Books I Read This Week 2019 – 04

This was a fantastic of reading. Several really wonderful reads across multiple genres. I read a fantasy (Every Heart a Doorway), a historical fiction (The Widows), a non-fiction (Brave, not Perfect) and a literary fiction (Normal People) I loved in one week and I don’t even know how to classify Karen Thompson Walker’s book. Despite a few books I wasn’t crazy about, I am very happy with this week’s reading. Here are my goodreads reviews. If you’re on goodreads, add me as a friend so I can see your books too! 

Every Heart a Doorway (4.5 stars):  This book is unlike anything I read in all the ways that’s hard to explain. It’s the first in a series and the last book just came out last week. Emily May’s review of the first book convinced me to give it a try. I figured it was reasonably short and if I didn’t like it, I could only stop at the first one.

I read it pretty much in one sitting and was entranced right away. I was pulled into the story, and the atmosphere, the characters, the unusual plot all came together to create something magical. I loved the range of the characters and their unique worlds. I loved all the gender-focused undertones that were smart and thoughtful but yet didn’t hit you in the face with any of it.

Most of all I loved the way the characters interacted with each other and had their own unique personalities and goals but also came together in their apartness from other, “normal” people. I loved that being at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children was closest they could get to belonging in this world.

When you read 200-300 books a year, it’s rare to find a book that’s so unusual. Especially one that’s quietly atmospheric, thought provoking, enjoyable and well written. This one checks all the boxes. I am looking forward to reading the others in the series.

The Au Pair (2.5 stars):  2.5 stars. I don’t know what is wrong with me that I can’t seem to rate with whole numbers. 2 stars seems too stingy for this novel and 3 stars seems too generous. So there we go.

If you’re looking for a quick read that will keep you occupied and entertained without annoying you too much, The Au Pair is not a terrible choice. The story alternates between two characters and two moments in time. I liked the present day character more though both of them were a bit whinier than I like in general.

Here’s the thing: there’s almost no character development in this book anywhere. Not an inch of depth into any of the characters. She wants to know who she is and she loves the house she grew up in and that’s pretty much all you really know about Seraphine, one of the main characters. The alternate narrator, The Au Pair, is even shallower than that, in my opinion. For someone who cares way more about characters than plot, this book was likely a poor choice from the beginning.

There are twists and turns, though not super unpredictable since, you know, there aren’t a huge number of possibilities. The one thing the book has going for it is the pacing. It’s reasonably fast paced and you do want to keep reading it. So I read it in one gulp.

Now that I’ve written all this, 2.5 stars might even be a tiny bit generous.

The Water Cure (2 stars):  Not even sure where to begin…

Here’s another book that is blurbed with labels that have nothing to do with the book. I don’t know what the marketers are thinking when they try to compare a book to a classic. I understand it might have initial appeal and might cause me to pickup the book but then the let down after reading it and, finding out that you have completely lied to me, makes me so mad that I am now skeptical of anything and everything that comes after this. I can’t imagine the one single sale based on a lie is so much better than all the sales you’re now not getting because of the lie.

Ok rant done. This book is nothing like Handmaid’s Tale. Nothing. So I want to set that expectation first and foremost.

The only reason I gave this book two stars is because the author’s lyrical language is powerful and it was, for me, the best part of the book. I don’t usually prioritize paying attention to the language because if I am prioritizing the plot, it means your characters don’t have the depth I need and if I am prioritizing the language, well it means there isn’t much else that’s getting my attention enough. But in some rare cases, the language is beautiful and really adds to the story. This was one of those cases. Especially in the beginning and the ending.

This is where my positive feelings about the book stop. I have so many questions and so many complaints. If you’re going to have three narrators, they need to be distinctly different from each other so as to have a reason that the constant switching helps the story (instead of just giving the reader whiplash.) While there are small differences between the sisters, there is really not enough distinction (besides their plot of course) to make the rotating narration worthwhile.

