Category Archives: Reading

Sunday Salon/Currently … In a Fog

It’s a foggy Sunday morning, as seen from our living room window. That’s a color photo, believe it or not, no fancy filters here. I’ve been up since 5 a.m., for no particular reason besides going to bed exceptionally early last night and sleeping in very late on Saturday. Maybe I’ve exhausted my sleep quota for the weekend — as if that’s possible. So far, my Sunday has consisted of reading the papers (Post-Gazette, Inquirer, and NYT) and a bunch of blogs. The grocery store is in my future and possibly a yoga class.

The Boy has a slight sore throat, he says, along with some congestion. I’m hoping its the typical winter crud and not the flu. This year’s flu season scares me and has me on high alert more so than usual; when I was 15, my never-took-a-sick-day-in-his-life father died at age 44 following a brief bout with the flu so these recent deaths (especially the children) are freaking me the fuck out.

Reading …
January hasn’t even ended and I already have the first book for my Best of 2018 list. (I know I still have to finish the post about my favorites from 2017.) It’s a review book and I usually try and refrain from talking much about them until my review appears but I can’t help myself with this one. It’s Educated by Tara Westover and is one of the best memoirs I’ve read. She was raised in a deeply religious, survivalist family in the Idaho mountains and didn’t attend school until she was 17. It’s drawn comparisons to The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and deservedly so. Incredibly gripping writing and just an astonishing story. I’m recommending it to everyone. Publication date is February 20. 

Listening …
As much as I loved Educated, this week also saw my first DNF (did not finish) book of 2018: Writers Between the Covers: The Scandalous Romantic Lives of Legendary Literary Casanovas, Coquettes and Cads by Shannon McKenna Schmidt. It seemed like a fun audiobook on the surface but quickly became overly salacious and tawdry.

In keeping with the salacious and tawdry theme, I’m currently listening to the audiobook version of Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff. (I’d add a photo but I’d rather not have that asshole’s face on my blog — and I’m not referring to Mr. Wolff.)  At the chapter six mark, I haven’t read any shockers that a) haven’t already been reported and b) most reasonable people didn’t already know or suspect.

Here are two podcast recommendations for your listening pleasure this week:

Caroline Donahue’s interview on The Secret Library Podcast with Chloe Benjamin, author of The Immortalists, another new book that I loved.

Katie Couric’s interview with Maggie Haberman, White House correspondent for The New York Times and who has been covering the White House’s current occupant for many years.

Watching
Only thing I watched this week was This Is Us — and that was plenty, thank you. And there’s no way I’ll be able to handle the Super Bowl next week (EAGLES, BABY!!!!!!!!!) and an episode of This Is Us. No way. No how. Except everyone will be posting spoilers, so I don’t know what I’m going to do. This show is crushing my heart.

Anticipating
Did I mention the Eagles are in the Super Bowl?  We are beyond excited in this house. Yes, even though we live in Pittsburgh, we still root for all of our Philly teams. I’m starting to think of a Philly-themed menu for next Sunday … perhaps hoagies, soft pretzels, water (pronounced “wooder”) ice and Tastykakes.

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2018 TBR Pile Challenge

This appears to be the year that — following a few years’ hiatus — I jump back into the crazy world of reading challenges. Like many avid readers, my TBR (to be read) pile of books is out of control. Goodreads shows that I currently own 641 books, but I know it’s more than that because a) I’m not very diligent about adding my ARCs (advanced reader’s copies) or Kindle books and b) I’ve never done a complete inventory of all my books.

Clearly, a TBR challenge is in order. Fortunately, Roof Beam Reader has brought back The Official TBR Pile Challenge after a two year hiatus. There are several other TBR-related challenges but what most appeals to me about this one is that you’re not limited to reading only your own books for a certain period of time. That’s not feasible for me. I like that this is spread out over the course of a year.

Today’s the last day to sign up with a list of 12 books (plus two alternates) from your TBR that you intend to read in 2018. Each of these books must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for AT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2017 or later.

In addition to the challenge’s criteria, I tried to select books that I’ve been “saving to read for a rainy day” because given the state of the world, it would probably behoove me to get to them sooner rather than later. I also wanted mostly women writers. Finally, I wanted some overlap with The Classics Challenge.

