books + reading · goals

Educating Myself + Getting Things Done

My plan for 2020 was to have a theme for each month, and to publish blog posts related to the theme. But, as I discovered, that doesn’t really work for me at this time in my life. My blogging this year is less planned out and intentional – it’s more, What exactly is happening in this crazy 2020 world this week that I need to process through writing?

Once I let go of the possibility of sticking to a theme, it’s been interesting to be reminded of what they were. They were GREAT. And for September, the theme I chose way back in December 2019 was Education + Awareness.

The funny thing is – the reason I chose Education + Awareness as a theme was that this was an area I cared about deeply but was struggling to develop. I’ve written often about my struggle to read nonfiction books. I constantly write down titles and even check them out of the library, but I am always more likely to pick up a novel than a nonfiction book, even if I sincerely want to increase my knowledge about a specific topic.

I also knew that I wanted to increase my involvement with community activism, service, and politics. I chose September as the month for this focus because I knew I’d be motivated and energized due to the approaching election in November.

Then this spring, with the world shut down due to the pandemic and the civil uprisings calling out for racial justice, I found myself more motivated and connected than ever before. I was able to connect with my local chapter of SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) and through my work with them I’ve been learning, growing, and contributing to local and national movements. I’ve been text banking and writing postcards and letters to support voter registration, vote by mail, and Democratic candidates for office.

Additionally, I’ve finally been able to push through my resistance to nonfiction reading; I’ve read or listened to a bunch of the books on my list. I also realized, with the help of a friend, that books are not the only way to educate myself about a topic, which seemed reeeeal obvious once it was pointed out but often had not occurred to me in the past. For example, I’ve been trying to learn more about housing segregation, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to reading The Color Of Law by Richard Rothstein in its entirety. So I’ve been listening to podcasts that feature interviews with Rothstein – i.e., getting the gist of his book without reading all 368 pages. I’ve done the same with articles; I read a few chapters of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, but then found I had to put it down to concentrate on other books. But I did some googling and found a few articles by Michelle Alexander; that helped me to educate myself on her subject (mass incarceration of Black men) without pressuring myself to finish the book right now. (Hoping to get back to it at some point, for sure.)

So, through a series of unpredictable circumstances, my original goals for September 2020 have been largely achieved already, and I’m sincerely grateful.

With the school year starting, one of my big worries is how I’ll maintain my commitments and involvements now that my day job has to fit back into my life. I have a feeling that certain things will have to take a backseat for a while, but I want to be careful and intentional about the choices I make, and I want to keep family, service, and writing at the center of my life. I’m glad to have a mantra – slow it all down – and I’ve been aware of this coming change all summer, and trying to be mindful of how much responsibility I have capacity for at each moment. 

I’m not happy about events that have occurred this year. I’m horrified by the murders of unarmed Black citizens, and I’m deeply concerned about the losses and changes we’re experiencing as a country related to the pandemic. It sometimes feels awkward to be grateful during a year like this. But I am grateful, nonetheless. I’m grateful because I feel connected and purposeful and aware. I’m grateful because I’ve made progress with my ability to educate myself, which was something that has frustrated me for a while. I feel guilty that I haven’t done more, sooner – like, why was I not phone banking four years ago, and why didn’t I find a group like SURJ sooner? Then I remember that the guilt helps no one, and I set aside and try to figure out the next right thing to do. And there’s always a next right thing to do.

 

 

 

 

books + reading

What We’re Reading Lately (Kids Edition)

One of the byproducts of the current civil rights movement happening in our country is a plethora of reading lists being shared on social media.

I love a good book list. My kids are 3 and 1, and we haven’t talked a lot about race yet in their lives. I typically use books as a strategy for talking with them about various topics; we read books about the dentist in the days and weeks before an upcoming appointment, we read books about holidays, and we read a ton of books about moving before Moving Day last year. Edgar, who is 3, loves to read books together, so it’s a great way to explore something new within the context of something comfortable and familiar.

Whenever I see a book list, whether it’s for kids or adults, I always make a bunch of library requests. I am an avid library requester, which is why, once curbside pick-up opened up last week, two librarians had to team up to carry the 35 books I had requested to my car. (This was an especially big load, as it also included books I had requested BEFORE the libraries closed due to COVID 19!)

The book lists I used as resources were a mix of books about racism, race, and civil rights, and books that simply feature people of color living their lives. I think that our “library” – I’m including books we own and books we frequently check out of the library – is pretty diverse. But I’m always looking for more suggestions, and I try to be intentional about seeking out books featuring people of color as main characters.

Here are some of the awesome books that we’ve discovered thanks to recent reading lists:

Please Baby Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee. This book is SO FREAKING CUTE. It’s great for both of my boys; I think it is probably intended for a younger audience, closer to Jonas’s age (he’s almost 2), but Edgar adores it. Sweet, simple story of a baby’s day; rhyming and rhythmic and soothing; and it features ALL the sweetest and most tantrummy aspects of baby/toddler life, so that’s enjoyable for all.

Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima. Edgar loves this book. A little girl who loves to wear costumes (and has two dads, so bonus diversity!) goes on an adventure involving penguins and an orca. WHAT IS NOT TO LOVE?

Saturday by Oge Mora. This one makes me cry. Sweet story of a girl and her mother spending Mom’s only day off going on fun adventures.

Juneteenth for Maizie by Floyd Cooper.  This is my favorite book about Juneteenth so far. It explains the holiday through a conversation between a young girl and her dad. Great for Edgar’s age – he’s almost 4.

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi. This one we bought rather than borrowed. It’s adorable, and powerful. It really does feel like Kendi is attempting to capture the messages of his adult book, How To Be An Antiracist, in baby/toddler/preschooler language.

The Colors Of Us by Karen Katz. I really like this one, and I think the boys will enjoy it more once they stop asking for Harriet and Please Baby Please (see above) over and over again. It’s a good book for exploring differences in skin color in an understandable and kid-friendly way.

Say Something by Peter H. Reynolds. Wonderful book about different ways for children to use their voice to say something. It’s sweet and colorful, with a good rhythm to the text. It’s powerful, and the pictures are beautiful and enjoyable.

We’re Different, We’re The Same by Bobbi Jane Kates. This book features the Sesame Street characters and is a good intro into differences in facial features, hair color, and skin color. The message is: “We look different, but we’re also the same.” It’s a good intro book – to be followed later by a deeper explanation of race and racism later.

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry. A story about a dad doing his daughter’s hair. So freaking sweet.

Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love. This book is about a little boy who wants to dress up like a mermaid. My FAVORITE thing about this book is that the story does not include any skepticism or negativity about the little boy wanting to dress up in lipstick, a flowery headdress, and jewelry; he simply likes what he likes, and his abuela supports him by finding him a necklace. My boys don’t really have any understanding (to my knowledge) of why a little boy wouldn’t wear lipstick or jewelry or dresses, so I appreciate a children’s book that celebrates different ways of being without highlighting how our society sometimes treats people who don’t meet societal expectations.

SO MANY GOOD BOOKS. Nothing I love more than sitting on the couch and starting to read a book, and then watching Edgar come sprinting toward me, dropping toys as he goes. Happy June 2020 – and, if you know a book I should request from the library to read with my kids, please share!

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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!

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