Born to Run

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

3 words: lyrical, creative, personal

 

One of my clearest childhood shopping memories goes like this: My mom and I were at Target, and I made a very compelling argument for why she really should buy me the album Born in the U.S.A. And as we continued our Target shopping, I pushed the cart with the album facing me, and I felt so cool.

(Let’s be clear about this: I was in 7th grade and was the polar opposite of cool. I’d offer photographic evidence, except I’ve caused most of it to be either destroyed or hidden in a very safe spot. That crap’s classified.)

Anyway… point is: The Boss, even by association: COOL.

And we know the man can write. At least, we know he can write lyrics. Happily for us readers, he can also write some seriously solid prose.

I found his narrative voice real and compelling and lyrical. His writing is raw and it’s also beautiful. I love that combination.

What made it even better is that I listened to the audiobook, which he reads himself. He’s a little bit deadpan sometimes, but it’s real. And there were some inflections that made me laugh.

I really liked hearing him tell his own story.

What surprised me: I didn’t know he’d been basically homeless for a while (crashing on friends’ couches or living in a surfboard factory) when he was a young musician.

I didn’t know the musical influences that inspired the song “Born to Run,” but once he described them, I couldn’t believe I’d never caught on before.  I’d never listened to “Born in the U.S.A.” and listened specifically to the drums.

And while we’re talking drums, let’s also get back to what I said about writing style. This passage about Max Weinberg full-on blissed me out:

“There are twenty thousand people, all about to take a breath; we’re moving in for the kill, the band, all steel wheels on iron track, and that snare shot, the one I’m just thinking about but haven’t told or signaled anyone outside of this on-fire little corner of my mind about, the one I want right… and there it is!”  (p. 239)

He writes reverently about the people in his band, and even more reverently about his wife. And he’s fairly self-deprecating.

So reading this book means you get to hang out with one of the biggest names in rock and roll, and he seems like a pretty decent guy who can really spin a tale and make it worth hearing.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… celebrity memoirs, solid writing, the back story

 

My fellow readers… Any great celebrity memoirs to recommend?

Reading Reading People and then reading people

Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel

3 words: conversational, personal, thoughtful

 

I knew right away that I’d love this book, because I really like Anne Bogel’s narrative voice. She writes the Modern Mrs Darcy blog, which is a very pleasant place to hang out. And she hosts the What Should I Read Next podcast, which is one of my favorite things ever.

Plus: this book’s about personality frameworks, and I dearly love those things.

So what we have here is the set-up for an optimal reading experience. Just put a big mug of coffee in one hand, some decadent chocolate in the other, and this book in my lap —  and plunk me in front of my fireplace with my favorite snuggly throw, and we’re talking serious bliss.

I’ve been a personality fanatic for a while now, and I’ve read about Myers-Briggs, Strengthsfinder, and the Love Languages. This book covers those frameworks, but also lots of others… so that was super exciting.

If you’re not already into this stuff, this book is a welcoming doorway into the realm of personality frameworks. It serves as an enticing sampler of lots of different methods, each accompanied by personal stories and examples that make the book very warm and friendly.

If you’re already a personality framework devotee, this book will also make you happy, because the way it explores the various frameworks from a personal perspective provides some really surprising insights.

For example (and this is embarrassing, but we’re all friends here, so here I go…) the way Anne writes about Strengthsfinder made me realize:

Oh my gosh. Other people don’t have the same strengths I have, and I’ve always assumed everyone has them just by nature. And because I’m a Type 1 on the Enneagram, sometimes I’ve done some judging about that.

(Fortunately, I’m also an introvert and was raised to be extremely polite, so those thoughts I’ve kept to myself.)

Of course, I’ve also always judged myself lacking in strengths and tendencies that come easily to others, and I’ve wondered what was wrong with me.

And while there’s plenty wrong with me, some of those characteristics were simply strengths others possess in droves, which I simply ain’t got.

The lovely thing about this book is that Anne describes her own process of self-discovery with her personality, and she’s candid and kind about the situations that can arise before we understand what’s really going on.

