Sisterhood Spotlight: The Miniaturist

I am a bit of a snobby reader.

I personally blame my education – I have a degree in English, which was a learning path littered with literature and high-brow criticism, and hours upon hours upon hours of reading and dissecting said reading. In the end? I know what I like. I know what I don’t like. And it all comes crashing into the fact that I have very little time to actually read. When I choose a book I am really picky – I need it to be well-written, I need it to grab me, I need it to not be too graphic (or my very impressionable brain will run away with all the gory details), and I need it to be fairly straightforward (Fantasy? Sci-fi? If it’s based in a world like ours, I have a shot…build a completely new world with an entirely new vocabulary to name every piece of it?? Either give me a glossary or you’ll have to wait until I have all my faculties again…which will probably be never).

That’s why I LOVED The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, a debut novelist who wowed me with her prowess, imagination, and finely spun tale.

The story is set in 1686 Amsterdam, where 18-year old Nella is newly married to her wealthy merchant husband. But when she arrives to her new life, where she expects to be the mistress of her domain, she is met with blow after blow, surprise after surprise, and in the midst of it all, a cabinet-sized replica of her new home.

This book pulled me in from the beginning, with writing that was strong, yet clear. Although it is set in the late 1600s, and in a different country, Jessie Burton does a superb job of bringing you right in the middle of the culture and world, without making you feel like you’re playing catch-up the whole time. And even though there is a glossary in the back (THANK YOU), I didn’t have to use it once while reading.

I loved the history, the opulence, the hardship, the class and race clashes, the clandestine love, the unrequited love, and the extraordinary, yet hidden, strength of the main character, Nella.

The writing was gorgeous and the story was thrilling. It was a book that was easy to read, made me never want to put it down, made me want it to end so I could figure out where we were going, yet made me wish it never ended so I didn’t have to leave the world. The last quarter of the book was so tense and emotionally taunt that when I finished reading, I had a lump in my chest that I had carried for days.

I fully recommend this book…and now I need to go write more of my own novel, because Jessie Burton? You’ve inspired me. Thank you.

~ Julia

My sleeping pill

I have a bedtime ritual. It is as regulated as our children’s bedtime routine, where we get into pyjamas, pick three stories (1 per kid) and then read them all until each kid is calm and sleepy and full of tales. It is absolutely necessary that I follow this routine, otherwise I will not be able to sleep for hours.

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison - A thriller that made me want to stay up all night...yet let me sleep.

A thriller that made me want to stay up all night…yet let me sleep.

I’ve tried skipping it. I’ve tried mixing it up, doing something different. All with disastrous results that end with me restless, sleepless, tossing and turning, and my brain talking up a storm.

Because therein lies the rub – my brain? My sadistic, nonsensical, ridiculous, overachieving brain won’t SHUT UP when I go to bed. It finds that the bed, with its cozy mattress and its warm blankets and its huge pillow is the perfect place to review all worry, concern, to-do lists, problems, and, of course, singing any of the ditties or jingles or super fun children’s songs I’ve heard that day. My brain SUCKS at sleeping. And I hate it. Because I LOVE sleeping, DESIRE sleeping, walk around all day long wishing sleep were mine right now.

Dear Amy, Let's be friends in real life, because you seem to really get it. And it would be awesome to be in the same room as all of your talent and sass. Love, Me

Dear Amy, Let’s be friends in real life, because you seem to really get it. And it would be awesome to be in the same room as all of your talent and sass. Love, Me

I figured out the key to my sleep a couple of years ago. It was when I was in therapy for PPD with Lillian. Nancy, my lifesaving therapist, asked me how I was sleeping. Of course, terrible! I had a newborn AND depression wrapped in an anxiety disorder. I would lie down and either Lillian would wake up or Sophie would wake up or my brain would wake up. And then it would be morning and I’d have to do it all over again.

She suggested I ‘download’ all of my lists and worries and problems onto a piece of paper that I kept by the bed. Essentially, when my brain popped up with something to think about the moment my head hit the pillow, I could write it down. The idea was with practice I could write down everything BEFORE I lay down and then my brain would be quiet and I would sleep and everyone would live happily ever after.

Sometimes I do running math in my head...converting miles into kilometers, thinking about training and running and not running...but this book put me to sleep AND made me never want to stop running.

Sometimes I do running math in my head when I’m trying to fall asleep…converting miles into kilometers, thinking about training and running and not running…but this book put me to sleep AND made me never want to stop running.

It didn’t really work that way. The act of writing down everything turned more into a brainstorming of session of things that I could think about during the night, versus me getting rid of things to think about during the night. In short, it backfired.

But then I tried reading. I love reading. But with babies and my scattered brain, sitting down and reading during the day was (and still is) next to impossible. But at night? When everyone is tucked in and I have the bed to myself (because Ben is inevitably playing video games downstairs), I can read under covers, curled up with characters and lands and stories that are not my own. And that is the key.

My current sleeping pill. I love this book so far. This one makes me want to keep turning pages, be a better writer, get published...and go to sleep.

My current sleeping pill. I love this book so far. This one makes me want to keep turning pages, be a better writer, get published…and go to sleep.

When I read at night, my brain shuts off. It tunes out of my reality and tunes into other people’s trouble, worry, concern, fantasy, dreams, and to-do lists. Reading launches me into someone else’s world, so I don’t have to think about my own.

And that is the key, the piece, the only thing I can do to really get to sleep. It doesn’t matter if I go to bed at my regular bedtime, 10 p.m., or if I go to bed at 1 a.m. It doesn’t matter if it’s before a weekend afternoon nap or the big sleep in a hotel room in Baltimore. It doesn’t matter one iota. All that matters is that I’m quiet and reading a novel, a memoir, fiction, non-fiction, short stories, works of art, or fluff pieces. I need to read to escape to find the peace and quiet that I need to get to sleep.

How about you? What do you do to get to sleep? Sex? Warm milk? TV? Candy Crush? Or are you like Ben and all you need is a blanket, a pillow and your hearing aid out? Because that guy? He can fall asleep in an instant and I’m left hanging out with a snoring bear, while trying to shut off my brain…unless, I’ve got me a book, then I can tune out the lumberjack and tune into another world that acts as a portal to the most treasured gift ever – sleep.

~ Julia