8 of My Favorite Long Books

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Last week I was listening to episode 173 of What Should I Read Next, my favorite bookish podcast. The guest in this episode was talking about how she enjoys long books and wants to read more of them. While listening to this episode, I realized that I don’t read long books nearly as often as I do short books. (I define long as being over 450 pages.) As much as I love reading, sometimes I’m intimidated by long books, though I’m not sure why. To remind myself that I shouldn’t pass over long books, I’m sharing eight of my favorite lengthy reads today.

1Q84 book cover

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami; translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel
925 pages

1Q84 might be the longest book I’ve ever read, but it never feels long. (It was published as three different volumes in Japan, but I read all three in one hardcover edition.) This novel is weird, suspenseful, a little creepy, and wholly original, but never dull. It’s about a woman named Aomame who happens to be an assassin and a man named Tengo who teaches math and is working as a ghostwriter. Aomame realizes she’s living in a parallel reality which she doesn’t understand. Tengo is becoming so involved in his ghostwriting project that his dull life starts to seem anything but ordinary. Murakami converges these two narratives in a way that makes total sense for the world he has constructed. This novel is hard to explain, but know it’s a phenomenal accomplishment by one of my favorite writers.

Anna Karenina book cover

Anna Karanina by Leo Tolstoy; translated by Richard Pevear
and Larissa Volokhonsky

838 pages

Do you ever pick up a book and expect to put it back down shortly after that? That’s the way I approached Anna Karenina. I was intrigued enough to begin the novel, but finishing it seemed like a huge challenge. I’m happy to report that I was wrong. Reading this translation of Tolstoy’s classic was a delight, not a problem. Anna is a complex character who chases her passion, even though it leads to her downfall. Who among us can’t relate to that? If you’re intimidated by this novel like I was, try this particular translation, and I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The Goldfinch book cover

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
771 pages

The good news about Donna Tartt is that she’s a gifted, Pulitzer Prize-winning author. The bad news is that she’s only published a book every ten years, so there’s a lot of waiting and expectation associated with her work. Thankfully, The Goldfinch was worth the wait and surpassed all of my expectations. It’s about a boy named Theo who loses his mom in a tragic accident. He clings to her memory by holding on to a small painting of a goldfinch. This painting and his connection to the art world ends up shaping the course of his life in extraordinary ways.

A Little Life book cover

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
720 pages

A Little Life has haunted me from the moment I finished it. It’s a story about four male friends in New York City, though the focus is mostly on Jude, a wounded man both emotionally and physically. Yanagihara follows these four men throughout several decades. We see them advance in their careers, fall in love, get hurt, and come face to face with their secrets. A Little Life is a heartbreaking book, and Jude’s story is especially brutal. This book isn’t for sensitive readers or those who are triggered by references to abuse, but if you like beautifully told stories that will stay with you long after you read the last page, pick up this novel ASAP.

The Habit of Being book cover

The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor
edited by Sally Fitzgerald
640 pages

Flannery O’Connor is one of my most beloved writers. She’s funny, thoughtful, challenging, and smart. Her fiction has a voice that’s undeniably hers, and her nonfiction is full of intelligent thoughts about God, the writing life, and how to do creative work. This collection of her letters combines all of the things I love about her work. I know an extended selection of correspondence might not sound too exciting, but I read each page of this book and loved every minute. Die-hard O’Connor fans will appreciate The Habit of Being for being such an enjoyable and charming book that reveals what life was like behind the scenes of O’Connor’s success and battle with lupus.

The Nix book cover

The Nix by Nathan Hill
640 pages

Samuel Anderson is coasting through life. He wants to be a great writer, but instead, he’s a mediocre college professor who spends his evenings playing video games. One day he sees the mother who abandoned him as a child show up on the news for throwing rocks at a political candidate. Samuel owes his publisher a book, so he decides to track down his mom and write her life story in an attempt to show her true colors. As Samuel gets to work, readers are taken through the latter half of the twentieth century as his mother tells her story. There is so much happening in this novel, yet Nathan Hill never lets it get away from him. It’s an epic book, and it still astounds me that The Nix is Hill’s debut. I want everyone to read this book and love it as much as I do. (The audiobook narration is outstanding, by the way.)

Night Film book cover

Night Film by Marisha Pessl
592 pages

Journalist Scott McGrath hears about the suicide of Ashley Cordova, the twenty-something daughter of Stanislaus Cordova, the iconic and reclusive horror filmmaker, and feels something’s not quite right. He immediately suspects that Ashley’s death wasn’t a suicide. McGrath has been interested in Cordova for a long time, but his attempts to chase the truth about the mysterious man and his life have never ended well. Still, Scott’s curiosity gets the best of him and he, along with two unequipped strangers, start looking for the truth. Throughout the novel are photos, newspaper articles, website screenshots, and other visual elements that make this story even creepier than it already was. If you’re a mystery and thriller fan, this is a must-read. It’s one of my favorite books of all time.

