If you love British TV…

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

3 words: enthusiastic, lively, knowledgeable

Bingeworthy British TV

 

When a person who’s a reluctant television watcher gets this excited about dipping into a book about TV shows, you know the book’s pretty remarkable. 

 

When I first learned about the publication of Bingeworthy British Television, I immediately emailed some friends who are serious Watchers of the British TV Series to tell them about it. 

I didn’t realize I was part of the intended audience, but now I know. 

Here’s why this book sucked me in… 

When authors blend a depth of knowledge, enthusiasm for the subject, and an engaging writing style, they’ve got me. Cords does all of those things. 

By the time I was 25% through the book, I was in awe of the amount of TV viewing and research that went into this book’s creation. You’re seriously in good hands here: Cords knows her British TV. (We already knew that from her blog, The Great British TV Site, but it’s abundantly clear in this book.)

I also started jotting down TV series I want to watch. While I tell myself I don’t really watch TV, I have a Downton Abbey habit. And a Sherlock thing. And a history of Foyle’s War viewing. And a weakness for The Crown. And now I have a list that contains Detectorists and Mr. Selfridge and Moone Boy.

My librarian’s heart was made happy by these words at the end of each TV show’s section: “What to Binge on Next.” She provides watch-alikes! (I think I just coined a term.) I was so over-excited by this, I took a photo of that section to text to a friend who’s wild about Being Human. For librarians serving patrons who love love love British TV shows, this book’s a godsend. When your Downton Abbey viewers are sad that the series has ended, open to page 124 for some suggestions for them.  

This book also made me laugh with delight. Because it contains sentences like this: 

“Basil Fawlty, proprietor of the hotel Fawlty Towers, is everything you don’t want in your hospitality staff: excitable, eccentric, violent, and violently snobbish.” (p. 22)

And this: 

“When housewife and mother Alison Braithwaite wins thirty-eight million pounds in the lottery, the first thing she doesn’t do is tell her family.” (p. 74) 

When this depth of knowledge is delivered with warmth and humor and exuberance, you’ve got yourself a book that’s a complete pleasure to read. It’s a wildly pleasant place to hang out. 

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

What are your favorite British TV shows? 

(Review copy provided by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review)

Book pairings: sociopaths

Nonfiction November rages on, and today’s topic is… 

Book Pairing, hosted by Sarah of Sarah’s Bookshelves : This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

Today we’re getting grim, my friends, because: sociopaths. 

Yes, we’re talking about the true story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, the totally bogus biotech company she led — and the people whose lives she damaged because they crossed her. It’s creepy, it’s chilling, it’s disturbing as all get-out. And the fact that it’s true makes it all the more unsettling. 

So our nonfiction title today is Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. 

Bad Blood pairs nicely with My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. While this novel has a bit of a cheeky tone, it’s suspenseful and all too maddening to watch the sociopathic sister (yes, an actual serial killer) get away with murder. 

Both books contain situations that are downright infuriating, because the gall! The audaciousness of their behavior is shocking. They also both deal with issues of integrity and loyalty and complicity. And both can be deeply disturbing. 

 

So if you’re a sensitive soul, these books are not good for bedtime reading. While they’re not scary, they’re unsettling. (I had a troubled night of sleep after reading a chapter of Bad Blood at bedtime — and afterward would read it only during daylight hours. Because this stuff is true, and it’s seriously messed up.)

 

Anyone else moderately (yet not unpleasantly) disturbed by these books?

My year in nonfiction

My friends, it’s Nonfiction November, which is practically its own holiday season. This is week one, and we’re starting out with this happy topic… 

 

Your Year in Nonfiction, hosted by Julz of JulzReads: Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

Nonfiction books I've read this year

  • From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein
  • Kitchen Yarns by Ann Hood
  • Rocket Men by Robert Kurson
  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl
  • Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
  • The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman
  • Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
  • Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
  • Dear Ijeawele by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Can’t Nothing Bring Me Down by Ida Keeling with Anita Diggs
  • Outer Order, Inner Calm by Gretchen Rubin
  • Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
  • Simple Organizing Wisdom edited by Laurie Jennings
  • The Complete Book of Home Organization by Toni Hammersley
  • The Home Edit by Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin
  • Little Town in a Big Woods by Marilyn Robinson
  • Beautifully Organized by Nikki Boyd
  • The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo
  • Working by Robert A. Caro
  • My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead
  • Gunflint Burning by Cary Griffith
  • Mindset by Carol Dweck
  • The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker
  • Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis
  • Everybody’s Got Something by Robin Roberts
  • Dress Like a Woman by Abrams Books
  • The Heart of Librarianship by Michael Stephens
  • I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott
  • Get Better by Todd Davis
  • Happy by Design by Victoria Harrison
  • Fall and Rise by Mitchell Zuckoff
  • The Worry Cure by Robert L. Leahy
  • Work Optional by Tanja Hester
  • Keeping House by Emma Bloomsfield
  • This Is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick
  • Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
  • I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
  • Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson et al

