Haven't Read Anything

So I’ve been in bookish bliss for a little over a month now. As those who’ve followed along know, I left the corporate job behind on a little over a month ago and have been splitting my time between a beautiful shop offering goods for home & hearth and an adorable indie bookstore. Both shops are incredible but I do of course have a little soft spot for the bookstore. It amazes me every day how long I went without knowing that doing what you love as a job could make you this stupidly happy.

My duties are predictable enough: open and close the store, ring people up for their purchases, take in and account for new inventory, manage special orders, maintain cleanliness and organization of the store, and put together/add to book and product displays. I’m also in charge of the Instagram account, website and changing messages on the sidewalk sign which I enjoy WAY too much to be normal. My recent sidewalk creations include, “Hey, we just met you, and this is crazy, but we sell books here, so read them maybe?” and “You know we’re all about those books, ‘bout those books, no Kindles! (just kidding, those are cool too).” Hand me a piece of chalk and a little autonomy and I’m drunk with dork power.

Then there’s handselling: actually talking about and making book recommendations. I go full nerd when I get to do this. I will admit that I expected to do it more often than I actually do. Perhaps it’s that my shop is located in a very small, quaint community where the folks who come in do so either to browse casually on their afternoon stroll or otherwise come in with a super specific selection already in mind. Maybe that’s a trend in other stores too thanks to the internet and apps like Goodreads that users can now rely on to get all of their bookish recs and reviews. Either way, the opportunity to actually rattle off books I think people would enjoy is one that I’ve had to create through conversation more often than not, which is totally fine. Your girl can talk, no issue there.

You know what I’ve learned though? I haven’t read shit.

How is that possible?? I read an average of 50 books a year. I read more in a month than some people read in 365 days or in some cases, in all of their lives. I read across multiple genres, both in print and on audio, I follow book blogs and listen to bookish podcasts and keep abreast of trends and new releases. So how is it that every damn day, I have to say the words, “You know, I haven’t read that book myself but…?” Tha fuck? Books are my thing! How am I coming up so short all the time?

Turns out working in a bookstore will make you acutely aware not of all that you have read but of eeeeeverything that you haven’t. It’s like living in a physical manifestation of my TBR list – everywhere are piles and shelves of books that I want to read while boxes of new ones keep coming in to make that list longer. Sure, there are tons of things in the store that I have read. Those selections are quiet though, minding their own business and existing silent from their place on the shelves and tables. It’s the ones I haven’t read that seem to waive me down on the regular and mock me to shreds, screaming “Hey, hey you! Hey girl, over here! You ain’t read this, have you! And you call yourself a reader, bruh?”  

This really ate at me for a minute there. I pulled up my Goodreads account and perused the list of books I’d read in recent years. What the hell had I been reading? What books had I been shoving my nose into if I was now feeling this inadequate about my reading habits? It became a bit of an obsession for a good 48 hours. My findings:

1.       I love old books.

My favorite author is Agatha Christie. If you read even casually then you might just know who that is; the rest of you might be pulling up the Google machine now to find out that Dame Agatha has been dead for many moons and was a British crime writer, commonly hailed as the Queen of Crime. Her work is classic. Murder on the Orient Express, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and And Then There Were None are books that I still reread from time to time and am blown away anew by that woman’s ability to hit you with the most left-field, outta nowhereist of twists. My goal is to read and own her entire catalog, which is extensive. I try to read anywhere from two to five of those a year. I still have work to do.

I also love classics. Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Little Women – they changed my life. You know what else? There are a TON of classics I haven’t read. Anna Karenina has been making a fool out of me for the better of part of two decades. That shit is my great white whale and I don’t know that I’ll ever vanquish it.

The point here is that because I do spend a formidable amount of time reading old books, I don’t always read new ones that are buzzy and trendy and cool. This doesn’t make me a bad reader – reading classics is never going to be a bad way to spend your reading time. Classics will always be a good default and are after all the blueprint for so much of modern literature.


2.       I actually have read a lot of “buzzy” books.

I may have been a little bit hard on myself. When I embarked on my “what the fuck have I been reading” project on Goodreads, I quickly discovered that I’ve done a pretty good job of not only reading some pretty popular/noteworthy/trendy reads, but I’ve managed to do so while reading diversely. I’ve read fantasy and magical realism, essay collections and memoirs, historical fiction and contemporary fiction; I’ve read a lot of books by women and POC, books by authors that identify as LGBT and that feature LGBT characters.

The thing is, as any reader worth their salt will tell you, one’s TBR list is an ever evolving entity. I spend most of my reading life feeling fairly positive what my next read will be then shaking the list up entirely when another interesting book is released and grabs my attention. That’s life in general though: the only constant is change so you may as well embrace the excitement. If you stick to a plan unwaveringly without leaving room for new additions, you may – in fact, WILL- miss out on a lot of great reads and amazing opportunities.

