A Presidential Reading List

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Today is Presidents’ Day in the U.S. I like this holiday primarily because I get a day off from work, but also because it’s about presidents. I’m fascinated by the presidency and the people who have occupied the White House. I love reading presidential biographies, and I thought today was the perfect time to share some of my favorites. I’m going to focus on the past six presidents: Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. No matter your political views, there’s certainly a book on this list that you’ll enjoy.

Reagan: the Life book cover

Reagan: The Life by H. W. Brands

Ronald Wilson Reagan: February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004
Served from 1981-1989
Party: Republican

When I picked up this book, I went into it with low expectations. I’d read other books by H. W. Brands and knew I liked his writing, but I had never found Ronald Reagan that interesting. I want to read a biography about every one of the forty-five U. S. presidents, so I thought I might as well give this one a shot. I’m glad I did.

Despite my apathy toward Reagan, Brands brought him to life for me in ways I didn’t expect. I enjoyed learning about his time in Hollywood, his deep devotion to his second wife Nancy, and how that devotion to her put up a wall between him and his children. Brands is a wonderful writer and historian, and I appreciate how his skill helped me come to know a figure I often overlooked.

Destiny and Power book cover

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

George Herbert Walker Bush: June 12, 1924 – November 30, 2018
Served from 1989-1993
Party: Republican

Of all the presidential biographies I’ve read so far, this one might be my favorite. Jon Meacham is Bush’s officially biographer and was granted intimate access to Bush’s life and family which, paired with his beautiful writing, led to this fantastic exploration of a man who lived an extraordinary life. Bush served as a congressman, ambassador to China, director of the CIA, and vice president before being elected himself in 1988. Meacham tells all those stories with vivid detail, but my favorite parts of this biography are Meacham’s discussions of Bush’s time serving in World War II. Bush’s plane was shot down, and though he was ultimately rescued, he lost two men. That haunted him the rest of his life, and Meacham tells that story with compassion and care.

Meacham, who was unusually close with his subject, was asked to give a eulogy at Bush’s funeral. You can watch it here.

A Complicated Man: The Life of Bill Clinton as Told by Those Who Know Him by Michael Takiff

William Jefferson Clinton: August 19, 1946 –
Served from 1993-2001
Party: Democrat

A Complicated Man is a perfect title for a book about Bill Clinton. Good biographies are ones that show the complexity of their subject, revealing strengths and weaknesses in a delicate balance. Michael Takiff does that in this book, which is indeed an excellent biography of a man who defines complicated. Bill Clinton is a fascinating figure for a lot of reasons, and Takiff does a good job addressing those reasons by structuring this book as an oral biography by those who know Clinton well. This book doesn’t provide a final answer on Clinton’s legacy, but it does raise a lot of interesting questions and delivers some surprising anecdotes. Whether you hate him or love him, this book is a must-read for those wanting to know more about our 42nd president.

Days of Fire book cover

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

George Walker Bush: July 6, 1946 –
Served from 2001 – 2009
Party: Republican

I’ll admit that books about presidents and politics aren’t always the most unputdownable reading material. Some can be a bit dry in certain sections, but that’s not the case with Days of Fire. This book reads like a great suspense novel from beginning to end. It’s different from the other books on this list because Peter Baker doesn’t just examine George W. Bush, but explores his relationship with his vice president, Dick Cheney. Based on an enormous amount of research, Baker delivers a fascinating piece of political reporting that stands out as one of the best presidential books I’ve ever read.

Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza

Barack Hussein Obama: August 4, 1961 –
Served from 2009-2017
Party: Democrat

This book is a collection of photographs by Obama’s primary White House photographer, Pete Souza. (Souza also served as a photographer in Reagan’s administration.) I read an interview with Souza in which he explained that before he accepted the position, he made it clear to Obama that he needed unlimited access to his administration. Obama granted it, so for eight years Souza documented the 44th president up close and personal. This book contains some of Souza’s most remarkable photographs. Obama: An Intimate Portrait is a beautiful visual guide through a historic presidency. This book is one you’ll read over and over again.