The plot is convoluted and there are so many holes in the story that at some point I just gave up. I didn’t even care what was going on in the outside world, why they were here, where the others were, and on and on. This wasn’t a slow building story where you can understand the background of the characters and see how they ended up in the completely messed up places they ended up. I am not sure if the author’s goal is for me to conclude “men are evil” and “don’t mess with women” but those are not lessons. This is not a valuable take away. This is not feminist. It’s just another way of stereotyping. These topics are so complicated and so layered that writing a story like this and then selling it as feminist dystopia does it a disservice.

I was confused, horrified, angry and frustrated for most of this story. Maybe that was the intent. But to me, a book that makes me feel those things and doesn’t teach me anything or give me some questions to grapple with is just there to mess with my emotions. And, that makes me mad. I don’t think this is a powerful story. I think this is a missed opportunity.

I did love the author’s lyrical prose, however, so I’ll give her that.

The Widows (4 stars):  What a fantastic book!

Historical Fiction is not my favorite genre. It’s not generally what I would lean towards but I’ve read many in my time and, as with most other genres, what makes or breaks the novel for me is the characters. The character development in this novel is deep, rich and layered. The writing is solid and has just enough texture to envelop you in the atmosphere and is not so flowery (which I feel is sometimes the case for historical fiction) that it gets in the way. The fact that her characters happen to be a strong female characters is just an icing on the cake.

This novel doesn’t move fast. While there’s a crime (or two) at its center, it’s also not a who-did-it. While the characters are motivated by the events that precipitates their meeting, it’s so much more than that. It takes place in the 1920s and speaks to issues around coal mining, unionization, power balance (or imbalance), women and their place in society, and just so much more. All of these are the underpinnings and they are the layers of this story.

But all of that would have been nothing without the amazing character work. At its core, it’s a character-driven story and that is, by far, the very best part of this novel. I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading more from this new author!

Brave, Not Perfect (4.5 stars):  What a fantastic book!

Reshma Saujani’s TED talk was recommended to me by several colleagues at work, so when I saw the book, I knew a little about its premise. I have two boys, and yet, I am a girl 🙂 So it was quite interesting reading this book with both my mom filter on and as a woman myself. I’ve already recommended it to all the parents I know, because so much of this book is about highlighting behavior that exists in a way that feels indoctrinated. Things we don’t do consciously maybe because we’ve done them this way such a long time. It’s highlighting the invisible hidden in plain sight.

And like most truths, once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

A few years ago, I picked “brave” as my word of the year so that I could become braver. And one of the biggest shifts that happened that year wasn’t that I became brave but that I realized how brave I already was. The author talks about the positive cycle of how bravery begets bravery and that is very much the case. So does realizing how brave you are because it shifts the way you see yourself and now you’re no longer “afraid” to be brave. It is imperative that we turn this cycle around for our girls. The subtle (and not so subtle) push towards perfection is one of the most damaging signals women receive (and then internalize.) I still see this people-pleasing, “looking perfect on the outside but falling apart on the inside” every single day. Not only does it curb our potential as women, it also keeps us disconnected from each other because it’s not possible to have real connection/belonging without authenticity.

I’ve highlighted so much of this book and I will continue to recommend it to every parent (and woman) I know. We can only do better when we know better and this book is a solid step forward in that direction. And it also has tangible, specific next steps you can take to move into the practice of bravery.

Thank you Reshma Saujani for helping us all get less perfect and braver. (and thank you netgalley for the early preview of this awesome book!)

Normal People (5 stars): I loved every bit of this book. From the moment I read the first few lines, I knew I would have a hard time putting it down. I had a visceral connection to it almost immediately and I couldn’t put it down. I didn’t want to.

The books I love fall into two categories: books i have no qualms about recommending to everyone and books I love but I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending without a bunch of caveats. This book falls in the latter category. (Plainsong, however, falls in the former.)

I want to start with the caveats:
– this might be boring for many, there’s no plot, nothing really happens and there’s no “ending” either. It’s almost like a glimpse into the lives of these characters over the course of a few years.
– there is a lot of sex and drinking and some drugs in the book. not many graphic descriptions of any of it but if you’re sensitive it will bother you.
– the secondary characters are not well developed and are so not the point of the story that writer clearly couldn’t be bothered to work on them.
– it’s hard to tell what the “point” of the story is or if there even is one.