Favorite nonfiction book of the year

Watch how I cheat at this question by telling you the tortured story of how I made my selection…  

When I reviewed my list of books read thus far this year, I immediately wrote down Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl, because: life-changingly important and profound.

Then I kept scanning, and added Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal (by Amy Krouse Rosenthal) to the list, because: so creative and life-affirming and funny.

And then I kept going and wrote down The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker, because: fascinating and helpful and relevant.

And then I decided on Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal, because it was unlike anything else I’d ever read.

Topic I’ve been reading about an awful lot

This year, I’ve read an unnatural number of books about home organization, decor, and design. There’s another one on the nightstand right this minute, because what could be better before-sleep reading than a gorgeous home decor book? (Check back in a couple of weeks, cuz those home decor books are coming back as a topic…)

Nonfiction book I’ve recommended the most

This is probably a tie between Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal and The Art of Gathering

Goals for Nonfiction November

I love this event every year, because nonfiction is truly my happiest place. (Fiction: love you, too, darling.) My goals are to revel in the nonfiction enthusiasm of my fellow readers and to find some new nonfiction delights.

So, good people…  who else is in on the Nonfiction November excitement?

Love Where You Live: Next Level

When I first read This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live by Melody Warnick, I tested out some of the recommendations in the book and found that they boosted my happiness with my home.

 

Now, in our first year in our new home, we’ve taken it to the next level. I re-read the book and marked so many pages, and we took some serious action. Here’s what we’ve accomplished so far…

 

We’ve walked to the farmers market several times and bought fresh produce (corn grown 20 miles from our home!) and flowers

 

 

We walked to a great restaurant downtown (1 mile away) and ate on their patio on a beautiful late summer evening

We’re exploring all the local pizza places

 

 

We’ve attended lectures with friends at a large local venue

 

 

I greet everyone I see on the running path (and sometimes we recognize each other)

 

We’ve taken family and friends for walks along the riverwalk in our town

 

We researched the history of our house

 

We bought vintage and handcrafted home goods from a wonderful local boutique

  • I’ve walked to work 
  • We’ve gone to several local craft markets
  • We stroll our historic neighborhood
  • We’ve explored the cemetery nearest to our house and found the names of old local families
  • We’ve visited the local history museum 
  • We stop and chat with neighbors 
  • We strolled around downtown during Second Fridays — when local businesses are open late 
  • We bought locally roasted coffee
  • We bought and are reading books about our city’s history

All of these things have deepened our connection to our new town. It’s truly a boost to happiness, to the point that sometimes I just hum with joy.

As the Dear Man often says, with such warm fondness, “You love this town.” And I respond, “I love this town.” And then we smile. It’s like a civic commercial without an audience.

 

I’m grateful to Melody Warnick for providing such a fine road map to “love where you live” happiness.

What activities make you love the place you live?

Elevated everyday essays

I Miss You When I Blink: Essays by Mary Laura Philpott

3 words: warm, wise, confessional

I love everything about this book. During our Newfoundland vacation, it was my go-to book when I wanted something smart, real, and deep yet light in tone. It was so worth carrying around the hardcover edition.

Mary Laura Philpott is a brilliant essay writer, and I don’t say that lightly. I’m holding her writing up against the work of Nora Ephron and Kelly Corrigan. 

While her essays are highly personal — she writes about her (strong!) Type A tendency and the period when she thought she’d like to live apart from her family — they also address universal concerns. I found myself on these pages, and I’ll bet you’ll find yourself there, too. 

There were sentences that just simply spoke to me, such as:

“When you internalize what you believe to be someone else’s opinion of you, it becomes your opinion of you.” (p. 30)

 

And then there were paragraphs with which I identified so closely, I nearly cried. 