3.       There are too many books in the world. I’ll never read them all and that is a-okay.

There is one person that I know of on this earth that may just come close to reading ALL THE BOOKS, and that is “velocireader” Liberty Hardy. Miss Liberty is a contributor at BookRiot.com who singlehandedly compiles the New Release Index available to members of Book Riot Insiders (of which I’m of course a member *pops collar*), is the author of the New Books newsletter and cohost of the Book Riot’s All the Books podcast. You don’t have to know much about Liberty thus to know that this chick reads SO. MANY. BOOKS. I’m talking books – as in plural – a day. HUH!?? I met her at a book convention hosted by Book Riot a couple of years ago in New York and approached her with all the reverence and humility appropriate for meeting the Dalai Lama. I walked slowly and cautiously towards her and I think I even whispered my hello like a fucking creep. She didn’t have security called so it all worked out.

For a while, as I got more into the book blogging community and Book Riot in particular, I compared my own reading habits to Liberty’s – she’d rattle off all the books she’d read, and not in a braggy way so much as just on natural tangents when discussing new releases – and I’d think, “Girl but do you eat!?” I quickly discovered that continuing this comparison would make me want to end it all. I even tweeted her and some of the other ladies of the Book Riot podcasts to tell them that they were exploding my TBR lists straight out of control; Liberty tweeted back at me with a GIF of Beyonce doing a body roll and the caption “sorry not sorry.” It be like that.

The lesson here is that there is no keeping up with the pace of people like Liberty and really – you don’t have to. You don’t even need to read as much as I do, or at all, really, if reading isn’t your bag. If you are a reader, however intense or casual, the focus of your reading should be purpose and not pace. That will look different for each of us – some of us read for knowledge, some for pleasure, some for perspective or an escape (HELLO? Like when your president won’t renounce white supremacy, @#T^@%!) or all of the above. I’m choosing to worry more about the quality of what I’m reading and what it does to enrich my life, then concentrate on that. I don’t want to dwell on all the books I’m not reading and forget to absorb the one in hand.

So there is my little bookish stream of consciousness for the week, a peek into my reading life and confirmation that I do indeed sleep, eat and socialize in between devouring as many books as I can. I may not have all the answers for my customers but I do have plenty of knowledge to draw from. I also have the time, space and opportunity to expand that knowledge, and that, my friends, is why life is so great.

Oh, and because so many have asked recently, here is a snapshot of the last 25 books I read. Have questions? Need a recommendation? Hit me up! And if you're really feeling generous and supportive, follow the bookstore on Instagram! We're @westgrovesouthpark - thanks a bookish bunch! 


1.       Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

2.       Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan

3.       The Wild Woman’s Guide to Travelling the World by Kristin Rockaway

4.       Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helene Petersen

5.       The Good People by Hannah Kent (not out yet, I was sent an Advanced Copy, okaaaaay? #feelingmyself)

6.       Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco

7.       We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

8.       Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam

9.       Born a Crime: Stores from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

10.   This is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare by Gabourey Sidibe

11.   The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

12.   The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

13.   Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

14.   A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain

15.   The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

16.   So, Anyway… by John Cleese

17.   The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

18.   Turn of Mind by Alicia LaPlante

19.   Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

20.   White Teeth by Zadie Smith

21.   Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

22.   Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea

23.   Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

24.   Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

25.   Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova


Other Fun Stuff:

Think Me: Don't get caught up in what you haven't accomplished yet or dwell on how you could have done things sooner. Just do them now and trust the process.

Read Me: Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helene Petersen. I don't know how to sell this enough: it's an incredibly entertaining analysis of several polarizing female figures, women like Hillary Rodham Clinton, Kim Kardashian, Nicki Minaj, Serena Williams, Megan Mccarthy. It takes a look at the cultural phenomena that each of these women represents - love them or hate them - and dives into why they've each been deemed "too" much of a certain quality - too pregnant, too shrill, too queer, too slutty, etc. It isn't one giant defense of each of the women discussed - it's quite nuanced and honest and comprehensive in it's observations of the ways in which these women have made a name for themselves. It seeks to understand how they're affected by misogyny, sexism and where each operate within a feminist space. It's SO FUCKING GOOD. Read this now! 

Drink Me: Rose Milk Tea from 85 Degrees Bakery. Holy florals! This stuff is addicting - delicately flavored, sweet perfection. 

