How Do You Choose What Books You Keep?

As a bookstore owner, these days, my relationship to my personal bookshelf has changed. Years ago, I would go to bookstores every chance I get. I’d browse and pluck things off the shelves–a sucker for an exceptionally beautiful cover. Or I’d hold close to my chest a book that I exceptionally loved at one point in my life.

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I remember visiting a bookstore in Jackson, Mississippi and tears flooding my eyes as I saw their Flannery O’Connor section. So many different beautiful editions of A Good Man is Hard to Find. Sidenote: I’ve been low-key contemplating getting the illustration of the 1955 cover as a tattoo for several years, now.

I would buy all of these books that I could. I’d keep a running list in my head of all the books I wanted to have and I would buy every single on that I would come across. For some reason, once they were on my shelf I would immediately lose the whole need to read the book right away. I think, as it turns out, I wanted a large collection of books. I wanted to be surrounded by books. I wanted to read these books, too. But once I have them, then the pressure to get them read is gone. I could read them whenever I wanted to! So… I kinda never did. I mean, I read a lot of them but my point is that before I owned the bookstore, the acquiring of hundreds of books was my greatest priority.

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But something definitely shifted when I took over the store. Now, my need to be surrounded by books is totally fulfilled at work. I’ve gone through my shelf at home and donated a good 75% of my personal book collection to the store. Some of them are still here. I’m looking at my own copy of Ethan Hawke’s Ash Wednesday right now. Honestly, it’s been on the shelf long enough that I should have moved it to the clearance table by now but the cover makes me feel so happy that I’m not sure I’ll ever do it. If you want to buy it, you certainly may. But you’ll have to do so at full price just because of my own personal stubbornness.

I don’t really buy books anymore. I belong to the Book of The Month Club (if you want to sign up, here’s my referral link) because I love to keep up with new releases and then when I’m done with them, I donate them to the store. The only way I get my books otherwise is if I get them through Libro.fm–an audiobook service that helps to support local bookstores or if they show up at the store (so if you want to support my bookstore with your audiobook listening, feel free to check it all out here). As a rule, I try to only read paper books that I’ll be selling at the store–it’s the only way that I’m able to recommend things that I have actually read. And with 12,000+ books in the store… I mean, I can only read so much.

But listen. I still love a bookstore. I still go to bookstores every chance I get. I browse and pluck things off the shelves–still, a sucker for an exceptionally beautiful cover. And I hold close to my chest a book that I exceptionally loved at one point in my life.

This weekend, we went out of town for a few days. On Sunday we went on a bookstore crawl of sorts. There were a few books that I wanted to buy for my own personal bookshelf. And I did! I added to my own bookshelf for the first time in a long time! Here’s a list of the books I bought and how I decide what goes home with me:

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The Dutch House by Ann Patchet: I listened to this on Libro.Fm. It is narrated by Tom Hanks. I mean… ugh. It was so good. And now, when I’m reading a book and having trouble following along, I read it to myself in Tom Hanks’ voice and it helps get me refocused. So, The Dutch House was an incredible, epic, family love story. It’s exactly my ideal kind of book and on top of that, the cover is flipping gorgeous. I don’t know why I just gave you a look at the spine. Anyway–this book meant so much to me and the cover is so gorgeous that I just had to have it on my own shelf. Also, I wanted to spend some money at Strange Tides–a new bookshop in Wichita. So, obviously, this was the perfect combination. Support businesses that you’re psyched about, friends.

In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado: This book was released waaaay back in December and I’ve wanted to read it every day since that happened. But I’ve kept myself from it and the reason for that is twofold: (1) it hasn’t been sold in any space that is conveniently accessible to me and I’m working really hard at eliminating Amazon from my life–especially when it comes to books. (2) I’ve read enough Carmen Maria Machado that I know that I’m going to want to read her words with my eyeballs. I bought it on Libro.fm but I just haven’t been able to listen just because I know that I love to savor the words of Ms. Machado.I’ve heard the audiobook does her poetic, brilliant voice right.But I still… I just know what I need and I need to sit in a sunbeam and read this book with my hands and eyes and mind all engaged together. And with a pencil in hand. I need to underline and make notes. That’s the kind of engaged reader I am when I love something this much. I love Carmen Maria Machado this much. Because of the underlining and the notes I know I will make in this book, it won’t be sold at the store. It’s going to live on my bookshelf.

