New Year, New Lots of Things to Read and Do

I’ve decided to do one new thing a week for this entire year. It sounds daunting, but I don’t think it will be all that hard. I’ve opened this exploration up to all sorts of things like new recipes, reading an author I haven’t read yet, trying a new food truck, hiking a new trail, visiting a new city. The key is making it intentional by planning it, talking about it and fully experiencing it … whatever it is. I’ll chronical my progress on Instagram and on my blog And here’s what I talked about on Good Day Alabama on WBRC Fox 6. this month.

Check Out Your Local Library

Before we talk about specific books, I’d like to offer a PSA. Lots of our viewers don’t realize the countless (yes, countless, since things are added all the time) assets available at our local libraries. I am most familiar with the Jefferson County Library Cooperative, but other counties have similar offerings. Anyone who resides or pays property taxes in Jefferson County, Alabama, can get a library card that offers access to ALL the libraries in the county. (Non-residents can get a card by paying a non-resident fee, but other counties have their own offerings.)

The point I’m making is this:  Libraries offer way more than books. 

Here are some of the things you can do with a library card these days. With Hoopla, you can download and stream movies, TV shows, music, audiobooks and eBooks for free.  You can learn a language with Duolingo. Learn how to knit, cook, draw and more with thousands of online art and craft videos on Creativebug—all are, you guessed it, free.  Kanopy has critically acclaimed documentaries, foreign films and movies. (Kedi about the cats in Istanbul has been on my list of things to watch for a while. Kanopy has it.) You can get live career and job-search assistance with Career Alabama. Universal Class has access to more than 600 online courses. These digital resources are available 24/7/365.

Then there are the programs individual libraries offer (again, often for free). I’ve learned how to make sushi, arrange flowers, mix cocktails and more at local libraries. Here’s just a few of the offerings at the Vestavia Hills Library in the Forest for January:  learn basic computer skills (Word, Excel), how to organize files and stay safe online; learn how to line dance (you don’t even need to register for this one; just show up on Monday nights at 6:30), learn to make wine bottle luminaries, learn the basics of 3D modeling in the Makerspace; ask questions of Steel City Speech Pathologists during a special pre-school story time and Q&A. Then there are all the librarian-led book discussions and story times for kids and gaming for teens. 

I encourage you to check it all out. And I fully expect my local library to be my partner in my year of 52 new things. 

Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents

By Octavia E. Butler

These books, one and two, are not new but they are currently wildly popular. And with good reason. Octavia Butler wrote the first one, Parable of the Sower, in 1993. Parable of the Talents, the sequel to what had quickly become a dystopian classic, was written in 1998. (Read them in order.) But both books read like they were written last week. They are about climate change and societal division and a world at war. They are about the climate-related collapse of Western civilization. Even some of the words spoken by politicians in the books are eerily familiar. It really is remarkable. The books are violent and sometimes hard to read. The world in them is post-apocalyptic, but you’ll still recognize this world. 

In 2025, when a young woman named Lauren Olamina loses her family and home (a walled neighborhood on the outskirts of Los Angeles) to a violent mob, she sets out to create a safe place for herself and her new religion:  Earthseed, whose central tenant is that God is change. Lauren is the daughter of a Baptist minister; she comes by this study of religion honestly. As she walks to a place where she and some fellow refugees can live off the land, where water is available and gangs are scarce, readers see a world of chaos, slavery and unspeakable violence, of drugs, disease and chronic water shortages of an ever-widening gap between haves and have-nots. It’s both a coming-of-age story and a warning about a preventable future. The second book, Parable of the Talents, is a tapestry woven of Lauren’s writings, those of her husband and their daughter. Set a few decades in the future, the underlying themes are similar. Lauren has expanded Earthseed; she dreams of sending missionaries out to spread a message that might be the salvation of mankind. It is just as compelling as the first.  Both books are terrifying visions of a potential future. Both also offer hope.

Here’s what else you need to know:  The bestselling and award-winning Octavia E. Butler (1947–2006) is considered one of the best science fiction writers of her generation. She received both the Hugo and Nebula awards, and in 1995 became the first author of science fiction to receive a MacArthur Fellowship. She was also awarded the prestigious PEN Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. Sales of her books have increased enormously since her death. There’s a fantastic interactive article in The New York Times about Butler and her work and how she became the writer she was. You can look at it here.

Go-To Dinners:  A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

By Ina Garten

This new book by the beloved and trusted home cook is filled with recipes that are designed to take the stress out of meal preparation—and turn out deliciously perfect dishes every time.  The book was inspired by Ina’s cooking at home during the pandemic when she began to re-think how she approached dinner. There are lots of freeze-ahead, make-ahead, prep-ahead meals here. Assembly is simplified. The dishes are inventive but uncomplicated. You’ll find things like Overnight Mac & Cheese, which you make the day before and pop in the oven when you’re ready to eat. Breakfast for dinner looks like Scrambled Eggs Cacio e Pepe and Roasted Vegetables with Jammy Eggs. Family meals like 

Chicken in a Pot with Orzo and Hasselback Kielbasa will feed a crowd and not take too much of your time. Ina’s “Two-Fers” guide you on how to turn leftovers from one dinner into something different and just as delicious the second night. And some of these meals don’t require cooking at all—Ina’s boards, assembled from store-bought ingredients, include an Antipasto Board and a Breakfast for Dinner Board. Impressive and quick.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and Thank You Books in Crestwood. And I visit my local library often in person and online!

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