Hear Me: Sorry Not Sorry by Demi Lovato. Alright, sometimes I like pop and I don't care how you feel about that. Ladies - listen to this song and tell me you don't feel like a bad bitch after, especially if you watch the FIIIIIIRE choreography done to this song at Millenium Dance by the great Jojo Gomez. See it here - I've watched it about a thousand times and may or may not have mimicked the moves in my bedroom. 


Ode to Upstart Crow

It was a crisp December afternoon in San Diego and I was plotting an escape. Five-year-old me had been sitting in an armchair in the Nordstrom women’s shoe department surrounded by a fortress of shopping bags for what felt like days. I was along for the ride on one of my aunt’s infamous shopping marathons at Horton Plaza mall. These trips always sounded like great fun when proposed – just us girls, shop till we drop! Inevitably though, the luster of the new sweater I’d been gifted or shoes I’d picked out wore off after about an hour or two. I’d start to want to make a run for it.

My feet hurt and my hands were pink and sore from hauling bags all over the store. I was ravenously hungry and bored to tears. Even the smooth holiday musical stylings of the Nordstrom piano player I genuinely loved had started to sound cacophonous and mocking. Off he played effortlesssly, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” I asked in turn, “Is it though? IS IT??”

Observing how my eyes had begun darting back and forth between the nearest exits, my aunt got the hint and wrapped up her purchases. Relief had just set in when instead of heading home, she pulled up to Seaport Village, an adorable waterfront collection of boutiques and restaurants butting up to the San Diego bay. I could see even at my young age that the place had a certain charm, but all I remember thinking was, “This is a trap! More shopping!” I just sat there in quiet terror, then noticed a beautiful carousel in the distance and a horse-drawn carriage pulling a family of four to my left. I looked up at my aunt with a “what is this place???” expression and she smiled. “No more shopping!” she said, “We’re going to go get hot chocolate.”

Stoked, I jumped out of the car and followed her up a winding path nestled between a few gorgeous trees. I noticed a small duck pond on my right and felt my excitement swell when I saw several mallard ducks swimming along peacefully. I could have sat and stared at the ducks and been satisfied - mallards had always been my faves with their beautiful emerald green feathers. That hot chocolate was an offer I couldn’t refuse though, so I tore myself away from my duckies and kept on walking behind my aunt. Moments later, we arrived at our destination: Upstart Crow Bookstore & Coffeehouse.

I know what you’re thinking here: I must have passed out from excitement, right? Not exactly. Sure, I’d been read to since my days in utero and liked (loved) to read (be read to) from the time I knew what books were, but I hadn’t yet reached peak book obsession. I’d only recently learned to read on my own and had only just discovered what a library was (mind *blown*) but didn’t really grasp that there were places you could go to buy books and take them home where they’d be yours to keep… forever. What I saw was plain subterfuge: my aunt clearly had more shopping to do and had lured me here with the promise of a warm and sugary beverage. Sneaky, Nina. So sneaky.  

I joined my aunt in line for my hot chocolate, resolved to claim what I was promised if I was to be subjected to more sitting and staring. Then my aunt handed me my prize, piled high with whipped cream and beamed at me, “Ok! Now go find something to read.” She seemed so excited to deliver this directive, and I just stared back at her in disbelief. I thought, yeah ok - sure buddy. I’ll just go get lost and be unsupervised like I’m totally allowed to do all the time. My sarcasm was strong from an early age, even if only in facial expression.

After a few moments, I finally grasped that she might not be kidding. Feeling a sudden mixture of nervous anticipation and outright panic, I took a few cautious steps away, backing away slowly, to test the waters and be sure. When my aunt didn’t stop me but instead looked at me with what I now recognize was a Herculean effort not to laugh at my confusion, it became pretty evident that I really was free to go wandering. By myself. Alone. In this big, strange, hot-chocolate-serving palace of wall-to-wall books. Deep breaths.

Seeing a family with a few small children ascend a staircase behind me, I figured maybe the second level was a good place to start. I approached the steps and slowly mouthed out the words painted on each one:

Happiness is a journey, not a destination.

Be truthful, gentle & fearless.

This day will never come again.

Good things are to come.

Celebrate your existence.

Live, love, laugh.

One day at a time.

You made my day.

Many of the words were foreign in both pronunciation and meaning – I was after all only five. I only knew that the words felt special and the stairs some portal to another dimension. I climbed slowly until I reached the top and my eyes nearly burst from their sockets. Children’s books and comfy chairs lined this place. More deep breaths.

