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Two books that defined my 2012

May 2012

I read J. Robert Lennon's novel Familiar by goddamn candlelight in a shack in a backyard. That's not true. There was an extension chord and a lamp, but it still got cold at night and the experience felt rustic and serious. The novel is a domestic horror story that considers the unthinkable: What would it be like to live out an alternate reality wherein you've ruined your life and your children no longer talk to you?

I read this book knowing that I was going to move to Austin in a month and get married. My new husband was going to reverse his vasectomy. We were going to have kids and they would never grow to hate us. On May 24, I interviewed Lennon, and off the record I told him, "I wanted to mention that you've been one of my heroes for a while precisely because it seems to me that you enjoy your work and your life, and I want to be like you."

June 2012

I was on a greyhound from Portland, Ore., back to Missoula. Before that I'd been in Austin, Texas, visiting a man I thought I was going to marry, but nothing worked out and now I was taking the long way home. I started the trip thinking my life was going to be one way, and then there I was on a dirty bus, headed right back to where I started. Looking out the window for too long is dangerous. The white, spinning windmills are sharp and terrifying; watching them, your mind can go to unwelcome places.

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I started reading my friend Mark Sundeen's book, The Man Who Quit Money, somewhere around the Oregon border and I didn't put it down until I finished in Lolo. The book isn't just about how Daniel Suelo gets along without money—it's about a man trying to figure out the best way to be good. Suelo has vision and guts, and his story reminded me that my life is bigger than a failed trip to Texas. Reading The Man Who Quit Money made my broken engagement hurt less. I sent Mark an email from the bus: "I turned on the overhead light toward the very end, while people around me were napping—that's how serious. I loved it so much. I feel like it was written for me."

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