3 Ways My Fantasy Self Has Complicated My Reading Life

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Have you heard about the concept of a fantasy self? It’s the person you sometimes think you are even though reality says otherwise. My fantasy self looks like this:

  • She wakes up early every day for yoga and a healthy smoothie
  • Her spaces at home and work are always tidy and perfectly organized
  • Her closet could be on Pinterest
  • She’s a minimalist who only buys what she needs
  • She’s always stylish and never just throws on the first article of clothing she sees of a morning

In reality, I prefer sleeping in, my yoga mat has dust on it, I struggle with clutter, my closet is overflowing, I like shopping way too much, and sometimes I just want to wear a baggy sweater and leggings.

I have a fantasy self when it comes to reading, too. She looks like this:

  • She’s read all the classics and loves them
  • She thinks Ulysses is a masterpiece
  • Literary criticism is her lighthearted bedtime reading
  • She’s unafraid of 800-page Russian classics
  • She loves Proust, Woolf, and Pynchon
  • She finished Infinite Jest in a week

In reality, I prefer Liane Moriarty to Faulkner, gave up on Ulysses after 10 pages, own some literary criticism that’s been sitting on the shelf unread since college, and donated my one and only Proust book.

Today I want to discuss how my fantasy self has damaged my reading life, and how I’ve tried to bridge the gap between fantasy and reality.

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As I started to build my personal library, I bought books that looked interesting, but I also bought books I thought I should read. I was an English major in college and I’ve been working in libraries for over a decade. I thought a good English major needed to read as many classics as possible, so I filled my shelves with classics even though I usually prefer contemporary books. I thought every library employee needed to read the Harry Potter series, so I got it even though I’m not interested in fantasy or magic. Not only did my fantasy self cause me to spend money on books that I didn’t genuinely want in my library, but that book buying led to crowded shelves holding books that didn’t inspire me.

I’ve decluttered my shelves a couple of times over the past few years, and I purged a lot of the stuff my fantasy self bought. Now my shelves are full of books I’m excited about. There are still a lot of classics, but they’re classics I truly look forward to reading someday. If you have books on your shelf you can honestly say you don’t want to read anymore, let them go. Be honest about what you genuinely can’t wait to read.


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Sometimes when I browsed my bookshelves pre-decluttering, I’d feel a pang of guilt when I glanced at the books I thought I should read. It was as if I wasn’t completing a critical assignment. When I saw the books I left unfinished but was convinced I needed to like to be a “real reader,” I felt as if I wasn’t as smart as the people who raved about a particular book or author. Reading is something I love, and my fantasy self made it feel more like a chore than something I do to relax and enjoy myself.

If you feel as if you’re less than because you’ve read Twilight and not Finnegan’s Wake, I implore you to let go of the idea that you’re less of a reader. Don’t let your fantasy self make you feel guilty for reading what you like.


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I kept a lot of the books I read in college. Some of them I kept out of love, but others I kept because they were like trophies. It made me feel good to see an anthology I read, even though I knew I wasn’t going to read it again. It wasn’t a book I treasured, but something that validated me and made me feel smart.

I also bought books for Future Andrea. I thought, “Someday I’m going to read The Madwoman in the Attic because it’s an important work of literary criticism. Someday I’m going to read The Feminine Mystique because it’s a feminist classic.” Notice how I wanted to read these books because they matter, not because they looked especially interesting to me.

Now I try to only buy books I want to read today. I’ve gotten better at letting go of the books I kept around for the wrong reasons. What books are on your shelf that represent the past or future you,  but not necessarily present you? It might be time to set them free.


Acknowledging your fantasy self takes honesty and vulnerability. It’s not easy to admit we’re not the people we think we are or wish we were. It’s important to think about the future and to set goals, but learning to see and value ourselves in this moment, just as we are, is one of the best gifts we can give ourselves.

Have you given any thought to your fantasy self? If so, how has it shaped your reading life?