Without further ado, here are my dozen (plus two) for the Official 2018 Challenge:

  1. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2007)
  2. The Answer to Your Question by Paulette Bates Alden (2013)
  3. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (2000)
  4. When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins (2009)
  5. A Big Storm Knocked It Over by Laurie Colwin (1993)
  6. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (1989)
  7. The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr (1995)
  8. Into the Tangle of Friendship: A Memoir of the Things That Matter by Beth Kephart (2000)
  9. Ghosts in the Garden: Reflections on Endings, Beginnings and the Unearthing of Self by Beth Kephart (2005)
  10. Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor (1952)
  11. Above Us Only Sky: Essays by Marion Winik (2005)
  12. Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1928)

Alternates:
In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution by Susan Brownmiller
Unearned Pleasures and Other Stories by Ursula Hegi

There are also mini-challenges and periodic Checkpoints. The first one is today and asks which of these books have been on our TBR shelves the longest. I’m honestly not sure but I do know that four of these were purchased at a book sale in 2011 (as documented here) that boasted having 50,000 books available for sale.

I’ll update this post as I (hopefully) read and review all of these. In the meantime, check out what others are reading for the Official 2018 TBR Challenge here.

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Book Riot’s 2018 Read Harder Challenge

Those of us in book blogging land know that this is The Most Wonderful Time of the Year for reading challenges. What could be better than the prospect of an entire year of literary possibilities? There is a reading challenge out there for every possible interest and genre. (Check out A Novel Challenge to see what I’m talking about.)

At one point early in my blogging life, I was a certified reading challenge junkie, participating in 18 such events. I had a spreadsheet to keep track of what I was reading and the criteria. It was kind of elaborate. And fun. And, yes, a little crazy. The Husband called it “the Fantasy Football of the literary world.” (He may not have used the term literary world. Maybe book nerd or book geek was more likely.)

Participating in 18 challenges left me a little burnt out. But this year, I found myself kind of missing the camaraderie around them. Reading challenges help bring you closer to other bloggers and literary enthusiasts. They help you discover new books and authors. It builds community, and God knows we need as much of that as possible these days. Books are the perfect bridge builder.

For 2018, I decided to test the waters and try a challenge or two. I’m intrigued by Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge, now in its 4th year. It has the right amount of “challenge” to it without seeming impossible. I’m going to do my best to attempt this. We’ll see how it goes and I’ll keep track of my progress here. If this post is incomplete by December 31, 2018, so be it. It’s all in the name of fun and discovering great books.

If you want to play along, here’s the criteria. We’re to read a book fitting each of these descriptions. More information about Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge can be found here.

Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge 2018

A book published posthumously
A book of true crime
A classic of genre fiction (i.e. mystery, sci fi/fantasy, romance)
A comic written and illustrated by the same person
A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa)
A book about nature
A western
A comic written or illustrated by a person of color
A book of colonial or postcolonial literature
A romance novel by or about a person of color
A children’s classic published before 1980
A celebrity memoir
An Oprah Book Club selection
A book of social science
A one-sitting book
The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series
A sci fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author
A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image
A book of genre fiction in translation
A book with a cover you hate
A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author
An essay anthology
A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60
An assigned book you hated (or never finished)

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First Book of the Year 2018

Every New Year’s Day, Sheila from Book Journey hosts First Book of the Year where bloggers share … well, the first book they plan to read in the new year. I love this event because for as long as I can remember, I’ve always put considerable thought (perhaps too much) into the perfect book to launch another trip around the sun. Just like the invitation for a special event,  I think the first book can set the tone for the year.

Sometimes I’ve chosen something that aligns with my goals for the year, sometimes it has been a classic I’ve been wanting to read, and other times my choice is simply a book that seems to be right for the moment. I like my first book to be upbeat, perhaps somewhat inspirational, preferably by an author I’ve previously enjoyed.

For 2018, I’ve chosen a book by one of my favorite authors: Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan. I loved each of her previous books (The Middle Place, Glitter and Glue, Lift) and can’t wait to read this new one which is scheduled to be published next week (release date January 9).

(Truth be told, I’m probably going to be reading this and a review book since my first freelancing assignment is due January 6 — so this may very well wind up not being my actual first book — but we’ll just stick with this one in case the latter doesn’t work out.)

One of the fun things Sheila does for First Book of the Year is to create a photo collage of participants with our books. I can’t imagine how much work this is, but I love seeing what everyone else is reading.  You can check out our photos and book selections here.

Happy 2018 and happy reading!