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward

Donald John Trump: June 14, 1946 –
Assumed office in 2017
Party: Republican

No matter what you think about Donald Trump, you have to admit that we’ve never had a president precisely like him before. New stories are breaking all the time about things Trump has said and done. In Fear, legendary reporter Bob Woodward examines the beginning of Trump’s presidency and explores how Trump thinks and governs. If you pay close attention to the news, I doubt much of this book will be too surprising, yet I think it’s a must-read if you’re looking for a deeper understanding of what’s happening in our current administration.


Are you interested in presidents and politics? Do you know of other presidential books I need to add to my TBR? I’d love to hear about them.


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The 10 Nonfiction Books I Wish My Patrons Would Read Before They Graduate High School

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For nearly eight years now, I’ve been working with teenagers in public high school libraries. I’ve interacted with students who love to read, who like to read but don’t know what books to choose, and students who would rather die alone in a terrible freak accident than read a book. (Or so it seems sometimes.) It’s not up to me to assign books, yet I have titles floating around in my head that I’d love students to read before they graduate. I want to share ten of those titles and what I think kids can learn from them. I’m focusing on nonfiction. If I could assign books, these are the ones I’d hand to those 17-year-olds who are on the cusp of new and exciting things.

Please note: there are mentions of sexual assault.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Hard work and education can take you places you’d never imagine.

I just finished Becoming and enjoyed it just as much as I thought I would. As a lover of presidential history, I went into the book knowing for sure I’d like the discussions of government and politics, but what turned out to be my favorite part of the book was the beginning. Learning about Mrs. Obama’s humble upbringing in Chicago’s South Side was fascinating. I’d heard pieces of that story, but reading about her kind, loving parents and their passion for knowledge was inspiring. Michelle Obama isn’t successful because she married a man who became President of the United States; she got into Princeton and Harvard Law School before she knew he existed. Becoming is a story of perseverance, drive, and demonstrates how education can change everything.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Being rich and famous doesn’t guarantee a perfect life.

Steve Jobs was famous, ridiculously wealthy, and lauded for his contributions to technology. As the force behind Apple, he changed the way the world communicates. Because of this, it makes sense to assume that being Steve Jobs’ daughter would be nothing less than an unbelievable stroke of luck. Lisa Brennan-Jobs corrects that belief with her honest, unputdownable memoir about the turbulent relationship she had with her father. The two loved each other, but their bond was shaky from the very beginning when Jobs questioned whether or not Lisa was even his daughter. It’s easy to envy those in positions of power or who have great wealth, assuming their lives are perfect. The truth is never that tidy, and this book is a reminder of that.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

There are unfair power structures that will hold you back. Keep trying anyway and fight to change those structures.

Whether we’ve read this narrative or not, most of us are familiar with Frederick Douglass and his story. That familiarity might keep someone from reading this book, but it shouldn’t. This was a text I was assigned in college, and I wish I’d read it even earlier. It provides an eye-opening account of slavery, and it’s essential for citizens to fully understand America’s history. Besides that, Douglass’ story shows a man that just won’t give up, even when his humanity has basically been stripped away. Once he was free, Douglass worked and fought to end injustice. Being free gives all of us the opportunity to try to free someone else.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

Don’t take your freedom for granted.

As a teenager, it can be difficult to see beyond yourself. Everything feels like a big deal. School can seem unfair. Life can seem overwhelming because of all the choices before you. It’s easy to take something like freedom for granted when you’re told you can do anything, be anyone, and achieve your dreams. Nothing to Envy reveals a world without those promises. Demick forces her readers to confront a country unlike any other in the world today. North Korea is a fascinating place, and this book is a fantastic exploration of it. What amazes me most about North Korea is that it exists at all, especially in 2019. This book is a sobering reminder that freedom is a gift, one that millions around the world don’t have.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

You have to take things as they come.

