A Pile of Books Too Tall to Carry

I’m thrilled to announce that one of my poems was selected for my local library’s centennial poetry contest!  I will be reading it on September 29 at the Centennial Gala.

The rules were that it should be no longer than one page, single spaced; it must celebrate libraries and my town; and, I must be willing to include the poem in the time capsule.

It is in the Ottava Rima style; 10 syllables for each line, with each stanza in an abababcc rhyming pattern.

A Pile of Books Too Tall to Carry

Ten years we’ve called home our cramped house,
Left to Williams Park; right, the library.
Perfect for a solo mom with no spouse.
In front, unruly mint and strawberries,
small holes nibbled by a chipmunk or mouse.
Daisies in May make the lawn our prairie.
We live, we eat, we sleep here, our safe place,
privileged members of the human race.

Teens transform, grow. It’s wondrous and scary.
It helps mom to have worlds and more close by
as the stacks at the Brownsburg library.
Where minds can be opened; don’t just comply,
but borrow a pile too tall to carry.
Question, resist, don’t ignore what’s awry.
The universe is there to study, learn,
because in a snap it will be her turn.

We’ve checked out and returned hundreds of books.
So many topics. So many genres.
Maybe thousands? There is always a book
that invites, enchants me. Maybe llamas?
Or travel, crochet, raft babbling brooks?
Write poetry, fix trauma, learn drama?
All there, at my library, all in one place,
the free, local-gathering, knowledge base.

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Monthly Habit Tracker

I’ve been using a bullet journal for over a year, and this is the first month I’ve managed to complete a habit tracker for the entire month.

Eight days in August I did all five of the daily habits I’m trying to cultivate: reading for at least 30 minutes; writing anything (day job doesn’t count); exercising at least 30 minutes or 7500 steps; flossing; and eating at least 5 servings or 5 different fruits or vegetables.

One thing that has helped me keep up is not to let more than a day go by without filling in the tracker–either last thing at night or first thing in the morning.

I’ve tried both vertical and horizontal layouts but I like this one best, to the side of the monthly layout. And more than about 5 habits is too much for me to keep up. It’s probably time for me to switch out reading for another habit, because I think I’ve got that one down. But I so enjoy filling in that square every day!

Lunchtime Walk on the Canal

I’ve started dabbling in poetry this year. I blame Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hamilton, because I think good art makes me want to create.

Lunchtime Walk on the Canal

Sun rises high in the sky; time to walk
Elevator slow, let’s go! I need out!
Every step my concentration’s bedrock
The canal—dyed blue—my favorite route
Mallards tuck their iridescent heads. I gawk
Long winter, late spring; will anything sprout?
The sun shines on my head and in my eyes
The joy of movement alone the best prize

So many causes, so many colors—why blue?
For organ donors, I find, curious
With the ducks, geese, is the dye like glue?
Geese stand on one leg, seems precarious
Ducks float still, giving not a clue
Tulips, hyacinths—spring is victorious
Blue dye tendrils infiltrate the river
Invisible below the surface shining silver

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4/26/2018 Taken from pedestrian bridge across the White River

Reflections on a Decade of Book Journaling

I began my first book journal on April 19, 2008, shortly after my 40th birthday.  Now I’m 50, and in the intervening time I have read 749 books that I’ve kept track of in various journals.

Why have I kept it up?  Sometimes I get busy and I have to journal about 4-5 books at once, but I always catch up to what I’m currently reading.  I like to reflect and see what has caught my interest at different times in my life. I like to set goals for how I’ll read differently in the upcoming year.  I like to see how what I’m reading indicates what I’m thinking about at the time, or, what I want to avoid.

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from The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson, by Bryan Furuness, read 7/30/2013

Reading, for me, is not just an escape from everyday life.  It’s a way to get inside someone else’s head without actually being in their company.  I’ve conceded during this decade that I’m an introvert and people can exhaust me.  My energy is renewed after I’ve had some time inside my own head listening to or reading what has come directly from someone else’s.

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from The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu, read May 2015

Thinking about what I’ve just read extends the time I get to enjoy each book.  Copying quotes that I like from a book helps clarify what values I find important or things I’ve never thought about the way the author does, and that I now want to remember.  Then, when I look back in my journals, I get to return to the world of the book, just for a little while.

