Books I can’t wait to read

My library holds list holds many delights. Here’s what I’m most eagerly anticipating reading in the months ahead…

  • The Policewoman’s Bureau by Edward Conlon
  • Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev
  • Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep
  • Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane
  • Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey
  • The Dutch House by Ann Patchett  

This whole list fills me with wiggly anticipation.

What books are you aching to get hold of?

Organizing the spice drawer

I meant to write about spring goals and new growth. Instead I’m writing about organizing our spices. Because that’s where I am right now, and it sure feels like growth.

When I read Carson Tate’s post about balancing your life like the four seasons, I was immediately captivated by the idea. And also relieved, because this framework allows us to tackle only one aspect at a time. And that’s such an easing of a burden.

I tend to overload myself with ambitious projects, and then I just get tired. So one season at a time? I got this…

For springtime, she suggests:

  • New ideas
  • New beginnings
  • Decluttering
  • Letting go of the past

As I see it, there are two phases here, which kind of line up with Marie Kondo’s thinking: let go of the past to open up possibilities for the future.

One of my “19 for 2019” goals is to go through all the boxes in the basement, which contain I’ve-forgotten-what. So that project is saying “spring” to me. (But will I get to it before winter? I have my doubts.)

Meanwhile, what I have done is to tidy up the spice rack. It’s actually the spice drawer, and it was pretty horrid. We both got frustrated trying to find the oregano. And really, people shouldn’t have to live like that.

So, inspired by The Home Edit, I bought new containers from The Container Store and labels from Amazon, and we had ourselves some results.

Before:

During:

After:

It’s a small step, growth-wise, but it sure makes cooking more pleasant. Plus, every time I open the doors of the pantry, I get a little ping of joy.

So, along with walking along the river to see the spring flowers, that’s part of my springtime celebration.

What’re you doing to celebrate spring?

National Get Caught Reading Month

Raise your hand if you…

  • read everywhere, including places considered inappropriate
  • can’t rest until you identify the book someone else is reading in public

May is National Get Caught Reading Month, which, even though it always reminds me of #ireadeverywhere, is actually about inspiring children to read.

I love that it’s celebrated in May, right before kids head into summertime — where reading can help prevent the summer slide.

(Public library kudos: those summer reading programs are key. And free!)

And meanwhile, we all — even us grown-ups — can get caught reading.

So, in honor of Get Caught Reading Month, here are some suggested goals for May:

What are your plans for Get Caught Reading Month?

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!

What I’ve been reading: April 2019

This month of reading has been all kinds of goodness. It’s a fine blend of home organization books, YA fiction, a couple of literary masterpieces (Middlemarch is still on my bedside table), and some remarkable nonfiction.

My favorite this month was Working by Robert A. Caro. I’ll post about it soon, once I’ve fully absorbed the delightfulness of that reading experience.

Here’s a full look at April…

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

3 words: neat, pretty, practical

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

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

3 words: uproarious, ironic, adventurous

Give this book a whirl if you like… hilarious send-ups of beauty pageants, smart YA fiction, stories of being stranded on a desert island, humorous survival stories, girls empowering themselves, occasional pirates

A Student of History by Nina Revoyr

3 words: compelling, quietly suspenseful, unnerving

Give this book a whirl if you like… fish out of water stories, first person narratives, LA, the extremely wealthy, poor grad students, obsessive love, solving a mystery, people making bad choices

Internment by Samira Ahmed

3 words: intense, chilling, dystopian

Give this book a whirl if you like… dystopian stories, #ownvoices, thoughtful young adult fiction, reading about life in an internment camp, resistance to tyranny

The Complete Book of Home Organization by Toni Hammersley

3 words: browseable, beautifully illustrated, clean

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

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

3 words: cheerful, beautiful, concrete

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

There There by Tommy Orange

3 words: lyrical, complex, sobering

Give this book a whirl if you like… multiple narrators, #ownvoices, contemporary Native American lives, difficult life experiences, interwoven storylines

Little Town in a Big Woods by Marilyn Robinson

3 words: accessible, straightforward, informative

Give this book a whirl if you like… learning about the history of an Illinois river town, getting the basics via a children’s book

The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You by Julie Zhuo

3 words: practical, encouraging, professional

Give this book a whirl if you like… advice for new managers, but also a good refresher and check-in for experienced managers, real-life examples from the author’s workplace experiences

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

3 words: enthusiastic, elegant, lovely

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

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

3 words: first-person, inside glimpse, psychological

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

What were your favorite April reads?