I will also say while I liked it ok, I didn’t love Rooney’s first novel and I didn’t go into this thinking it was going to be amazing. Man Booker prize long lists are a mixed bag in my opinion so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Ok, now that I have all the other caveats out of the way, I am going to come back to: I loved this book. I will thinking about it for a long, long time. I’ve underlined many parts of it. So much of this book connected with me.

I don’t even know how to describe what spoke to me so deeply. It’s so human is the best way I can think to describe it. The emotions the two main characters have, the deep conflict, the constant miscommunication (or lack of communication) that is a result of their own insecurities, their own feelings of inadequacy can be felt so acutely in this story that it made me wince several times. There are so many moments of realizations for the characters, moments where they see how their idea of something doesn’t really match up with the reality of the world and how their distorted thinking ruins their chances of joy again and again. It felt so true and real to me.

Here are a few quotes that really spoke to me::

Marianne sometimes sees herself at the very bottom of the ladder, but at other times she pictures herself off the ladder completely, not affected by its mechanics since she does not actually desire popularity or do anything to make it belong to her. From her vantage point, it’s not obvious what rewards the ladder provides, even to those who really are at the top.

The ladder is complicated for all people, at all rungs.

Even in memory she will find this moment unbearably intense, and she’s aware of this now, while it’s happening. She has never believed herself fit to be loved by any person. But now she has a new life, of which this is the first moment, and even after many years have passed she will still think: Yes, that was it, the beginning of my life.

This was such a touching moment for me. Those times in your life when you can experience something monumental and be aware of it’s hugeness at the same time. Sort of like both living and observing your life simultaneously.

He knew that the secret for which he had sacrificed his own happiness and the happiness of another person had been trivial all along, and worthless.

Isn’t this the saddest moment when you find out this thing you were so afraid of being “found out” for was meaningless to others? What you made so big in your mind, what you contorted your life for.

You learn nothing very profound about yourself simply by being bullied but by bullying someone else you learn something you can never forget.

i wish this were true. I don’t know if it is.

No one can be independent of other people completely, do why not give up the attempt, she thought, go running in the other direction, depend on people for everything, allow them to depend on you, why not.

this might be the crux of this story in the end. if only we could.

I can’t even tell you what the story is about. I just know that there’s so much of it that spoke to me. And I can totally see that at another time, in another place, I might have found all of it sappy and pointless. But I didn’t. I connected with this deeply and felt rewarded again and again throughout the story.

huge thanks to netgalley and the publisher for an advance copy in return for an honest review

The Dreamers (4 stars):  I really enjoyed making my way through this story. It teetered between a 3 and a 4-star book for me while I read it depending on how much of it I was reading at a time. The more I read, the more engulfed I was in the story and the more I enjoyed the sweet softness of it.

Even though this sounds like a disaster, mysterious illness story, it’s not about that. It’s really about people and their connection to each other and there’s this added layer of an inexplicable sickness that’s spreading across the town that may or may not overtake you at any moment for no reason. The anxiety this causes is palpable in the novel.

The book tells the story through the experiences of different sets of people. A couple with a newborn baby, two young girls and their dad, the college students where the whole things begins, etc. Each story is touching and interesting and thoughtful from its own perspective. There are also small but poignant bits about immigrants, marriage, parenthood and more.

If you pickup this book because you want to know what happened and the mystery behind the illness, etc. you will be sorely disappointed. This is a quiet novel with slow, soft moving progress. It asks more questions than it answers. But it’s very beautiful and I really enjoyed my time with it.

And there we go, a really solid week of reading. Here’s to another fantastic week.

Books I Read this Week 2019 is a year-long project for 2019. You can read more about my projects for 2019 here. I am also tracking my books in real time on Good Reads here. If you’re on Good Reads add me so I can follow you, too!