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from The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George, read February 2017

Reading, and writing about what I read, is my main spiritual practice.  It’s how I make sense of the world and my place in it.

Books I Started . . . But Didn’t Finish

I used to feel guilty for not finishing a book, feeling like I needed to complete what I started.  I was an indiscriminate reader as a child and young adult–not terribly picky about what I read, and I would force myself to get through a book even if I didn’t like the way I felt when I read it. Introspection and keeping a journal made me aware of the effect that books had on me, so I became more choosy about what I read and critical if I didn’t like how an author had portrayed a character or situation.  I began to give myself permission to move on and quit reading a book if it didn’t work for me.

I have been keeping a book journal, of books I finish, for almost 10 years.  In 2017, I began to keep a list of books that I started, but decided not to finish, along with a short synopsis of why I chose to move on.

A Soldier of the Great War, by Mark Halprin.  A selection of my library book group, this was a massive hunk of a book.  That doesn’t usually discourage me, as I have a “I like big books, and I cannot lie” bumper sticker on my car.  But I was annoyed by the main character, who was a professor of “aesthetics,” or beauty, and the author’s fat-shaming descriptions of more than one character.   Either the main character or Halprin, or both, buy into the fallacy that fat equals ugly and lazy.  Very early in the book, he describes poor women of Rome waiting for the bus, who had once been “sylph-like little girls completely different from the obedient cardigan-wearing barrels they had become,” as if the physical transformation, rather than age or maturity, turned them into “completely different” people.  He describes musicians as “remarkably corpulent” with one having “hands, big fat things like rows of kielbasa.”  As a young boy, he sought the bed of a princess, but instead opened the door to “a huge beached whale of a woman with exceedingly spacious gaps in her teeth, enormous fleshy lips, a porcine nose, and ears shaped like powder horns” who had “been too ugly to come to dinner.”  The book is set in 1964, with flashbacks to the early 1900’s, before and during World War I, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that Halprin echoed the attitudes towards fat people that were prevalent during that time, and that still exist today. But I now know better, even though I was born into our fat-shaming society just after the book’s opening, and I can and do choose to read and listen to media that doesn’t perpetuate those beliefs.

Everybody’s Got Something, by Robin Roberts.  I wanted to like this memoir, which was read by the author on audio.  I used to watch the morning news shows, and I admired Roberts as a groundbreaking African American, lesbian woman who had also dealt with cancer twice.  But I just couldn’t get into it.  I didn’t even get as far into the book as her breast cancer diagnosis, because it seemed to take forever to get to the parts I cared about, and was about this Oscar party, or that dress, and I lost interest quickly.

The Year of Voting Dangerously, by Maureen Dowd.  I wanted to like this one, too, which was a collection of Dowd’s columns from the 2016 election season.  But I didn’t attempt to listen to it until August of 2017, eight months into the illegitimate Trump presidency.  I couldn’t deal with the criticisms of Hillary Clinton that were written as the election progressed a year earlier.  Luckily, What Happened came out shortly thereafter, and I got to listen to Hillary herself.

When the New Deal Came to Town by George Melloan.  I’ve done a fair amount of research on life in the Midwest during the Great Depression as research for a book I’ve had in my head about my paternal grandmother, and I thought this book might inspire me to continue in that research.  But Melloan’s premise is that there wasn’t all suffering and want during that time, and that the New Deal policies were misguided.  I read the first 50 pages and decided I was done.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy.  I checked this book out from the library twice before I chose it to read next–I very much wanted to read it.  I liked the beginning–it was the story of a Muslim hijra, or transgender woman in India, and I took it with me on my winter vacation.  But through my 10 days away, I never wanted to pick it up and see what happened next.  The plot didn’t engage me, and I spent my free time on vacation doing word puzzles on my phone instead.  I got 100 pages in, wondering why I was not reading on my vacation, when I normally can’t go through books fast enough, and checked Goodreads reviews to see what others thought.  Many people had the same issues.  So I bailed, too.

