Unconventional Books for Book Bingo

My readerly friends would tell you I’m a total sucker for unconventional books. 

Is it a memoir in the form of an encyclopedia? I’m there. 

Is it a philosophical essay in multiple choice test form? Sign me up. 

A series of personal essays, some of which are 3 sentences in length (and powerful as all heck)? One of my favorite books ever.

So I’ve got 5 books for us today, and I fervently want you to tell me about the unconventional books you’ve loved (or hated — I know they’re not for everyone). 

Here are 5 unconventional books to consider for Book Bingo:

  • Heating and Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly
  • Gmorning, Gnight! Little Pep Talks for Me & You by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jonny Sun
  • Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
  • Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra
  • The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon by Sei Shonagon

These books are surprising and delightful, and often they go down easy and then leave a lasting impression. Sure, they look simple and sprightly, but I’m convinced there’s more wisdom per word in these books that turn the usual narrative structure upside down. 

 

So I’m seriously yearning for you to leave a comment that contains the title (let’s be honest: I want multiple titles) of your favorite unconventional books. Titles… please!

Favorite Books of 2020

While the blog’s been on unplanned hiatus due to Covid-era weariness and needing to place my attention on other things, there’s been some reading going on here.

Here are my top 10 favorites this year…

Fiction

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

3 words: literary, complex, introspective

Give this book a whirl if you like… literary fiction, novels by Black authors, stories of immigration, scientists doing experimental research, exploring faith vs science, novels about depression

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

3 words: heartwarming, quirky, character-driven

Give this book a whirl if you like… stories of found family, fantasy for readers who don’t love fantasy, orphanages, amazing teachers, LGBTQIA+ fiction, #ownvoices, books about kindness

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

3 words: absorbing, layered, character-driven

Give this book a whirl if you like… #ownvoices contemporary/historical fiction, stories about race, books about twins, novels with two timeframes, stories about loss, interwoven narratives

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

3 words: irreverent, surprising, engaging

Give this book a whirl if you like… a touch of magical realism, first person narratives, twins, unconventional nannies, quirky characters, politicians in fiction, female friendship

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

3 words: clever, layered, creative

Give this book a whirl if you like… blend of Gothic horror and contemporary realism, smart humor, dual narratives, LGBTQIA+ fiction, boarding school setting, Hollywood setting, meta-fiction, footnotes in fiction, horror novels for people who don’t like horror novels

Nonfiction

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

3 words: narrative, absorbing, poignant

Give this book a whirl if you like… learning about the Great Migration, narrative nonfiction, lyrical writing, #ownvoices nonfiction, individual stories interwoven in a larger historical context

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine

3 words: joyful, quietly enthusiastic, encouraging

Give this book a whirl if you like… developing a philosophy for living, envisioning the worst so you can appreciate what you you have, finding peace, diminishing anxiety

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

3 words: powerful, thoughtful, thought-provoking

Give this book a whirl if you like… learning about anti-racism, actionable guidance, Black authors, a blend of sociology and memoir, #ownvoices nonfiction, introspective narratives, an invitation to become a better human 

The Passage of Power by Robert A. Caro

3 words: in-depth, psychological, heroic

Give this book a whirl if you like… reading about the JFK/LBJ transition, LBJ’s first months in the presidency, a person being his best self, moving from despair to triumph, political power

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

3 words: practical, encouraging, totally do-able

Give this book a whirl if you like… customizable tactics for adding good habits and eliminating bad ones, research-backed strategies, a conversational tone, small steps that can make a big difference

What were your favorite books this year? I’d love to add them to my TBR…

 

The Yellow House — a gorgeous memoir

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

3 words: lyrical, evocative, strong sense of place

 

You know when you’re reading a book and the writing’s so lush and beautiful and honest and creative, you just wish so hard you could write like that? The Yellow House is one of those books. Sarah M. Broom is one of those writers.*

It’s no surprise that this book won the National Book Award. Not only is the content is important, but the book is hard to put down. 