Not the Girl You Marry by Andie J. Christopher: So, contemporary romance is having a renaissance and it has definitely become a part of my self-care routine. Honestly, I’m as surprised as anyone. I was an literature major for crying out loud! I’m a snob. I love Flannery O’Connor and Virginia Woolf and big fat books that won the Pulitzer and are gonna make you probably a little bit sad. I loved Fates and Furies even though everyone else thought it was too literary and pretentious. I love a pretentious book. But contemporary romance is the perfect pallet cleanser. It’s predictable. It’s usually funny. It’s relatable. And I’m glad that it’s coming around! We don’t get much of it in at my store, though, so I have to buy my own–which I then donate to the store so that I can sell someone else on the idea that contemporary romance is a perfectly delightful genre. It is! It’s good for us all, I think. Also, I can’t listen to these books on audio. They make me blush too much. Maybe one day, I’ll devote a whole post to how much I love romance.


How do you decide which books come home with you? How do you decide which books you’re ready to part with?

-Libby

What I Read in January 2020

I finished six books in January. Please excuse me while I freak out a minute about that fact. For some perspective: in 2016, my reading goal was to read 12 books in the whole entire year. Flash forward 4 years and I’m meeting half that goal in a month?! What the hell! I’m so proud of myself.

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As much as I love books and reading, reading is, and has always been, so difficult for me. I’ve always struggled with reading comprehension and I’ve always read so much more slowly than my peers. I’ve long suspected that maybe I have/ had an undiagnosed learning disorder. Friends–being an English major was hard (so very hard) for me and after college, I didn’t read again for the better part of a decade after graduation. But I have found that the more I read, the easier it is for me to continue to do so. If I don’t read every single day (and yes, audiobooks count), it gets even harder for me to keep reading well.

But here we are in 2020 and I’m reading voraciously for pleasure! I’m really, really proud of myself. Look at me go!

Here’s what I’ve read so far this year!


Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
I gave this one three stars. I’ve heard the audiobook version is read by Lin Manuel Miranda and I honestly am considering re-reading on audiobook because I kinda felt like this novel lacked feeling (and Miranda could give feeling and spirit to the list of side effects in an ad for a sketchy medication on tv). I know it’s about teenage boys… but I just kind of couldn’t figure out what was motivating any of the choices they were making. But maybe I’m too much of a grownup? I don’t know. I loved the ending of this book so much but also, because I had so little insight into the inner workings of the main character, it felt kind of out of the blue for me. I’m excited to talk about this one with other people at our Project Lit Mac meeting in March.

91zm+WTT58LThe Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission that Changed Our Understanding of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
I gave this one four stars. It was really exciting. A little repetitive in places but every time I started to drift off, something new brought me back in. Also there’s a big fat juicy plot twist at around the midway point which I didn’t see coming in this non-fiction book. This book is about the people who, more or less, sneaked into mental hospitals in the 70’s and reported on their findings.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
This one got five stars from me. Another book that I read in preparation for our Project Lit Mac conversations in a few months. If there’s one thing that Tahereh Mafi does extremely well, it’s creating a very real and exquisite sense of emotion. The book had me breathless time and time again–going back to those chaotic but stabilizing feelings of falling in proper, good love for the first time. Now that I’m writing this, I realized that this book fulfilled everything that I felt was lacking from Aristotle and Dante.

Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin
So, I gave this one five stars on Goodreads but I attribute most of that to the fact that the audiobook was phenomenally produced. I don’t think that I would have loved this book as much if I’d been reading it on paper, to be honest. That being said, though, I really liked the way that Alexis Schaitkin found a way to tell this story in so many different ways. Some chapters are comprised of articles and online message boards. Some chapters are all told from a diary. Other chapters follow specific (seemingly unimportant) characters. It would be such a struggle to keep a tight thread running through all these perspectives but Schaitkin pulled it off really well.