Bookish Tourist: The Book House

On a quick weekend jaunt to St. Louis, we saw all kinds of historic sites and of course we hit a bookstore.

On a Saturday evening, after a fine, full day of visiting the Cahokia Mounds and the charming town of St. Charles, we swung by The Book House in Maplewood — which happily is open until 10 pm Saturdays.

From the outside, it looks just like an ordinary storefront, but inside… so many books!

It’s an indie bookstore, and they sell mostly used and rare books, but they also stock a small selection of new titles.

And their shop has library ladders!

There are books all over the place, and thankfully there’s a nice bookstore guide stationed at a desk inside the front door to provide guidance to the history and politics sections or whatever a person might be wanting.

Here’s a view of part of the fiction section…

I found two books on my Wish List and bought them, and now they’re still in that new book glory area of our home library where I place new acquisitions before I break down and shelve them.

Other highlights of the trip:

The Dear Man bought a book about Cahokia at the gift shop.

We did some Lewis & Clark tourism.

We ate some amazing cookies in St. Charles.

We said hey to our old acquaintance Daniel Boone.

We went to Pappy’s Smokehouse for life-changing BBQ. (Ribs for him, baked potato for her)

We ate our 2nd St. Louis style pizza — this time at Billy G’s — and analyzed it thoroughly. We’re Chicago people, and while we don’t despise provel, we just can’t make ourselves crave it. Still: it’s not bad pizza, and it easily passes the “Would we eat this again?” test.

So, once again, St. Louis is a hit.

Anyone else visited a great bookstore lately?

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?

Currently: faked out by spring

It’s an erratic springtime in the Midwest — what a shocker! Last week I ran outdoors in a jacket, thermal leggings, stocking cap, and mittens one day–and a short-sleeved shirt and capris four days later. Now it’s back to mitten weather, and my mood is foul. (Actually, my mood is fine. I’m snuggled indoors, wearing long underwear and having hygge thoughts.)

Reading | I’m working my way through Middlemarch and enjoying it more the further I read. I also found a mystery I’m liking — the first in a while. S.C Perkins’ Murder Once Removed has a genealogy-based premise, and I’m always a sucker for that. And yesterday my hold for Robert Caro’s Working came in, and I was shivering with delight while reading the first few pages. Then I had to read a sentence out loud to the Dear Man cuz it just was that good.

Listening | Our good Bybee of Blue-Hearted Bookworm mentioned Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch as a good companion to reading George Eliot, so I checked out the audiobook and am feeling very cultured and calm as I listen.

Watching | A wonderful colleague, who knows of my space obsession, alerted me to the documentary Apollo 11. So the Dear Man and I got tickets and saw the IMAX version and it was beyond remarkable. Here’s some stuff about it…

NYT opinion piece about Neil Armstrong

The trailer…


Learning  | We’ve been delving into our schoolhouse’s history, and I’m deep into the local scene in 1906, when the school was being built. Picture me at the microfilm reader… Picture me there for many cumulative hours…

Loving | The white mocha and almond latte at our local coffee house


Anticipating | Spice containers and electrical outlets are on the horizon, and I’m so excited I can hardly stand it. I’ll be able to use the treadmill in the basement, where I’ll have a very fine view out the windows. And our TV will become operational. And the spice containers… I’ll be talking about those later, I believe. There’s gonna be some miraculous before and after action.

Celebrating | We’ve been in our new home for just over 6 months, and it keeps getting better. (See: spice containers and electrical outlets, above)

What’s going on in your world during this wild ride of a springtime (or whatever this is)?

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?

Your child might become a librarian if…

Happy National Library Week, everyone!

It’s a week of celebrating everything libraries have to offer. It’s the perfect week to visit your library!

It’s also an opportunity to read for the sheer joy of it and to encourage a love of reading in the children in your life.

And if you have a seriously devoted young reader, it’s a time to consider: Might this child be a future librarian?

(It’s embarrassingly obvious that this was my destiny.)

Here are the signs to watch for in the young…

Incessant reading starts early

Reading on the toilet: also begins early


Reading to dolls and stuffed animals is a thing that happens. A lot.

Cataloging their books    

Playing library and checking out books to siblings and friends

Requiring a grubby younger sister to wash her hands before touching their books

Finding your child in this pose more often than not  

Christmas wish list: all books

“Clean your room” translates into “Re-organize your bookshelves by genre”

“Go outside and play” translates into “Go outside and read”  

If you observe these behaviors in your children, encourage their reading, let them read widely, make sure they know you approve of who they are, and rest assured they’ll find their place in the world.

If they’re lucky, it’ll be in a library.