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Top Five Friday: Bookish Websites

When I first started using the Internet, I was in elementary school. My family had our own PC which made us the coolest people ever in my young mind. I was as familiar with the tone of the dial-up connecting as I was the sound of my own name. I had several floppy discs and was blown away by the idea of a search engine. If you hadn’t noticed yet, the Internet has come a long way. That’s good news, especially for book people.

Today I’m sharing five of my favorite literary websites. I like each of these sites for different reasons and rely on them often. Plus, no floppy disks are necessary, so that’s nice.

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The Millions

I’ve been a fan of this site for a long time. Twice a year they do a considerable book preview, and these posts always result in me adding way too many books to my ever-growing TBR. My favorite thing about the Millions, though, is their essays. Sometimes they’re about specific books or writers, but some are more general. No matter the topic, I’ve found the pieces on this site to be well-written and thoughtful. (My favorite contributor is Nick Ripatrazone who mostly writes about poetry.)

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Literary Hub

Like the Millions, Lit Hub offers excellent essays, interviews, and criticism, but I think Lit Hub offers more diversity, both in the genres they cover and the inclusion of writers of color. Besides the consistent quality of the writing, another thing I love about this site is an offshoot they launched called Book Marks. It’s a bit like Rotten Tomatoes in that it shares the newest books, rounds up their reviews, and lists how many were positive and negative.

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Book Riot

The thing I like best about this site is that they cover a wide array of books and writers. If you can think of an incredibly specific genre or title, I’m willing to bet Book Riot has talked about it. The quality of the writing on this site is more hit and miss than the Millions and Lit Hub, but there’s a lot of good stuff to be found if you’re willing to wade through the variety of their posts to find something that interests you. They post a lot of content every day, so there’s certainly a good chance there will be something that you want to read.

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NoveList

I talked about NoveList in my post about how I use my public library, but I love it so much that I’m mentioning it again. This site is different than the others because it’s a subscription service. To see if you have access, check with your local public or academic library. If you do have access, I don’t know of a better source for finding book recommendations than NoveList. You can find book recs all over the Internet, of course, but what’s great about NoveList is how precisely you can search for books. You can find titles by searching for things like a strong sense of place, a specific time period, writing style, and more. NoveList is also an excellent resource for those of us who work in libraries. When I needed to brush up on my readers’ advisory skills, I turned to NoveList for their excellent articles about various book genres and how to get the right books to the right patrons. I use this site all the time and know my job would be much harder if it didn’t exist.

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Goodreads

Goodreads combines two of my favorite things: books and lists. I’ve been using the site to track my reading since 2010. (You can find me here.) I enjoy setting reading goals each year, and their challenge tracker is fantastic. There’s something incredibly satisfying about finishing a book and adding it to my Goodreads list. I also love keeping track of what my friends are reading. I use the site to find quotes, and I enjoy entering their giveaways. I won a copy of The Girls by Emma Cline once, so I’m convinced I’m going to win again any day now.


Are you a fan of any of these sites? What are your must-visit bookish sites?


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3 Things I Learned While Earning My English Degree

As an undergrad student majoring in English, the one question I got all the time was, “So you’re going to teach?” My answer always has and always will be “no.” Teachers are amazing, but teaching isn’t my calling. If I taught, the students and I would both be crying a lot, and I find it best to avoid mass crying.

Though I don’t use my degree to teach, it’s come in handy a time or two over the years. Today I want to share the three most important lessons I learned while getting my degree and how I’ve put them to use.

I’ve always been an avid reader, but it wasn’t until college that I learned how to read through various lenses. Whenever I read anything before, I read it through the lens of a white, middle-class millennial. But in college, I learned how to read through the lens of the Victorians, the Romantics, and the audiences who witnessed Shakespeare’s plays. As I earned my degree, I learned that when I read, I need to think about context, such as:

What time period was this written in?
Who was the original audience?
What would stand out to them that can inform my opinion today?

That knowledge has been incredibly beneficial and opened up texts to me in whole new ways.