For example, she writes about the way she and one of her children are set differently with regard to planning; she is casual and easy about allowing a day to develop organically, and her child feels more comfortable knowing the plan well in advance. (I totally get this.) By merely understanding where each person is coming from, problems: averted. Pretty amazing and powerful stuff. And the way she writes about these things is gentle and respectful of everyone in the scenario, and I really like that.

So reading this book felt like hanging out with a trusted, thoughtful friend who’s willing to serve as your guide to self-discovery and also willing to share her own missteps and ah-ha! moments… cuz none of us is in this alone.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… personality frameworks, self-improvement blended with memoir, figuring yourself out, a friendly voice

 

Readers… what book most expanded your understanding of yourself? Fiction, nonfiction, it all counts…

When to read When by Daniel Pink? ASAP

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink

3 words: thought-provoking, practical, fun to read

 

OK, so we know me & self-improvement books are like this, right?

 

 

Well, this one takes it up a notch. Several notches, actually. Because here’s a phrase you don’t often hear a person utter, when referring to a self-improvement book:

“This is so much fun to read, I don’t wanna put it down!”

No, the usual statements go something like this:

  • “This book is blowing my mind.”
  • “I keep making a list of all the new thing I wanna try.”
  • “Wow! Suddenly things make so much sense!”

 

This book caused those responses, too, but the “This is so much fun to read” comment is the one that stands out here. And reading the Acknowledgments explained why: Pink’s wife read the whole book out loud to him, so he could edit it. Every book written with this approach has delighted me. (See Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton)

 

So: much of what I loved about When involved the writing style and the tone.

But people, the content! The information! The stuff a person can learn!

Here are a few that stood out for me:

  • We all have an afternoon slump. There are tactics we can use to counteract it, but basically we have to work around it.
  • We also have a midpoint slump (and sometimes a midpoint spark). When we’re in the middle of a project, we can slow down and lose enthusiasm. But it’s also at the midpoint — halfway to a deadline — that we often kick it into gear. (That’s the midpoint spark variation.)
  • The perfect nap: the nappuccino
  • I’ve got bad news and good news…  (Deliver the bad news first)

 

And here’s a tip I’ve been actually using and feeling pretty good about:

At the end of the workday, spend 2-3 minutes writing down what you accomplished that day — because making progress on goals is a significant motivator. I often think of small steps on projects as moving the ball down the field, and if I stop and appreciate those little steps, it can be darn satisfying.

vintage clock

I whipped through this book in 2 days flat. I could not and would not put it down. And then told the Dear Man all the things that are fascinating about this book. And then I also told his Dear Sister and Dear Brother-in-Law, who were captive in the car with us.

 

This will also happen to you. You’ve been warned.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like.. exploring everyday life through new eyes, thinking about timing, considering factors that surprisingly affect outcomes, Freakonomics, compulsively readable prose

 

What books have you found compulsively readable or quotable?

Uncommon Type: uncommonly good

Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks

3 words: engaging, wide-ranging, creative

 

Tom Hanks — the dude can write! Word on the street was that his new collection of short stories — his first book — had it goin’ on. And I gotta say: True.

I’ve been raving about it for the past few weeks. I plan to continue this behavior for quite some time.

The first story was funny and wry, and the second (“Christmas Eve 1953”) was so idyllic at the outset that I knew it had to have a dark side. (It did. It nearly broke my heart.)

There’s some pretty impressive range here — in perspective and voice and place and timeframe and tone.

I was especially gratified that he can write convincing female characters. He got that really right.

So the whole collection pleased me.

And then there was the story “These Are the Meditations of My Heart.” This one blew me away. It made my heart sing; it made me verklempt. It made me do a little gasp of happiness at the end, even though the ending was not dramatic. He didn’t write it for effect. But it had a profound effect on me nonetheless. The story sounds simple: A young woman buys an old typewriter and takes it to a repair shop, where the owner informs her it’s a toy and he will not fix it. Conversation ensues. At one point, I laughed out loud, and at the end there was that gasping thing. It was quite perfect.

