Book Club: Year of Connections

At our January virtual book club meeting, my friends and I landed on a concept to guide our reading for the year — and completely by accident.

We’re calling it “The Year of Connections,” and it’s kind of like the Name Game (where you say a famous person’s name, such as Abraham Lincoln and then the next person needs to say a name that begins with an L such as Lana Turner and then the next person says a name that begins with a T such as Terry Brooks). 

Only we’re choosing book club books this way. 

So… our January pick (mine) was Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep. A couple of us had already dived down the rabbit hole (I started reading The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee, while a friend started rereading To Kill a Mockingbird). Another friend mentioned that she’d like to read something by Truman Capote, and she chose his novella The Grass Harp for February. 

And then it hit us: we could choose our next book by connecting it with the book we’d just read. 

Photo by Laura Kapfer on Unsplash

So it’s kind of like a reading map that might go a little haywire… 

We’re starting with:

Book about Harper Lee > Book by her friend Truman Capote

I can’t wait to see where this plan takes us next…

Stay tuned to see where we find ourselves in a few months.

I’m sure we’re not the only ones…  What brilliant schemes has your book club concocted on the fly?

Reading goals for 2022

Hello to 2022!

While greeting a new year can seem almost ominous these days, here we’re going to focus on one aspect over which we have some measure of control… our reading.

Some of these goals are ongoing (reading diversely, doing Book Bingo), others are cribbed from my 22 for 2022 list (read Marcus Aurelius, read comfort books), and others are just because.

My 2022 reading goals are:

  • Read at least 25% authors of color
  • Finish our very own Book Bingo 2022
  • Read at least 5 books set outside the United States
  • Read Marcus Aurelius
    • …because I could use a boost to my Stoic strivings
  • Read/reread comfort books
  • Reread Atomic Habits by James Clear
  • Have a Killer Bee with a friend
    • That’s a quilting bee where we discuss true crime, and we invented it
  • Do a readathon
    • …which might be a homegrown version that’s just for part of a day
      • …because my 22 for 2022 list was feeling kind of heavy and I wanted some lightness to anticipate in the year ahead

 

So… do you think I’ll accomplish all these things?

And more interestingly… what are your reading goals for the year ahead?

My favorite books of 2021

Probably people exist who despise end-of-year best lists and top 10 lists, but I’m not one of them.

The clickbait-iest clickbait for me is “Top 10 Best Books of the Year.” Gets me every time.

 

Here’s my version, in alphabetical order by title because otherwise there’s too much pondering:

 

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton

The Guncle by Steven Rowley

How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler 

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett

 

So what were some of your favorites of 2021?

I’m building a 2022 TBR that compounds my existing TBR, and I’m not sad about it…

Book Bingo 2021: What I read

 

 

Book Bingo season is here – we’re releasing the new Book Bingo 2022, and now here’s the list of books I read for Book Bingo 2021.

It was a great reading year.

(I know: I say that every year. But when you bail on the books that don’t make you happy, every year is a great reading year.)

Here’s a recap of my reading for Book Bingo 2021:

1000 Books Before Die – Persuasion by Jane Austen

Anti-racist – Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

Quest – Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

Unconventional – You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar

Breezy – Fast Women by Jennifer Crusie

Black Author – The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans

Narrative Nonfiction – What Happened to Paula: On the Death of an American Girl by Katherine Dykstra

DIY – Laundry Love: Finding Joy in a Common Chore by Patric Richardson

Restoration – The Guncle by Steven Rowley

Immigrant – The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

Eye Catching – The Princess Spy: The True Story of World War II Spy Aline Griffith, Countess of Romanones by Larry Loftis

Instant Classic – A Promised Land by Barack Obama

Blurb – Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sight by Julia Sweig

Russia – The Spy’s Son: The True Story of the Highest-Ranking CIA Officer Ever Convicted of Espionage and the Son He Trained to Spy for Russia by Bryan Denson

Triumph – The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday 

Noir – Chase Darkness with Me: How One True Crime Writer Started Solving Murders by Billy Jensen

Defiance – The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton

Edwardian – A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

Rabbit Hole – True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray by James Renner

Sugar – Molly on the Range: Recipes and Stories from an Unlikely Life on a Farm by Molly Yeh

Survival – Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

The Explorer – The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal about Identity, Race, Wealth and Power by Deirdre Mask

Quarantine – The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Knotty – Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

Final Book: The Whole Package – I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

I selected I’ll Be Gone in the Dark as my capstone book because this truly was my Year of Reading True Crime — including a re-read of Michelle McNamara’s masterpiece.


Did your reading have a theme or some go-to topics this past year? If so, was it something familiar or something new?

Introducing Book Bingo 2022

Welcome to Book Bingo 2022!

Let’s do some reading, shall we?

The Theme

This year’s theme is Time because we just kept thinking of time-related topics. And who doesn’t love a nice clockface image?

The Team

Book Bingo happens each year because of the collaborative efforts of two of the world’s finest humans

  • My dear friend, who brings inspiration and humor and intelligence and fun to the whole process
  • The Dear Man, who brings the graphical brilliance and creativity and delight to our design every year. We give him a few phrases and he turns it into something beautiful.