I grabbed a couple of selections hastily from the first shelf I could reach, one dedicated to popular reads and new releases. I claimed a table overlooking the right side of the store and opened up a “Where’s Waldo” book, taking sips of the warm, delicious chocolate and wiping cream from my face in between page turns and Waldo locates. I stopped and looked over my shoulders every few minutes; I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that aaaany minute now, the book police would haul me away for daring to drink inside the store or handling the merchandise. I got over that notion when I saw others following my lead, then worried instead that I’d plain old been left behind. Every time I looked down though, I saw my aunt downstairs, browsing and sipping a warm beverage of her own. I relaxed my tensed shoulders and moved onto the second book I’d pulled, one with bright yellow cover art of a little girl perched on a stack of books. It was Roald Dahl’s “Matilda.”

I held the mug of chocolate in one hand and held the book up with the other, devouring the words more rapidly and sinking into the story more deeply than I’d ever recalled doing with the more simple picture books I’d read before. I fell in love with Matilda instantly, with her story, with the experience of taking in groups of words on a page that struck up vivid and effortless imagery in my mind and made me feel things big and beautiful. I smiled, I scowled; I cheered, I laughed. I did these things with abandon, lost and immersed in the experience of reading.

That sensation has never gotten old for me. Books were my first love and are my truest to date, where I turn when I need everything from comfort or inspiration to an education or a hearty laugh. And while I carry a book or e-reader (and more often both) in my purse or car at all times and will read practically anywhere, there are those beloved places I go to envelop myself in a more complete reading experience. Upstart Crow has been that place for me since that very first visit. The place is warm and inviting and its layout hasn’t changed in as long as I can remember. My favorite post is now a plush chair by a large window, my beverage a Mexican mocha. My wonder at the place is the same one I felt as a child, albeit backed by a higher discretionary income.

I was then nothing short of devastated to come across the announcement that my beloved Upstart will shut its doors after thirty five years at the end of this month. I reverted to my most basic of bitchdom and literally couldn’t even. I called and messaged friends and family to inform them as though a cherished pet had just perished. I did that thing where I blamed myself, like I personally could have saved the place if I’d just purchased more books. I looked at my Kindle with resentment. You did this. You made this happen. You couldn’t just leave well enough alone, could you? Irrational, I know. I did after all buy a ton of books from them. Such is just my affection for this treasured establishment.

I ran down to Upstart that very same evening and walked every square inch of the place. I took big, deep breaths to soak up the smell of coffee and books. I dragged my fingertips against books and displays like someone who’d just lost their first home, wanting to soak up every last memory of the place they’d been a newlywed and raised their children in before they were forced to leave against their will. I grabbed bags and bags of their coffee blends though I seldom drink coffee. I purchased a paperback though I generally collect hardcovers. I ordered my usual Mexican mocha and struck up a conversation with the barista. I learned that the closure is a result of a huge hike in the rent by the landlord that the owners just couldn’t manage. In light of the recent announcement by the city of San Diego that Seaport Village will be leveled in its entirety by 2018 to make room for high-rise condominiums (queue dramatic chest grab and “Santa Madre!” on my part), a move to try and stay open only to be forced to close within the year made no sense.

I am not the first to see an establishment rife with childhood memories shut its door, nor will I be the last. Independent bookstores, like so many small businesses, face a constant battle to stay relevant and capture a big enough piece of our purchasing power, and this is old news. I know this in my heart but I can’t help but be saddened. I won’t be able to stop by on a Friday night to read to the sounds of a local musician. I won’t get that Mexican mocha on a Sunday morning while I gaze out of that giant window with a stack of books on my lap.

Oh, Upstart Crow: I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Thank you for the charm and warmth you brought to my hometown for these thirty five years. It was within your walls and in the pages of your books that I learned happiness is a journey, not a destination. Those books taught me to be truthful, gentle and fearless. It hurts to know this day will never come again, but I know good things are still to come. Today and for as long as I can, I celebrate your existence. I’ll remember to live, love and laugh. One day at a time, you truly did make my day. 

I invite all of you to visit this beloved bookstore while you still can – stop in for a book, a quirky bookish gift, a cup of something warm and toasty or a blend of their brews to take home and enjoy. Website, address and other fun facts found below.

Upstart Crow Bookstore & Coffeehouse
835 C West Harbor Drive, Seaport Village
San Diego, CA 92101
Open daily from 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM


About the name… 
According to Upstart Crow’s website, the name is a reference to the ol’ Bard himself, William Shakespeare. Rumor has it that back in the day, many of his fellow playwrights were jealous of his rampant success, including one Robert Greene. In one of his pamphlets, Greene referred to big Willy Shakes as an “Upstart Crow”. The nickname stuck! 

The store features among its many books and bookish gifts a variety of Shakespeare-themed items and hosts (err- hosted. Waaaaaah) a live Shakespeare reading once a month. 

Click here for a list of remaining live music performances and events.

Click here to ease my pain over this formidable loss. 
-    kidding, unless you’re down in which case silly me! I’m totes not.