Lamott’s older brother was panicking over a homework assignment. He had to write a report on birds, and it was due the next day. He hadn’t even started yet. His father tried to calm him down by saying, “Just take it bird by bird.” As Lamott says, this is good advice for writing but also for life in general. Sure, not every student is going to enter into a career that requires them to write all the time. But they’ll have to write emails. They’ll have to write memos. They’ll have to text their coworkers or boss. Writing well is a skill we all need, and this book teaches those skills with a lot of other wisdom thrown in, too.

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town 
by Jon Krakauer

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town
by Jon Krakauer

Crimes against woman are often just seen as stories.

Before I opened up this book, I knew rape cases didn’t often result in convictions or much prison time. I knew women weren’t always listened to and taken seriously. Knowing those truths didn’t prepare me for this book. Missoula is an unflinching look at how sexual assault is frequently dismissed. Some people will always care more about the poor football player accused of rape than the girl he assaulted. This is heartbreaking and wrong, yet is information we all need to know. A lot of times, the pressure is put on women to protect themselves, but men need to be reminded they have a role to play in all of this, too. There’s much work to be done, and it involves everyone.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Humor can help you survive anything.

Trevor Noah is known as the host of The Daily Show, but long before his fame, he was just a kid in South Africa whose very existence was against the law. He was born to a black mother and a white father, a union prohibited under apartheid. Born a Crime is the story of his life in South Africa, his struggle to belong somewhere, and how embracing humor changed his life. This book talks about racism, abuse, and poverty, yet it’s also incredibly funny. Noah recognizes that humor isn’t a luxury for the privileged, but a necessity for everyone.

Educated by Tara Westover

Educated by Tara Westover

Education can be your escape from awful circumstances.

Tara Westover was raised off the grid. Born to a survivalist family, she was kept out of school, away from doctors, and insulated from society, yet she ended up studying at Oxford. Educated is the story of how she got there. If this book had been written as a novel, I would have thought it was too over the top. Knowing it’s all true makes it a compelling story about how seeking education can be the key to a new, freer life.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

Vulnerability is the key to nearly everything.

If there is one lesson I wish I could have learned sooner, it would be the importance of vulnerability. Vulnerability doesn’t come easily to me, and that was especially true when I was entering adulthood. Around that time, there’s so much about yourself and your life that you’re struggling to understand that being vulnerable just seems like another difficult task. In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown presents her groundbreaking research that reveals how people have used vulnerability to achieve success, overcome obstacles, and reinvent their lives.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Heartbreak will not destroy you.

After Cheryl Strayed’s mother died when Strayed was in her early 20s, she felt lost and adrift. Her marriage and family were falling apart. Grief was wrecking her. She needed a change, so she decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Wild is the memoir of that journey and how it changed her life. Not only is this book beautifully written, but it reveals a woman who overcomes so much to build a life in which she can be happy and proud.


I went back and forth on a lot of titles before I decided on these ten. I would love to hear what titles you’d suggest for young adults. Leave your list in a comment below.


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9 Books to Motivate You in 2019

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I’m always a bit sad to see the holiday season come to an end, but I look forward to the possibility of a new year. January 1st feels like a fresh start, a clean slate. Change can happen anytime, of course, but there’s something about a new year that makes me feel extra hopeful and eager to make changes.

Today I’m sharing 9 books that have motivated me in different ways. If you too are excited about acquiring new habits and letting go of some old ones keep on reading. 

IF YOU WANT TO CULTIVATE NEW HABITS, READ THIS:

Book cover for The Power of Habit

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
by Charles Duhigg

This book contains a lot of research and information, but Duhigg presents much of it through stories, so it’s never dull. Readers learn how habits helped Tony Dungy lead his NFL team to the Super Bowl and how habits helped a woman stop gambling. Habits impact everything from our diets to our routines, our relationships to our safety. Building a new habit sounds simple enough, yet we all know how difficult it can be. I learned a lot from this book and think of it as essential reading if you feel stuck and defeated by the failed habits of your past. 