How to Play

  • Read a book that fits the category. Each book can qualify for only one category.
  • Complete just one row or column, or go for blackout by reading a book in every category.
  • All books must be finished in 2022. Books started in 2021 but finished in 2022 count.
  • We’ve provided some definitions, but you can free-style it if you like—as long as you can make a case that the book fits the category. (This is one of my favorite sports)
  • All categories can be fiction or nonfiction (your choice), unless otherwise specified.

The Categories

To Sign Up

Couldn’t be easier… just leave a Comment on this post with your name. If you’re a blogger, also include your blog name & URL so we can follow along with you.

The Printables

Here’s the bingo card in pdf format:

Questions? Answers!

If you have any questions about any of the categories, ask your question in the Comments of this post, and I promise I’ll respond.

 

Now let’s start doing some reading, my friends!

Top 10 Favorite Books

A top 10 list of favorite books: it’s a tricky little devil. I mean, what should the criteria actually be?

The options seem endless…

  • Books I’d be happiest to re-read
  • Books I’ve actually re-read and been glad about it
  • Books whose bindings have fallen apart due to repeated readings
  • Books that had the most impact on me
  • Books that represent who I’ve been at various phases of life
  • Books that represent who I am right now
  • Books that represent each of the genres and styles I love best
  • Books that spark the most joy
  • Books I’d want with me on a desert island
  • Books I keep recommending to others, over and over
  • Books that are my favorites of the past decade
  • Books that have been on my favorites list for more than a decade

You see my dilemma.

Depending on which of these sets of criteria I choose, the list is gonna shift. Some books will always be there because they’re my very top favorites (I’m looking at you, Young Men and Fire and Run), but others will appear or vanish, depending on the criteria.

So, after discussing this conundrum with the Dear Man and a good friend, I took their advice and went with:

  • Does it feel like a true representation of who I am?
  • Does it spark joy? (aka, Do I light up when I talk about these books?)

 

Based on those criteria, here’s my current list…

Young Men & Fire by Norman Maclean

Run by Ann Patchett

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

 

So now I’m wondering how you decide your favorites.

What criteria do you use? Which books always always ALWAYS make the list?

Brandi Carlile’s story

Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile

3 words: candid, reflective, engaging

“All of these lines across my face 
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am…”

—Brandi Carlile, The Story

Brandi Carlile keeps surprising me with her awesomeness. 

The first surprise: discovery of her existence 

Old friends at Old Crow Medicine Show / Brandi Carlile concert -- So Good!

A friend and I went to see Old Crow Medicine Show at a wicked cool outdoor music venue, cuz we both like some fine Americana music. And Brandi Carlile opened for them. My friend, who’s way more musically knowledgeable than I’ll ever be, knew who she was, but I didn’t. But about 30 second into her first song, I was like, “OMG, that voice.” I love strong, husky, vulnerable voices, and wow does she ever have one. 

The second surprise: the book 

When I saw that Brandi Carlile had written a memoir, I placed a hold right away. I know she’s got some serious songwriting skills, and I couldn’t wait to read her prose. And I was interested to read her personal story, which turned out to be way more fascinating, stirring, and inspiring than I’d expected. 

For example, who knew she’d been a country music prodigy who performed with her family when she was a wee young one? And who knew she had a hardscrabble early life? And of her heartbreak at being rejected by her church because she’s gay? (That seriously broke my heart.)

Carlile’s strength of spirit and honesty are present on every page. She’s frank and bighearted, and she tells her story in a way that is beautiful. I love memoirs of the creative life — authors, artists, musicians — because their stories so often are tales of overcoming the odds to pursue a dream.

The third surprise: more of her music 

While reading her memoir, I kept YouTubing the songs she mentioned. And each chapter ends with the lyrics of a song or two, which of course a person wants to hear. So I dove into her music as never before, and now three of her songs play on my inner jukebox on regular shuffle. And any day I’ve got Brandi as my interior soundtrack is a strong and gentle and thoughtful one.

I’ll leave you with one…

Are you a fan of musician memoirs? Or other stories of the creative life? Recommendations, please!

Currently: saying hello again

So this pandemic doesn’t seem to want to let up, and like everyone else, I’m tired and worried and drained and occasionally mildly despondent. Then I remind myself of all the good things in life, and then I feel peevish because I’m still tired and worried and drained. 

So that’s what’s happening here. 

(I’ve made it sound worse than it is. But a Chekhov quote that popped out at me last week felt oh-so-true: “Any idiot can face a crisis — it’s day-to-day living that wears you out.” Except this pandemic stuff is both.) 

So how are you doing these days? I’m interested to hear your adjectives. 

