Zero Proof: The Boatbuilder

In the new episode of Zero Proof Book Club, Shelley and I talk about “The Boatbuilder” by Daniel Gumbiner. 🛶It’s a novel about, in part, recovery from opioids. We discuss developing an appreciation for nature and being off the grid in recovery, the many benefits of working with your hands, and our own varying experiences with drugs vs. alcohol. 🛶

Listen to the new episode here, at, and follow us on Instagram at @zeroproofbookclub.

Pairs well with:

  • Cardamom Peach Shrub

We thought a shrub would be fun to drink with this week’s book pick, as “The Boatbuilder” stars California’s rugged trees and forests. To make this Cardamom Peach Shrub, chop up four ripe peaches and bring them to a simmer with one cup water, 3/4 cup sugar, five cardamom pods and a cinnamon stick. This part smells SO GOOD. Simmer over low for at least 15 minutes, then strain out the liquid and mix with one cup apple cider vinegar. Chill. When you’re ready to serve, pour over ice and top with sparkling water. 🍑🍑🍑 

About “The Boatbuilder”

What to expect: A fictional, meditative journey of a young man struggling to overcome an opioid addiction

From the book jacket:

“At 28 years old, Eli ‘Berg’ Koenigsberg has never encountered a challenge he couldn’t push through, until a head injury leaves him with lingering headaches and a weakness for opiates. Berg moves to a remote Northern California town, seeking space and time to recover, but soon finds himself breaking into homes in search of pills. 

Addled by addiction and chronic pain, Berg meets Alejandro, a reclusive, master boatbuilder, and begins to see a path forward. Alejandro offers Berg honest labor, but more than this, he offers him a new approach to his suffering, a template for survival amid intense pain. Nurtured by his friendship with Alejandro and aided, too, by the comradeship of many in Talinas, Berg begins to return to himself. Written in gleaming prose, this is a story about resilience, community, and what it takes to win back your soul.

“The Boatbuilder”

Zero Proof: Nothing Good Can Come From This

In the new episode of Zero Proof Book Club, Shelley and I talk about “Nothing Good Can Come From This” by Kristi Coulter. We discuss the drinking triggers that are everywhere in the summer and how you can signal you’re still cool after you stop drinking.

Listen to the new episode here, at, and follow us on Instagram at @zeroproofbookclub.

Pairs well with:

  • Carrot Ginger Turmeric + lemon sparkling water + fresh orange juice

Paired with our new episode, a carrot-ginger juice (we love Knudsen’s Carrot Ginger Turmeric) mixed with lemon sparkling water and some fresh squeezed orange juice. 

About Nothing Good Can Come From This

What to expect: A frank, funny, and feminist essay collection (dare we say, beach read?) by a keen-eyed observer no longer numbed into complacency

From the book jacket:

“When Kristi stopped drinking, she started noticing things. Like when you give up a debilitating habit, it leaves a space, one that can’t easily be filled by mocktails or ice cream or sex or crafting. And when you cancel Rosé Season for yourself, you’re left with just Summer, and that’s when you notice that the women around you are tankedthat alcohol is the oil in the motors that keeps them purring when they could be making other kinds of noise.

In her sharp, incisive debut essay collection, Coulter reveals a portrait of a life in transition. By turns hilarious and heartrending, Nothing Good Can Come from This introduces a fierce new voice to fans of Sloane Crosley, David Sedaris, and Cheryl Strayed―perfect for anyone who has ever stood in the middle of a so-called perfect life and looked for an escape hatch.

— Nothing Good Can Come from This

My list of books to read this month

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

Reading about the lives of conservative Arab women living in America does not sound like an entertaining time to me (the conservative descriptor is what feels most like a snooze, to be clear). However, I’ve read nothing but good things about this new, debut novel by Etaf Rum—part addictive page-turner, part family portrait with secrets waiting in the shadows.

Deya is a Brooklyn gal who is 18 and being pursued by suitors selected by her grandparents. Yikes enough as is, certainly, but the situation is underlined by a black line that traces back to the story of Deya’s mother, Isra, who left Palestine as a teen to marry her heart’s desire, not her parents’. Isra supposedly died in a car accident. A secret note, mysterious woman, and gut feeling say otherwise.