71oQvDahpvLTopics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey
Another three star read for me. I found this book compelling… ish? It really is just a collection of conversations between the main character and different people that she’s spoken to over the past 20 years. It was a quick read and even though I was compelled to finish the book–I was not compelled to care about the main character at all. Reminded me a little bit of 2019’s Three Women by Lisa Taddeo. Except I like Taddeo’s better–it was based on true events and real people and there was far more meaning to it.

Mercy House by Alena Dillon
FIVE BRIGHT AND SHINING STARS FROM ME FOR MERCY HOUSE! I started listening to this on a road trip to Kansas City last weekend and got sucked in hard and fast. At a certain point, I got so engrossed in the story, that I didn’t realize I was getting pulled over. Woops!! Mercy House is the name of a women’s shelter, run by three Brooklyn nuns. We go back in time to learn about, not only the women who are living at Mercy House but also we learn about Sister Evelyn–who started the house 26 years ago. There are themes of sexism within and outside of the Catholic church. This is a powerful story of women fighting against lies in their pasts to make the future a better and more safe place.

Currently Reading:

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
The last book I’m reading for Project Lit Mac. This one is delicious so far. It is obvious that this book was written by a poet.

713o4IUwopLThe Tenant by Katrine Engberg
I put off listening to this for a few weeks because, from the description, I was afraid this was going to be a gruesome murder mystery. And it’s not-not that, but at this point, I’m really sucked into the story. If you love a police procedural and don’t mind a little bit of grit, give this one a shot.
I learned that this book was translated from the original Danish (I think?) and released to English speaking audiences this year and that’s what finally got me to start it–because that way I can cross “a book in translation” off my 2020 list!


What have you been reading lately?
Are you a fast reader or are you slow, like me?
-Libby

What I Might Read in 2020

I recently told a friend that I’ve never loved reading and books as much as I do right now in this phase of my life. And I was surprised, after I heard myself say it, at how true it was!

I’ve always gone through phases where I’m really into movies and not into tv. Or I’m really into music and can’t be bothered to read anything. For a long time it was podcasts but I’ve even cut down on those quite a bit–only still subscribed to my number one favorites (My Favorite Murder and What Should I Read Next for those who must know). Right now I’m reading. All the time. I’m loving it. Audiobooks have filled in the space left behind by all those podcasts. The only new music I know about is Harry Styles’ most recent album (which I’m in love with). I’m loving this phase!

It’s a good phase to be in, too, because in addition to the local Project Lit meetings that I attend each month, I’m also taking on a new role as a virtual book club leader as a part of my second job. I’m excited to be joining my two great loves (books and personal empowerment) to lead this group in conversations about both!

In addition to all of the reading for those two things, I also have some personal reading goals. I hope to exceed my Goodreads reading goal of 30 books (which may sound like a whole lot to some people and hardly any at all to others–I have a friend whose goal is 100!!), and I’d really like to follow Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2020 reading challenge!

I thought it would be fun to make a list of the books that I might be reading in order to meet all these criteria and what better way to take note of it than right here?
Important note: I don’t do well with assigned reading. There’s no quicker way to get me uninterested in a book than to assign it, so I’m not holding myself to this list by any means. 

Also, I’ll provide links to all the books that I’m able. I’m linking them toTwice Told Tales’ shop on Libro.fm. It’s an audiobook service that works to support individual, independent bookstores instead of Amazon.


Here’s a look at the categories for the Modern Mrs. Darcy challenge:

71f6DRbcrsLA book published in the decade you were born:
Wild Seed by Octavia Butler or maybe The Color Purple by Alice Walker which I can not believe I’ve never read, before.

A debut novel:
I have no doubt that this one will be easy since I love me a debut novel. I’ve already got my hands on Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey and also Remembrance by Rita Woods.
But then I also just learned about Djin Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara and now I really, really want to read that.

