The Something of Books

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“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”

― Ray Bradbury,
Fahrenheit 451

I work in a high school library and made a banned books display a couple of years ago. I chose the words above to be the centerpiece, not merely because of the censorship flowing through Bradbury’s novel, but because I loved this quote on its own. Sometimes when people ask me about my favorite books, I can’t explain why I like something. When I read a poem or a complicated text that I don’t fully understand, I can still find it beautiful and essential. I echo Bradbury’s words in those moments: “There must be something there.“

fahrenheit 451 book cover

Reading is an endless search to find that something. For some, it’s comfort. For others, it’s entertainment. William Nicholson writes, “We read to know we’re not alone.” Realizing there’s someone else in the world who thinks what you think or feels what you feel is a wonderful thing, especially when those thoughts and feelings are dark and isolating.

I think about the link between reading and loneliness a lot since working with teenagers. I feel a unique duty to these kids to be able to point them toward books that will inspire and teach them, but also toward books that will lessen the blows of that still-familiar teenage feeling of aloneness. A fictional character can say to them what someone else might not: “You’re okay. You’re not the only one. Life gets easier; I promise.”

Before I took my current job, I never read many young adult books, even as a teenager. I still don’t consider myself well read in the world of YA lit, but I do have a few favorites that I recommend frequently. When I dipped my toes into the water of YA books, I was surprised at how stellar the writing is and how adult the subject matter can get. I realize that sounds snobbish, but it’s true. I’m thankful for great writers like Sara Zarr, Courtney Summers, and Laurie Halse Anderson, who not only address hard topics but do so with eloquence.

Some of my favorite young adult books

For me, the element of surprise is one of the best things about reading. Not only does surprise open my eyes to whole new genres, but it gives me pause. A beautifully written sentence or paragraph makes me slow down and take note. Sometimes I end up seeing more in the long run by focusing on one small thing. Throughout my reading life, I’ve had my eyes opened so many times to new ideas and unique ways of seeing the world. Whether it’s discovering a whole new genre or reading a line of poetry that invites me to pause and see something ordinary in a new way, those moments of newness and wonder are necessary elements to the something of why I read.

There must be something there. I want each student who walks through the doors of my library to sense that truth. I want them to develop their own reasons for reading. I want books to become a joy and not a chore. Not every student is going to become a reader, but I want even the ones who don’t to be curious about how any character could stay in a burning house for the sake of some words bound together.

Reading Recap | April 2019

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Today’s reading recap is the shortest one yet since I only read one book in April. It was a stressful month for a lot of reasons, including this one, so I didn’t have the mental capacity to read like I normally do.

The book I managed to finish is one I’d been looking forward to reading for months, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s about mental health which is perfect since May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental health is a subject I care a lot about since I’ve struggled with anxiety and phobias throughout my life and know many other people who have walked that road, too. Thanks to medication and a stint in therapy, my anxiety is under control. Hope and healing are possible.

And now, the recap!

The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live by Heather B. Armstrong
Rating: 4/5

WHAT’S THIS
BOOK ABOUT?

This book is a candid account of Heather B. Armstrong’s struggle with suicidal depression and the medical treatment that saved her life. Armstrong’s doctor referred to her a clinical study at the height of her illness, and she decided to go for it since it seemed like her only hope. During the trial, Armstrong received anesthesia ten times until she was nearly brain dead, an experience she compares to shutting down a computer in an attempt to get it working again. The results of the procedures are astounding and fascinating.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT 
THIS BOOK?

If you read Armstrong’s blog, you’ll know she’s capable of being hilarious, profane, and deeply poignant all in the same paragraph. Her trademark style is present here, but the book is cohesive and structured well throughout. Armstrong makes complex medical information easy to understand and shows incredible vulnerability when describing her struggle to live a happy life. The love she feels for her mother and two daughters is beautiful to witness. You’ll be rooting for her on each page.

WHO SHOULD READ
THIS BOOK?

Anyone interested in mental health or those who have been affected by depression.


April’s Blog Posts

My Favorite Books about Music (And a Reading Playlist!)

I’ve enjoyed music even longer than I’ve loved books. My parents listened to “oldies” growing up, so the first artists I remember knowing about are the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the Beach Boys. Unlike some of my friends, I loved the music my parents played. They were just listening to music they liked, but I was soaking up a musical education. I had a boy band phase in middle school and wanted a Spice Girls CD more than I cared to admit even at 11, but my musical foundation is solid thanks to the songs I grew up hearing.

It makes sense, then, that I enjoy two of my favorite things coming together: music and books. Today I want to share some of my favorite books about music and explain why I like them so much.

Daisy Jones and the Six book cover

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Daisy Jones is an up and coming singer in the late 1960s. She’s beautiful and talented, but also a drug addict. Billy Dunne (who also has issues with substance abuse) is the lead singer/songwriter for a band called the Six which he’s in with his brother and four others. When a producer realizes that Daisy and Billy are magnetic together, Daisy joins the band. Soon the group becomes one of the most popular rock bands in America.

Daisy Jones & The Six is the book that inspired this whole post. I finished reading it a couple of weeks ago and it’s one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. It’s a novel, but it’s written as an oral history which makes it seem as if every word is real. You might not think oral history about a fake rock band would result in a page-turner, but this novel is an addictive read from start to finish. It’s utterly original and full of songs you’ll wish you could hear. Thankfully, Daisy Jones is becoming a 13-part series for Amazon. I’m excited about the soundtrack more than anything else.