Here’s what’s been happening around here…

Reading | Currently reading:

  • The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw
  • The Guide by Peter Heller
  • Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh
  • Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
  • Americanaland: Where Country & Western Met Rock ‘n’ Roll by John Milward

More about reading | Trends in my reading life this year: books by authors of color, memoirs, books about anti-racism, essay collections, and cookbooks. And true crime. Which is truly the weirdest, because it’s always scared the daylights out of me. At book club (thank goodness for Zoom, even though I’m sick to tears of it), I announced, “I’m having The Year of True Crime.” And one of my friends said, “But you don’t read true crime.” And I said, “I know!” (As with everything else these days, I blame Covid.)

Watching | After waiting months upon months for HBO to release the documentary I’ll Be Gone in the Dark on DVD, I realized they’re holding out. So we subscribed to HBO Max for a month so I could watch it. Because I’m having The Year of True Crime. 

Learning | After years of failed attempts to bake bread, I’ve figured it out. The trick: create a proofing box by putting a bowl of super hot water on the bottom rack of the oven, then put the dough on the top rack. The oven (even though it’s off) creates a nice warm environment for the dough to rise. Magic, my friends! Also, all that kneading can be seriously soothing. 

 

 

Working on | Things got so rough during Covid that I started meditating. This is a serious feat, my friends.  I’d tried to convince myself to begin a meditation practice years ago (I knew it would be good for me), and I never followed through. The resistance was strong. But when the Ten Percent Happier app (which I’m too cheap to subscribe to) offered a free meditation challenge last summer, I dove at it. Now the new goal is to meditate at least 5 times a week. I’m working on it, and I’m a better human when I stick to it. (And, frugal friends, there are lots of free meditation options available via your smartphone, including the weekly Friday meditation from the Ten Percent Happier podcast.)

 

Loving | Our little family of three — the Dear Man, the cat, and I — have hunkered down together, and I’m so grateful that we’re a family. The Dear Man makes me laugh on the regular, and that’s a serious gift in rough times. And due to all the togetherness during the stay-at-home era, the cat and I have reached a new place in our relationship — and it gives me great joy to be welcomed as a full member of her family. My heart grew three sizes this year.

 

Celebrating | When my extended family and I were all fully vaccinated, we got to see each other again during the summer, and I don’t think I’ll forget the quiet jubilation of being in their presence for the first time in over 18 months. Being safely together again was better than any holiday.

I’d love to hear how you’re doing — and I hope the answer for you and your loved ones is “Quite well.” What wonderful and weird and difficult things have happened lately? And what’s most surprised you about all of it?

Finally… so glad we’re all here. Hello again, friends.

Narrative nonfiction for book bingo

Narrative nonfiction… the mere words create happiness.

This is my natural reading place, and I’ve delayed posting a list of five (only five!) narrative nonfiction books because paring down my list of favorites? Not so very easy.

If you ask me on a different day, you’re likely going to get a completely different list of books.

But these five are seriously solid choices for any nonfiction reader.

My fellow narrative nonfiction fanatics…
What titles would you put on your list of 5 sure-bet narrative nonfiction books?

(Can you tell I’m wanting to increase my TBR?)

The Cookbook Reading Extravaganza

Anyone else reading cookbooks all the time for the sheer comfort of it? Same here.

I’ve never in my life been a cookbook reader, and suddenly, mid-pandemic, it’s like someone flipped a switch and suddenly I’m checking out every readerly cookbook I can get my hands on.

I hold Molly Yeh and Deb Perelman and Priya Krishna and Melissa Coleman fully responsible. Their cookbooks are beautiful and full of friendly and relatable stories, and I feel like they’re my kitchen friends (the kind of friend who’s way smarter than me about everything involving food and photography and writing and every other useful life skill — and I adore ’em anyway).

And since I’ve been in the kitchen a lot over the past year (we’ve been “traveling” by making recipes related to places we’ve actually visited in the past), it’s been a quiet little victory to expand my cooking horizons and really fall into the rhythm of cooking.

 

Now I wouldn’t say this new habit is a problem, but one of the challenges is when library holds on multiple cookbooks arrive on the same day. And cookbooks — the pretty ones filled with photos — are heavy monsters to carry. So there are days I feel like a pack mule just getting the library books home. (Such problems!)  And then I have a stack of cookbooks distracting me from other reading. (Again, not an actual problem)

 

And truly, some of the cookbooks are just for browsing… I’ll flip through and look at every recipe, mark a few that I’d like to try, and that’s that.

 

But other cookbooks are so much more than that. My most recent cookbook reading delight was Molly Yeh’s Molly on the Range, which describes her life as a Chinese American/Jewish food blogger (and Juilliard-trained percussionist), transplanted to the rural Midwest — to an actual farm, because of love. Her voice is original and funny, and her recipes are creative yet approachable. And she makes me really want to try to bake challah. She gives me faith that it might not be a total flop if I attempt it. (Stay tuned… I’m probably gonna flop. At least at first.)

 

And I actually bought a copy of Melissa Coleman’s The Minimalist Kitchen, which cleared my very high bar for cookbook purchases (more than 75% of the recipes are things I actually want to cook — and feel capable of cooking).

All those bookmarks!

 

So I’m asking everyone — I’m definitely asking you

What are the readable cookbooks you love best?