October is National Reading Group Month

It’s October, and that means: book clubs!

This is the month we specially celebrate book groups, though some of us celebrate every month with a gathering and a book and food and drink and lots of talk.

Our book club’s theme this summer was Humor.

Since one of us has a rather grim sense of humor, one of my friends said, “If we choose Humor, the books have to be generally accepted as funny…  not MK funny” — which totally made me laugh.

And we achieved it. Here are the ratings of the books we chose, plus the completely non-humorous book we read before the Humor spree.

Pre-humor…

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

Discussability Score: 4

Because: Our conversation went on and on, and I have a feeling we’re going to harken back to this book in the future. Even when we started talking about other topics, we returned to the book. That’s a good sign.

 

The Humor trilogy

(because we’re talking Humor, and this photo cracks me up)

We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman

Discussability Score: 4

Because: We talked a good long while about the fact that we all liked the book, and why. And also about character development and believability.

 

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

Discussability Score: 4

Because: We talked about sexism and culture and generational differences, and we talked about writing style and differences in tone among essays.

 

I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

Discussability Score: 4

Because: We all liked Nora Ephron very much, and we wish she were alive so she could join our book club. At least I know I do, and I think the others would agree. We liked and remembered the same essays, which we discussed at some length. And then we debated whether early Ephron is more zingy than later Ephron. Opinions were mixed. Discussion ensued.

 

For more of all things Book Club, check out Book Club Central.

 

Readers, does your book club ever read by theme?

Currently… anticipating Hamilton!

Reading | I’m in the final 200 pages of Ron Chernow’s magnificent Alexander Hamilton, and I’ve begun re-reading Hamilton: The Revolution (that beautiful book filled with all the lyrics), because we’re going to see Hamilton later this month!! When I’m not immersed in Hamiltoniana, I’m completely loving Anne Bogel’s new book, Reading People. The reading life is very rich these days.

 

Listening: the audiobooks | The audiobook that’s edged out all others at the moment: My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King. Usually I listen to an eAudiobook around the house, and a CD audiobook in the car. But I’ve been taking this one with me and listening to it everywhere, because I’m completely absorbed in her story.

 

Listening: the podcasts | What’s been making me happy in the podcast universe lately: Happier in Hollywood, By the Book, TED Talks, and What Should I Read Next?

 

Loving | Pizza #83, you made us very happy! The Dear Man and I went to Impellizzerri’s in Louisville, and this pizza knocked our socks off. I’m thinking it might make the top 5. Definitely top 10.

 

Learning | I’m still working on developing some Deep Work habits, and I gotta say: it’s not always coming naturally. But I’m taking some serious steps to implement it, and I had one perfect day when I was so productive it was nearly frightening. It was pretty freakin’ amazing.

 

Celebrating | We just completed another canoe trip, and, as usual, we were all fresh and jolly and raring for more when we arrived at the outfitter at the end of a day of paddling. And also as usual, this shocked the outfitter staff, who apparently are accustomed to people being either super cranky or wretchedly exhausted after a pleasant day of river canoeing. We are chipper.

 

Anticipating | Hamilton!!!!!! Did I mention we’re in the countdown? We are. Flapping commences every time I realize this is the month. (There’s a lot of flapping going on.)

Why I love Brene Brown

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown

3 words: narrative, thoughtful, engaging

Oh my goodness. Brene Brown.

I seriously can’t say enough good things.

When I want to feel both encouraged and challenged, she’s my go-to writer. For me, she appeared out of nowhere just when I needed her research to help me out.

And life just keeps offering ways to use the ideas she puts out there.

When she spoke at the American Library Association conference, she talked about and directly demonstrated the concepts in Braving the Wilderness, and she brought us along with her:

“People are hard to hate close up. Move in.

Speak truth to BS. Be civil.

Hold hands. With strangers.

Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.”

We were all singing together and it was beautiful as all heck.

So she’s walking the walk and inspiring others to do the same. It’s hard work, y’all. (I sometimes slip into Brene Brown speak when I’m thinking about her.)

But there’s such warmth and humor here, too. This part made me smile out loud:

“After fifteen years of this work, I can confidently say that stories of pain and courage almost always include two things: praying and cussing. Sometimes at the exact same time.”  (pp. 24-25)

She spoke about that at ALA, too — the fact that some organizations ask her not to cuss, and others ask her not to mention God. But she’s gonna do both, doggone it.

It’s hard stuff, this living a good and decent life. And she makes us realize that to do it really, really well is super hard and super rewarding.

Give this book a whirl if you like…books that explain society and challenge us to be our best selves, reconnecting with yourself and others, cultivating integrity, showing up as our true selves

What book or author showed up in your life just when you needed them most?