Broom writes of her childhood home–a shotgun house in New Orleans. A home that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, which Broom terms “the Water.” 

And while her family’s home is at the heart of this book, really this is a coming of age story about family and race and inequality.

Broom is the “babiest” of twelve children, and her writing about her siblings makes a person appreciate the joy of being part of a large family. After her father’s much-too-early death, her mother raised them all herself, and that in itself is a marvel. 

The New Orleans where Broom grew up was not the Big Easy known by tourists, and she’s frank about the struggles her family experienced due to racism and financial hardship. 

The Yellow House is a memoir that’s powerful, expressive, and poignant. If you appreciate a unique and creative narrative voice, reading the work of Black authors, and experiencing a compelling reading experience, I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Yellow House

 

*You can experience Sarah M. Broom’s writing by visiting her website, especially the Q&A section

Bookish Advent calendar quotes

Each year, a dear friend and I give each other quotes to place on our Advent calendars. Then, after Epiphany, we get together and share our favorite quotes. It’s a magnificent tradition. 

This year, we’re a little bit off our game, because I delivered quotes late (oh, my) and then my friend moved and misplaced the quotes in the shuffle. 

So she’s having Lent/Advent quotes this year, and we’ll have a two-part reveal of our favorite quotes. Here are my favorites of the quotes my friend gave me this year…

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

—Isaiah 43:1

A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you. 

—Elbert Hubbard

Fairy tales are more than true—not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten. 

—Neil Gaiman, Coraline

 

 

Do you have any literary traditions that always make you happy? 

Great novels by women of color

For Black History Month this year, we’re going to take a look at some fantastic novels by women of color. We’re focusing on books published in the past few years, and this is a mere sampling… but there’s something here for practically every reading taste. 

 

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid: interpersonal, complex, pageturner

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams: raw, honest, grim but hopeful

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite: cheeky, inventive, suspenseful

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson: lyrical, impressionistic, nuanced

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: realistic, emotional, relevant

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: realistic, emotional, relevant

What books are you thinking about during Black History Month? 

In which Middlemarch amazes me

Middlemarch by George Eliot

3 words: lyrical, character-focused, absorbing

Middlemarch. I still can’t believe how much I love this book. And as the weeks go by, I continue to ponder it and feel enriched by having read it.

Part of me wishes I’d read it earlier in life, because one of the things I hear over and over is that readers who return to this book find themselves observing the characters differently as their own circumstances and life experiences change. I love that this book is bountiful enough to offer that kind of reading. I’ll have to begin my re-reading experience closer to midlife… and I’m OK with that. But it would’ve been more rewarding to have had a younger person’s take on it.

Here are the aspects I loved most…

The characters

While Dorothea Brooke could be considered the main character, the other characters — so beautifully drawn, so complex and vivid, so imperfectly human — are vitally important to every aspect of the story.

Eliot lovingly crafted not only a rich and nuanced story, but also a cast of individuals who are realistic enough that I feel like I could carry on a conversation with them. I feel like we go way back.

And the characters and the situations they face are real and painful and joyful and strange and uncomfortable and comforting and loving and harsh.

There are young people doing foolish things, and older people, too. And young couples figuring out the world and older couples who are happy. And others who are not. And the small details of their interactions make them abundantly real. I feel like this book could be read as profiles of four married couples. I didn’t expect the wisdom that emerges from the way the people of this book relate to one another. But it’s the greatest gift this book gave me.

The narrator

Another surprise: the narrative voice was fascinating. An omniscient narrator comments on the actions and secret motivations of the characters, and the warm wisdom of that voice was comforting and delightful and unexpected. It seemed a very modern way of telling the story.