Reading Moby-Dick wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had, but I’m glad I read it. Melville’s story of an obsessed man going on an epic quest is a timeless story about longing and revenge. I’m not Shakespeare’s biggest fan, but it’s astounding to me that people are still analyzing and enjoying his words even now. His use of language amazes me. I might not pick up Paradise Lost or The Scarlet Letter for light weekend reading, but those stories tell us something profound about humanity, sin, and judgment. I didn’t love all the reading I was assigned in school, but I did discover books like The Monk by Matthew Lewis and Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain. I also encountered contemporary works like Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich. Good fiction always tells the truth, and those books tell it beautifully. Even though I didn’t like every text I was assigned in school, I’m better for having read them, and I was exposed to some great writers along the way.

In my last semester of college, I took two classes that paired perfectly. One was an English class teaching the theory and fiction of the women’s movement thus far, and the other was a sociology class about gender. I went into those classes pretty neutral about feminism. It wasn’t a word I used to identify myself, but if someone else used it, that was just fine with me. I couldn’t have given you a good definition of the term at all until I read the passionate words of Audre Lorde, Naomi Wolf, and others like them. I didn’t fully understand how hard women had to fight to vote or to buy a house on their own. I couldn’t have explained why feminism is so important before I watched a documentary in my sociology class about how women are objectified. I knew that was true, of course, but it wasn’t until I saw scenes of women allowing members of a rock band to throw pieces of deli meat onto their skin to see if it would stick that I realized just how little women’s lives matter to people who only see them as entertainment.  Learning about how the world has mistreated women and how so many have fought back shaped me in ways that I’m still uncovering.


What are the important things you learned in school? I’d love to hear them!


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Books that Have Opened My Eyes

One of the best things about reading is that it opens your eyes to people, beliefs, and situations that are outside what’s familiar. I’ve lived a privileged, middle-class life, so it’s important that I learn from stories different from mine. Many books have made an impact on me, so today I’m highlighting a few of them that illuminated a specific topic.

Please note: Two books deal with rape and sexual assault, which I do address.

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THE BOOK THAT OPENED MY EYES TO THE EFFECTS OF POVERTY:
Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx
by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

I knew about poverty before I read this book, of course. I knew poverty could hold people back, but I didn’t fully understand its ramifications until I read Random Family. This is a remarkable work of journalism by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc that follows a group of people living in the Bronx over several years of their lives. Their stories are full of addiction, drugs, sex, prison, broken relationships, and violence. It’s easy to say, “Just get an education. Just get a job. Just leave that situation.” But poverty often acts as a blockade. If you’re poor and might lose your housing, dealing drugs and making thousands of dollars might sound great. But dealing leads to more and more problems and the cycle keeps on going. This book showed me how easily poverty traps people and how difficult it is to transition to a better life.

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THE BOOK THAT OPENED MY EYES TO RACISM:
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness 
by Austin Channing Brown

One of the most striking things about this book is the author’s name. She reveals that her parents named her Austin so people would hear it and assume she was a white man. They knew this would make job searches easier and might allow her a foot in the door she might not have as a black woman. Reading that broke my heart. A child entering the world should be a time of joy; parents shouldn’t have to think about the future and prepare for eventual prejudice as they’re holding their newborn. This is a slim book, but it’s full of insights about race, and specifically speaks to the Church about what we can and should be doing better to advocate for and welcome people of color.

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THE BOOK THAT OPENED MY EYES TO THE EFFECTS OF TRAUMA: 
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

I read (and loved) Roxane Gay’s essay collection Bad Feminist, so I knew she’d been raped as a 12-year-old. Hunger is the story of how that assault changed her life and her relationship with her body. With awe-inspiring vulnerability, Gay writes about how being overweight became a fortress to keep people away and how her family watched her spiral out of control and weren’t sure what to do. She talks about bad decisions she’s made, her relationship with food, and what she’s doing as an adult to manage her trauma. There are no easy answers or tidy endings here. This is a powerful memoir that shows just how much one event in a person’s life can completely change everything. Roxane Gay is one of the best writers alive today.