My 2017 Year in Books: Analysis and Favorites

I read exactly the same number of books in 2017 as I did in 2016 – 77.   I’m going to have to do some serious limiting of my smartphone habit if I’m going to read more than 80, and given the dumpster-fire of politics in 2017, and hopes that 2018 will be an improvement, I don’t see it being easy to keep from checking Twitter constantly.

Of the total, 42 books fit my diversity criteria of being written by a person of color or person who is openly queer, which was 55%–a significant improvement over the past several years.  47 books were written by women; 2 by both a woman and a man or many authors; 1 by a person who is genderqueer; and 27 were written by men.

53 books were fiction; 9 memoir; 3 essays; 5 self-help; and 7 other non-fiction.  9 would be considered classics.  Of the fiction I read, 21 were contemporary fiction; 12 were sci-fi/fantasy; 14 historical fiction; 21 contemporary; 7 mysteries; and 3 young adult.

29 books, or 38%, were audio books.  It’s clear that without my daily commute and audio books, my reading time has plummeted, since I used to read far fewer audio books (9 in 2014, 16 in 2015, and 14 in 2016) but read a similar total number of books.

I liked so many that I don’t have room to specifically list and describe all of the books I felt strongly about. If you have questions about any from the main list that I haven’t mentioned, please comment and I’ll let you know what I thought.

Favorite Series 

The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman (includes The Masked City and The Burning Page). My best friend of 35 years, Becky, did a great review of this series on her Lighthearted Librarian’s Book Club Blog, which I read on her recommendation.   I then recommended this series all year, and didn’t hear any negatives from anyone who has read it.  Imagine if there are different worlds, and librarians can travel between them as spies to collect books for the library that connects all of the worlds.  I was hooked from the very first scene, and my 14-year old has read them all, as well. Cogman’s new book comes out on January 9, 2018!

I also will read anything N.K. Jemisin writes–she is an author of color who builds fascinating worlds and writes stories about systems of power and how people deal with being both the powerful and the powerless.  This year I read her Hundred Thousand Kingdoms series and she published the last in the Broken Earth trilogy–The Stone Sky–which was just as brilliant as the first two, which I read in 2016.

I also discovered a mystery series by Vaseem Khan, set in contemporary Mumbai, featuring the most upstanding and least-corrupt retired Indian police chief, Inspector Chopra, and his sidekick, a baby elephant named Ganesha.  Beginning with The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, and continuing through The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown, I laughed and escaped by following the Inspector dealing with his unwilling retirement due to heart issues and the crimes he is drawn into.  Imagining the scene made by Baby Ganesha following the Inspector through a mall was a treat.

Favorite Nonfiction

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah and What Happened by Hillary Clinton were my favorite nonfiction reads, both on audio.  Both were read by the author, and I felt like I had private one-on-one time with each of them.  Trevor is brilliant, hilarious, insightful, and I’m very glad to be able to watch him regularly on The Daily Show.  With What Happened, I both laughed out loud and cried during the the first 35 minute reading/listening session.  It helped to find out her grieving process and how she has dealt with the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election.

Library Book Group Surprises

I have belonged to a monthly reading group at my local library since 2011, and, though our facilitator does a great job, she can’t please everyone all of the time.  These three were my favorites from 2017.

The Little Paris Bookshop was a delightful surprise about a bookseller on a barge on the Seine who goes on an adventure searching for a lost love. I found myself flagging quotes beginning on page 11.  One of my favorites: “It’s amazing how close you are to your essential self as a kid, he thought, and how far from it you drift the more you strive to be loved.”

A Tale for the Time Being is set on Vancouver Island, and is a unique combination of a Japanese girl’s diary, and the story of the author (named Ruth) who found the diary washed up on the beach.  She weaves quantum mechanics and Zen Buddhism with magical realism into a page-turner.  “An unfinished book, left unattended, turns feral, and she would need all her focus, will, and ruthless determination to tame it again.”