Books I Read This Week 2019 – 03

This was a good week of reading. I finally decided to take advantage of netgalley and between that and my library accounts, i have a lovely list of books on my TBR pile that I am excited to read.  Here’s what I have from this week:

Plainsong (5 stars):  In the last few weeks of 2018, I spent time reading a lot of posts around best reads of the year and added content to my TBR. Somewhere along the way, I picked up Plainsong. I don’t know who recommended it or what they said that made me add it to my list. Especially since it’s a book that was published long before 2018.

Whoever it was, thank you.

This book was a pure joy to read. The characters, the dialogue, the atmosphere of the book all come together to envelop you into the story. Much of the book is sad and has real, raw, and bad things happening to several characters. But underneath all the realness of life there is this thread of hope that emerges from the quiet goodness of other characters. The way people express their feelings, their thoughts, their worries feels so true to character. 

The overall quietness of the book was something I cherished the whole time I read it. Especially after Uprooted which was lovely in its own right but certainly not quiet. I have never read this author before and I have no idea why. I was very sad to find out he’s passed away but grateful that he’s left a body of work. I look forward to spending more time with his words in 2019.

Talking Across the Divide (4 stars):  After the last two books I finished, I needed a change of pace so I decided to pickup a nonfiction book. This was new on my pile and I liked the premise of it so I figured it was a good pick.

Overall, I think it was a good book. I liked all the ideas/approaches he introduces in the book and I felt that, in general, he was pretty realistic about how tough it can be to talk across the divide. He clearly has experience with this. ( Though I will say while I liked the E.T. example as a way to show how people might have different stories they have accumulated in their life, I felt that telling me to have them watch E.T. was too simplistic for the example he was giving. That was the one time in the book he completely lost me.)

The reason I gave this 3 stars is really because there wasn’t much new here for me. I’m lucky enough to have a wide range of interests and friends from a wide range of backgrounds. This has taught me that people I love and respect can have wildly different opinions/perspectives than I do. Having such a variety of people in my life has helped me work on some of these tactics and has helped me be more open to listening because as Brené Brown often mentions, it’s hard to disregard someone’s thoughts/opinions/words if you know them as a human being. Not that I always get it right, of course, but I’ve done a lot of growing up in the last twenty years and I am aware that things are a lot more complicated than they might seem and I have but my stories, perspectives, experiences so it’s important for me to remember that those are not the only ones there are in the world. 

Anyhow, these are good books for me to read. Good reminders to keep an open mind, to listen, to care, to remember to not perpetuate a divide. As my favorite Ram Dass saying goes: We are all just walking each other home.

A Key to Treehouse Living (3 stars): Most people who review this book start with its unusual style. The book is written with alphabetic titles as if you’re reading an encyclopedia. I’d read this style before in The Lover’s Dictionary which at the time had delighted and surprised me. Maybe because of that, in this case I felt like it was mostly a gimmick.

I’ve read a lot of books so the gimmicks don’t do it for me anymore. I much prefer novels that have deep, rich characters and solid writing. To be fair to the author, this book is written well and even though all the other characters are ephemeral and not developed much at all, the main character here is layered and complicated. 

I also liked the writing. I highlighted this little sentence that made me smile: “An old man with the need to ruminate will pop like a champagne bottle when you ask him a question and stories will come out like the foam.” I like how it was both so visual and so relatable. 

Had the author trusted his ability to write strongly and develop rich characters, and made this book less gimmicky I probably would have rated this higher. Still really enjoyed it and look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.

Bad Blood (4 stars):  This book showed up in my life in so many ways that I couldn’t continue to ignore it. When my book club picked it months and months ago, I thought it would be a boring, sensationalist read. I live a few streets down from where Theranos was. I work in Silicon Valley and all the little cafes mentioned in the book are in my neighborhood. I figured I knew all I needed to know about this story. 

Then it started popping up all over my Instagram feed by several bookgrammers I follow. My friend whose judgement I generally trust said it was a really good read. And then the clincher was when my brother-in-law said he was up until 2am reading the book and that it was one of his best reads of 2018. I finally succumbed to the universe and bought the book with my audible credits.