 

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Sunday Salon/Currently … Wrapping Up 2017

“And that’s what I think I need to focus on more in 2017 — the moments themselves. Otherwise, the weighty expectations, anxiety, and emotional quagmires become too overwhelming. This isn’t a new realization or epiphany—just one that’s become more clear to me lately. Because yes, even in this craptastic and depressing year, there were some good moments. There’s always some good. Sometimes it’s hidden and hard to find, which means we need to look closer, go deeper. Make no mistake, though: count me among those glad to be drop-kicking 2016 into the ether of time while remaining vigilant of the dark days awaiting this brave new world arriving in 2017.”

~ written by me ( “may we all have our hopes, our will to try“) 12/31/2016

And here we are, at the end of another year … and my God, what a year it was, right? What can I say that hasn’t already been said about 2017? I’m certainly glad it’s over, but at the same time, I’m apprehensive about what the new year will bring. I mean, there’s always some uncertainty but living in these times makes it even moreso. Still, we survived the first year of this godawful regime, which is no small feat.

For this last post of 2017, though, I don’t want to focus on the political.  There’s been plenty of that and next year promises more of the same. I’m planning to resist just as hard — if not more–in 2018. Nor do I want to dwell too much on what was difficult about this year. There have been more than a few disappointments and challenges, ones that won’t vanish at the stroke of midnight. They will still be with us in the days to come. But instead, as I wrote last year, I want to spend the last remaining hours remembering the good moments of the past 365 days while looking ahead to 2018.

Best Moments: Reading 
Reaching my goal of reading 50 books. For those of you who care about such things, I have a separate post in the works with my favorite books of the year and other fun bookish stats.

Best Moments: Writing
Writing for Shelf Awareness where I had 29 book reviews published. In addition to those, I had the privilege of interviewing Douglas Abrams (The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World), John Boyne (The Heart’s Invisible Furies), Heather Harpham (Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Happily Ever After), Natasha Pulley (The Bedlam Stacks), and Beatriz Williams (Cocoa Beach).  I only had one review in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, of a book (Lucky Boy) I didn’t like. I say this every year, but I’m hoping to write more in 2018, both on the blog and elsewhere. I need to develop a plan to make this happen.

Best Moments: In the Kitchen 
Getting an Instant Pot!  It has changed my life.

Best Moments: With the Family
Although the weather didn’t cooperate, we enjoyed a relaxing vacation at the shore. It was a nice break in the midst of an intense time. The Boy went to a four week day camp this summer, which also didn’t work out as well as we had hoped. It just wasn’t the best fit. He’s made at least one close friend this year at school and has actually joined an after-school club. He’s been doing a lot of writing. He helped another friend who was considering suicide.

The Girl volunteered at the library this summer, learned how to play the drums (and wants to learn the guitar) as part of Girls Rock Pittsburgh, and participated in two summer writing camp programs. She’s also become quite the artist and is in the Art Club at school. She’s helped several friends in crisis situations, too. Both kids made the High Honor Roll this semester. They’re not perfect — none of us are — and while I wish they would get along better, I’m incredibly proud of both of them.

Best Moments: In Music
Seeing Bon Jovi in concert with The Girl. A great show, even though it was a bit abbreviated because of Jon not feeling well.

Best Moments: At Church
I joined a women’s group at church. We meet monthly and discuss various topics. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know these women. The Girl became more active in the youth group.

Best Moments: Healthwise
I had some routine bloodwork done last week and was surprised to learn my cholesterol and triglyceride levels have actually gone DOWN! I’ve also maintained the 10 pound weight loss from when I was running. I haven’t kept up with running but in September, I decided to try yoga — and I really liked it. That’s among my goals for 2018. Oh, and I’ve also gotten into essential oils.

So, here we are. Another New Year’s Eve. Tonight is no different than any other night. We’re hanging out at home, just the four of us, no big plans. I’m finishing up my 50th book of the year. The Husband’s watching something on his iPad — basketball, I think. The kids are in their rooms, doing whatever. Maybe we’ll stay up till midnight and watch everyone freezing their asses off in Times Square. Maybe not.

Wishing you and yours a happy 2018. See you on the other side.

 

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This Is How We Read (#AMonthOfFaves)

December tends to be a reflective month for many people, myself included. This year, I’m going to try and keep my blogging momentum going (thank you, #NaBloPoMo and Nonfiction November!)  by participating in the 4th annual #AMonthofFaves hosted by GirlxoxoTraveling with T and Estella’s Revenge. It’s a fun way to recap the year that was. Yes, a significant chunk of 2017 deserves to be drop-kicked to the curb, but despite such, there was some good stuff worth remembering. We’ll be posting about them each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of December — or, you know, anytime.