Middlesex book cover

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
529 pages

Like several of the books on this list, Middlesex tells an epic story. At the center is Cal who was born as Calliope Stephanides, a girl growing up in Michigan during the 1960s and ’70s. Readers learn a secret about Cal and trace generations of her family to better understand her story and history. This novel is utterly unforgettable and deserves its Pulitzer Prize.


What are you favorite long reads? What books would you recommend I pick up next? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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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

Photo by Maranatha Pizarras on Unsplash

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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Girl holding book over her face; text reads this one's for the girls

This One’s for the Girls

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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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A stack of classic books with a blank notebook next to them

5 Contemporary Books I’d Add to the Literary Canon

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Back in October, I wrote a post about classic books I didn’t finish. In today’s post, I want to talk about books I did finish, books I think are so good they should be considered classics someday.

First, it might be helpful to identify what I mean by a classic. I like the famous definition from Italo Calvino: “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” I think of a classic book as being a title that’s widely read and discussed decades after its publication. It’s a book that has endured because of a specific reason, whether that’s a timeless story, a profound message, the exploration of universal truth, an in-depth look at culture, or clever writing. The books I’m sharing today have that something special that will allow them to endure. Keep reading to see if you agree. 

Book cover for Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn ward. Living with his grandparents and sister on a Gulf Coast farm, Jojo navigates the challenges of his mother's addictions and his grandmother's cancer before the release of his father from prison prompts a road trip of danger and hope.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Published: 2017

I remember finishing this book and being stunned by it. I read it all in one day was tempted to start all over again after I read the last words. This novel explores a lot of different things, but what stands out to me is how Ward addresses addiction and sibling love. Jojo shows such tenderness and kindness toward his little sister, and it’s those moments that shine so brightly in a dark story. Leoni, Jojo’s mother, cannot provide what her daughter needs due to her addiction, so Jojo picks up the slack. I appreciate how Ward shows the different roles family members can take on when necessary and how addiction affects everyone in the addict’s orbit. 

Book cover for A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Published: 2015

I can’t think of another novel that affected me quite as profoundly as A Little Life. Before I started this book, I kept seeing the word “heartbreaking” in just about every review. That’s for a good reason: it is indeed heartbreaking, and it’s not a story for everyone. If you’re a sensitive reader, this is probably not the book for you. But if you’re looking for a story about friendship and surviving trauma, there is much to appreciate here. Jude’s story is bleak and full of tragedy, yet Yanagihara shows how sometimes the smallest things can keep a person going. It took me a few days after finishing this book to get over it. Once you meet Jude, you won’t forget him. 

Book cover for Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Middlesex tells the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides, and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family, who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City and the race riots of 1967 before moving out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret, and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Published: 2003

It’s easy to see why this book won a Pulitzer prize. It’s epic in scope, beautifully written, and wholly original. I haven’t read anything else quite like Middlesex. Cal’s story and that of her family are fascinating from beginning to end. This book is over 500 pages, yet I finished it in less than a week. Not only is it a masterful story, but it’s highly readable and engaging.

Book cover for Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. In 1956, toward the end of Rev. John Ames's life, he begins a letter to his young son, an account of himself and his forebears. This is also the tale of wisdom forged during his solitary life and how history lives through generations, pervasively present even when betrayed and forgotten.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Published: 2004

When I read fiction, I don’t tend to underline passages very often. Open my copy of Gilead, though, and you’ll see page after page bearing my uneven scrawl. I mentioned this novel in my post about Christian faith in mainstream fiction, and if you read that, you’ll know part of the reason why I appreciate this book so much is because Robinson handles Ames’s faith with honesty and nuance. Readers can learn a lot from this novel, yet it’s never preachy. Rev. Ames is a character who has stayed with me, and I bet he’ll stay with you, too. 

Book cover for Columbine by Dave Cullen. What really happened April 20, 1999? The horror left an indelible stamp on the American psyche, but most of what we "know" is wrong. It wasn't about jocks, Goths, or the Trench Coat Mafia. Dave Cullen was one of the first reporters on scene, and spent ten years on this book-widely recognized as the definitive account. With a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen, he draws on mountains of evidence, insight from the world's leading forensic psychologists, and the killers' own words and drawings. Cullen paints raw portraits of two polar opposite killers. They contrast starkly with the flashes of resilience and redemption among the survivors.

Columbine by Dave Cullen
Published: 2009

I was in middle school when the Columbine tragedy occurred, and was equally horrified and fascinated. School shootings had happened before, but never at that scope. It’s easy for us to watch the news and think we know precisely why these shootings occurred, but in this book, Dave Cullen challenges every assumption and presents facts that can’t be denied. It’s hard to read, yet is an essential book if we’re hoping to understand more about what turns a kid into a killer. 


So what do you think? Do you agree with any of my additions to the canon? What books do you think should be added? 