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THE BOOK THAT OPENED MY EYES TO THE WAR ON DRUGS:
Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari

In this book, Johann Hari presents a well-researched history of the war on drugs, revealing all the ways in which that war has caused additional damage and suffering. He includes powerful stories about Billie Holiday, drug cartels, and needle exchanges, among others. Hari weaves all of these threads into a convincing argument about the future and reform of the drug war. This is a gripping, thought-provoking book from start to finish.

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THE BOOK THAT OPENED MY EYES TO THE EFFECTS OF SOCIAL MEDIA:
American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales

I work with kids every day, so I was curious about the role social media plays in their lives. I was unprepared for what I learned in this book.  Journalist Nancy Jo Sales interviews teen girls, so readers get firsthand knowledge of just how important social media can be to them. I was surprised that even when girls are getting bullied and have to deal with being oversexualized, they remain dedicated to their online worlds. My one complaint about this book is that most of the subjects Sales interviews are middle-class or higher, so there isn’t much information about how poorer kids interact with technology. I think that’s a big missing piece, but this book is still worth reading, especially for those of us who engage with kids on a regular basis. After I finished reading, I was overwhelmed with gratitude that Instagram and Snapchat didn’t exist while I was growing up.

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THE BOOK THAT OPENED MY EYES TO MISOGYNY AND RAPE CULTURE:
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

There are aspects of all these books that shocked me, but I don’t think any of the other books left me feeling quite as disgusted as Missoula. Jon Krakauer explores how little seriousness is sometimes given to rape and assault allegations, especially when the alleged perpetrators are people the community admire, like college football players. If I could, I’d make this book required reading for every person heading off to college. They need to know just how drastically rape and assault can change lives, whether justice is served or not.


What about you? What are the books that have opened your eyes?

A Gift Guide for Book People

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As you might have noticed from the music, store Christmas tree displays, and crowded malls, the holidays are quickly approaching. I relish this time of year, including shopping for the people I love. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to put together a bookish gift guide. Whether you’re searching for a gift for a friend or want something special for yourself, I’m sure there’s something here for you. Let’s get shopping.

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  • Author Bookmarks | $5
    • I bought these for myself a while back, and they’re delightful.
  • Harper Perennial Olive Editions | $10
    • If you know someone who loves classics, the latest editions of the Olive series are beautiful.
  • Books Washi Tape | $3.55
    • Someone who keeps a planner or book journal would love this cute tape.
  • Edgar Allan Poe-ka Dot Pouch | $12
    • A friend gifted me this pouch years ago and it’s still going strong. It makes me happy every time I see it.
  • 100 Books Scratch-Off Poster | $15
    • How fun is this poster? If you get great joy from crossing off items on your to-do list, scratching off the squares might serve as a good push to read those classics you’ve meant to read.
  • Powell’s Literature Water Bottle | $12
    • When I use this water bottle, I feel more hydrated and well-read.

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  • Library Stamp T-Shirt | $28
    • This is perfect for any library lover.
  • Book Smart Tote Bag | $19.99
    • Make sure your bookworm best friend has something to carry her books in.
  • My Ideal Bookshelf | $24.99
    • This book is full of beautiful illustrations by Jane Mount and contains so many great reading recommendations.
  • William Shakespeare Library Candle | $25
    • Candles are lovely all year long, but especially when it gets cold outside. I might like reading Shakespeare more if I had this candle.
  • Reading Journal | Starts at $32.95
    • How cute is this journal? It’s customizable, too!
  • Reading Rest | $30
    •  This reading rest is ideal for someone who’s always reading on their lunch break.