There There by Tommy Orange

This book was published last year and the Chicago literati looooved it. Devoted Chicago literati follower that I am, I put this on my to-read list. They’ve never led me astray with a bad book recco yet, and There There has further confirmed my faith in their Book Gods status (see also: “Yes, Tommy Orange’s New Novel Really Is That Good” by the New York Times).

Each chapter follows a different character in a very large cast of Native Americans in Oakland, all of whom are making their way to a fateful powwow that ends in a ~very American~ tragedy. The story wields language, grief, and first-person narrative like a knife sharpened on the too-long-ignored, unquiet bones of a true-life genocide.

The title is a reference to a misunderstood (whitewashed) Gertrude Stein quote about Oakland that Orange brilliantly weaves into one character’s scene. The phrase also comes up in another place, referencing the Radiohead song by the same name, demonstrating how contemporary and historically intertwined this novel is, symbolic of Native American experience and life in Oakland. Those cross-generational twines can continue to choke a whole community, or the rest of us can help them become untangled and pull everyone up with the rope.

I would like Tommy Orange to publish a new book immediately.

No Walls and the Recurring Dream by Ani DiFranco

My bff in college loved the singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco. She played me Ani’s “Not A Pretty Girl” one day our freshmen year, likely when it was spring and I was sweaty and sitting on the floor of her dorm room and licking cheese fry sauce off my fingers. And feeling righteous in the pit of my stomach or something similarly ravenous somewhere that no food hall cheese fry could ever satisfy.

Ani’s songs made sense to me, and they made me feel better. Not, like, better in the moment of listening, but holistically, lifelong, better. Finding her (along with Fiona Apple and The Distillers) was like finding the handle for the pressure valve release of my confused spirit. I never knew I needed someone to voice what Ani does until I heard Ani do it.

I am not a pretty girl
I don’t really want to be a pretty girl
I wanna be more than a pretty girl

I am not an angry girl
But it seems like I’ve got everyone fooled
Every time I say something they find hard to hear
They chalk it up to my anger
And never to their own fear

Imagine you’re a girl, just trying to finally come clean
Knowing full well they’d prefer you were dirty
And smiling, and I am sorry

But I am not a maiden fair
And I am not a kitten
Stuck up a tree somewhere

Ani’s music helped inform my understanding of the world, of myself, and of the experience of being and becoming a woman. When her voice cracks but she keeps singing her truth, she told the rest of us we could and should do the same.

I’m really excited to read her debut memoir, in which she tracks her totally underrated journey to DIY superstardom (she released her first album at 18, rejected the mainstream recording industry and created her own successful label, Righteous Babe Records), navigating the music industry in the 1990s and 2000s, getting an abortion, becoming a mother, speaking as a social activist, being a creative entrepreneur, and so much more.

Ani in Chicago at a discussion to celebrate the launch of her new book, presented by Women and Children First Book Store.
My superfan friend and companion for the evening doing the homework early.
Samantha Irby (of Bitches Gotta Eat and Shrill fame)!!! She was there as an audience member, but, of course, as soon as she was spotted, she was asked to intro Ani and it was perfect and hilarious, just like her.

My list of books to read this month

Normal People by Sally Rooney

“Normal People” is a not normal, very good book of literary fiction by author Sally Rooney. The story of back-and-forth lovers Connell and Marianne unfolds over the course of 2011, when the two are in their senior year of high school, and 2015, when college graduation looms.

Rooney is a maestro of character explorations and she’s at the top of her game with this one (and the top of the writing field, according to the British Book Awards, which recently awarded “Normal People” its coveted Book of the Year accolade). Rooney’s writing is mostly very subtle, purposefully juvenile, practically meditative to read in its simplicity, but that belies all the masterful skill she’s deftly weaving underneath.

“But for her the pain of loneliness will be nothing to the pain that she used to feel, of being unworthy. He brought her goodness like a gift and now it belongs to her. Meanwhile his life opens out before him in all directions at once. They’ve done a lot of good for each other. Really, she thinks, really. People can really change one another.”

And then she’ll body slam you with a perfectly astute description of depression or fleeting moments of joy or the spiritually injurious albatross of abusive relationships (between lovers, families, social classes) and the damage that results—damage that can be, if not erased, at least lifted by an irregular kind of love.