I listened to the audiobook, which Hanks narrates himself. It was also quite perfect. The only problem was the dilemma of listening to short stories. When each one ended, I needed to give it a little breathing room. It seemed the only decent thing to do. It’s just that it’s nicer to pause between stories when reading the words on a page, because you can get up and refill your cup of coffee and swap out the laundry and then you might be ready for the next. In the car, there’s just dead air time.

Each of the stories includes a typewriter, and by the end I was in full typewriter lust mode. Having seen someone recently actually using a typewriter, I have decided my laptop suits me fine. But the romance of an old typewriter… it’s a thing.

I’m not a big reader of short stories, but these…  These are winners. Often poignant, frequently quiet, sometimes funny, always deeply human.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… celebrity authors, well-evoked characters, short stories from a variety of viewpoints, typewriters

Alexander Hamilton: it’s simply amazing

shirt courtesy of twhistory.storenvy.com

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

3 words: detailed, absorbing, lush

 

It’s no secret that I’m hooked on Hamilton. But there’s much I’ve left unsaid on this topic. So, today: an exposé!

Welcome to… True Confessions and Contradictions

 

The 1st confession

It took me 14 months to read this book, even though I loved it.

Granted, it’s 818 pages long, but sometimes a person races through a long book. This biography is packed to the gills with details, and each sentence is worth reading with a fair amount of care.

Which is not to say that this is a tough read — it’s the opposite. In the Acknowledgments, Chernow says he read aloud every word of the book to his wife. When I saw that, I thought, “Ahhhh! So that’s why the thing is so darn readable.”

Take this section: “Words were his chief weapons, and his account books are crammed with purchases for thousands of quills, parchments, penknives, slate pencils, reams of foolscap, and wax. His papers show that, Mozart-like, he could transpose complex thoughts onto paper with a few revisions. At other times, he tinkered with the prose but generally did not alter the logical progression of his thought. He wrote with the speed of a beautifully organized mind that digested ideas thoroughly, slotted them into appropriate pigeonholes, then regurgitated them at will.” (p.  250)

So the book is long, the writing is lovely, and the subject matter is almost too weird to be true. Alexander Hamilton led a wildly unlikely life.

This leads us to…

 

The 2nd confession

I admire Hamilton’s genius and his work ethic and his professional ethics, but I despise his decision to betray his wife.

The heights this man reached, particularly considering the early obstacles he faced, are nothing short of astonishing. And then Chernow uses the perfect words to sum it up: “If Washington was the father of the country and Madison the father of the Constitution, then Alexander Hamilton was surely the father of the American government.” (p. 481)

I don’t know about you, but sentences like that stop me in my tracks and sometimes set me to weeping.

And then there are things like this: Jefferson gave Gallatin the task of uncovering fraud committed by Hamilton, and Gallatin came back with, “‘I have found the most perfect system ever formed. Any change that should be made in it would injure it. Hamilton made no blunders and committed no frauds. He did nothing wrong.’” (p. 647)

Again: stunned and awed.

And then I remember Hamilton’s torrid affair with Maria Reynolds, and I think: Dude, there’s never any call for that, and I think harsh thoughts about his character.

Which brings us to…

The 3rd confession

I find Hamilton a completely fascinating character, but I’m pretty sure that if I knew him personally, I wouldn’t like him.

There’s his decision to disregard his marriage vows and humiliate his wife, there’s his abrasive personality, there’s his ego. I don’t like any of i

t. And I know: without being abrasive and egotistical, he might not have accomplished all he did. But I still get to think I don’t like that personality.

And yet! There are other moments in his life that fill me with joy: the collaboration and writing of The Federalist (this part of the book made me so happy) and his partnership with Washington. I remember a reference question about political speechwriters from my early days as a librarian, when I learned that Hamilton and Washington had co-written Washington’s farewell address. And reading about it here caused me some mild ecstasy.

 

So, like the very best of books, I’m left pondering and weighing ideas and rethinking. It’s one of those satisfying reading experiences that carries on even after the final page. I’m leaving my page of reader’s notes inside the book when I shelve it, so I can easily refer back to the parts I loved best. (I’ve never done that before.)