IF YOU WANT TO FINALLY DO THAT THING
YOU’VE MEAN MEANING TO DO, READ THIS:

Book cover for Finish

Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done by Jon Acuff

Like many people, I’m great at starting things. But finishing what I start? That’s another story. If you too are a chronic quitter, read this book. Jon Acuff encourages people to complete their goals with doable steps and helpful advice. One of the things that stood out to me in Finish is Acuff’s advice to cut your goals in half. I tend to dream big, so being able to focus on smaller goals has helped me many times. This book is only around 200 pages, but there’s a lot of wisdom in it. 

IF YOU WANT TO CUT BACK ON YOUR PURCHASES
AND GIVE YOUR CREDIT CARD A BREAK, READ THIS:

Book cover for The Year of Less

The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store by Cait Flanders

I have a sweatshirt I wear around the house that reads, “Shopping is my cardio.” The mall has felt like a second home since I was a child. I consider T. J. Maxx a close friend and have a deep, everlasting love for Nordstrom. As I’ve worked on decluttering and minimizing over the past few years, I knew my shopping habits had to change. They have, and that’s partially due to books like this one. I’ve never cut out shopping completely or gave as much away as Flanders does, but this book is still worth reading even if you don’t want to take all the extreme steps mentioned. Learning how someone else learned to live with less is inspiring and will help you see your buying in a new light. 

IF YOU WANT TO BETTER UNDERSTAND
YOURSELF AND OTHERS, READ THIS:

Book cover for Reading People

Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel

When I first discovered what an introvert was and realized that label fit me perfectly, so much about my life and personality made sense. I saw myself in a new way and was able to understand my preferences for the first time. If you want a lightbulb moment like that for yourself, Reading People is a good start. Bogel presents a survey of different ways to understand and determine personality types, such as the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, and several others. Find what interests you most and then pick other books to dig a little deeper. 

IF YOU WANT TO READ MORE AND START
TRACKING YOUR READING, READ THIS:

Book cover for My Life with Bob

My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues
by Pamela Paul

Pamela Paul has kept a record of the books she’s read for nearly three decades. Bob, her book of books, comes with her everywhere and its pages tell the story of her life. Paul reads widely and will inspire you to do the same. Seeing how essential her reading record is to her will motivate you to get your own Bob. Book nerds will genuinely enjoy this story of how reading shapes a life. 

IF YOU WANT TO LEARN HOW TO BE
MORE VULNERABLE AND PRESENT, READ THIS:

Book cover for Daring Greatly

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

Brené Brown’s work has changed my life. I can’t say that about a lot of things and don’t say it flippantly. If I were to make a list of things I hate doing, being vulnerable would be listed between laundry and running, yet it’s essential for a rich, fulfilling life. Brown explores what it means to live with courage and openness, explaining that vulnerability isn’t a weakness but a great strength. If your life needs a tune-up, Daring Greatly is an excellent place to start. 

IF YOU WANT TO CREATE SOMETHING, READ THIS:

Book cover for The War of Art

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Creative Battles
by Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield introduced me to the idea of Resistance, which is anything that stands in the way of a creator finishing her creation. Whether you want to write, take photos, bake, or start a small business, Pressfield’s words will help you. This book is like a serious pep talk perfect for those moments when you need someone to remind you that if you want something, there are no excuses. This book should be required reading for all creative people. 

IF YOU WANT TO EAT BETTER, READ THIS:

Book cover for Food Rules

Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan

I’m easily overwhelmed by information about nutrition because there’s so much of it. There are countless diets out there and shiny magazine covers that tell you how to lose 10 pounds in a hurry. If your goal is to eat healthier, Food Rules is a simple, understandable guide that will help. Michael Pollan presents a rule per page and explains why it matters. I appreciate that this book gets to the heart of the matter and makes healthy eating seem like a doable endeavor. (There’s an illustrated version of this book by Maira Kalman that I’m dying to get my hands on.)

IF YOU WANT TO USE THAT DUSTY YOGA MAT, READ THIS:

Book cover for Every Body Yoga

Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get on the Mat, Love Your Body
by Jessamyn Stanley

We all know we should exercise more, but it can be challenging to find a routine that works. If you’re a perfectionist like me, the pressure to perform a certain way or look like a traditional athlete can be overwhelming. I like this book by Jessamyn Stanley because she encourages readers to move their bodies and to celebrate those bodies, no matter what they look like. The world needs more body-positive exercise guides. 