A book recommended by a source you trust:
A1+-unICxaLMy good friend Annie has been telling me to read A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel for years, now. I trust her judgement implicitly. I will read this book.
I have another delightfully bookish friend, Dawn, who recommended Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski and I would really like to get my hands on that one. The sooner the better tbh.

A book by a local author:
I’ve decided to define “local” as an author who is–or was, a fellow Kansan. I’ve always loved Langston Hughes and we have a copy of his debut novel, Not Without Laughter here at the store. I’ve always wanted to dig into it–perhaps this will be our year.

A book outside your (genre) comfort zone:
9781534467491_p0_v2_s550x406I know exactly what I’ll be reading for this one. Neal Shusterman’s Scythe. YA in general isn’t my favorite genre but being a part of the Project Lit community is easing me away from that. But Science Fiction or… whatever you can call this… is not my general cup of tea. I also hate reading books in a series–even though I totally understand that is not a genre, it’s still a strike against it. This is the February book selection for Project Lit Mac and so I know I’ll be reading this one. Who knows! Maybe I’ll love it! I hope I do.
Another genre that I’ve never, ever explored is westerns. And we sell so many at my store! If I read a Don Coldsmith book, it’ll tick off a box in this category as well as the Local Author category as well (he’s from Iola)! Two birds. One stone. I don’t know if it works that way though.

A book in translation:
81ijZfOrYlLI think I might try my hand at Us Against You by Fredrik Backman. I read Beartown a few years ago–actually, exactly at the same time as the Brett Kavanaugh hearings and there was just so much of that book that echoed exactly what was going on during that real-life mess. I was sucked into it but I have GOT to tell you, I had to put that story down for a long while.
I’ve also heard a lot about The Time In Between from the What Should I Read Next podcast. It’s got everything! The Spanish Civil War, fashion, romance, espionage.

A book nominated for an award in 2020:
Know My Name by Chanel Miller has been on my radar for a few weeks, now. I was so pissed off by the Brock Turner case that I’m excited to learn more about Chanel, instead.
Also, The Topeka School by Ben Lerner is on my phone right now, just waiting to be read. Both of these titles were nominated for the National Book Critic’s Circle Award.

A re-read:
9780671003753_p0_v2_s1200x630I never re-read. I have never re-read any book ever before. There are so many books! Why re-read?! That being said, I’d love to revisit She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb to see if I love it as much as I did when I was 25. I remember feeling like Wally Lamb wrote women beautifully and somehow he really understood what it was like to be a fat woman in particular. I’m curious to see if I still feel the same way with my newer perspectives.

A classic you didn’t read in school: So. Many. So very many. For the record, I have a tendency to really hate classics.
I kind of want to see what A Christmas Carol is all about.
I’ve also never read anything by Madeline L’Engele. Isn’t that wild? I think I’d love to explore her stuff.

Three books by the same author:
I think this might be the year that I want to read a lot, a lot more from Octavia Butler. Reading three books from her in 2020 will actually knock out several of these categories all at once! But also, I sincerely doubt I’ll be able to take on that much science fiction. And this is a category that I would really like to stick to. So, when I think about authors that I want to explore more, here are a few that come to mind:
Jasmine Gillory
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Barbara Kingsolver


Are there any reading lists you’re looking to fill? Any books you’re hoping to add to your “read” list?
If you want to follow me on Goodreads, here’s a link!

-Libby

2010-2019

I filled out an Instagram story template thingy about the past decade. Honestly, shouldn’t have done it because there’s no way that I can sum up entire years in a few words. I can barely sum up my lunch order in a few words.

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Lucky for me, I re-started blogging.

The truth is that this decade–this life isn’t a list of achievements or big events. It’s sheer layers that overlap each other–sometimes really heavily in some spots. Sometimes it’s a pretty light coverage. It doesn’t seem fair to post a highlight reel of the past decade while ignoring the painful parts–the parts that created me the very most, if I’m being honest.

In 2011, Ryan and I started dating. And it was new and it was exciting and thrilling. It was also the year that we lost one of our dearest, life-longest friends. I still can’t even talk about him. For the longest time I thought it was because it was still too new but I’m just now realizing it’s been close to a decade and it’s still so close to the bone.