The language

Classics can kinda scare me, because dense prose can be tiresome. But this book wasn’t scary and wasn’t hard to read. It wasn’t dense or burdensome. While Eliot is fond of the Very Long Sentence (some of them went on for a full paragraph), she knows how to string together words in a very pleasing way. I found that I needed to slow down my reading a bit and just enjoy the words. The reading wasn’t difficult, but it wasn’t fast. It felt like a comfortable stroll through a beautiful garden — not hurried, and so much to claim one’s attention and to delight.

Now I want more

I found myself wanting to talk with readers who are set just like me, and ask them to give me another classic that’s this wise and warm and absorbing and delightful.

Give this book 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

So, my fellow readers… what classic novel is your favorite, and why should it be my next big read?

What I’ve Been Reading: February 2019

February was a wonderful reading month — with plenty of snowstorms and polar vortex action and gusting winds to make it extra cozy.

My reading this month was a mix of book club assignments, recommendations from other readers, an Audie Award nominee, and the long overdue reading of a classic. We have a fine blend of nonfiction and various fiction genres to tempt any appetite…

Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon by Robert Kurson

3 words: lively, heroic, crisp

Give this book a whirl if you like… space; tales of heroic daring; the behind-the-scenes story; the full team (including wives and families) that made Apollo 8 possible, getting to know the people behind the myth

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

3 words: profound, measured, philosophical

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

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

3 words: cheeky, inventive, suspenseful

Give this book 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

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

3 words: creative, poignant, whimsical

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

The Greatest Love Story Ever Told: An Oral History by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman

3 words: irreverent, conversational, humorous

Give this book a whirl if you like…TV stars being real people, humorous memoirs, stories of couples, celebrity memoirs

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

3 words: gripping, disturbing, journalistic

Give this book a whirl if you like… true stories of audacious deception, How’d she get away with it?, true stories that seem too strange to be real, reading about white collar crime, Silicon Valley start-ups, being infuriated

Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken

3 words: lyrical, multi-generational, quirky

Give this book a whirl if you like… quirky historical fiction, a big cast of eccentric but believable characters, bowling, independent women, family sagas, a wee touch of magic, a big story to fall into

Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman

3 words: warm, charming, offbeat

Give this book a whirl if you like… the revelation of family secrets; smart romantic comedies; unusual but believable characters; unintended consequences

And that was my February.

What were your favorite reads of the past month?

Books I Can’t Wait to Read: Early 2019

Anyone else haunt their library holds list?

I revisit mine like a kid looking through the Christmas toy catalog (they don’t print those anymore, do they?) to eye all the lovely things she craves.

Though, admittedly, by the time I was in 3rd grade, all I craved were books.

Here are the highlights on my library holds list at the moment…

What books are you aching to read this spring?

2018: Year in Review

2018… you’ve been completely exhilarating. And completely exhausting.

While my 2018 reading stats are none too impressive, I accomplished all of my 18 for 2018 goals.

And I’m feeling good about that, especially since we accomplished so many other big things that weren’t on the list.

We did some big vacation-y things with our sisters in the first half of the year.

Then there was some mildly unpleasant medical stuff (not part of the plan), which resolved itself well — but still, not fun.

And then we threw ourselves into the search for a home.

And preparing two houses for sale.

And the selling of two houses.

And the setting up of a household together.

And ten zillion little things, like replacing the food processor after both of ours broke at the same time. (For real.)

When I look at the to-do lists we conquered, I’m stunned that we’re still standing. It’s exhausting just to contemplate.

What I learned re-learned: one step at a time. Just focus on the next small act. It’s all we can handle, and it eventually gets the job done. So simple, so comforting, so true.

And now… here we are, and we have a harmonious household and a house we’d choose again & again & again. It’s a good place to sit and contemplate all we’ve managed to accomplish in the past six months. (Though it’s best not to contemplate it too much, cuz we both end up with stunned looks on our faces merely recalling all the work that went into it.)

And now we’ve decorated our new house for the holidays, and it’s so lovely I can hardly stand it. This place is some serious cozy. And we get to live in here. It’s good, my friends.

I wish you all a very happy New Year!