books + reading

The Books I Need To Read

I’ve written many times about my struggle to read certain books. They are typically nonfiction, and they are sometimes books I want to have read but don’t necessarily look forward to reading, the way I look forward to curling up with the latest Louise Penny mystery novel.

Now, when it comes to fiction, I do not read books that I don’t want to read. A long, long time ago, I used to make myself finish books no matter what. These days, I will abandon a book if I lose interest, even if I am several hundred pages in or just a few chapters from the end. Life is too short to waste time on books that I’m not enjoying.

But these other books – these nonfiction books on adoption, transracial adoption, race, parenting, and writing – are different. I want to read these books because I want to be a better parent, a better writer, and a better human being.

The biggest challenge I have related to this task – reading nonfiction books to educate myself – is this: reading is my inhale – my stress relief – my recreation – my joy. I love reading, and I mostly love reading fiction. I have limited time to read – kids, job, house get in the way – and so when I get the time, I want to dive into an escapist novel, NOT an educational resource.

I have found a few strategies that have helped me to read these books:

  1. Listen to the audiobook. This helps – listening to the book as I empty the dishwasher. It doesn’t take away from my fiction reading time, and while I prefer a paperback to an audiobook, it’s less important to me when it’s a nonfiction book.
  2. Get a recommendation. If someone can vouch for the book, it helps me. I had White Fragility on my to-read list for months. Then a friend mentioned it to me, and I asked him to tell me a little bit about it. (I don’t have the same detest for spoilers when it comes to nonfiction books!) With a little more info and a recommendation from a friend, it was easier for me to dive in and keep going with it. I ended up loving the book and would recommend it to anyone.
  3. Read a page a day. Just keep on creeping through the book slowly. Some of the books I want to read are written in a very academic tone, and I am finding that
  4. Get freaking motivated. 

For # 4 – allow me to explain.

I started this post a few months ago. As I type today, it’s June 3, 2020, and there are uprisings across our country related to the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. I have never been more motivated to better myself as a human being and as a parent. The connection between the books I want to read and the reasons why I want to read them has never been clearer.

Currently my social media feed is jam-packed with information about books, videos, articles, podcasts, TV, and movies that are recommended to White people so that they can learn what they need to learn to be actively antiracist. My copy of Stamped From The Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi arrives today, and I’ll be reading that book together with a friend. I’m participating in a book club discussing White Fragility so I’ll be gradually re-reading that book at all. The next two books on my list after Stamped are How To Be An Antiracist, also by Ibram X. Kendi, and In Their Voices: Black Americans on Transracial Adoption by Rhonda M. Roorda.

I honestly don’t think I can plan past those books at this moment. Are there other books I want to read related to writing, parenting, race, transracial adoption, and adoption? Yes. But right now, I am taking every single thing in life one day at a time, including this. When I finish these books, I’ll evaluate the other books that I need to read. I’m grateful to writers who are helping me to learn and to grow so that I can be the parent I need to be for my kids and the human being I need to be for the world.

Image taken from Jane Mount’s idealbookshelf.com

 

 

 

 

books + reading

Love Letter To Bookshelves

The other day, I was in my kitchen, writing a blog post about the books I want to read in the near future. I remembered one book – In Their Voices, a book by Rhonda M. Roorda on transracial adoption – and I went to my room to grab it. I decided that this book would be next on my list after I finished Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and I decided I should keep it on the top shelf of my nightstand/bookshelf so that I would know where to find it.

An hour later, all of my books were off the shelves in piles on the floor, categorized in ways that would be inscrutable to anyone but me.

And me? I was in the zone. I was in my happy place. Organizing my books is blissful. The joy of arranging and re-arranging my bookshelves is limitless for me, and I started this blog post as I worked, taking notes and writing down thoughts as I progressed.

There is so much to be considered in the organizing of books, and one major consideration was brought to my attention when Tamara got home with the boys. I started telling her that I’d rearranged the bookshelves, and she explained that she knew already, because I had placed a pile of her books – formerly shelved – on her side of the bed so that she could find a different home for those books.