“I used to think that if only I could make everything perfect, then I could relax and have fun…

But by now, I’ve built up a crowd of selves who can set that little girl at ease. It’s okay, they tell her. Mistakes will happen–they have happened–and it’s not the end of the world. They get her to loosen up a little. They help her see that doing things wrong is part of doing life right. They show her that joy is bigger than fear. It can even be funny when things go haywire.” (pp. 270-271)

 

These realizations are hard-won, and when they’re expressed this clearly, it makes them even brighter and shinier and more valuable. 

Philpott is not only a lovely writer, she’s also a deep thinker about these little things that make up our everyday lives.

And while it may seem there’s nothing particularly elevated about freaking out about making a mistake, she makes it OK that we’re all in this together, figuring out how to cope with the tiny and mighty challenges we face. It’s comforting to read the words of a fellow traveler on this path. 

Give this book a whirl if you like… personal essays, Type A personalities exploring their own strengths and weaknesses, warmth and wisdom, family essays, women’s lives

Plan better parties

The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker

3 words: conversational, thought-provoking, intriguing

 

 

You know how sometimes you pick up a self-improvement book and you don’t even want to put it down? This is one of those.

Right from the start, I was drawn in by Parker’s conversational tone and then held rapt by her surprising statements about how to put together better gatherings.

I finished this book in a whirlwind right before hosting a party, and I went from my usual Mary Richards near-fiasco to a level of confidence I hadn’t had before. 

Here are my favorite takeaways from the book:

Have a purpose for your gathering

And if the purpose isn’t evident, sit down and figure it out ahead of time. This’ll give you a destination to aim for. It seriously helps make decisions about how to make the event meaningful.

Be a bossy host

Parker warns against the dangers of being a chill host — which is done to be kind, but ends up being unhelpful. Be a little bit bossy. The host should protect guests from boredom and uncertainty. Have a plan.

Equalize your guests

If people attending the gathering differ due to perceptions based on career or status, take steps to bring everyone to the same level for the duration of the gathering so they can connect as equals.

Make each gathering different from all other gatherings

Think about how this gathering will be unique and play up those aspects. 

 

While I’ll never be the hostess with the mostest, this book helped me up my game and made me feel more solid in my role as host.

Don’t you just love it when a book can do that for you?

Give this book a whirl if you like… learning 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

So, my friends… please tell me your favorite hosting tip. Or the best thing you ever experienced as a guest at a gathering. I love this stuff.

Robert A. Caro on biography writing

Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing by Robert A. Caro

3 words: first-person, inside glimpse, psychological

Just hearing the name “Robert Caro” makes me happy. I know because it happened just the other evening at the other end of the dinner table at a family gathering. I wasn’t even part of the conversation, but hearing his name gave me a little spark of joy.

(photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve read two volumes of Caro’s multi-volume biography of LBJ, and I look forward to reading the others. His research and his writing make my heart sing.

So when Caro’s book Working was released this month, I dove at it.

In this delightful and fascinating book, Caro takes us behind the curtain and reveals his methods. And he’s wonderfully self-effacing about the way he’s compelled to research a topic for years.

Here he is, in the introduction:

“…in this book I’m trying to show how the material was gathered: the method, if you will. In doing this, I have also provided, I’m afraid, a few glimpses into me.” (p. xxii)

Caro describes the drive he feels to capture the essence of a topic, which sometimes requires extreme measures such as moving to the Texas Hill Country for three years in order to understand the people of the region that produced LBJ.

And I mean, talk about immersive… he slept outdoors in the Hill Country so he could describe the way it sounded. And in Washington, DC, he woke at dawn to walk young LBJ’s path to Capitol Hill so he could describe the exact way it appeared at the hour he would approach.

This part of the book made me shiver with complete delight, because he’s describing the way he researched and wrote one of my favorite passages of nonfiction ever written. (I write about it here.)

Caro also details the way he conducts interviews, and the way he asks again and again for people to describe how things looked and what they heard.

“Interviewing: if you talk to people long enough, if you talk to them enough times, you find out things from them that maybe they didn’t even realize they knew.” (p. 176)

He provides examples of the details he would coax out of people, and it makes me realize this is a large part of what makes his books such an enormous immersive pleasure to read.

And then there’s his writing style. Caro touches on this a little, when he writes about the way he would tell a story and the way he would structure a paragraph for maximum effect.

So here’s the thing. I want him to live forever and write forever. Amen.


Give this book 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

Anyone else a Robert A. Caro fan? If so, please you must talk to me!