What are your goals for 2019? What motivates you to reach them?


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My 3 Favorite Decluttering and Minimalism Books

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I really like stuff. As a kid, my bedroom was always a mess (sorry, Mom), and was covered with posters, DIY-decor, and piles of clothes/toys/books/etc. (Again, so sorry, Mom.) I wasn’t great at throwing things away, and by that, I mean I never threw things away. I would save old calendars, folks. That’s how dedicated I was to my stuff.

I’d accepted that I was just a messy person who was okay with clutter. It didn’t concern me until a few years ago when I noticed a few things about myself.

  1. I’m really good at organizing. Not only am I good at it, but I love doing it. Few things make me happier than straightening, labeling, or alphabetizing.
  2. I’m ruthless when getting rid of other people’s stuff. I usually help my mom organize her closet once or twice a year, and I encourage her to throw away anything she doesn’t love. When I’m doing a weeding project at work, I can toss books left and right without feeling a pang of loss or sadness.
  3. My workspaces are always neat. For work, I rotate between different buildings, and all my desks are tidy. Even my computer files are organized and frequently reviewed.
  4. My messiness at home started to really bother me. I found that I couldn’t focus very well when my surroundings were a disaster. I struggle with anxiety, and having stuff everywhere wasn’t helping. And when I had too much stuff, it would paralyze me, and I wouldn’t know where to start putting it away.

After thinking about these things, I realized it was time for a change. I’d been making excuses for myself for a long time about how I was just messy, and that’s all there was to it. But considering those four truths above, I knew I could change. I’m still far from perfect in this area, but I’ve gotten better and have learned a lot. 

As I always do when I want to learn, I turned to books. Today I’m sharing three titles that helped me transform my life and home. Let’s start with some magic.

lcm.jpg

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

I’m sure it’s no surprise this book made the list considering how popular it is. Some of the advice in it isn’t for me, but its thesis–“keep what brings you joy”–has made a tremendous impact on how I declutter and what I bring into my home. I also took to heart the concept of organizing category by category instead of room by room. This book kicked off my decluttering frenzy, and I’m grateful for it.

simple.jpg

Simple Matters: Living with Less and Ending Up with More by Erin Boyle

I’ve been a fan of Erin’s blog for a long time. If you like the aesthetic of her blog, you’ll like this book. It’s full of gorgeous photos that show just how lovely a simplified home can be. Erin and her husband might live with less, but their home is warm and inviting.

cozy

Cozy Minimalist Home: More Style, Less Stuff by Myquillyn Smith 

Part of me wishes I could say I’ve completely embraced minimalism, but that’s not the case right now (and might not ever be). That’s why I appreciate this book. Smith acknowledges that sometimes you want an extra pillow or throw around your house. Meaningless decorations need to go, but Smith’s philosophy allows for elements that add character and charm to a home. 

BONUS INSPIRATION

When I need immediate decluttering inspiration, I turn to YouTube. I love watching decluttering videos. I’ve learned a lot about minimalism and simple living from seeing how other people work those concepts into their lives.


What about you? Do you have any decluttering or minimalist goals you’d like to achieve in 2019? What books or other resources have encouraged you in your pursuit? I’d love to know!


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My Favorite Books of 2018

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I’m back after a Christmas break and am so excited to finally be sharing my favorite books of 2018. My favorites are determined by what books earned 5-star ratings from me on Goodreads. I’m stingy with my stars, so a 5-star book is one that had great prose, a strong viewpoint, and a story that stays with me. Out of the 60 books I read in 2018, only seven earned 5 stars. Five of them are 2018 releases, and two are backlist titles from the same series. Toward the end of the post, I’ll also list some honorable mentions. These titles are in random order as ranking them caused too much literary stress. Let’s get started!