When married couples do premarital counseling, do they discuss this? We had never done so, officially. And our books have often been shelved together, in part because one of my favorite ways to sort books is by color. I love a rainbow bookshelf: the books with brown, maroon, or red colors on the top shelf to the left, then the oranges, the yellows, the greens, until it blends into a purply-black-white conglomeration on the bottommost shelf. And with a rainbow bookshelf, it doesn’t matter if your books are co-mingling with your spouse’s books. Because honestly, you’ll probably hit a moment when you’re like, “Why don’t I read more purple books?!”, and then you’ll be happy to have your wife’s book about edible wild plants to include in your configuration.

But on this day, I had to walk back my excitement momentarily and talk this through with sensitivity. I apologized profusely, and Tamara excused my behavior and assured me that she would find space for her books on her bookshelf, and then I went back to explaining my new organization.

FIRST – there are the books I want to read very, very soon. (Several of them will be on the syllabus of “required reading” I am currently drafting.) Those books, I decided, needed to be within reach from the moment I wake up in the morning. They are books about adoption, transracial adoption, parenting, mindfulness, and writing, and they belong on my little nightstand bookshelf, together with a small stack of books about recovery:

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SECOND – I always love having one shelf that is my absolute favorite books. Someday I aspire to purchase a painting or print of my Ideal Bookshelf, but until then – probably after then too! – I love having one shelf of faves. Looking at it makes me so happy. I have a small bookshelf in my room, right next to my nightstand, and I chose the top shelf for my favorites:

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(The three books laying on top – the first Harry Potter, Olive Kitteredge, and Seven Types of Ambiguity – are books I’d like to re-read the next time I’m in a Reading Rut.)

The shelf below is not that exciting – DVDs and audiobooks on the left, books about writing on the right:

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The bottom level of that bookshelf is for books I loved and want to keep (to either re-read or gift to someone, most likely):

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OKAY. So that’s my bedroom bookshelf.

I only have one more bookcase (with two shelves of my books) to describe. I don’t own that many books, in part because of my strive for minimalism and in part because I love using our Little Free Library to gift books to others.

This bookshelf is in the living room, and I decided that I needed a shelf full of books I want to be able to grab occasionally as a resource:

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This shelf includes parenting books, books with recipes, yoga stretches, crafting ideas, etc. Also several books of poetry.

The shelf below this one is a TBR shelf. Every avid reader has a TBR pile – a stack of books categorized as To Be Read. My high priority TBR pile is on my nightstand beside my bed; this shelf of books includes titles I am hoping to read someday that aren’t as high of a priority:

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Whew! That’s it. There are miscellaneous other books scattered around my house, and I haven’t included any info about the kids’ books or Tamara’s books, but this is my main collection – six shelves of books, spread across three different bookcases.

There is also one extraneous pile of books that are going to be featured in (drumroll please!) our Little Free Library!

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Tamara cleared out a space and “installed” the Little Free Library at our new house last weekend. It was the BEST DAY EVER.

This is the end of this post – my love letter to my books and my bookshelves. I cannot possibly imagine who would want to read this, but if you enjoyed it, then you are likely a fellow book nerd like myself and I salute you for your lovable nerdiness. Cheers!

books + reading

The Best Page-Turners So Far This Year

So far, 2020 has been a great year for me in books.

I’m always grateful for a good read, but I’m especially grateful lately. A book is a way for me to disappear into another world or into my imagination. A great book, for me, is easy to read, entertaining, compelling, smart, and has me so hooked that I keep the book pressed open with my foot while I’m putting on my socks and shoes so that I don’t lose a minute of reading time. (I’m not exaggerating – lifelong habit, love it, doesn’t make me a crazy person at all.)

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Right now, with the anxiety caused by the COVID pandemic and the limitations on where we can all go and what we can do, I am extremely grateful for the books that allow me to become completely lost.

Here are the most addictive page-turner books I’ve read so far this year with some super-brief thoughts about them. I detest spoilers in books; I’d rather open a book with zero info about what it’s about. So, I’m pretty much the worst book reviewer ever. You’re welcome.

Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel. So good. I’ve been recommending this book to people who like suspenseful novels with a mental health or psychological twist.

The Holdout by Graham Moore. Definitely a page turner. Plot involves the legal system and a jury, which is super interesting.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle. Now, apparently Glennon Doyle is not for everyone, but SHE IS FOR ME. I love her, and I love her writing. If you are a kindred spirit of hers like me, then this will be a page turner for you, too. If not, move along. No hard feelings.

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo. I loved this book. Lately, I am mostly into mysteries, thrillers, and the like – really suspenseful books that get me hooked and keep me in suspense. This book was different – less murder and more story about complicated family connections and relationships.

You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. Warning: I have heard from other readers that they despised this book – sort of in a way that implied that it was silly or dumb. I loved it. I didn’t think of it as a particularly intellectual book, but it was so easy to read, compelling, and absorbing, and I think you have to be a pretty talented writer to achieve that.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. Wow, was this book creepy. It’s incredibly smart and insightful and uncomfortable and engaging. For this one, check out a brief synopsis before you read if certain topics are triggering for you.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. This book has been on my radar for years. I knew that it was long, and that it was sad. I actually thought it wouldn’t make me cry. When I am told ahead of time that a book is sad or scary, I steel myself and I expect the worst. Usually, this means that the book can’t possibly be as tear-inducing  as others have said. That was NOT the case in this book. It is beautifully written, and it’s a beautiful story.   

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. The premise of this book is incredibly intriguing – a young kid is the sole survivor of a plane crash. The story explores the lead-up to the crash, and then follows the kid who survives. A premise like that is extremely compelling to me, and I found that the book totally held up.

Mr. Nobody by Catherine Steadman. Interesting premise and plot. Really enjoyed it.

Long Bright River by Liz Moore. A suspensful and well-written mystery. Flew through it.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel. I loved Station Eleven, so I have been super excited to read this book. I loved it.

Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson. This one was addictive in an Agatha Christie-esque manner.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. It took me four tries to finally get into this book. Once I did, I flew through it. It’s short, and powerful, and insightful, and horrible, and illuminating. Trigger warning for this one, too – read a brief synopsis if certain topics are hard for you to read for any reason.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. loved this book. A great murder mystery with a “novel within a novel” twist and a few other elements that make it unique. So good. I can’t stop recommending it.

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid. SO. FREAKING. GOOD. I flew through this book, and at the point I’d read it, I was in a Reading Rut. (Reading Rut = can’t get into any book; keep attempting new reads and abandoning them after a few pages.) I also found it smart and insightful.

I’ve read other books this year, but these were the best page-turners so far. Happy reading!

blur book stack books bookshelves
Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

 

books + reading · goals

Revisiting The Syllabus

For the past few years, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to get myself to read the books that I want to read.

I never have a problem with reading fiction. Reading is my favorite hobby and I’ve always loved it. I love getting lost in a good novel. I constantly have a list of novels To Be Read, that I update on Goodreads when I get recommendations. (Just finished Darling Rose Gold – so good – and currently loving The Holdout.)

Nonfiction has never been my thing. Yes, I’ve read and loved books by Brene Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert and Glennon Doyle – but they were the exceptions, not the rules. For me to read nonfiction, it has to be incredibly well-written and entertaining. It has to be significantly relevant to me at the exact moment I am reading it, like a writing book I read during a creative spree or a parenting book I reach for when facing a challenge like tantrums or sleep. Or it has to be focused on self-help, introspection, or personal growth – like The Gifts Of Imperfection, which is my favorite of Brene Brown’s books.