I didn’t know what to expect with Mister Monkey, because the book I read had a grotesque-looking orange monkey on the front.  I did not expect to read a bittersweet book about theatre, writing, and life, told from the perspectives of different people involved in a children’s theatre play about a monkey on trial for theft. Prose begins from the perspective of one of the lead characters, and continues telling the story from the perspective of a different person in each chapter–we find out what’s in the monkey’s head through the child actor who plays him; what the author of the book that inspired the play intended; how the play affected the grandfather who took his grandson on an outing to see it; how the play and story became important in the day of the teacher of the grandson; and what happened when a waiter went to see it with his free tickets gifted as a tip by the author.  It’s inspiring to think of how many people could be affected by one person’s writing.

Powerful and intense fiction

An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay (Haitian-American woman is abducted for ransom in Haiti, repeatedly raped and assaulted–how does she deal with life afterwards?)

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue (13-year old child in late 1800’s Ireland starves herself and claims to be living on manna from heaven; an English Nightingale-trained nurse is assigned to watch her and determine if it’s a hoax.)

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie, who died while Lincoln was in office, is buried.  The story is told by the ghosts who haven’t yet moved on in his graveyard, and the ghosts’ dialogue is woven in to quotes from historical accounts of Lincoln’s behavior upon Willie’s death.)

Overall 2017 Favorites 

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See.  I have loved just about everything of See’s I’ve read, and Tea Girl did not disappoint me.  Set in a remote Yunnan village, Li-yan is a member of the Akha people, an ethnic minority in China.  Her family harvests and processes tea leaves and follow ancient customs through the 1980s.  When Li-yan gets pregnant and is unmarried, she takes her child to the nearest city where there is an orphanage, and later does her best to continue her education.  After several chapters of hearing the story from Li-yan’s perspective, See includes case reports and orphanage reports from the daughter, who was later adopted by an American family and named Haley.  Later chapters alternate between Li-yan and Haley, telling the story through the interconnections of both to the world of tea.  It’s beautifully written, and I loved the ending.

The Midwife’s Revolt, by Jodi Daynard.  Audible sucked me in with this book as a Daily Deal, and I’m so glad they did! Lizzie Boyleston is a midwife-farmer living in Braintree, Massachusetts, in the late 1770s.  Her husband dies in one of the early battles of the American Revolution, and she later supports herself as a midwife.  She happens to live near Abigail Adams, and they become fast friends.  But the time is one where you don’t know who to trust because anyone could be a British spy, or even a double agent.  I loved reading about the details of keeping house at that time in history, along with the portrayal of an interracial relationship, solving murders, topped off with a satisfying romance.  And then I was thrilled to find out Daynard has written two more sequels/companion pieces!

The Forty Rules of Love, by Elif Shafak.  I love library serendipity–where you just wander the stacks and see what you pick up.  That’s how I found this book.  Shafak alternates between the story of a 21st-century Boston woman of a certain age who isn’t completely satisfied in her marriage, and the story of the poet Rumi in the 1200s.  Rumi is found by his soulmate, a Muslim Sufi who changes his life, and in the process, gives him his poetry and the Forty Rules.  I have several pages of quotes–one example: “We were all created in His image, and yet were were each created different and unique. No two people are alike. No two hearts beat to the same rhythm. If God had wanted everyone to be the same, He would have made it so. Therefore, disrespecting differences and imposing your thoughts on others is tantamount to disrespecting God’s holy scheme.”

It was a great reading year–I could have summarized many more worthy books.  Next year, my goal is to NOT purchase any books, but only read what I own or borrow from friends or the library, because the pile has only grown larger since 2013.  Audible won’t count, because the books are electronic and don’t take up any space.

I want to continue to pursue the 80-book goal in 2018, including at least half that meet my diversity criteria.  I like the mix of fiction and nonfiction, so that doesn’t need to change.  I would also like to read some of the books my 14-year old is obsessed with, including Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson.

 

My 2017 Year in Books: The List

This year I’m going to split the year-end review of books into several posts.  First will be the list of books I’ve read, 77 this year.  Then the analysis, favorites, and goals for next year, and the last will be a short list of books I started but didn’t finish.   I also started a bullet journal this year, so I have both a running quick-reference list (featured photo) and a separate journal with my thoughts and quotes about each book.

(A) = Audiobook; (BG) = Library book group; (Div) = Diversity project, author must be a person of color and/or openly queer, or both.

