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

Giving and Taking

So, I’m reading this book right now. It’s called A Little Life [affiliate] by Hanya Yanagihara. Ever since I saw it for the first time at the book store I felt drawn to it. I don’t know why. It’s really, really long. And as I’ve mentioned in the past, I am a very slow reader. So I try not to get drawn to books that are 720 pages. But here we are. One day I just couldn’t take it anymore and I drove to the store just to buy this book to read while I was at the laundromat. I’ve been reading it for hours at a time since Friday and I’m almost 1/4 of the way through.

So I’m going to write to you about how I’m feeling about this book knowing full well that my thoughts and feelings about certain characters absolutely will change as time goes on.

There’s this one character named Jude. And I hate that I relate to him more than anyone else. Or maybe everyone relates to him the most? I kind of doubt it but there’s a lot of him that echoes so much about how I feel a lot of the time. I really don’t like it, either, because Jude’s character is kind of the foil of his roommate, Willem. Willem is tall and blonde and beautiful and open and kind and generous. Jude is… a physical wreck. He’s an emotional brick wall. He’s filled with secrets and silence and nevertheless everyone loves him so much.

The thing about Jude is that he has a secret. I don’t know what it is yet. There have been allusions to what it might be but nevertheless, one of Jude’s most defining characteristics–at least at this point, is that he never divulges any personal information about himself. He doesn’t want anyone–not even his deepest most loving friends, to know what happened to him when he was a kid. He’s very aware of how much he takes from other people and is forever keeping track of what he owes to them. And he is forever in awe of the way that other people will hand over so much information about themselves so freely to one another.

Now, on the surface, there’s not a lot that Jude and I have in common. But the chapters that focus on him, for some reason, feel like they’re about me. I don’t know why I hold tightly to him except that we have similar defense mechanisms. Jude and I–we want to know our people intimately. We’re afraid to speak up. We’re afraid to ask about things we don’t know about. We both work so hard to appear to be fine that we miss out on true, full experiences.

There’s this one habit that I have–something leftover from childhood that still creeps up. No, it doesn’t creep up. It lives at the front of my mind and I have to actively battle it. Every day, when I remember to. It’s this part of me that is so afraid of getting things wrong or being seen as someone who doesn’t understand something. I’ve been doing this since I was a 5th grader in math class when my exasperated tutor would show me flash cards and I would roll my eyes and pretend like this particular math problem was too easy to even consider answering. I have never passed a math class on my own merit–even after I was in college and was trying my absolute best. I skated by on the kindness of befuddled teachers who couldn’t bear the thought of keeping me from graduation on account of the fact that I couldn’t grasp Algebra 1.

This hits me in relationships, too. I feel like there have been times where I’m just easing by on limited amount of information–forgetting how much people love to be asked about themselves. I do this thing where I assume that someone is going to give me as much information as they’re comfortable with and asking follow up questions is prying, nosy and insensitive. But that’s just not how it always goes. I feel like I’m too old to be learning basic aspects of friendship but here we are. I’m grateful to be learning them at some point.

Some of my closest friends are here because we’ve lived so much life together. But my newer friends, ones I’ve known for a year or two, it only hit me recently how little I know about them. I know how they see things politically. I know how they parent. I know that they are generous with their love and time. I know that we’re similar enough to get along and take care of one another and maybe I just figure that these friendships will live themselves into intimate knowledge of one another. And they will–of course they will. But the way I guard myself and expect others to want to do the same isn’t going to foster any sort of intimacy. I don’t want to be like Jude. I want to know and be known. I can’t wait to get back home and read more–I hope he gets to know this part of life.

So, I’m working hard at not letting fear get in the way of letting me life a full, intimate life. I’m divulging more information than I’m wont to do even though I feel so self conscious and self-absorbed when I feel like I’m talking too much. I’m asking people more about themselves. I am reminding myself that people want to know me as much as I want to know them. Digging deeper is okay–it’s important. It’s not an imposition–and if it is, my friend will tell me. Because friends.

This feels like basic stuff. Kind of embarrassing to even put out there. But these are the lessons I’m learning lately and if I’m living open and honest so that you can, too. It’s part of it.

What are you learning, lately?

XOXO, Lib