What I’ve been reading: December 2019

December is for short books. Or at least that’s how it looks for me.

With only a couple of exceptions, the books I read this month were on the shorter side. And given all the busy things that happen in December, maybe that’s all right. 

Here’s the run-down on December’s reading…

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James C. Cain

3 words: gritty, intense, fast-reading 

Give it a whirl if you like… classic noir, anti-heroes, criminal couples, obsession, first person narrative, underbelly

 

She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

3 words: vibrant, inspiring, engaging

Give it a whirl if you like… biographies of remarkable women, courageous lives, #ownvoices, learning more about a famous person we think we know about, the Underground Railroad

 

Purple Cow: How to Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin

3 words: thought-provoking, conversational, creative

Give it a whirl if you like… marketing books, business books that are fun to read, thinking outside the box

 

The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig

3 words: nostalgic, warm, coming of age

Give it a whirl if you like… Westerns, first person narratives, coming of age novels, women in the West, school days narratives, stories about teachers

 

I Work at a Public Library by Gina Sheridan

3 words: tongue-in-cheek, browseable, light

Give it a whirl if you like… short vignettes about libraries, stories of human interactions, behind-the-scenes at a library, people’s wonderful quirks

 

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

3 words: whimsical, quirky, charming

Give it a whirl if you like… warm and wise appreciation of everyday moments, quirky formats, books that are browseable but still compulsively readable, smart feel-good books

 

 

What books were your favorites this month?

Book club update

Science fiction, contemporary classic play, children’s horror, and noir. How’s that for some variety?

Our book club has had a great season of discussible reading. Here’s how it went…

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

Discussibility Score:

Because: Octavia Butler is one of the best at creating compelling characters and putting them into intriguing situations that are outside our normal realm. In this book, a woman has the ability to shape-shift and gender-shift, and she’s immortal. Unusual things happen. Discuss!



A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry 

Discussibility Score: 5

Because: We knew it was a classic, and none of us had seen or read this play–so we made that right. While reading the play doesn’t take much time, it requires some serious emotional energy because the issues are tough ones, the characters are sympathetic, and the answers aren’t clear. 

 

Bonus: format discussion! We all have different takes on reading plays. Personally, I love them, but also feel a bit irritated by the stage directions. (I prefer “show, don’t tell,” but in this format: impossible. So I get why it’s necessary, but I’m still annoyed by being told how a character reacts. See also: my hatred of adverbs.)



Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Discussibility Score: 4

Because: This book is intended for children, but my friends… it’s seriously creepy and disturbing. (The one night I read it before bed? Unsettling dreams.) Coraline faces every child’s nightmare: her parents are replaced by sinister clone parents who intend her harm. And it all happens under her own roof. That girl’s all on her own, which is both terrifying and empowering. 



The Postman Always Rings Twice by James C. Cain

Discussibility Score:

Because: Much of our discussion consisted of our voicing our distaste for this book, which we all agreed made us feel dirty. The first-person unrepentant criminal narrator is disturbing, nearly all of the characters are detestable, and the plot is sordid. But we also agreed: that last paragraph made it all worthwhile. 

 

Next up: When the English Fall by David Williams. Because who doesn’t love a good post-apocalyptic book about the Amish? 

 

What book have you most wanted to discuss with someone lately?

Favorite books of 2019

Raise your hand if you love year-end lists of best books.

Same here.

This year I read some absolutely terrific books, which required difficult choices because my goal was 10 books.

Here are the books that made the list…

Why’d I love them? Here’s why…

 

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal  

3 words: creative, poignant, whimsical

Give it a whirl if you like… inventive style, quirky bite-sized anecdotes, delight in daily life, clever writing

 

The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker 

3 words: conversational, thought-provoking, intriguing

Give it a whirl if you like… how to plan parties that are more meaningful and meetings that are more effective, new ways of conceptualizing gatherings, why being a benevolently bossy host can be best

 

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

3 words: character-driven, engaging, family 

Give it a whirl if you like… stories of family drama, house as a character, supportive siblings, evil stepmother, layers of meaning 

 