The George Eliot epigraph in “Normal People.”

Nothing Good Can Come from This by Kristi Coulter

I’m reading this for a future episode of Zero Proof Book Club. I don’t usually include those books in my monthly blog roundups, but I think this series of essays by Kristi Coulter is something anyone could enjoy, not just sober or sober-curious somebodies.

Frank, feminist, fucking funny. All the most delicious f-words apply to Coulter’s trash talk about being trashed and life before, during, and after the fact. Hermit crab essays, narrative essays, and other smart takes on the form abound. It’s interesting to read work on a theme and learning the writer’s story that way, rather than through a traditional memoir format. That Coulter’s life feels eerily familiar to women of a certain headstrong, willful ilk by emotionally chaotic childhood design is a bonus.

My list of books to read this month

Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson

I’m spending some time OOO later this month and I needed a good vacay read. This recently published book, my March Book of the Month Club pick, should do the trick. It’s the story of an artist who is increasingly convinced her next door neighbor is the culprit of an unsolved murder. That, or she’s having another psychotic episode. Can she stop him—or herself—before someone else gets hurt? I’ll find out in Orlando. 😉

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

A buddy of mine wanted to read this 1996 Atwood classic, so I hopped on board and am heading back to 1843 to meet Grace Marks, a young woman jailed for murdering her housekeeper but whose guilt is being questioned by someone who could save her from a life in prison. I’m not too far in, but it’s already got that Atwood-spook. The scenes of Grace’s childhood in Ireland, during which she helps parent the nine-kids-deep family, has me saying a Handsmaid-y Praise Be for birth control.

Time Is The Thing A Body Moves Through by T Fleischmann

I really enjoyed reading Fleischmann’s earlier work “Syzygy, Beauty,” and was excited to receive an advanced copy of their forthcoming narrative essay, “Time Is The Thing A Body Moves Through,” to write about for a literary publication. Here’s the description: “How do the bodies we inhabit affect our relationship with art? How does art affect our relationship to our bodies? T Fleischmann uses Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s artworks—piles of candy, stacks of paper, puzzles—as a path through questions of love and loss, violence and rejuvenation, gender and sexuality. From the back porches of Buffalo, to the galleries of New York and L.A., to farmhouses of rural Tennessee, the artworks act as still points, sites for reflection situated in lived experience. Fleischmann combines serious engagement with warmth and clarity of prose, reveling in the experiences and pleasures of art and the body, identity and community.”

My list of books to read this month

The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison

I’m such a Toni Morrison fan girl. This latest tome is a compilation of writing outside her novelistic cannon, composed of essays, speeches, lectures, and meditations she’s written over the decades of her iconic career.

It includes, among my favorites, her Nobel Prize Lecture in Literature from 1993, as well as several deep dissections of her favorite pieces of literature and insights into her own work. It’s exciting to have these parts of her deeply intellectual oeuvre in one place.

The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer

I’m also a Lee Miller fan girl. So this was the obvious pick for my Book of The Month subscription choice. Lee Miller is best known as photographer Man Ray’s muse, but girlfriend has her own work, photography, and story to share. The Age of Light fictionalizes Lee’s sojourn from man’s muse to self-made artist, with 1930’s Paris as its backdrop.

Lee Miller

I first learned of Lee in Francine Prose’s book The Lives of The Muses: Nine Women and the Artists They Inspired, which, now that I think of it, is worth a re-read itself. Maybe next month?

Tanja Ramm under a bell jar, 1930, Lee Miller

Untitled (Iron work), 1931, Lee Miller

Introducing: Zero Proof Podcast

Zero Proof is a brand new biweekly podcast featuring me and my forever-friend/ former-editor Shelley Mann Hite. Read our story here.

On each episode, we read and discuss one book about sobriety, self-growth, or surviving—and then thriving—in spaces that profit when we numb ourselves, from ourselves.

Episodes one and two launched today over at! Add that link to your bookmark bar or follow us on Instagram @zeroproof.

First up (on episode two), we discuss “The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath” by Leslie Jamison and dig into our own varied approaches to recovery.

We’re also featuring Zero Proof drinks (get it) that pair with each book. After all, we know book clubgoers need something to imbibe. We just don’t think it has to be alcohol.