Favorite home organization books

It’s springtime, and that’s supposed to mean spring cleaning. But I’ve always been better at organizing than cleaning, so today we’re talking spring organizing.

Here are my favorite books about organizing the home.


The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

3 words: rigorous, inspiring, neat

Remember how I KonMari’d my librarian cardigans?

Here in the new house, they’re once again in that happy state,and I’m still on the KonMari bandwagon.


I loved Tidying Up when I first read it, and also when I second-read it. And it continues to spark joy.

Give this book a whirl if you like… decluttering, minimalism, simplicity, structure

Outer Order, Inner Calm: Declutter & Organize to Make More Room for Happiness by Gretchen Rubin

3 words: practical, positive, approachable

I’m an every-episode listener to the podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin, so many of the recommendations in this book (but not all — there were some surprises here) were familiar. And still, I found myself marking pages. Here are some of the ideas I captured:

  • Watch your language. “Instead of telling yourself, ‘I need to go through my photos and discard the bad ones,’ you could tell yourself, ‘I’m going to curate my photo collection.’” (p. 182)
  • Include a fragment of nature (p. 193)
  • Every room should hold a bit of surprise or whimsy (p. 197)

And the Dear Man installed my pretty hooks for clothes I’ve only barely worn. (Find a place for items that are neither dirty nor clean, p. 82)

Give this book a whirl if you like… quick, browseable books; decluttering; a wide range of tips; bite-size ideas

The Home Edit: A Guide to Organizing and Realizing Your House Goals by Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin

3 words: cheerful, beautiful, concrete

Oh my goodness. This is the book that inspired me to purchase spice containers and cute labels. Because these ladies label everything and it looks fabulous. This book made me woozy with delight. We’re talking famous people’s closets and pantries and craft rooms, and real-life, actually do-able steps to achieve something beautiful in one’s own home.

Give this book a whirl if you like… organizing in a beautiful way, labeling absolutely everything, a conversational and encouraging tone, celebrity closets and pantries

Beautifully Organized: A Guide to Function and Style in Your Home by Nikki Boyd

3 words: enthusiastic, elegant, lovely

I’ll admit it: I binge-read this book one evening when I could’ve been cooking dinner. But I think this book will deliver long-term dividends, because it seriously inspired me to tend to some untidy areas of our home that are usually hidden from view… but we know they’re there. Not for long! I gathered some lovely ideas for our pantry and drawers.

Give this book a whirl if you like… beautiful books about home organization, adding a touch of style to orderliness, practical and inspiring tips for organizing your home

The Organized Home: Simple, Stylish Storage Ideas for All Over the House by Julie Carlson and Margot Guralnick

3 words: pictorial, scannable, simple

My takeaways from this book are clean lines, environmentally-friendly cleaning processes, and a really cute way to store a toilet plunger (in a clay pot: genius).

Give this book a whirl if you like… inspiration for household organizing, simple living, green products, pretty books

The Complete Book of Home Organization by Toni Hammersley

3 words: browseable, beautifully illustrated, clean

This book is on my bedside table for pre-sleep perusal at the moment, and it’s a treat to open its pages because it’s just plain pretty. Bright color photos of tidy, perfectly organized spaces… with a lovely plant to add another pop of color to the scene. Beautiful book. Also: a little bit challenging, because there are cleaning recommendations here that seem a little bit beyond what I’m ever gonna do. (Cleaning the kitchen sink daily? I don’t think so.) But I’ve marked several pages that offer solutions for organizing the pantry. And I’m finding pleasure in simply looking through this book for decorating ideas. It’s lovely.

Give this book a whirl if you like… a wide array of organizing ideas for all areas of the home, cleaning recommendations, easy storage solutions

Simple Organizing Wisdom: 500+ Quick & Easy Clutter Cures edited by Laurie Jennings

3 words: neat, pretty, practical

When this book showed up in my mailbox, I silently squealed with joy and immediately sought out someone who shares my organizing obsession so I could tell her about it. People, this book is pretty.

Give this book a whirl if you like… bite-sized, scannable, practical tips, pretty storage solutions

Cozy Minimalist Home: More Style, Less Stuff by Myquillyn Smith

3 words: chatty, encouraging, practical

I really liked Myquillyn Smith’s first book, The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful. My most important takeaway from that book: don’t apologize for your home’s flaws or shortcomings; instead, focus on making your guest comfortable. And if someone compliments your home, accept the compliment gracefully.

