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?

Five Star Books: 2019

In my last post, I gave myself the idea of making a top ten list of my favorite books that I read in 2019. Well, I thought of it for about 23 seconds and decided that’s impossible. I can’t tell you the very best. What kind of a monster do you think I am?!

What I can do, though, is give you a list of all of the books I marked with Five Stars on Goodreads, though! Hey, follow me on Goodreads if you want to.

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I don’t really have a super thoughtful method to describe how I decide that a book is five-stars-worthy. It’s  just, if I really liked it. Like, if I would super duper recommend this book to someone else, then it gets five stars. If I liked it fine but I probably won’t evangalize about it or anything, I’ll give it four. Looking at my Goodreads account, though, it turns out that if I wouldn’t rate it four stars and above, I probably won’t finish it. So… we both learned something about me today. There are too many books to spend time on three-star ones. AND WE’RE OFF!!

Five Star Books I Read in 2019 (in no particular order of preference):

Maisie Dobbs (book #1) by Jacqueline Winspear
I listened to this on Audiobook. It’s the perfect cozy mystery series. I don’t usually love a series but I will definitely read more from this one.

Exit West by Hamid Mohsin
This is the closest thing to science fiction that I can get. But I loved it. It took me to places and scenarios that are so different from the live I currently live.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I felt so connected and invested in all of these characters.

Becoming by Michelle Obama
Hated the ending. But adored all the rest in this book full of so much love and humanity.

Kindred by Octavia Butler
No, this is the closest thing to science fiction that I can get! This book blew my mind! I know that I said that it would be impossible to list my top ten favorite books but it’s easy for me to tell you what my number one favorite was. It was Kindred. Ten stars. I want to read everything she’s ever written.

There You Are by Mathea Morias
I’ve been describing this book as if The Hate U Give and High Fidelity had a baby. It’s a love story but without the romance. And it’s so good.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Blew! My! Mind! I love the way she played with structure. I loved the plot twist. I loved the setting and time period. I loved it all.

Girls Like Us by Randi Pink
This is a book about found family. It feels so honest and true–probably because it doesn’t stray too far from the very real history of women and femmes who had the misfortune of turning up too pregnant too early in our not too distant past.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
The fact that this book was based on an American truth brought me to my knees in both sorrow, rage and acknowledgement that this story isn’t over.

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
I wrote about this in my last post, so I won’t get into it again.

We are All Good People Here by Susan Rebecca White
This one took me to some unexpected places and wondering where I fit on the spectrum between Apathetic and Extremist.

The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner
This memoir broke my heart. At times, I only kept reading because I knew that the main character definitely survived because she was able to write this book.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
*See The Downstairs Girl

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett
This is like The Hunger Games meets The Handmaid’s Tale. I folded so much laundry while listening to this on Libro.fm.

The Mountains Sing by Nguyến Phan Quế Mai
Admittedly, I’ve never known that much about Vietnam. Neither the country nor the war that took place there. I felt so deeply for this family and for the way they fought for the promise of a future by searching their past. The writing is incredibly descriptive without bogging the story down in details. It was masterfully done.

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson
The delicious undertones of this book are all focused on themes of forgiveness and whether or not it’s important to tell the whole truth all wrapped up in a delightful, exciting thriller.

*Bonus since I haven’t finished it yet but I will finish it before 2019 is over and I promise this is a five star book:

The Witches are Coming by Lindy West
I’m listening to this one on Libro.fm and every thirty seconds I’m chanting, “YES Lindy! YES!” Lindy answers so many questions but just for fun, here’s one: “How the eff are we seriously calling Ted Bundy ‘charming’ while also wondering if Elizabeth Warren is ‘likable’???” And I want to know the answer too. Just kidding WE ALL KNOW THE ANSWER. IT’S BECAUSE WHITE, CIS MEN ARE WORSHIPED JUST FOR BEING ALIVE EVEN IF THEY ARE VERY LITERAL SERIAL KILLERS WHILE EVERYONE ELSE HAS TO BEND OVER BACKWARDS WHILE BALANCING DISHES IN BOTH HANDS JUST TO BE CONSIDERED VAGUELY ACCEPTABLE. Sorry, I didn’t mean to yell but also, like, Lindy West makes me need to yell. WOO! Feels good!


Well, now that we know what my super favorite books are from this year, I wonder if it’s telling anything about what kind of books I like?

What were your top favorite, five star books of this year?

XOXO, Lib