 

 

 

 

Deep Work is deep work

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

3 words: game-changing, thoughtful, practical

The book that’s most challenged me recently? Here we have it.

I’ve both craved and resisted the message of this book, which is:
In order to do our best work, we need to restructure things so we can work without distraction.

And I seriously love a good multi-task. Or at least a good layering of activities. (As I type this paragraph, I’m at the track, stretching my calves before a run. I’m guessing Newport would say this is fruitful time for germinating ideas but not for doing actual work.) So this new method does not come naturally to me these days. Especially with the tug of email and other distractions.

But when I’ve tried it in small doses, it’s been abundantly fruitful. Some tasks require focus, and when I give myself permission to go into the thinking cave, I’m surprised by how much I accomplish.

Newport’s method requires larger scale changes than I’ve made thus far, but I’m implementing it in small ways to gather my own evidence that it can work for me. And then I’ll experiment with other ways I can expand it.

Examples:

  • Logging out of email while I spend 40 minutes dedicated to a project at work
  • Placing my iPhone in another room when I’m working on a project at home
  • Clearing my workspace so I’m not distracted by clutter (sometimes. I do this sometimes.)

So far, so good. So far, so amazing.

Give this book a whirl if you like… productivity, diving deep, focus, denying distractions, taking back control , living a rich life

My fellow self-improvement junkies… what habits are you trying to build?

 

News of the World: the news is good

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

3 words: thoughtful, direct, touching

The book I keep recommending to everyone I see? It’s this one.

The primary reason is: characters. The two main characters are fascinating, decent, complex humans, and their developing friendship completely absorbed me.

We’re looking at historical fiction here, with a touch of Western. One character is an elderly widower who travels around Texas, reading the news of the day to audiences. And the other is a 10 year old girl, abducted by the Kiowa four years earlier and now being returned to her family against her will.

And they hit the road together.

There are relatively few pages here (it’s only 240 pages long), but there’s so much story.

It’s quiet, it’s dramatic; there’s introspection, there’s action.

A perfect gem of a book. Get near me, and I’m handing you a copy.

Give this book a whirl if you like… intergenerational friendships, well-chosen words, 19th-century America, intersection of cultures, journalism, Native American culture, widowers, Civil War veterans

What book is making you borderline obnoxious these days?

Bite Size Reviews: End of Summer Edition

We’re keeping it brief this week, because vacation!

A couple of quick notes about books I read and liked during the final days of summer…

 

32 Yolks: From My Mother’s Table to Working the Line by Eric Ripert

3 words: enthusiastic, coming of age, honest

Commentary: So grateful to Bybee of Blue-Hearted Bookworm, who sent me this audiobook. It was sheer delight to listen to Ripert’s story as it carried me away from my commute.

Give this book a whirl if you like… workplace memoirs, chef’s lives, stories of painful childhoods, reading about achieving mastery of a skill

 

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

3 words: witty, sociological, self-deprecating

Commentary: Here’s the quote I can’t stop thinking about. Here, Koul is writing about women being watched by men.

“It’s such an ingrained part of the female experience that it doesn’t register as unusual. The danger of it, then, is in its routine, how normalized it is for a woman to feel monitored, so much so that she might not know she’s in trouble until that invisible line is crossed from ‘typical patriarchy’ to ‘you should run.’” (p. 171)

Give this book a whirl if you like… occasionally piercing observations about society, a feminist viewpoint, essays that are sometimes humorous and sometimes pointed, views of a young 1st-generation Indian-Canadian

 

What’re you all reading as this summer winds to a close?

Bookish Tourist: The Novel Neighbor

The Novel Neighbor bookstore, Webster Groves, Missouri

3 words: blissful, lucky, jubilant

During a recent long weekend in St. Louis, the Dear Man and I spent one of the best days ever.

It included a kitschy antique store visit, Route 66, a fast food restaurant we checked off our list, the Daniel Boone home, another fast food restaurant we didn’t expect to see (where we ate amazing donuts), an iconic bookstore, life-changing pizza (at our 78th pizza place), and the Gateway Arch.

Making a purchase at an antique store on Route 66

 

Hello, Tim Hortons!

Of course we’re gonna focus on the bookstore, partly because this is a book blog but mostly because It Blew Us All Away.

I learned about the Novel Neighbor from the What Should I Read Next podcast, where Anne interviewed Holland Saltsman, bookstore owner and reader extraordinaire (and they even taped a live show there).

On one of the episodes, Holland raved about The One-in-a-Million Boy. I’ll be forever grateful for that.

And when we visited her fantastic bookstore, I fell head over heels in love with it.

I was seriously in a blissed-out daze.