Getting married in 2015 was a dream! I’m so happy that it happened. But we should have freakin’ eloped. I think about how much we left our friends to do… like twice a month. I think of writing apology/ thank you notes very, very often. If you’re reading this and you’re wondering if you should elope… okay I’m not going to tell you what to do but if you’re seriously considering it, you should seriously consider it more.

In 2017, I came out and that was one of the most liberating events of my life. And it came with so much pain and trauma and awkwardness. It decimated some friendships and irrevocably altered some familial relationships. It also… strengthened other friendships, bonded my spouse and I closer together and even changed very little. I’ll never get over the way that life plays out in ways that feel so unrealistic. If I were reading a book of my life, I’d have stopped by now because of the unbelievable way the main character keeps making moves. But when you’re living this life, it all unfolds over so much time that it all makes sense.

I started 2010 thinking that I was a Christian, that I was straight, that I never wanted to get married, wanted to make a living writing books, wanted to lose 150 lbs, and needed to live in the city to be happy and satisfied.
I’m ending 2019 with all that shit flipped on its head. I never was any of those things and I didn’t need any of those things.

And I’ve never been more soul-level happy, satisfied, and aware.
This decade has been impossible but we’re doing it and I’m so grateful for all that I am, now.

a big ole brain dump

I woke up the other day to a PayPal notification that I paid for another year of my domain, so I thought maybe I should start making use of this thing. I’ll tell you what, though, I definitely paid for a whole year in 2019 and used about three of those days. Each of those blog posts cost me about $33. So, in 2020 we are going to write more for no other reason than the fact that I’m paying for this space. I can’t bring myself to let it close up, ya know?

What’s on my mind these days… like… so much.

Like, with any luck this time next year we’ll have elected a socialist. And I’m trying not to get my hopes up about it. Not because I’m a pessimist or anything it’s just that I was so certain in 2016 and my heart was broken in such a profound and lasting way that I just kinda can’t see us doing any better. Yesterday was the vote in the UK and Boris Johnson is gonna be still around. So, I guess, point me in a direction where I can witness an example of people making a terrible choice and then learning their lesson and not making that exact same choice again and maybe you can convince me to get my hopes up a little higher. But… Oh! And this is weird too! Because I was vehemently team Elizabeth Warren and lately, without my consent I might add, my heart is softening towards Bernie? Gah. I don’t know. I just want the election to be done. It’s such a stressful orchestra of background noise to constantly be running in the background of all media and my own brain, too.

I will say that there’s one thing about the results of the 2016 presidential election that I appreciate on a personal level. And that is that if Hillary Clinton had been elected, I would have maintained ignorance about the corruption in Washington and also just the horrendous conditions that have been created for and built upon the backs of immigrants and people of color in our country. I would have kept just barely paying attention to politics and what’s going on in our upper levels of government. On one hand, when I saw things the way I did before, I slept better. On the other hand, at what cost?

At least we’re ending the year with Baby Yoda. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again that somehow this little tiny green guy with massive eyes is kind of saving me right now. All the memes. Give them to me. I might even watch the show if I get desperate. But I’m mostly fine with the memes. Ryan put Baby Yoda into Jurassic Park and it feels like everyone has seen it at this point. That’s really cool. The other day, Steven Spielberg’s production company retweeted his video. It makes me so happy that someone who brings so much joy to our life is bringing sweetness to so many other people right now. Everyone gets a little glimpse into the silliness of my person. He worked so hard on it, too, so I’m glad that video got some traction. His hard work paid off in a big way.

Other bits of joy that I’m ending this year with:
-Dolly Parton
-Cards from Keda’s Poetry Service
-Sharing a town with my sister
-We gave ourselves a counter top, electric ice cream maker
-Samantha Irby’s email list. I’m in love.
-Inviting artists to our store every weekend from Thanksgiving to Christmas so that they can sell their wares.
-Fionaimage (8)

What’s bringing you joy in the rough parts?