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo

3 words: absorbing, character-focused, warm

Give it a whirl if you like… big-hearted stories of family dysfunction, Chicagoland novels, sisterhood, parenting, stories of long and happy marriages

 

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

3 words: profound, measured, philosophical

Give it a whirl if you like… memoirs of survivors, the power of the mind, Holocaust narratives, encouragement through difficult times

 

Working by Robert A. Caro

3 words: first-person, inside glimpse, psychological

Give it a whirl if you like… “inside baseball,” the story behind the story, how extraordinary nonfiction is written, self-deprecating humor, biographical research, how books are researched and written, a psychological portrait of a biographer

 

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

3 words: cheeky, inventive, suspenseful

Give it a whirl if you like… a mix of suspense, family drama, and grim humor; a highly responsible character trapped in terrible circumstances by the acts of a loved one; tension between integrity and family loyalty

 

Middlemarch by George Eliot

3 words: lyrical, character-focused, absorbing

Give it a whirl if you like… a big, absorbing story; classics; reading about a village; nuanced character portraits so detailed you’d recognize the characters if you met them; fiction that inspires the reader to examine her own life

 

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

3 words: creative, compulsively readable, fast-moving

Give it a whirl if you like… rock stars; documentary / oral history format; grim humor; the creative life; sex, drugs, and rock & roll; 1970s pop culture

 

Good Talk by Mira Jacob

3 words: creative, thought-provoking, sad/funny

Give it a whirl if you like… memoirs in graphic novel form; smart, sad, funny memoirs; #ownvoices; a look at race and ethnicity through personal experience; stories told through conversations with a child, parents, a spouse, and friends

 

 

So, my fellow readers… what books made your “best of the year” list this year?

Creating a home library

Creating a home library is one of the most fun home improvement projects ever. When we moved into the schoolhouse, we decided pretty fast that the second largest bedroom would become a home library. 

Library 1.0

We moved in the mismatched bookcases that came with us from our old homes, and we put books on the shelves. And we knew that we were not yet done…

Deciding on bookcases...

Then we spent months and months settling in (all those cabinets and drawers to organize!) and the books were accessible, so there wasn’t a sense of urgency. 

Then, once we were all settled, urgency

Actually, just: now we have a clear runway… 

So we began considering options for the home library. After exploring custom built-ins and discovering that was outside our budget, we decided to go basic.

We headed to IKEA.

When we were visiting Nashville, we went to The Book Shop, where the owner told us that she’d bought IKEA Hemnes shelves for her (beautiful) shop.

So when the time came for us to choose shelves, we went with the Hemnes shelves in white. And the cool thing is that they’re available in two sizes, so we could mix and match to fit our space. 

We went with two 35-inch shelves and one 19-inch shelf

There then ensued a weekend of IKEA shelf building… and that super fun extra trip to the IKEA returns department to pick up the one little piece missing from the box.

Successful shelving!

But we got it done, and it was a valiant team effort. (That ability to canoe without bickering also transfers to furniture assembly. We know we’re blessed.)

Before attaching the shelves to the wall, the Dear Man had the excellent idea of attaching the shelves to each other so they’d stay aligned. So we headed to Home Depot to get some brackets that we attached to the top and back of the shelves to hold them in place. Then the Dear Man drilled holes and attached the shelves to the wall. 

Shelving the books...

And then the fun began

Putting books on shelves is one of my favorite projects in the world, and it’s a gift that keeps on giving. I mean, who among us hasn’t decided to rearrange the bookcases just for sport? 

So the current book arrangement is certainly not final, but it’s satisfying. 

And now I’m on the lookout for bookends and other items that will help style the shelves. Styling the shelves is gonna be one of my 20 for 2020 goals, and I’m excited about it.  

Before and After

Advice? Stories?

So, my bookish friends…

Please share your suggestions for styling the bookshelves.

And please tell your stories of book arranging on your shelves… 

Announcing Book Bingo 2020

Welcome to Book Bingo 2020!

It’s our 6th year of producing a bookish bingo card, and every year the best part is that more people are joining in the fun.  

The Theme

This year’s bingo card has a calendar theme, thanks to my dear friend and bingo collaborator, who suggested it. 

