Reading Recap | February 2019

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February was another good reading month for me. I read five books and liked all of them. I own three of the books I read, so I’m thrilled my owned books outranked my library books this time around. Yay for reading goal progress!

Spoken from the heart book cover

Spoken from the Heart by Laura Bush
Rating: 4/5


Spoken from the Heart is a memoir by the former first lady about her childhood in Texas, her early career as a teacher and librarian, her husband’s early political aspirations, and the eight years she spent in the White House.


Last month I read and loved Michelle Obama’s Becoming, and what I liked so much about that book is here, too. All of the political stuff is wonderfully interesting, but I also enjoyed learning about Bush’s life growing up. I certainly relate to her passion for literature and libraries and admire her journey from someone who was promised she’d never have to give a speech to someone speaking out on the world stage on behalf of women and girls around the world.


People who are interested in politics will be the best audience for this book.

The Dreamers book cover

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
Rating: 4/5


A freshman girl falls asleep in her bed and doesn’t wake up. And then it happens to another girl in her dorm. And then it happens to another one. Soon there’s an epidemic and doctors can’t figure it out. The patients aren’t dead; they’re breathing and dreaming, but nothing can wake them up. Chaos and panic soon run amok in the small, idyllic Southern California town where sleep is to be feared.


The Dreamers is a page-turner. The plot is fascinating, the characters are well-developed, and I never knew what was going to happen next. In addition to all that, the writing is quite lovely.


I’d recommend this to literary fiction fans who appreciate unique tales.

The Fire This Time book cover

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race
edited by Jesmyn Ward
Rating: 4/5


The Fire This Time is a nod to James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, a classic examination of race. Using that as inspiration, Ward has put together a collection of essays and poems about what life is like for people of color in modern America.


Ward recruited some wonderful writers for this collection, such as Claudia Rankine, Natasha Tretheway, and Kiese Laymon. As with most essay collections, some pieces are better than others. That’s true with this book, but the good essays easily outnumber ones I thought were mediocre.


People interested in race and social justice will be inspired by this book.

The Lost Man book cover

The Lost Man by Jane Harper
Rating: 4/5


Nathan is the oldest of three brothers. Right before Christmas, his middle brother Cameron is found dead. Like Nathan, Cam had spent his entire life in the Australian outback, so he knew the risks and how to survive the oppressive heat. The family questions the circumstances of his death and eventually face a disturbing rumor about Cam’s past. Meanwhile, Nathan is forced to confront his grieving mother, the widowed sister-in-law he always avoids, and the terrible memory of his abusive father.


Jane Harper might be the queen of settings. When I read her work, I feel like I’m actually in the outback, thirsty and covered in dust. Her descriptions of the landscape pull you even further into her expertly crafted mystery and family drama.


Fans of Harper’s first two books (The Dry and Force of Nature) will love The Lost Man. Mystery and suspense fans will undoubtedly be satisfied with Harper’s first standalone novel.

The Hunting Party book cover

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
Rating: 4/5


A group of friends from Oxford always spend New Year’s Eve together, and 2018 is no exception. This year, Emma, the newest member of the group, has planned a getaway to a remote lodge and cabins nestled into the snowy woods. Thanks to a snowstorm, there’s no way in and no way out, so when a member of the group is found murdered, everyone knows the killer is in their midst.


The Hunting Party has a delightfully creepy atmosphere and setting. The pacing is fantastic, and the twists are a fun surprise. This book is a highly enjoyable murder mystery.


Mystery fans who want a perfect winter read will enjoy this one.

What did you read in February? Leave a comment below and share!

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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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Book Options for the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2019 Reading Challenge

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I love reading, but I don’t love feeling as if I have to read something. I enjoyed many of the books I was assigned in college, yet didn’t always like having to stick to a syllabus. That’s why I’ve never participated in any online reading challenges. I don’t want reading to feel like homework.

One of my favorite book blogs is Modern Mrs. Darcy. I was looking at her 2019 reading challenge and realized this one actually excites me. At only 10 categories, it’s not too long, and there are plenty of options for every requirement so I won’t feel pressured to read specific things.

Today I’m sharing some possible reads for each category. Who knows if I’ll stick to this list, but at least I’ll have a plan. (And I love plans.) Maybe these books will inspire you if you’re doing the challenge, too.