In Cozy Minimalist Home, she suggests using larger statement pieces as decor, and removing the extras. It’s an approach I really like. I also like her idea of “quieting” a room seasonally by removing all decor and then adding pieces only where needed.

Give this book a whirl if you like… creating a comfortable home, decluttering without losing coziness, not worrying about having a “style,” focusing on people and their comfort

I know I’m not the only one who reads this stuff for fun… What are your favorite home organization books?

Digital Minimalism | Drop Everything and Read

Today is Drop Everything and Read Day, which, of course, is a favorite holiday for many readers.

Today I’m celebrating it also as Drop the Phone and Read Day, after having read Cal Newport’s latest book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.

The idea of the book is this: reclaim high-quality leisure. Build something, join something, spend time with the people who matter most. And put down the darn smartphone.

In my case, I’ve carved out more time to read and to organize my home library. Super rewarding!

This is one of those books that prescribes a social media fast, and I’ll admit I did this only half-heartedly. And still: results!

What I did was to set these parameters for myself:

  • Instagram: only when planking, stretching, or doing strengthening exercises
  • Facebook: only twice a day, and for less than 5 minutes per day; moved app to 3rd screen on phone
  • Twitter: deleted from my phone

Even after the first week, my screen time went down. And I felt the wonderful liberation of extra free time. It was stunning.

And as Newport cautions, it can feel a bit empty at first, when one begins setting boundaries on these apps that benefit more from our attention than we benefit from granting them our precious time. A person feels a little bit at a loss.

But I soon began reveling in the extra reading time. And I felt more calm and rested. Time seemed to expand, and that’s well worth missing a post or two by people I barely know.

Anyone else done a social media fast? What were the results?

Deciphering the life of a codebreaker

Elizebeth Smith Friedman
(source: NSA)

The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies by Jason Fagone

3 words: engaging, journalistic, myth-busting

Holy Toledo, people. This book.

I didn’t want to put it down. It just kept surprising me at every turn.

Here’s the situation: In 1916, a young woman visits Chicago, looking for a job. A librarian at the Newberry Library, after talking with Elizebeth Smith, calls an eccentric millionaire, who zooms up in a big car, grabs Elizebeth by the arm and whisks her away. (That part freaked me out.)

Dude was George Fabyan, whose grand estate, Riverbank, is only a couple of miles from our house. So that had my eyes bugging out. But then I read on, and the story of Elizebeth’s life became even more surprising.

Fabyan hired her to work on his highly questionable quest to prove that Sir Francis Bacon actually wrote the works of Shakespeare. But then, thank goodness, she directed her sharp mind to the other work of Riverbank Laboratories: codebreaking.

And during her years at Riverbank, she began her work as one of the most influential pioneers of cryptography. Thing is, partly because of the highly confidential nature of the work, and largely because of her gender, history has tended to overlook the contributions of Elizebeth Smith Friedman.

The thing that had me spitting tacks was learning that J. Edgar Hoover claimed credit for much of the work Elizebeth Smith Friedman did. And she could do nothing about it, because she was sworn to secrecy. Infuriating!

So this book reveals many such truths and grants her the credit she deserves.

It’s also the story of the remarkable partnership she shared with her husband, William Friedman. They met at Riverbank (where they lived in a windmill after their marriage; I find this completely charming) and together wrote important textbooks about codebreaking. The early years of their marriage, when they truly worked in partnership as cryptographers, are a beautiful thing to read about.

Then: war. And another war. During the two world wars, the Friedmans both worked on codebreaking, but they no longer worked together. And the secret nature of the work meant that they no longer worked as partners. This made me sad, and it also seemed like it could have diminished the incredible synergy of their collaborative work. But still, they both continued to break codes that saved American lives during war. It’s pretty amazing that two self-taught people could develop such ability.

This book astonished me on many levels.

  • First: I learned the life story of a woman I wish I’d known about earlier. Why haven’t we heard of her? [rhetorical question, obviously]
  • Second: It tells the truth about the contributions she made, and it reveals the lies of those who claimed credit.
  • Third: It’s stunning to think about the unlikelihood of her being hired to do work that morphed into codebreaking — her natural talent.
  • Fourth: Living so near the place where she began her work makes the story even more exciting.

Give this book a whirl if you like… narrative nonfiction, the early days of codebreaking, really smart women, stories of marriages, WWII espionage, celebrating a woman who never got her due

What’s the biography that most astonished you recently?