It took me a little less than 24 hours to finish because this book is written in a way that makes it very hard to put down. Even when you know half the story. The number of unconscionable acts in this story are appalling. The fact that the house of cards didn’t come down for as long as it lasted in quite mind blowing.

But what made me the saddest reading this book wasn’t even Holmes’ actions. She clearly lost her way at some point and decided to put her greed above anything else and that part of the story I knew (even if I didn’t know all the bullying, secrecy and just outright creepy things she did to her employees.) What caught me by surprise was the way in which people/companies came on board even while suspecting there was something off. They were so worried about their FOMO that they chose to be a part of fraud rather than miss out on something real. Walgreens was worried CVS would do the deal if they didn’t. The number of times people say But what if we pass on this and it’s real blew my mind. Couple FOMO with a charismatic, passionate, successful-looking female CEO and you have yourself a perfect smokescreen. One she took advantage of to its fullest extent. 

Parts of this story made my skin crawl. And other parts were more like facepalm. I don’t know whether to be grateful that the journalist kept pushing until it finally fell apart or horrified that it took as long as it did.

Some Assembly Required (4 stars): This was the only non-fiction Anne Lamott book I haven’t read, so when the library added the audiobook, I put it on hold immediately. Anne Lamott reads her own audiobooks and they are a joy to listen to. I am not a grandmother yet (and not for a long while I hope) but here’s what I know about Anne Lamott: there’s wisdom in all of her books regardless of topic so I knew this would be no different.

And I was right.

Anne Lamott is neurotic, difficult, selfish, and struggling in all the ways the rest of us are. She’s human, she’s fallible, she’s flawed. And yet she’s also wise. She surrounds herself by other wise people and she puts all that vulnerability into her books. So when you read her books, you see the mess that life is, you see someone being honest with you about her own struggles, and you connect with her humanness. 

Or at least I do.

And I am grateful for her openness, for her willingness to be vulnerable so I can feel less alone and so I can grow and benefit from her wisdom. I am always grateful to read one of her books. This one had the added advantage of including bits and pieces of her son Sam’s thinking. It’s so lovely to have read Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year and now to hear the baby from that book speaking as an adult with his own baby. 

Super thankful for writers like Anne Lamott

The Happiness Project (3.5 stars): I joined netgalley in 2009, and then proceeded to do nothing for ten years. Last Monday, I finally decided to dig up my login information and see if I can start using it. The Happiness Project was the first book that accepted me so I decided it had to be the first one I read. 

And I am glad I did. 

Apparently this is not the first book, so the author jumps right into the story without giving too much of a background on each of the characters. This didn’t bother me at all, though I will say by the end of the story I still couldn’t really tell you much about the physical characteristics of any character except that one of them is pretty petite. This, too, wasn’t a huge problem for me. I did feel like I got to know each of the characters as a “person” and they felt uniquely different from each other, and reasonably three-dimensional to me. They were flawed, interesting, thoughtful characters. 

The book was a fun and quick read. When I was reading it, I liked getting lost in their stories and when I wasn’t reading it, I found myself looking forward to reading more. While there were some learning moments for each character, this wasn’t a story of major growth. 

When they first make the “Happiness Project” I thought it would end up being that they would each learn something about what happiness meant for them and how their project/goal would shift with the learning etc. but it wasn’t a book like that. It was light, fun and one of those books that come together beautifully at the end, leaving you smiling and happy. 

If you’re looking for a deep, literary book that will make you learn about new cultures, or appreciate complex characters, I wouldn’t recommend you pick this one. But if you want to have fun, enjoy a good story with characters that are real and experience real-life situations, especially around marriage and motherhood, I think this is a fantastic pick. 

I gave it a 3.5 stars because while I would have liked a bit more depth, I really enjoyed the story and had fun the whole time I read it.

Chief Joy Officer (3.5 stars): 3.5 stars but I decided to round up this time partly because I am so happy leaders like this exist and I want to encourage these types of books to be written more and more and I want other leaders to take their cues from this type of advice and leadership.