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Reading Recap | November 2018

Photo by Brandi Redd on Unsplash

Cozy Minimalist Home by Myquillyn Smith
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

Smith walks her readers through a concept she calls cozy minimalism. She wanted a life with less stuff but didn’t want the stereotypical home of a minimalist with white walls, gray furniture, and few possessions. The answer to Smith’s problem is cozy minimalism which allows for a warm, welcoming home made up of well-curated and thoughtful belongings.

WHAT WAS GOOD ABOUT THIS BOOK?

Smith’s approach makes a lot of sense to someone like me who’s intrigued by minimalism, but concerned about losing character and uniqueness at home. I appreciate how Smith shows before and after images from her own house, letting readers see what cozy minimalism actually looks like. 

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

Anyone who feels burdened by their stuff, but still appreciates a cute throw pillow will like this one.

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

Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

Boyle tells readers about her own journey toward a simple life and encourages them in their efforts to declutter, spend wiser, and create a home with beauty and sustainability. 

WHAT WAS GOOD ABOUT THIS BOOK?

This book is a pleasure to read. There’s a lot of white space on each page which lets the beautiful images of Boyle’s home really stand out. I also like that Boyle addresses making better environmental choices while making purchases. That’s something I don’t think about often enough.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

Fans of Boyle’s blog, Reading My Tea Leaves, will love this one. People looking for inspiration about embracing a more mindful life and minimal home will appreciate this too. 

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

Nine people embark on a visit to a health resort called Tranquillum House. Some are there to lose weight, others to help heal their marriage, and some to deal with grief. Though the story is told through the eyes of all nine main characters, the primary character is Frances, a romance writer whose career seems dead.

At first, Frances embraces the healthy smoothies and midnight activities, but things start to get weird quickly, thanks to the resort’s mysterious leader. Soon, all nine guests are brought together in a way they never expected. 

WHAT WAS GOOD ABOUT THIS BOOK?

The thing that makes me enjoy Liane Moriarty’s books so much is her characterization. There are few things I like more in fiction than a well-rounded character. Characters don’t have to be likable, relatable, or sympathetic, but I do want them to seem real. 

Frances’s disappointment and frustration seem real. Napoleon, Heather, and Zoe’s grieving seem real. Ben and Jessica’s marriage struggles seem real. A lot is happening in this story, but Moriarty always makes it about her characters and their growth. 

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

Moriarty’s fans will probably like this one, though I can see it being more divisive than her previous work. Readers who enjoy a well-paced story with dynamic characters will enjoy their trip to Tranquillum House too.

THE LIES WE TOLD BY CAMILLA WAY
RATING: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

Clara is living a happy life with her boyfriend Luke. One night Luke doesn’t come home, and Clara starts to worry. She has a feeling something’s wrong, so she contacts Luke’s best friend Mac and Luke’s parents to help her find him. 

As the search for Luke continues, secrets from the past are finally revealed, and the repercussions of those secrets will haunt Luke and his family forever.  

WHAT WAS GOOD ABOUT THIS BOOK?

This book is everything I want a thriller to be. It’s fast-paced, has surprises all throughout, and goes much darker than I expected, which I loved. I’d heard nothing but praise about this book before I picked it up, and I can say that it’s deserving. 

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

Thriller and mystery fans will be fully engrossed in this story. 

One Day in December by Josie Silver
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

Laurie is riding the bus and looks out the window. She locks eyes with a man sitting on a bench outside. She feels an instant connection and he does too. The man, Jack, gets up and starts walking toward the bus but it drives away.

After a year spent thinking about and longing for this man she met but not really, Laurie’s best friend Sarah introduces her new boyfriend who just so happens to be Jack. 

One Day in December follows Laurie, Jack, and Sarah over several years of their lives as they intersect in interesting ways. 

WHAT WAS GOOD ABOUT THIS BOOK?

This book easily could have been a cheesy, predictable story about a love triangle, but it’s not. For one thing, Josie Silver is funny, and I love finding funny fiction writing. Another thing I liked about this book is that the characters are flawed, but they see this in themselves and are working to become better people. I never ever read romance, so I was surprised by how much I loved this book.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

Romance readers will enjoy this one, but I think non-romance readers might too. If you want a lighthearted, sweet, and seasonal read, One Day in December is a great option. 

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

Priestdaddy is a memoir about Patricia Lockwood’s life with a zany Catholic priest for a father. She and her husband are forced to move back home with her parents for a while, so she explores her family as an adult and reflects on her childhood and her relationship toward Catholicism. 

WHAT WAS GOOD ABOUT THIS BOOK?

Lockwood made me laugh out loud, which rarely happens when I’m reading.  She’s a poet, so her writing is lovely whether she’s talking about something funny or serious. 

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

People who are interested in religion and don’t mind poking fun at it’s weirder aspects will probably enjoy this most. And if you’re like me and are continually searching for well-written and funny books, make sure to give this a chance. 


Have you read any of these books? What books did you finish in November? 


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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?