“The Recovering” pairs well with an Iowa Fog, considering all that time Leslie spent at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. ☕📝 It’s our take on the classic London Fog: Steep a mug of Earl Gray tea, add a drop of vanilla, then top it with steamed milk. If you don’t have a milk steamer at home (who does?), you can get the same effect by beating milk in a saucepan over low heat with your hand mixer. Beat for a few minutes till your milk is nice and frothy.

The Iowa Fog

I can’t wait to share more episodes throughout our first season! Up next, we’re reading “The Body is Not An Apology” by Sonya Renee Taylor. Episode three drops on March 11.

My list of books to read this month

Maid by Stephanie Land

Debut author Stephanie Land takes a painfully honest look back at her years spent cleaning a lot of other people’s houses for only a little pay, while also raising two children alone. “Maid” has been billed as “‘Evicted‘ meets ‘Nickel and Dimed,'” which are two of my favorite nonfiction books about the cyclical challenges of rising out of poverty in America—no matter how hard you’re working at those bootstraps.

I think of reading books like this (and “Evicted,” etc.) as a civic responsibility. They help me understand how poverty in our country works (both in the past and today… because its causes and effects are constantly morphing), why it is so hard to climb out of, and how we all contribute to poverty’s brutal repercussions even if by simply misunderstanding what poverty can do to a person. Or in this case, one tough mother.

Orwell On Truth by George Orwell

Also an intangible civic duty: educating ourselves on the history of truth and democracy. I found this little pocket book at the Chicago Public Library branch that opened LITERALLY WITHIN A BLOCK FROM MY APARTMENT (!!!!). It features excerpts of Orwell’s most potent arguments about what truth actually is and how hypocrisy can manifest itself in even the most well-intentioned. His brilliant, astute critical observations about how language shapes our cultures and world views made him an enemy of both the left and the right. Which kind of makes him my hero.

“If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” George Orwell
Orwell. Perhaps nailing down his nom de plume?

There’s so much I didn’t know about Orwell or appreciate about his work until reading this brief book. I was surprised at how modern his essay writing reads; though, I shouldn’t have been, considering that “1984” is perhaps the most prescient novel of all time. Nostradamus of the nine-to-fiver.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

And, because it’s Valentine’s Day month, I’ll be reading this historical fiction novel from 2015 that I still see people raving about on social media. It gets so much love! I’ve been meaning to read Kristin Hannah’s book that came out last year, “The Great Alone,” but figured I should finish this tale first. A story of two sisters struggling to survive in WWII France, Hannah weaves together a big-hearted story about the power of love in a time of hateful power. I can’t wait to soar away with this one.

Nine things I’m loving this month

Can you believe we’re almost one month deep into 2019? I’ve commenced Hibernation Mode throughout most of it, which you could have probably guessed given the following “stay inside under lots of covers” nature of the following obsessions that have been consuming my January.

P.S. Follow my blog with Bloglovin!

Apartment Therapy’s January Cure

Ya’ll been Kondo-ing like it’s a verb. I’ve been doing something similar. The website Apartment Therapy’s January Cure is a program that breaks down the often overwhelming act of cleaning your place into daily assignments—curing cabin fever and pack rat-ism in one swift swipe of the dust cloth. With assignments like #9 (do a bathroom cabinet cleanout) and #18 (clean the floors and treat yourself to flowers), this is a to-do list I can get behind.

Get it? “Get behind.”

Some of the key projects Justin and I tackled this month: organizing and purging all of our office and art supply cabinets, upgrading our cleaning equipment like the vacuum cleaner and even our guest towels, and sprucing up one room with a few new décor elements. We got a new grid patterned shower curtain from Amazon that we both love and a black and white nude sketch from Etsy that we framed and hung above the towel rack. Racks on racks.

This TED Talk

Therapist Mandy Saligari so wonderfully explains emotional habits that begin forming when we are children—why they happen and what we can do to conquer the unhealthy ones as adults. For a talk about emotion, her logic is surprisingly the most moving part of the whole thing. This one’s worth a listen.

Two new podcasts by writers

Writer Mike Ingram’s new podcast Day Jobs features interviews with artists who are trying to make art while making a living. Though he’s only three interviews/ episodes deep, I enjoy the tips the interviewees offer for how they get creative work done during their day job (ie. a construction worker writes on his phone during a lunch break). It’s realistic and inspiring to hear their stories.