I’ll start with what I liked: I liked all the examples of how the author’s company works and how much time and effort and, most importantly, thoughtfulness they’ve put into the process of making decisions that serve their purpose around creating a more joyful and collaborative company. It sounds like it’s clearly a wonderful place to work and I have subscribed to their newsletters and earmarked it as a place I’d love to go visit when/if I make it to Michigan (which I am decidedly likely to in the next 3 years.) I am a firm believer that such environments don’t happen magically. It takes a lot of effort, dedication and intentionality. 

Now, the part I wish there was more of was specific to me. I work at a large company and I run operations for a reasonably large organization where I was hoping I could take away some tangible, interesting ideas from the book and start recommending that we implement them (or at least experimenting with them) in my organization. Alas, with the exception of one small idea, I didn’t walk away with anything else. Partly because some of his suggestions are things I am already working on and partly because it was hard for me to envision how to integrate some of his other ideas into our organization. But this is not to say there are no ideas in the book, just not a major aha! moment for me.

All in all, it was a worthwhile read and I am looking forward to tracking the company for a little while through their newsletters and seeing if I get some gems there. And super grateful companies like this exist.


Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2 stars): This came up on my library hold so I decided since it was a quick read, I could go ahead and tackle it. I wanted to read it before I see the movie. Because I refuse to see movies without reading the book and I knew I wanted to see this one. 


The book left so much to be desired. There’s nothing to learn or even something to enjoy in this book, for me. While some of the tidbits of the letters she wrote were fun to read, I felt the lack of any emotion, any remorse, or even anything that made this person real for me, stopped me from connecting with the author at all. 

I understand this is a true story and the truth likely is that she didn’t feel remorse and that she didn’t have a big, amazing reason why she did what she did except that she could and she needed/wanted the money. Sometimes the truth is as simple and straightforward as that. 

That doesn’t mean I have to like it and it doesn’t mean it makes a good story. At least not for me. 

I will still likely watch the movie, though I am decidedly less excited to do so now.

Juliet, the Maniac (4 stars):  Wow so many feelings for this book. I don’t even really know where to start…

I’ll start with part of the book’s description that totally made me mad: “An explosive portrayal of teenage life from the perspective of The Bad Friend…” what?! This is a terrible description for the book I read. There are few things that make me angrier than reading blurb copy that was written to raise curiosity/to sensationalize and then book ends up being something completely different and now you’re disappointed not because the book was bad but because the blurb set the wrong expectation.

The first sentence of the blurb here in goodreads is closer to the truth of this book: “It’s 1997, and 14-year-old Juliet has it pretty good. But over the course of the next two years, she rapidly begins to unravel, finding herself in a downward trajectory of mental illness and self-destruction.” but really if I were explaining it to a friend, I’d say this is a book about a 14-year-old who is suffering from several forms of mental illness, most specifically being bipolar. It’s the story of her trying to (or her parents forcing) to find her way back. It’s raw and honest and disturbing in all the ways life can be when you’re suffering from mental illness and are also a teenager. 

She is not a “bad friend,” she’s just a girl who’s struggling so very deeply and keeps making choices that don’t serve her because she’s sick, because she’s struggling, because she’s lonely, because she feels “not right” inside, because…well for all the reasons many of us struggle during some of the most formative years of our lives. 

I can’t relate to any of what Juliet does in this novel (side note: or is it non-fiction? I could never be sure and still am really not. If it’s meant to be a novel it would have been better served by the main character having a different name. in my opinion this only serves to confuse the reader and doesn’t add to the story.) I didn’t take any drugs or really much alcohol during my teen years. I don’t want to give away much of what happens in the story (even though I think the things she “does” isn’t really what the story is about.) But I could relate to her anyway. I could relate to her suffering. I could emphasize with her. The writing was so real that I could almost feel it crawling under my skin.

What was most interesting to me is that I alternated between reading the book as my teen-self and as my parent-of-teen self. I don’t even have a daughter but there were parts of the book where I got so mad at her for continuing to self-sabotage and make choices that wouldn’t stop hurting her. I felt angry and frustrated and wanted to stop reading. And then there were other parts that brought me right back to my own old teenage self where I could connect with her feelings of emptiness and pain. 