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

The Goodreads Summary: Greer Kadetsky is a shy college freshman when she meets the woman she hopes will change her life. Faith Frank, dazzlingly persuasive and elegant at sixty-three, has been a central pillar of the women’s movement for decades, a figure who inspires others to influence the world. Upon hearing Faith speak for the first time, Greer–madly in love with her boyfriend, Cory, but still full of longing for an ambition that she can’t quite place–feels her inner world light up. Then, astonishingly, Faith invites Greer to make something out of that sense of purpose, leading Greer down the most exciting path of her life as it winds toward and away from her meant-to-be love story with Cory and the future she’d always imagined.

Why this book is a favorite: This book stands out to me because the relationship that receives the primary focus isn’t Greer and Cory, but Greer and Faith. I haven’t read many books that focus on female bonds, much less a relationship that features a woman over sixty. I appreciate the feminist slant of this novel and think Wolitzer tells a compelling story. After I read this book, I wrote that it was one that would stay with me, and that’s turned out to be true.

Calypso by David Sedaris

The Goodreads Summary: If you’ve ever laughed your way through David Sedaris’s cheerfully misanthropic stories, you might think you know what you’re getting with Calypso. You’d be wrong.

When he buys a beach house on the Carolina coast, Sedaris envisions long, relaxing vacations spent playing board games and lounging in the sun with those he loves most. And life at the Sea Section, as he names the vacation home, is exactly as idyllic as he imagined, except for one tiny, vexing realization: it’s impossible to take a vacation from yourself.

Why this book is a favorite: I’ve been a Sedaris fan for years, and have read all of his essay collections. I’ve enjoyed each one, but I think Calypso might be his best. I laughed out loud several times, which hardly ever happens when I’m reading. Sedaris is hilarious, but what I admire about him is his ability to write both comedy and tragedy so well, and sometimes even on the same page. Calypso stands out because of that skill.

Educated by Tara Westover

The Goodreads Summary: Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Why this book is a favorite: If this book had been a novel, I would have thought the story was too outlandish. The fact that Educated is a memoir makes it powerful and unforgettable. Westover’s story is fascinating from beginning to end, and her writing is fantastic too. That combination makes for a book I could hardly put down. I finished this in a couple of days because it’s so engrossing. There’s a reason why this book has been receiving so much praise. It’s certainly deserving.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

The Goodreads Summary: In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off an amazing coup, bringing in an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to the gallery. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico’s funeral, the virus circles closer and closer to Yale himself. Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico’s little sister.

Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago crisis, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways AIDS affected her life and her relationship with her daughter. The two intertwining stories take us through the heartbreak of the eighties and the chaos of the modern world, as both Yale and Fiona struggle to find goodness in the midst of disaster.

Why this book is a favorite: There are skills certain authors have that astound me. One of those skills is writing a lengthy novel with a lot of fully-developed characters and another is telling a story that goes back and forth between timeliness in an effortless way that makes perfect sense. Rebecca Makkai achieved both of those feats with The Great Believers. A lot is going on in this novel, yet Makkai never lets the story get away from her. It’s a beautifully constructed novel that’s full of love, friendship, tragedy, and healing. I said these titles are presented in random order, but I think The Great Believers is my number one pick this year. It’s outstanding.

In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad #1by Tana French
The Likeness (Dublin Murder Squad #2) by Tana French

NoveList Summary for In the Woods: Twenty years after witnessing the violent disappearances of two companions from their small Dublin suburb, detective Rob Ryan investigates a chillingly similar murder that takes place in the same wooded area, a case that forces him to piece together his traumatic memories.

NoveList Summary for The Likeness: This novel finds Detective Cassie Maddox still scarred by her last case. When her boyfriend calls her to a chilling murder scene, Cassie is forced to face her inner demons. A young woman has been found stabbed to death outside Dublin, and the victim looks just like Cassie.