1. A book you’ve been meaning
to read

This list could be ridiculously long since I have so many unread books on my shelves. (One of my 2019 reading goals is to lower that number.) For this task, I’m choosing a book that I’ve owned for at least a year. These are the ones I’m most excited to read right now:

2. A book about a topic that fascinates you

I’m fascinated by a lot of things, but my primary interests right now include:

3. A book in the backlist of a favorite author

Sometimes when I really love an author, I’ll hesitate to read everything they’ve written because I want to know there’s still a book out there by them I haven’t read yet. (Especially when there are many, many years between new releases, DONNA.) Is that weird? Maybe. Probably.

4. A book recommended by someone with great taste

Some friends have recommended:

5. Three books by the same author

I’d love to read more from Baldwin and French, and I haven’t read Ferrante at all.

6. A book you chose for the cover

I’m a sucker for a pretty book cover. These are the most recent ones that have caught my eye:

7. A book by an author who is
new to you

Thanks to some Christmas gift cards, I just bought a few books by authors I’ve yet to read, including:

8. A book in translation

I was happy to see this category on the list since reading more translated books was already one of my reading goals this year. At the top of my list are:

9. A book outside your (genre) comfort zone

This category is going to stretch me more than any of the others because I tend to read a bit narrowly when it comes to fiction. I mostly stick to literary fiction, thrillers, and mysteries. Here are some titles that are definitely outside my comfort zone, but intrigue me nonetheless:

10. A book published before you were born

I’m hoping this category will inspire me to pick up a few of the classics that have been sitting on my shelves for too long, such as:

So those are my ideas so far. If you have any suggestions to add, please let me know. I’m always up for book recommendations.

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15 Books I’m Excited to Read This Year

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The Millions is one of my favorite bookish websites, and twice a year they release a list of books that will be coming out within the next few months. The first list of 2019 was posted yesterday and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I always get fantastic recommendations from these lists, and this year is no exception.

Today I’m sharing the books I’m most excited to read in the upcoming months. I certainly don’t need any more titles to add to my ever-growing TBR, but how can I resist stories like these? (And the pretty covers. I love a pretty cover.)

Book cover for Hark

Hark by Sam Lipsyte

I don’t tend to read much satire, but this book about a reluctant mindfulness guru named Hank sounds intriguing enough to make me start. I’m always on the lookout for well-written, funny books.

The Far Field book cover

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

This novel tells the story of an Indian woman named Shalini whose mother is dead. Wrestling with her emotions and full of questions, Shalini decides to visit a remote village to find a man from her childhood who she believes might know something about her mother. This was my Book of the Month selection last month, so I have no excuse not to read this one since it’s already on my shelf.

Mothers: stories book cover

Mothers: Stories by Chris Power

Mothers is a collection of 10 stories about people at a crossroads. These stories are set in locations all over the world. Kirkus notes this collection is “populated by travelers of many kinds.” I enjoy short stories and armchair travel, so I’m excited about this release.

The Source of Self-Regard book cover

The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison

I’ve read five of Morrison’s novels, but none of her nonfiction work. Her voice is one of a kind, so I’m sure this book will be worth my time.

Bowlaway book cover

Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken

Bertha Truitt appears in New England one day in a cemetery. No one knows who she is or how she got there. She ends up settling down and opening a candlepin bowling alley, which serves as the link between generations of her family. With a concept this original, Bowlaway is toward the top of my to-read list.

The Heavens book cover

The Heavens by Sandra Newman

The Millions mentioned the words “alternate universe” when describing this inventive novel that plays with time and location. As a realistic fiction lover, I almost tuned out because of that description, but this story about a woman who lives seemingly real, full lives in her dreams sounds too good to miss.

The Cassandra book cover

The Cassandra by Sharma Shields

In this novel, Shields reinvents the Greek myth of Cassandra. Mildred Groves works for the Hanford nuclear facility during World War II and has visions of the terrible outcomes plutonium could cause. I thoroughly enjoyed Shields’s first two books, Favorite Monster, and The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac, so I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while now.

Nothing but the night book cover

Nothing But the Night by John Williams

All I needed to know about this book is that it’s written by John Williams, who penned one of my favorite novels of all time, Stoner. This book, his first, will be reissued by New York Review Books soon. It’s a novella-length book tells the story of a complicated father-son relationship.

The new me book cover

The New Me by Halle Butler

This is another piece of satire about a 30-year-old woman who feels trapped in her unsatisfying life. Goodreads says this book is “darkly hilarious.” I’m here for that.