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… the American Revolution, American history, historical scandal, complex historical figures, in-depth biographies, Hamilton the musical

 

Anyone else out there a Hamilton fanatic?

Dear Fahrenheit 451… dear heaven, what a great book

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence

3 words: smart, snarky, heartening

Well, guys, it’s happened. I finally did that thing where I said to the Dear Man, “You’ve gotta read this. Right now” — and then I handed him the title chapter from this book, which is one of the loveliest odes to librarianship ever written (even if it does contain an f-bomb. Or two).

This entire book delighted me and surprised me, even as so much of it rang true — the books that change a person’s life, the cringe-worthy books to be weeded from the collection, the conversations with readers that results in our handing them books they’ll love, the books that irritate us as readers… it’s all here.

And it’s seriously in the form of letters to each of the books. And that’s kind of perfect.

Spence is a librarian, yes, but man is she ever a writer. Her writing’s smart and it’s conversational and it’s funny and sometimes it’s even inspiring.

Catch this line from a letter to the entire Public Library Children’s Section:

“You make it look easy, like fun even. But what you do is hard work. Important work. And you’re the only one who can do it.”

Then: “Hard work. These kids have got to fall in love with you. They need to learn to read, so they can love to read, so they can understand how many different lives they are capable of.” (p. 142)

I nearly got verklempt.

Oh, people… if you’re here, you’re a reader. And that means you’re probably going to love this book.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… books about books, the librarian life, books in letter form, libraries, books that change your life

 

Readers… Have you ever read a book that made you love your work even more than you already did?

10 year blogiversary

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

Unruly Reader Turns 10 by Unruly Reader

3 words: books, community, playground

 

When I started this blog 10 years ago, I had no idea what that decade would bring. Some of it was terrible (my mom died that year, and say what you will about the stages of grief, it still sometimes hits me like category 5 hurricane) and some of it is wonderful (finding my Person — so worth the wait — it sometimes hits me like the loveliest breeze on a perfect sunny day, and I just whisper thank you).

And through it all: I kept blogging, even when it felt like nobody was looking.

And even though some weeks, I didn’t have it.

But, as the StrengthsFinder experience confirmed, I have Discipline. So posting: it happened.

And then: delightful things happened.

I met bloggers, either virtually or in person, and they’re now part of the fabric of my life. And that’s what I call a blessing.

And blogging has become a form of play… but it’s the kind of play that pays dividends. I read more thoughtfully now, and I take better notes. And I keep learning new things in my day job that make me a better blogger, and I keep learning new things as a blogger that make me a better librarian.

And while we’re talking dividends, I’ll just say this: I’ve received way more from blogging than I’ve put into it. It’s a darn good investment.

Good people of the bookish Interwebs, I’m so glad you’re here. Thank you for 10 great years.

And now… onward! There’re books to read, and posts to write.

2018 reading goals

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

As an Upholder, I seriously love New Year’s resolutions. Actually, I love goal setting at any time of the year. And I mean: I freakin’ love it.

So this time of year — so fresh, so new, so full of resolutions — has me all hopping around like a happy little thing*.

Needless to say, I’ve got some reading goals for the year ahead.

Here they are:

 

First: Read diverse books. Goal: 20% of my reading will be books by diverse authors. I met the 20% goal last year, and it made my reading life the richer.

 

Second: Complete Book Bingo Blackout 2018, our very own reading challenge. Anyone wanna join me? Grab the bingo card here!

 

 

Third: Complete the 2018 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge

 

 

Fourth: Complete the 2018 Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge

 

 

Within each reading challenge, each book will count for only one category. But I’ll allow myself to use the same essay collection for both Read Harder and Modern Mrs. Darcy. If I’m especially clever, it’s possible I’ll find some books that will qualify for all three challenges. Three birds, one book!

And now I’m off to do some anticipatory quivering of delight…

 

My fellow readers… What are your reading goals this year?