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  • Personalized 5 Book Set | $195
    • A set from Juniper Books is on my bookish bucket list. Their work is just stunning.
  • 1984 Sweatshirt | $50
    • Wear the books you love with a literary sweatshirt.
  • Bookends + Lamp | Starts at $58.80
    • This is both functional and beautiful, a solid combo.
  • Book of the Month Subscription | $79.99 for 6 months
    • You know your sister wants to read more, but neither one of you know where to start. With a BOTM subscription, she can choose her own titles.
  • Custom Ideal Bookshelf Print | $95
    • If you know your BFF’s favorite books, this would be such a thoughtful, meaningful gift.
  • Page 1 Books Subscription | $70 for 3 months
    • If you like the idea of a book subscription but want something more personal than BOTM, Page 1 is a perfect choice.

May your holiday season include much bookish goodness.

What I Wish People Knew About Their Public Library

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I’ve worked part-time at a public library for over 13 years. I’ve noticed that some patrons are dynamic library users. These folks know about our events, have no trouble finding what they want, and use our online resources. But there are a lot of patrons who know very little. Here’s a list of things I wish people knew about their public libraries. We have so much to offer, says the woman who’s not biased in any way.

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If you’re a student and need to find articles for a research paper, your library will have great online databases to offer you, such as ProQuest or Science in Context. If you’re on a tight budget and want to get out of the house, check your library’s calendar of events. My district hosts trivia nights, offers concerts and poetry readings, and has taught classes ranging from yoga to art. Are you part of a homeschooling family? The library will be your best friend. Not only can you get educational materials, but check your library’s site to see if they offer special cards or classes for homeschoolers.

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On your library’s website, you’ll probably find links to media resources such as OverDrive/Libby, Hoopla, RBDigital, or Freegal. I enjoy audiobooks, and I enjoy them even more when I download them to my phone from OverDrive and don’t have to carry around a large, plastic case with multiple CDs. I also like presidential biographies, which can be quite heavy. You know what’s not heavy? My Kindle Paperwhite and the biography I downloaded to it. Your library almost certainly offers downloadable audiobooks and ebooks, but they might also offer magazines, movies, comics, music, or TV shows.

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There’s a magical thing called  interlibrary loan (or ILL) in which librarians will track down an item for you if it’s not in the collection. Libraries all over the world participate in this system, so there’s a good chance a librarian will be able to find that rare book you’re seeking. I fear patrons will search the catalog, not see what they want, and then give up. But you can always ask about ILL. You can submit a purchase request, too. Just a couple of weeks ago, I requested an ebook through OverDrive, and it was automatically in my checkouts by the end of the week. Trust me when I say your librarian wants you to get what you want.

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At my library, patrons can already place a hold on the 2018 version of A Star Is Born even though it’s still in theaters. Jane Harper’s newest book doesn’t hit the US until February, but I’ve had a hold on it for at least a month or two already. If you want to avoid being 147th in line for a popular item, check your library’s catalog ahead of time and place a hold. Even if you think there’s no way the library will have it yet, check anyway. I’ve been surprised many times.

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Libraries are no longer places just for books; numerous libraries have a library of things available for checkout. Here’s a list of what I’ve seen various libraries offer:
-Ties and bags for job seekers
-Telescopes
-Museum/symphony passes
-Specialty baking pans
-Musical instruments
-Seeds
-Tote bags full of books for book clubs
-STEM kits and blocks for kids
-Video cameras

I’m sure there are a lot more, so make sure to see what “things” your library has available.

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There’s a cliche about librarians in which they’re always shushing people. Perhaps that was the case at one point, but it’s certainly not anymore. Public libraries are no longer quiet places all the time. One library in my city has a coworking space. Another has a studio with cameras, a green screen, and a beautiful Mac desktop that I might be lusting after a teensy bit. Things happen in public libraries like storytime, game nights, art walks, and sometimes even concerts. It’s fun to see libraries become the creative cornerstones of their community.