This bookstore is intensely comfy and cozy, yet it’s also wide-ranging and it just keeps going. And there are delights around every corner!

Here’s what I bought (minus one gift I bought for a friend)…

I selected the book Tell the Wolves I’m Home from the “Holland’s Favorites” shelf because I trust her like that. I bought a book I’d never heard of, simply because I trust her taste. (I adore shelves of staff picks!)

Oh, my goodness, dear readers. If you’re ever in St. Louis, I sure hope you stop by the Novel Neighbor. It’ll bliss you out, too.

My fellow bookish tourists… what’s your best bookstore experience?

Inspired: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

3 words: inspiring, youthful exuberance, triumphant

If I’m having one of those pitiful days when I’m tempted to feel sorry for myself, thinking about this book will pop me right out of it. Not because it guilts me that my problems are actually darn puny, but because this story’s as inspiring as all heck.

William Kamkwamba and his family and his village in Malawi faced hardships (think: near starvation in a drought year), and “he started retreatin’ and readin’ every treatise on the shelf.” (OK. That’s actually Hamilton, but: Same Concept.)

He had a fascination with science and a yearning to learn and a scientist’s mind. And he writes lovingly of the books he’d check out over and over again from the small school library, so he could learn about physics.

And then he decided to build a windmill.

(Side note: these rhapsodies about reading and windmills and learning occasionally had me verklempt.)

And to build the windmill, he had to work for it. There was garbage scavenging for parts like the soles of shoes — just to hook up a tiny lightbulb so he could read after sunset. (We can understand this, can’t we, readers?)

And then he dreamt of using windmills to pump water to help alleviate the ill effects of dry years.

From starvation to science. This is seriously inspiring stuff.

Give this book a whirl if you like… stories of hope in grim circumstances, the quest for learning, self-sufficiency, perseverance

What book has most inspired you lately?

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

3 words: smart, thoughtful, emotional

Anyone else ever save a book you know you’re gonna love? And then read it as a treat?

This is one of those.

I’d heard rave reviews, and I knew the incomparable Lin-Manuel Miranda reads the audiobook, and I’m happy reading realistic teen fiction (as long as it doesn’t involve death), so I was pretty sure I was gonna love this book.

And I did.

Even if there hadn’t been the subtle, heartfelt narration by Miranda, this book’s sweetness and intelligence would’ve been evident on the page.

Ari is a teenage boy who’s never had a close friend until he meets Dante. The story of their unfolding friendship is charming, and so are the close relationships they have with their parents.

They’re teenage boys who don’t fit in with others, but isn’t that the way all teenagers feel? So there’s some serious universal understanding right there. I recognize these characters.

Ari’s first-person narration puts us right there with him, and he’s a fascinating person to hang out with and his voice is true.

I’m tempted to say that this book is emotionally honest, but it’s interesting: Ari is in complete emotional denial about aspects of himself. But the book itself is honest and wise. And eventually Ari gets there, too.

Give this book a whirl if you like… LGBTQ stories, coming of age, endearing teens, stories about friendship, Mexican American family stories, teen angst, and family secrets

What’s the best teen novel you’ve read lately?

Magpie Murders: rather a perfect mystery

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

3 words: character-driven, absorbing, metafiction

Sometimes you come across a book that’s a perfectly perfect example of its genre.

This is one of them.

If you like classic mysteries, but also like a modern take on a classic… this book is gonna make you very happy.

There’re all kinds of good things going on here.

First: a book within a book. And I kid you not: I got so absorbed in the book-within-the-book that I totally forgot it was part of a larger narrative.

Then the other story line came in, I had a moment of, “Oh, yeah!” followed by a moment of disruption, and then man did I fall into the wider story.

The story-within-the-story is a classic whodunit written by a fictitious author. It’s told in the third person, and it’s a completely engaging story of a 1950s murder in an English village that’s filled with all kinds of believable characters. There’s a larger-than-life famous detective on the case. Very Agatha Christie.

The wider story is also a classic whodunit, but told in the first person, by the current-day editor of the fictitious author. The fictitious author, who recently died a possibly suspicious death. She’s an unlikely detective, but as a mystery aficionada, she’s picked up some skills. And she brings us along for the journey.

It’s suspenseful, it’s literary, there’s a plot that’ll keep you turning the pages, and there are characters to care about.

Perfection, I’m telling you.

Brought to us by the guy who brought us Foyle’s War on the BBC, as well as the excellent Alex Rider spy fiction series for tweens (which I read along with my nephew, and which I liked way more than I expected).

I’m impressed.

Give this book a whirl if you like… classic whodunits, books about authors and book publishing, books within books, British mysteries, Louise Penny

What’s the best mystery you’ve read this summer?