Check out U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith’s podcast The Slow Down.

U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith’s podcast The Slow Down is produced in partnership with the Library of Congress and the Poetry Foundation. Regardless of how you feel about the rise of the Insta-poet, I’m all for the growing power of poetry and the myriad ways poetry has become more accessible to the general public in recent years. An Insta-poet Smith is certainly not; she’s brilliant and The Slow Down’s short five-minute episodes—described as “a different way to see the world, through poetry”—have been a welcome meditative addition to my mornings.

Twitter’s #SundaySentence challenge

To participate, post to Twitter the best sentence you’ve read all week with the hashtag #sundaysentence. Or just be a lurker like me and read all the goodies other people post.

Some of my favorite sentences from “Eat Only When You’re Hungry.” “As a dress, it was a raised fist, but in a silent crowd.”
I love this Sontag sentence, too. “Real art has the capacity to make us nervous.”

This Chicago Public Library branch that opened LITERALLY WITHIN A BLOCK FROM MY APARTMENT (!!!!)

Who’s the luckiest? Me.

“How To Become A Writer”

You gotta read this essay by Lorrie Moore.

Pick Up Limes recipe videos

This blog is run by a dietician who lives in the Netherlands. She’s named Sadia and she’s beautiful. Her voice is beautiful. Her blog is beautiful. Her food is beautiful. Her personality is beautiful… ah, le sigh.

I’ve been watching her YouTube channel’s recipe videos. They make cooking and eating vegan food not seem so terribly challenging. I’m a wannabe-veg, so I’ve been sprinkling her recipes throughout my occasional carnivore eats. One of my favorites right now is the Peanut Butter and Jelly Smoothie Bowl (that’s my beautiful re-creation of it at the top of this blog post), and I’ve been putting my own spin on the Mushroom and Lentil Tacos with Creamy Garlic Avocado Sauce.

New Amsterdam

Until a few weeks ago, “New Amsterdam” was just a TV show that starred the man I know and love as Tom Keen from The Blacklist. Turns out he has a real name (actor Ryan Eggold), AND that he is also an excellent Dr. Max Goodwin, the good-hearted renegade medical director of New Amsterdam Hospital. If you’re hibernating and need an entertaining, feel-good watch, hit up this mind-numbing show that I’ve been binge-watching on Hulu.

Paging Dr. Espionage!

My new fave app reads books for you (!!!!!)

Remember that age-old party game question: If you could have any super power, what would it be?

I am always prepared for this one because I always answer the same thing: My super power would be the ability to put my hand on a book and immediately have read, understood, and retained all of it.

Then I usually bow.

Because it’s a really great answer. (One I definitely stole from some awesome adult who answered with that when I was a kid.)

I mean, there are definitely books (most books, in fact) that I’d want to take the time to read during my superhero holidays on a secluded beach somewhere, but how cool would it be to read some books faster?

Particularly, nonfiction self-help sorta books. The kind that you’re interested in learning more about, but of which dedicating the time to reading all 200 pages (about, ironically, something like how to manage your time) is a no-go.

My Blinkist app landing page.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Blinkist!

My favorite new app. I’m still in my free trial week (they’ll let you test it out for seven days before making you pony up—$7.50 per month or $89.99 for the year), but I’ve already decided to, well, pony up. I’ve had my free trial for about two days and have listened to 12 books already.

How it works: Blinkist’s profesh readers (hello, dream job) read self-help, business, and other nonfiction books and then distill each book down to ~15 minute synopses that you can read or listen to. I love it! I just pick a book, pop on my wireless headphones, and listen to the “blinks,” as the book breakdowns are called. I feel productive and have learned a lot listening to them while I do chores around the house, walk to the grocery store, or ride the CTA to the latest superhero convention.

My current library.

Granted, you’re not going to get as much out of the book as you would reading it cover to cover, but with the books I’ve been hitting up with Blinkist (ie. “The Story of Sushi,” “5 AM Club,” “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck,” and “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” (ha!)), I get the key takeaways. And that’s really all I want out of books like that anyway.

Try it for yourself or check it out here! And let me know if you have any good “blink” reccos … and/or a better super power wishlist Q&A response.

I’ll be waiting. 😉