Why these books are favorites: Tana French is the best thing that happened to my reading life in 2018. I read a lot of thrillers and mysteries this year, and none of them are as good as her Dublin Murder Squad series. (I’ve only read two of the six books so far. I want to savor this series.) Both Rob and Cassie are fascinating and complex protagonists. The cases in both of these books kept me guessing. French creates such a strong, moody atmosphere and sense of place, a combination that made me feel as if I’d actually been transported to Dublin. I cannot recommend these books highly enough and am looking forward to reading the next volume.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

The Goodreads summary: Born on a farm and named in a field by her parents–artist Chrisann Brennan and Steve Jobs–Lisa Brennan-Jobs’s childhood unfolded in a rapidly changing Silicon Valley. When she was young, Lisa’s father was a mythical figure who was rarely present in her life. As she grew older, her father took an interest in her, ushering her into a new world of mansions, vacations, and private schools. His attention was thrilling, but he could also be cold, critical and unpredictable. When her relationship with her mother grew strained in high school, Lisa decided to move in with her father, hoping he’d become the parent she’d always wanted him to be.

Small Fry is Lisa Brennan-Jobs’s poignant story of a childhood spent between two imperfect but extraordinary homes. Scrappy, wise, and funny, young Lisa is an unforgettable guide through her parents’ fascinating and disparate worlds. Part portrait of a complex family, part love letter to California in the seventies and eighties, Small Fry is an enthralling book by an insightful new literary voice.

Why this book is a favorite: When Small Fry first appeared on my radar, I had little desire to read it because I wasn’t interested in Steve Jobs (or so I thought). As I started reading all of the Best Of lists for 2018, I kept seeing this book pop up. My library had the ebook available, so I decided to give it a try after all. I ending up devouring this story within a couple of days. Lisa Brennan-Jobs tells a complex and moving story from beginning to end, and it’s her story, not the story of Steve Jobs. I’m always interested in how relationships work, and the tumultuous bond between Lisa and her father is one I won’t forget. If you like memoirs, don’t miss this one. It’s heartfelt, vulnerable, and compulsively readable. I loved it.

Other Books I Enjoyed This Year

  • Providence by Caroline Kepnes
  • The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison
  • This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins
  • I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
  • The Witch Elm by Tana French
  • Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro

And Now a Little Something for the Stats Nerds

Fiction vs. Nonfiction: These numbers don’t surprise me. I’ve always read a bit more fiction than nonfiction.

Formats: Though I really do enjoy audiobooks, my number is so low this year because I’ve been opting for podcasts instead. I got a Kindle Paperwhite this past year, so the high number of ebooks has a lot to do with how much I enjoy that device.

Books I Own vs. the Library: Since I work for libraries, the library number is always high. One of my goals for 2019 is to read more of my own books, though. I’d like to see that number be 50% or higher next year.


That’s it from me this year. In case you missed it, my reading goals for 2019 can be seen here. If you like what you see on this site, please make sure to share it. Thanks for reading!


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This One’s for the Girls

Photo by Dexter Fernandes on Unsplash

If you’ve spent much time browsing your local library or bookstore over the past few years, you’ve probably noticed how many books have “girl” in the title.  If you search Google with “girl trend in book titles,” you’ll get 143,000,000 results with front-page articles talking about why this has become such a trend. I also thought it would be interesting to search my Goodreads account to see what “girl” books I’ve read, and was surprised to know that I’ve read 28. 

Today I’m sharing some of my favorites. Let’s jump in!

Book cover for The Girls by Emma Cline

The Girls by Emma Cline

Inspired by the Charles Manson cult, The Girls is centered on Evie, a young woman growing up in Northern California during the 1960s. When Evie meets Suzanne, she’s curious about the older girl’s life and is drawn to her magnetism. Suzanne introduces Evie to Russell, a cult leader, and Evie’s life is irrevocably changed. 

To be honest, I didn’t love this book when I read it. I thought it was definitely good, but I didn’t think it would be a book to which I gave much thought. I was wrong about that, however. Evie’s story is one that’s stayed with me, and that’s partially due to Emma Cline’s ability to write so well about universal urges such as acceptance and belonging. If you haven’t read this yet, it’s worth your time. 