Today’s #AMonthofFaves is about our year in reading, a topic I usually wait until the first week in January to talk about for various reasons. I’m of the belief that it’s entirely possible for one to read one’s favorite book of the year on December 31. Consider this, then, a prologue of sorts to my annual year-end reading recap.

To date I’ve read 45 books, exceeding my 2016 total by two, a nice accomplishment. My goal is at least 50 — definitely doable. December is usually a plentiful reading month for me, given that I often have an abundance of vacation days to use up (which, thankfully, is the case this year).  More than half (27) were review books. Fiction consisted of 20 books; 21 were nonfiction. Only 9 were memoirs (would have thought that would have been higher); 3 were poetry collections and (in what might be a first) I read only one short story collection. The majority of my reading was print books, with 11 on audio.

Hints about my favorite book: it’s fiction, it was a book I reviewed for Shelf Awareness, I’ve never read the author before and I’ve written about it in previous posts. Oh — and this will give it away, for sure — it has the worst cover. I hate it. Seriously, the cover is awful, which is a goddamn shame because I haven’t seen this book discussed too much and I can’t help but think that’s one of the reasons why. It should be at the top of everyone’s best books list.

One thing that stands out to me is how much the current political and cultural climate has affected my reading this year — Ta-Nahisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power, Hillary Clinton’s What Happened, Rebecca Solnit’s The Mother of All Questions as well as Hope in the Dark are just a few titles that helped me keep some semblance of perspective and calm during what has been a tumultuous, emotional and unprecedented year. And assuming the slim possibility that the POSOTUS doesn’t get us all killed with his apparent lust for war and his obvious lovefest with Russia, “resistance reading” is likely to be a predominant theme of mine for as long as this regime is in power — so much so that I’m even contemplating hosting a “Reading the Resistance” challenge for 2018.

Here’s my first potential member, my cat Douglas, reading You’re More Powerful Than You Think by Eric Liu and writing to her elected representatives from the comfort of one of my typical reading spots, an old (broken in places) chair that used to belong to my grandparents.

 

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Nonfiction November – Nov 13-17: Become the Expert

This week for Nonfiction November, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness  (who happens to be one of my very favorite book blogging friends) invites us to either Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert by either sharing three or more books on a single topic that we have read and can recommend (be the expert), put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that we’ve have been dying to read (ask the expert), or create our own list of books on a topic that we would like to read (become the expert).

As I tend to do, I’ve been way overthinking this.

(Overthinking, now’s that’s something I’m an expert in.)

While I wouldn’t call myself an expert, there are certain subjects I tend to gravitate towards in my nonfiction choices.

Autism.

Politics and current events.

Death.

Feminism.

Mindfulness and spirituality.

Food.

LGBTQ issues.

I could easily and happily recommend three books to you on any of the above topics. (Feel free to ask me in the comments if you need a suggestion.)

But an expert?

Nah.

Since I believe there’s always more to learn about a subject, I’ll go with Door #3.

Become the Expert.

Recently, I’ve been seeking out books about the workings of the brain. I don’t mean a neuroscience textbook; rather, I’m very curious to learn more about memory and how trauma affects our memories. In addition to autism, our family has been impacted by dementia, depression and anxiety, migraines, and PTSD. I’m interested in reading more about all of these. A lot of lifestyle issues — sleep, exercise, food, stress, connection with others — are crucial to our brain health and our overall well-being.

A few books on this topic that I’m interested in reading include:

The Inheritance: A Family on the Front Lines of the Battle Against Alzheimer’s Disease 
by Niki Kapsambelis

Earlier this summer our library hosted Niki for a talk and book-signing. The Inheritance focuses on the DeMoe family. Of the six DeMoe children, five have inherited the genetic mutation that causes early onset Alzheimer’s; the sixth, Karla, has inherited the responsibility for all of them. But rather than give up in the face of such news, the DeMoes have agreed to spend their precious, abbreviated years as part of a worldwide study that could utterly change the landscape of Alzheimer’s research and offers the brightest hope for future treatments—and possibly a cure. Much of this research is happening right here in Pittsburgh.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
by Matthew Walker, PhD.

In Pursuit of Memory: The Fight Against Alzheimer’s
by Joseph Jebelli

Memory Rescue: Supercharge Your Brain, Reverse Memory Loss, and Remember What Matters Most
by Daniel G. Amen

How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
by Lisa Barrett Feldman

Memory’s Last Breath: Field Notes on My Dementia 
by Gerda Saunders

 

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