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I can’t count the number of patrons who seem incredibly guilty when they ask me a question. They might say, “This is probably stupid.” I’ve also gotten a lot of, “I’m so sorry to bother you.” Others have confessed how long it’s been since they’ve been to the library at all. Let me assure you that your question isn’t stupid or a waste of time. It has definitely been asked before and will be asked again. Library staff is there to help you find what you need. If a staff person is ever rude or dismissive to you, that’s their problem and not yours. So feel free to ask about whatever makes you curious. The vast majority of library employees work there because they love learning, so they’ll be glad to help teach you something.


Every library might not have the resources I mentioned, but I’m willing to bet a lot of them do. What’s your favorite thing about your public library? What do you wish your library offered?

My Favorite Political Books

With the U.S. midterm elections coming up tomorrow, I’ve had politics on my mind. I have zero desire to debate political beliefs or watch cable news, but I do love reading about politics and presidents.

Today I want to share some of my favorite books that fall into those categories. Some are biographies of presidents, others are memoirs, and some are extensive histories. Whatever your political leanings, I’m sure there’s something on this list that will pique your interest.

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The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity
by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy

In this book, Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy explore the relationships between presidents from Hoover to Obama. Because of the ever-widening divisions in American culture between Republicans and Democrats, you’d think the stories in this book would include tales of alliances between members of the same party and bickering by those who were opposed to each other. Yet in several cases, it’s Republicans and Democrats who have the closest relationships, such as Hoover and Truman and Clinton and Bush 41. It’s refreshing to read about how rivals overcame their political battles and entered into deep friendships. This is easily my favorite political book.

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The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency
by Chris Whipple

According to Chris Whipple, the average amount of time a White House Chief of Staff stays in their position is 18 months. If you wonder why it’s not longer, read this book. Chiefs of staff have included men as varied as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Rahm Emanuel, and James Baker. Some have been incredibly effective (like Baker), and others have kept on ascending until they were second in the line to the presidency (like Cheney). Their stories are utterly absorbing from start to finish. If you have even the slightest interest in politics, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

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Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush
by Jon Meacham

I picked up this biography because I’m a fan of Jon Meacham, but also because I was curious about George H. W. Bush. One of the reasons he intrigued me so much was because I noticed how people from both sides of the aisle seemed to talk about him with respect (not always, of course, but seemingly more often than not). After reading Destiny and Power, I understand why. This book is worth reading just to hear about Bush’s time serving in World War II. He’d be the first to tell you he’s not a perfect man, but his heroism is admirable, as is his dedication to his family and ideals.

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Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House by Peter Baker

9/11 happened when I was in high school. Before that, I never paid much attention to who was in the White House. After the attacks, President Bush was everywhere and impossible to ignore. He was on every TV screen, newspaper, and website. It was the first time in my life that I’d ever thought much about the presidency, so I was immediately drawn to this book because of that first young awareness. Peter Baker’s history of the Bush/Cheney dynamic is as impossible to put down as any suspense novel I’ve ever read. It’s well-researched, thoughtful, and essential reading for anyone curious about Bush 43 and the complicated relationship he had with Dick Cheney. If you think history is boring, this book will probably change your mind.

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Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History
by Katy Tur

Katy Tur is a broadcast journalist who delivered NBC’s Trump coverage during the 2016 presidential campaign. This book is her story of that time. For a year and a half, Tur followed Trump around the country. She attended his rallies, was the victim of his insults, and consistently called him out on his lies. Tur’s stories about life on the campaign trail are fascinating, and I admire her tenacity and respect for truth. If you’re still bewildered by what happened in 2016, this book will give you a greater understanding of how Trump got elected.

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Fraternity: A Journey in Search of Five Presidents by Bob Greene

The five presidents the title references are Bush 41, Reagan, Carter, Ford, and Nixon. Bob Greene talks to each of them (except for Reagan, who I believe passed away before this book was completed) and reveals portraits of five complex, deeply human,  and very different men. This book is one of the shorter ones I’m sharing today, but it packs so much into its 300 or so pages. Greene captures presidents at their most vulnerable and stripped down. This book is engrossing from start to finish. Go read it.

But most importantly, go vote. Elections have consequences. Make your voice heard.