There are several books that I want to have read but haven’t been able to make myself actually read. I’ve written about this previously in a post called Slow Jams Syllabus. In that post, I wrote down a list of all the books I was struggling to read. I called them “slow jams” because I could not manage to read any of them cover to cover. When I start a good novel, I usually speed through it in a few days. With these books about writing, parenting, mindfulness – I couldn’t do that. Which then made them trickier to read at all. I get a little buzz of accomplishment when I finish a book; I love clicking “I’ve finished this book!” on my Goodreads app and seeing the book move from my Want To Read list to my Read list. With a slow jam, it takes me longer to finish it, and then I often lose my momentum and abandon the book for yet another enjoyable novel.

Usually, the reason I want to read these “slow jam” books is educational; I want to learn more about a topic or do some work in a specific area. My last Slow Jams Syllabus included books on writing, meditation/mindfulness/spirituality, and parenting – plus a few wild cards. The last time I wrote about this, I created my syllabus and I set myself a deadline: Read these books by January 2020. There were 12 books on the list and 10 on the “wait list” I created. It’s way past January 2020, and I’ve read five. And that is okay.

This month, I went through those 22 titles and I sorted them into these categories.

Finished them – yay! No Drama Discipline; No Bad Kids; Meditation Now Or Never. Happiness Is An Inside Job; and Buddhism Is Not What You Think.

Would still love to finish these books someday: Story Craft; The Portable MFA in Creative Writing; Writing To Change The World; Bestseller; The Soul Of Discipline; The Untethered Soul; Parenting From the Inside Out; and Writing Mysteries

Going to keep them on my shelf as a reference – no longer stressing about reading them cover to cover: Full Catastrophe Living; Traveling Mercies; The Happiest Kids In The World; and Wherever You Go There You Are. 

No longer care if I ever finish them: Start Here Now; MBSR Every Day; Designing Your Life;The White Album; and Bark.

It felt satisfying to categorize these books and to accept that if I haven’t read them between April 2018 and now, then I may not ever read them in their entirety.

One of the reasons I wanted to do this is that lately, there are entire new categories of nonfiction books that I want to encourage myself to read. The same categories (writing, parenting, mindfulness) are still somewhat present, but the books I currently want to read most are focused on transracial adoption; adoption; race; and current social issues and politics. Stay tuned for my new syllabus and an update on how I’m doing with tackling the required reading so far.

books on white wooden shelves
Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on Pexels.com
goals

June 2020: Summertime Planning

Laugh out loud. LOL. That is all I want to do every time the first of the month comes around.

For my 2020 happiness project, my plan was that on the first of every month, I would write a post based on a theme for the month. The monthly theme would be tied to certain personal goals for the month, too. Then, my subsequent posts would fit that theme.

That entire project was pretty much a bust. Too ambitious, maybe? It also doesn’t seem to work great for me to utilize themes, as much as I’d like to operate that way. And, though I write down goals for each month and have a plan for themed posts, I usually forget about all of it ten days into the month and then don’t remember until I’m ready to write the next month’s first post.

I still love the idea of having a regular routine for the first post of every month. I really enjoy making the last post of the month a short ‘n’ sweet gratitude list. I am contemplating different ways to handle the first monthly post. For June, I’m going to do what I’ve been doing so far in 2020. I have one little idea for improving my attention to the theme and goals, so I’ll give that a try this month. But I’m thinking I’ll probably once again be laughing at my lack of progress come July 2020.

For June, I am once again abandoning my planned theme – traditions, celebrations, and rituals – to choose a different focus: summertime.

It’s June 2nd today. That means exactly three weeks from now, my summer vacation from work will officially start.

Right now, I am working from home and my boys are with me all day every day. So the summertime won’t be drastically different than now. BUT I won’t be juggling working from home with caring for the boys, and I’ll have nap time every day to write. (I currently use nap time for my job; my work day sort of starts when the boys go down for nap and continues when Tamara gets home from work, except for morning meetings.)

My goals for this month are:

  • Make a concrete and realistic plan for summer writing.
  • Set a goal – including word count – for summer writing.
  • Make a summer bucket list.

There’s a lot of unknown right now. I want to make a summer bucket list, but I have no idea if the items on the list will even be an option to do! Just going to take all of it one day at a time. Happy summer dreaming to all!

macro photography of black sunglasses on sand
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com