So you’ll find the names of months in ghosted text, and the categories on the card are arranged strategically so they can carry us through the seasons of the year. We start out with Icy (for winter), then move to Longing (for spring), then a Road Trip (for summer), and finally Horror (for fall). Every category on the card is placed in its spot for a seasonal reason. 

I won’t be reading books in category order, but if you’re looking for an added level of challenge, you could attempt to read through the year by category — to fully experience the seasonal tone we’ve built in. If you try this, please let me know how it goes!

The Gratitude

Book Bingo is possible because of two of my most favorite people on earth:

  • My dear friend, who loves bingo category creation every bit as much as I do (so much that she created an amazing spreadsheet this year to help us with the planning process; there are few things more pleasing than a good spreadsheet).
  • The Dear Man, who creates the beautiful design of each year’s book bingo card. I love the work that comes out of our home graphic design office. Every year: happiness.

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 2020. Books started in 2019 but finished in 2020 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.
  • All categories can be fiction or nonfiction (your choice), unless otherwise specified.

The Categories

Icy – A book that takes place in snowy winter, a story featuring a cold-hearted character, or a chilling tale

Landscape – A book whose setting is vital to the story 

Novella – Shorter than a novel, but longer than a short story

Harlem Renaissance – A book written by a Harlem Renaissance author 

Longing – A story filled with yearning, desire, or wistfulness 

Lies & Deception – A book with lies, so many lies. Or a book that deceived you.

Expectations – A story of fulfilled or thwarted expectations, or a book that failed to meet your expectations 

Underdog – A book about a character who defies the odds

Personal Growth – Self-improvement: pragmatically or spiritually

Long Haired Author – A book by an author who has (or had) long hair

A Friend’s Suggestion – Ask a friend what you should read next

Podcast – Listen to a serial podcast or read a book written by a podcaster

Carnegie Medal Nominee – A book nominated for the Carnegie Medal

Modern Classic – A contemporary book that will stand the test of time

Road Trip – Wanderlust, restlessness, desperation, quest? A book with a road trip in it

Olympic Sport – A book with a character who participates (at any level) in a sport featured in the Olympics

Checklist – A book you’re checking off your list, or a book containing a checklist for a better life

South America – A book written by a South American author or a book that takes place in South America

Back to School – A story with a school setting

Love – A book that illustrates love 

Native American – A character or an author who is Native American

Horror – A story that inspires a feeling of dread

Political – Election year! Read something political

Memoir – A nonfiction personal account based on the author’s experience

Indulge – The hot fudge of reading: all pleasure, no virtue

To Sign Up...

Add your blog name & URL in the Comments. Easy as that.

Printable Book Bingo Card

Questions? Answers!

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

Now let’s get out there and Bingo!

What I’ve been reading: November 2019

November’s been a busy month around here: we added shelves to our home library (stay tuned for more on that) and worked on some other projects. And we did some reading.

Here’s a recap of the books I finished this month…  

Bingeworthy British Television: The Best Brit TV You Can’t Stop Watching by Sarah Cords and Jackie Bailey

3 words: enthusiastic, lively, knowledgeable

Give this book a whirl if you like… British television series, lively writing style, finding TV series similar to your favorites, a warm tone



The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

3 words: engaging, rollicking, evocative

Give this book a whirl if you like… tales of rambunctious childhood, storytelling, American classics, childhood classics for adults

 

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

3 words: menacing, clever, pageturner

Give this book a whirl if you like… scary tales of childhood; creepy, dreamlike worlds; the menacing world of one’s own home 

 

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob

3 words: creative, thought-provoking, sad/funny

Give this book a whirl if you like… memoirs in graphic novel form; smart, sad, funny memoirs; #ownvoices; a look at race and ethnicity through personal experience; stories told through conversations with a child, parents, a spouse, and friends

 

Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts by Brene Brown

3 words: direct, conversational, empathic

Give this book a whirl if you like… straight talk, the challenge to be one’s best self at work, strategies for becoming a better person and a better leader

 

Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun

3 words: endearing, heartfelt, wise

Give this book a whirl if you like… charming graphic novels, a stranger in a strange land, mysteries of humanity, self-improvement books in disguise

 

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon

3 words: inspiring, conversational, practical

Give this book a whirl if you like… creativity, where to find inspiration, how to develop one’s own creative style

 

 

What books were your favorites this month?