Look How Happy I’m Making You by Polly Rosenwaike

This is a collection of 12 stories about women and motherhood, including topics such as infertility, single parenthood, postpartum depression, and uncertainty after giving birth. I love the idea of such a life-changing topic being discussed through various lenses.

A woman is no man book cover

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum

This novel is the story of arranged marriage and female agency. An eighteen-year-old named Deya is living in Brooklyn with her grandparents when they start trying to find her a husband. As Deya struggles with being forced to marry, she learns surprising truths about her parents and past. I can’t wait to get my hands on this.

Women Talking book cover

Women Talking by Miriam Toews

Based on harrowing true events, Women Talking is about a group of Mennonite women who conduct a secret meeting to discuss what to do in the wake of their assaults. They grapple with whether to stay or leave their community while the men are away. I heard about this book a couple of months ago and can’t wait to read it.

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Miracle Creek centers around a courtroom drama about deaths caused by the Miracle Submarine, a piece of technology that provides medical treatment to help people with autism, among other things. Goodreads says this book is “an addictive debut novel for fans of Liane Moriarty and Celeste Ng,” who happen to be two of my favorite novelists. This sounds so good.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

I keep seeing this book pop up on Instagram, where I’ve heard nothing but praise. Normal People is about Connell and Marianne, completely different people who have a strong connection throughout many years. This book releases in the US in August but has already been published in the UK. I don’t want to wait until August, so I’m happy to see that Book Depository has copies to buy now.

A Wonderful Stroke of Luck by Ann Beattie

I’m a sucker for stories about boarding schools and/or teachers, so this novel about a boarding school student and his influential teacher is right up my alley.

What 2019 releases have you excited? Do you want to read any of the books I mentioned?

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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.


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 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 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. 


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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3 Tips for Decluttering Your Book Collection

Photo by Eli Francis on Unsplash

If you’re reading a blog about books, you’re either my mother or you’re passionate about literature. Assuming it’s the latter, that passion often means you like owning books. Maybe you like owning a lot of books. Perhaps you have piles of books in odd places throughout your house because your bookshelves are full. Or just maybe you have two stacks of books by your reading chair that are taller than a small child. That last one might be only me, but you never know. 

Over the past few years, I’ve been working hard on decluttering my space and life. I still have a long way to go, but I’ve made progress. I used to keep everything that had even the smallest memory attached, and I’ve been guilty of the “someday I’ll use it” mindset too. As I’ve tried to overcome that thinking, I had to consider my bookshelves.

My personal library brings me a great deal of joy and satisfaction, but there were a lot of books that needed to go, and now it’s time for another purge. Today I want to share some of the things I think about as I declutter books. I hope these tips are helpful. If you have room for all of your books and don’t need this list, I don’t even know what to say to you. Anyway, here we go. 

Tip #1: Ask yourself if you really want to read that book or if your fantasy self wants to read it. 

A while back, I wrote a blog post about the idea of a fantasy self and how it’s affected my reading life. To sum it up, a fantasy self is the person you wish you were or delude yourself into thinking you are. My fantasy self reads all the intimidating classics, wakes up every day at 5:00 a.m. for yoga, and would rather have a pear than a brownie. As I added books to my personal library, I bought books I thought I should read as opposed to books I wanted to read. As you declutter, stop and think about what books are in your library because you can’t wait to read them and what books are there out of misplaced literary obligation. 

Tip #2: You don’t need to keep books about topics in which you’re no longer interested.

Toward the end of my time in college, I became increasingly interested in feminism and feminist theory. I truly enjoyed reading texts from women like Audre Lorde and Betty Friedan in class because they opened up my eyes to new ideas. Soon I had a whole shelf in my library dedicated to feminist literature, but I never actually read any of it. As I stopped to think about why I realized that even though I care deeply about the idea of feminism, it isn’t necessarily what I want to read about. As much as I enjoyed reading those feminist writings from the ’60s and ’70s for school, that’s not what I choose when I want a relaxing night at home. You’re allowed to part with books that don’t interest you anymore. You’re also allowed to part with books full of ideas you care deeply about but aren’t your first choice for reading material. 

Tip #3: Don’t keep a book just because you spent money on it. 

Many of the books that have survived several rounds of my decluttering efforts have been spared because I spent money on them. It’s easy to let go of the books you only paid a few cents for at a thrift store or library sale, but it’s a bit harder to get rid of that expensive hardcover. Perhaps you treated yourself to a special edition once but don’t really care about it anymore. The money has already been spent, and holding on to those books we splurged on doesn’t get it back. 

What about you? What are your tips for a book purge? 

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