 

*full disclosure: I’m a tall, gawky, awkward thing (but still happy. and hopping)

My 2017 Reading Year: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

2017: you were a lovely year!

I’m delighted with most of the books I read this year (largely because very few of them were assigned, so I could bail on anything that didn’t strike my fancy).

I’ve written about my favorite books of the year — the new releases and the backlist.

Today we’re looking at the big picture.

The good people at Goodreads provide a snapshot of one’s reading year, and it’s all visually appealing and everything.

I read 83 books this year (81 titles, cuz 2 were re-reads within the year) and hit my goal of reading 75 books. (OK, so I revised that down from 100 cuz I couldn’t handle Goodreads taunting me with my failure to keep pace. But never mind that.)

Of those, a whopping 36 were audiobooks. My ears are practically worn out, you guys.

So we have The Good…

My proudest achievement this year is reaching my goal that 20% of the books I read would be written by diverse authors. (22%!) It was a richly rewarding experience.

And here’s The Bad & The Ugly…

So we already know I failed to reach my original goal of 100 books for the year, but I also failed to complete the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. I read books for 17 of the 24 categories, but I didn’t manage to read a collection of poetry in translation or an all-ages comic (or 5 other things). But: I’m trying again next year. 2018, I’m feeling robust!

Let’s go back to The Good, cuz we’re gonna leave this year on an up note…

My favorite things about this year of reading are:

  • The fact that I loved so many of the books I read
  • Reading more diverse authors

 

Readers… what were your favorite reading achievements this year?

Best Books of 2017: New to Me

Photo by Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash

 

Last week I posted my top 10 favorite books published in 2017.

 

This week we’re celebrating the backlist.

 

Here are the favorite books I read this year that were published before 2017…

 

Best Fiction

The Nix by Nathan Hill

Give this book a whirl if you like… skilled storytelling, literary novels with a modern tone and sense of humor, complex family stories, a wry tone, narratives that interweave the past and the present, 1960s counterculture, and stories of the past coming back to bite you

 

Best Feel-Good Fiction

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

Give this book a whirl if you like… heartwarming and quirky stories, charming characters, the Guinness Book of Records, children on the autism spectrum, intergenerational friendships, seniors with lively personalities, and stories of one person’s small actions having a big impact on others

 

Best Nonfiction

Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

This one’s a re-read, because we went to there!

Give this book a whirl if you like… the behind the scenes story (literally!), stories of collaboration, the creative process, exuberance, music, history, and beautiful books

 

Best YA Fiction

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

Give this book a whirl if you like… smart and thoughtful novels, emotional coming of age stories, teen angst, family secrets, LGBTQ stories, and stories about friendship

 

Best Children’s Book

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Give this book a whirl if you like…  warm and honest stories of childhood, lyrical books in verse, and books you can read in small snippets

 

 

Best Memoir

Find a Way by Diana Nyad

Give this book a whirl if you like… forthright and candid memoirs, extreme sports, strong women, stories of vigor, senior power, swimming, stories of abuse survivors, and living a bold life

 

 

Best Self-Improvement Book

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Give this book a whirl if you like… game-changing productivity books, thoughtful and practical advice, diving deep, focus, and taking back control in a world filled with distractions

 

 

Best Speculative Fiction

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Give this book a whirl if you like… time travel, wide-ranging and absorbing stories, reading about the JFK assassination, a wry first-person narrative, and books that have it all: a ripping plot, realistic characters, and creative use of language

 

Best Graphic Novel

United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation by Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell

Give this book a whirl if you like… the Schoolhouse Rock approach to learning, government, lively and educational nonfiction graphic novels, and the “why” behind the American system of government

 

 

Best Historical Fiction

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Give this book a whirl if you like… thoughtful and touching novels about intergenerational friendships, well-chosen words, 19th-century America, an intersection of cultures, journalism, and widowers

 

Best Short Stories

American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

Give this book a whirl if you like… the clever use of words, sharp and modern short stories, a fair amount of snark, creative stories, the occasional dark twist, variety in tone among stories, and a quick and rewarding read

 

 

So, readers… What are your favorite books you read this year?