New nonfiction on my TBR

The glory of Nonfiction November is learning about all the great nonfiction books a person somehow missed and really must read. This is a terrible, wonderful thing. So many books! So our final post of the month is about the expansion of our already burgeoning TBR lists. 

New to My TBR, hosted by Rennie from What’s Nonfiction: It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

Here are the books I’ve added to my TBR this month, with thanks to the wonderful book bloggers who wrote such glorious and enticing reviews.

Shoot for the Moon by James Donovan 
Recommended by JulzReads

Failure Is Not an Option by Gene Kranz  
Recommended by Never Enough Novels

Design Your Next Chapter by Debbie Travis 
Recommended by Beverley A. Baird

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl 
Recommended by The Book Stop

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
Recommended by booksaremyfavouriteandbest

The Wisdom of the Enneagram 
Recommended by Lisa Notes

Home Sweet Maison by Danielle Postel-Vinay
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson 
Recommended by Susan of Blue-Hearted Bookworm

Houseworks by Cynthia Ewer 
Recommended by Amy 

At Home with Books by Estelle Ellis
Recommended by Head Subhead

 

My fellow nonfiction fans… what books did Nonfiction November add to the top of your TBR?

Great bookish gift ideas

It’s nearly the most wonderful time of the year, and that means gift-giving.

If you’ve got bookish people on your list, I’ve got you covered.

Here are some of the best book-related gifts I’ve received or craved… 

Comfy cardigan

The gift I never knew I needed… and now I can’t live without it.

A few Christmases ago, the Dear Man gave me this cardigan, and I wear it nearly every night while reading in bed.

It’s big and slouchy and cozy.

Where to buy:

Similar cardigan available at Eddie Bauer

Add Your Heading Text Here

Slippers

Super snuggly slippers are a must if you live in a cold climate.

Another perfect Christmas gift from the Dear Man.

Where to buy:

Similar slippers available at Pottery Barn

Throw

Another essential element to the cozy reading scene… the super soft throw.

I love this one because:

  • buffalo plaid
  • so snuggly soft

Where to buy:

Pottery Barn

Banned books scarf

I love my banned books scarf and wear it way more often than just Banned Books Week.

Where to buy:

Uncommon Goods

Tote bag

My favorite new book bag and all-around tote.

It’s adorable and tough and made of wool.

Where to buy:

The Big Lake

Giant clothes pin

When reading a huge book like Middlemarch, sometimes you need a helping hand to keep the thing open.

Some like the book weight, but I prefer the giant clothes pin.

I made this one in shop class in 7th grade, so it’s a handcrafted, one-of-a-kind item.   : )

Where to buy:

Similar giant clothes pin on Etsy

Sticky arrows

The perfect bookish stocking stuffer.

I carry these in my purse and have them on my bedside table, because you never know when you’ll need to mark the page of a perfect line or quote.

Where to buy:

Amazon

What’s on your bookish gift-buying (or wish) list this year?

And what’s the best bookish gift you’ve received?

Nonfiction favorites: what makes me love nonfiction

Nonfiction November continues….  Here’s this week’s installment.

Nonfiction Favorites, hosted by Leann at ShelfAware: We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.

I seriously love a unique and authentic voice in nonfiction. So this usually means I have a soft spot for memoirs, since they’re the nonfiction most likely to be narrated in an author’s own voice. This year, the standout memoirs I’ve read include…

Working by Robert A. Caro   
Caro’s self-deprecating humor delights me, especially since the dude’s one of the preeminent biographers of all time.

 

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
The quirkiness of this book–and the author’s sheer joy in living–make me smile every time I think of it.

 

I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott
Philpott’s a master of the personal essay, and she’ll catch you by surprise every now and then. 

 

Good Talk by Mira Jacob
Jacob’s wry humor and the unique format of her memoir (a graphic novel told in conversations) create one of the most remarkable reading experiences I’ve ever had. 

 

What makes you fall in love with a nonfiction book?