The Song Is You book cover

The Song Is You by Arthur Phillips

This novel was released in 2009 when people still used iPods. Julian is obsessed with his and uses music as a way to connect with memories of his past. After something tragic happens to Julian and his wife, he loses interest in everything, including music. It’s only when he hears Cait O’Dwyer sing in a bar one night that he starts to feel things again.

The Song Is You follows Julian and Cait’s relationship through their correspondence. The way Arthur Phillips portrays grief, longing, and marriage in this novel is consistently compelling. I remember one particular scene that made me physically ache. This book feels true, and I think that makes for the best fiction.

The Music Shop book cover

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

It’s 1988, and Frank, the owner of a small music shop in London, is getting pressured to start selling CDs. He’s devoted to his vinyl records, however, and refuses to change. His life is a simple one, and he’s okay with that. But then, of course, there’s this girl. She walks into the store one day, and Frank (along with all of his friends in the neighborhood) is instantly captivated. She ends up asking him to teach her about music, which forces Frank to face some painful memories.

The Music Shop is a sweet story that never feels saccharine. The supporting characters are colorful, the love story is heartfelt, and the music references throughout are delightful. If you had your heart broken by Daisy Jones & The Six and The Song Is You, this book will help put it back together.

Signal to Noise book cover

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Meche is a teenager in the late 1980s. She isn’t cool and hangs out with two equally uncool friends, Daniela and Sebastian. The trio often listens to records and one day they realize that Meche has the power to cast spells through music.

Flash forward to 2009 when Meche’s estranged father dies. She’s forced to return to Mexico City where she grew up. She runs into Sebastian and is brought face-to-face with memories she’s tried to bury.

Through these two timelines, readers learn about Meche’s musical power, how she uses it, and what happened with her family and friends to make her want to leave everything and everyone behind. This book is more fantastical than what I usually read, but I love it and wish it had a broader audience.


Sometimes when I’m reading, I like to have some background music playing. If you do too, here’s a playlist I made full of slow, folksy songs that pair nicely with a good book for a cozy night at home. Happy reading (and listening)!


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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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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

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

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.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT 
THIS BOOK?

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.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

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

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

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.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT 
THIS BOOK?

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.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

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

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

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.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT 
THIS BOOK?

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.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

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

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

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.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT 
THIS BOOK?

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.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

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

WHAT’S THIS BOOK ABOUT?

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.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT 
THIS BOOK?

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.

WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK?

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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6 Essentials for a Cozy Reading Day

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At the beginning of February, I thought, “I’m fortunate. This winter has been so mild. There’s hardly been any snow at all.” And then it proceeded to snow a foot in a couple of days. I had a day off from work thanks to a snow day, and I spent most of it curled up in my sweats with a blanket and book. Nothing makes me want to stay indoors as much as snow does, so I thought it would be fun to share my essentials for a cozy reading day so that you too might be inspired to hunker down in your home while remaining motionless for several hours. I highly recommend it.

Girl in sweater reading

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Essential #1: Comfortable clothes

Some people stay in their regular clothes until bedtime. I do not understand these people. Who can genuinely lounge around the house in jeans? Who can be entirely comfortable in a skirt or button-down shirt? The first essential item for any cozy reading day is comfortable clothes. Put on those sweats and be proud. Throw on those leggings and relax. So what if your favorite college t-shirt has a few holes? Whatever you wear, make it soft and comfortable.

Vintage chair, ottoman, and piano in the background

Photo by Lauren Mancke on Unsplash

Essential #2: A comfortable reading location

Now that you’re wearing your most stylish comfortable clothes, you need even more comfort in the form of a good reading location. My favorite reading spot is my navy blue wingback chair and brightly-printed ottoman. Couches work just fine, too. If you’re genuinely embracing the lazy part of a lazy day, stay in bed.

A woman holding three folded blankets

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

Essential #3: A warm blanket

I am a productive adult, and I have a blankie. In fact, I have several blankies. And yes, I call them blankies because I’m young at heart and I can. You too need a blankie. (Unless you live in Miami or somewhere comparably toasty.) My blankie is essential because no matter how comfortable my clothes and location might be, they’re enhanced by the blankie. Not only does the blankie offer extra warmth but it also provides another layer of softness. Who doesn’t want that?

An iced coffee in a glass

Photo by Linda Xu on Unsplash

Essential #4: A beverage

The entire planet could be glazed over in a layer of ice, and I’d still reach for an iced coffee. I saw a meme the other day that referred to iced coffee as the most important meal of the day, and it spoke truth to my spirit. You don’t have to drink an iced coffee, but you do need a beverage. One of the goals of a cozy reading day is to avoid movement as much as possible, so being sure you’ve got your drink prepared before you assume your position underneath your blankie is vital. Hydration is essential, and so are taste buds.

A red book with glasses sitting on the top placed on white bedsheets

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Essential #5: Silence

When I want the coziest of cozy reading days, silence is a must. I don’t want TV on in the background, and there can be no music. If I hear anyone making commotion outside, I find myself wondering why they don’t care about me and my needs. Is this high maintenance of me? Yes. But the heart wants what it wants, and mine wants silence.

Open book pages

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Essential #6: The right book

Perhaps the most vital aspect of a cozy reading day is the reading part. For that, you need the right book. The right book is not the book you’re forcing yourself to read for book club. It’s not the book you got for Christmas five years ago and feel guilty about not having read yet. The right book for a cozy reading day is one you’re excited about and can’t put down. For me, that’s a mystery, thriller, or engaging literary fiction. Find the right book for you and get to work. And by that I mean don’t work at all.


So what are your essentials for a cozy reading day? I’d love to hear them!


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