The list:

  1. Second Nature, by Alice Hoffman
  2. Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah (A, Div)
  3. Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky (BG)
  4. Upstream, by Mary Oliver (Div)
  5. Brother, I’m Dying, by Edwidge Danticat (Div)
  6. Wild, by Cheryl Strayed (A)
  7. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin (Div)
  8. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead (Div)
  9. Turbo Twenty Three, by Janet Evanovich
  10. The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George (BG)
  11. The Farming of Bones, by Edwidge Danticat (Div)
  12. The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman
  13. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury (A)
  14. Notes of a Native Son, by James Baldwin (A, Div)
  15. Under the Udala Trees, by Chinelo Okparaanta (A, Div)
  16. The Broken Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin (Div)
  17. Kingdom of Gods, by N.K. Jemisin (Div)
  18. The Masked City, by Genevieve Cogman
  19. The Burning Page, by Genevieve Cogman
  20. An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay (Div)
  21. Freedom is a Constant Struggle, by Angela Davis (A, Div)
  22. You Can’t Touch My Hair, by Phoebe Robinson (Div)
  23. The Vegetarian, by Han Kang (Div, BG)
  24. Another Country, by James Baldwin (A, Div)
  25. Letters to a Young Muslim, by Omar Sarif Ghobash (Div)
  26. The Forty Rules of Love, by Elif Shafak
  27. Rani Patel, In Full Effect by Sonia Patel (Div)
  28. Razor Girl, by Carl Hiassen
  29. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See (A, Div)
  30. God Save the Child, by Toni Morrison (A, Div)
  31. Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James (BG)
  32. The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, by Vaseem Khan (Div)
  33. Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo
  34. Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
  35. The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown, by Vaseem Khan (Div)
  36. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison (Div)
  37. A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki (Div, BG)
  38. Call the Midwife, by Jennifer Worth (A)
  39. The End of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe (Div)
  40. Of Mules and Men, by Zora Neale Hurston (A, Div)
  41. Children of the New World, by Alexander Weinstein (A)
  42. Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin (A, Div)
  43. The Fishermen, by Chigozie Obioma (Div)
  44. Gabi: A Girl in Pieces, by Isabel Quintero (Div)
  45. Ashfall, by Mike Mullin (BG)
  46. The Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu (A, Div)
  47. Finding Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  48. Mr. Potter, by Jamaica Kincaid (Div)
  49. Flower Net, by Lisa See (Div)
  50. The Wonder, by Emma Donoghue (A, Div)
  51. A Separation, by Katie Kitamura (Div)
  52. The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson (A, Div)
  53. The Flying Circus, by Susan Crandall (BG)
  54. The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin (Div)
  55. Lucky Boy, by Shanthi Sekaram (Div)
  56. What Happened, by Hillary Clinton (A)
  57. Rescue, by Anita Shreve (A)
  58. White Like Me, by Tim Wise
  59. Ten Little Indians, by Sherman Alexie (Div, BG)
  60. Breath, Eyes, Memory, by Edwidge Danticat (Div)
  61. The Midwife’s Revolt, by Jodi Daynard (A)
  62. Tools of Titans, by Tim Ferriss
  63. Art Before Breakfast, by Danny Gregory
  64. Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson (A, Div)
  65. Mister Monkey, by Francine Prose (BG)
  66. Virginia Woolf, by Nigel Nicolson (A)
  67. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston (Div)
  68. Footsteps: From Ferrante’s Naples to Hammett’s San Francisco, Literary Pilgrimages Around the World, by various authors
  69. The Art of Possibility: Transfroming Professional and Personal Life, by Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander (A)
  70. The Falls, by Joyce Carol Oates
  71. Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery (A)
  72. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (A)
  73. Loving: Interracial Intimacy in America and the Threat to White Supremacy, by Sheryll Cashin (Div)
  74. An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon (Div)
  75. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens (A)
  76. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing (A)
  77. Discipline Equals Freedom: A Field Manual, by Jocko Willink

A preview of the analysis–55% (42 books) met my diversity criteria this year–I think that I’m finally doing justice to the project.   And without audio books at 38% (29), I would have fallen far short of my average of between 70 and 80 books per year.

In my next post, more analysis, more description of some of my favorites, and my goals for 2018.