Book cover for Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

It’s the 1960s, and Barbara Parker is a young beauty queen living in Blackpool. What she wants, however, is to be Lucille Ball. Parker decides to set out for London where she transforms into Sophie Straw and eventually gets her own BBC TV show. Funny Girl explores Sophie’s rise to fame, her time on television, and the relationships between the people she meets in her new world.  

This novel has received a lot of mixed reviews, but I found it to be charming and well done. If you’re an audiobook fan, I highly recommend listening to this book as the excellent narration added a lot to my reading experience. 

Book cover for Final Girls by Riley Sager

Final Girls by Riley Sager

Quincy has built a nice life for herself, but her past continues to haunt her. She’s a “Final Girl,” the only survivor of a brutal massacre that took the lives of her friends years before. There are other final girls out there, and when one of them dies, another comes looking for Quincy, convinced their lives are in danger too.  

This book was nearly impossible for me to put down thanks to the riveting suspense Riley Sager creates. Final Girls is creepy, thrilling, and twisted. The concept for this book is compelling, and Sager does an excellent job following through and delivering a satisfying story. 

Book cover for Mad Girl's Love Song

Mad Girl’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted
by Andrew Wilson

I didn’t know much about Sylvia Plath except for what everyone else knows: that she was a young, gifted writer who killed herself.  Curious about her life, I picked up Mad Girl’s Love Song, a biography of Plath’s early years. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Plath’s rise as a writer, what she was like as a teenager, and seeing what a strong work ethic she possessed. If you know next to nothing about Sylvia Plath (or even if you know quite a bit), this biography has a lot to offer.

Girl at the End of the World book cover

Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future by Elizabeth Esther

As you might have guessed from my fondness for The Girls, I like stories about cults and fundamentalism. It’s no surprise, then, that I read and liked Elizabeth Esther’s memoir Girl at the End of the World. Esther grew up as part of the Assembly, a fundamentalist church her family ran. She suffered abuse, fear, and felt trapped in such a confining world. After marrying and having children with another church member, Esther and her family escaped and built a new life for themselves. Parts of this book are hard to read, but Esther’s strength, resilience, and willingness to forgive are inspiring.


What are some of your favorite books in this category? I’d love to know!


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My Top 5 Books from the Past 8 Years

Photo by Taylor Barber on Unsplash

For me, December means Christmas, time with family, copious amounts of hot chocolate, and lots and lots of book lists. I like seeing what books people have read and enjoyed in a year, so “best of” lists are always exciting. As I read through the lists that interested me, I thought it would be fun to go back through my Goodreads log and see what my favorite books have been in the past, so today I’m sharing my top five books from the last eight years. An asterisk denotes a lifetime favorite. 

Book covers for Stoner by John Williams*
My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Johnathan Safran Foer*
Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical edited by Hannah Faith Notess
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

2010:
Stoner by John Williams*
My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Johnathan Safran Foer*
Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical
edited by Hannah Faith Notess
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Book covers for Cathedral by Raymond Carver
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
The Poetry of Rilke by Rainer Maria Rilke (trans. by Edward Snow)*

2011:
Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose by Flannery O’Connor*
Cathedral by Raymond Carver
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
The Poetry of Rilke by Rainer Maria Rilke (trans. by Edward Snow)*

Book covers for The Secret History by Donna Tartt*
Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber
The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor*
Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Glaciers by Alexis Smith*

2012:
The Secret History by Donna Tartt*
Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber
The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor*
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Glaciers by Alexis Smith*

Book covers for Night Film by Marisha Pessl*
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer
My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman
Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

2013:
Night Film by Marisha Pessl*
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer
My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman
Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

Book covers for The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt*
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

2014: 
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt*
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Book covers for The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides*
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett 
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson*

2015:
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides*
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett 
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson*

Book covers for A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara*
Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs 
by Johann Hari
Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush 
by Jon Meacham 
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

2016:
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara*
Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs
by Johann Hari
Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush
by Jon Meacham 
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Book covers for The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
The Nix by Nathan Hill
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

2017:
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
The Nix by Nathan Hill
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng


Are any of these books on your favorites list? What books have stood out to you over the past few years? I’d love to hear about them. 


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