Clearly, this book left an impression on me. I will say that I didn’t want to be reading it as I was reading it. It was painful and raw. I didn’t want to watch her as she was doing so much harm to herself and others. But yet, I am glad I read it. And I will likely think about it for a long while.

[ps. this was my second netgalley read, hence the early review.]

Keep Going (5 stars):  When I saw there was an Austin Kleon book coming out, I knew it was an occasion to celebrate. I was super excited when I got the approval email from netgalley, and not-shockingly, I read the whole wonderful book in one sitting. (I am sure he would tell me to slow down, savor, and appreciate the book. But I couldn’t. I will just have to reread it so I can do that the second time around.)

I’ve read several of Austin Kleon‘s books and this has the same format as the others. It’s a little book, full of wisdom. I highlighted so many parts of the book that I am not sure I can capture all of them here. 

I am not a full-time artist, I don’t make a living on art, or even make any money, but as someone who has stopped spending time being creative in the last year, I knew this book would help get me back on track. 

And so much of the wisdom here is exactly what I am trying to implement to bring art/journaling back into my life. Here are some of the notes I took:
– a daily routine and observe, where are the spaces in my day (maybe i can book a 30 minute meeting at work to do art? could I pull that off?)
– choosing what I spend my time on (am I spending my time the way I want do, what am I doing on automatic?)
– make a list of all the todos, make a list of all the won’t dos, make a list of all the want to learns
– i loved the journaling idea of thankful/”need help with”
– make a list of all i did that day, what i want from tomorrow, and then be done with the day (i love this as the ritual of letting the day go.) i also loved the idea of letting the day be (instead of crumpling it up.)
– “If you wait for someone to give you a job title before you do the work, you might never get to do the work at all.” This is so true in so many areas. At my job, too!
– Practicing art is helps make your soul grow. so important for me to remember!
– i liked the idea about rereading my diaries. a bit scary, too 🙂
– i also loved the idea of visiting the past, reading old books, I should read some Seneca!
– i also loved remembering that art (like many things) happens in cycles and that maybe i was in a quiet cycle for the last year or so.

This is just a sampling of what I highlighted in this lovely book bursting with wonderful inspiration and quiet wisdom. It’s a book I will keep coming back to again and again.


And there we go, a really solid week of reading. Pretty happy.

Books I Read this Week 2019 is a year-long project for 2019. You can read more about my projects for 2019 here. I am also tracking my books in real time on Good Reads here. If you’re on Good Reads add me so I can follow you, too!

Books I Read This Week 2019 – 02

So here we go, hello to 2019. Since I’ve spent the first week of this year at home, I’ve had a lot of time to read and have had some wonderful reads. Since I am using Good Reads here now thanks to Gypsy, I will go ahead and link to and copy my reviews here which means there will be a lot more writing per book. 

Ikigai (2 stars): I bought this book back in February of 2018. I had just heard about Ikigai and wanted to learn more about it. At the time I bought this one on audio and Awakening Your Ikigai for my kindle. I was in Sydney for a work trip and decided to read the print book first. I loved it. Even though the book didn’t really tell me all that I wanted, I highlighted so much of it.

So I was looking forward to starting 2019 with a reminder on what I love so much about the concept. Alas, this book didn’t do it for me. If you’ve never read any books around the topics mentioned here, this book might appeal to you but as someone who’d already read Man’s Search for Meaning and already familiar with concepts of Flow, there wasn’t much in this book for me. It felt like it jumped back and forth and it even managed to annoy me in certain places. 

Depending on where you are in your journey this book might work for you but if you’re going to read one book on this topic, I’d recommend Awakening Your Ikigai over this one. 

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell (4 stars):  I should have started with this as my first read of 2019. This moving story was spectacular. I loved the characters, the plot that circles back in on itself, and the sentiment of the novel. I listened to the author’s note at the end, too, and I love the fact that this novel was inspired by his own mother’s fight for his brother. To me, what makes or breaks a novel has everything to do with how the characters come alive and stay with you. I know these will stay with me for a long while.

I will say a few bits that might matter: 
– the women in the novel are more one-dimensional than one might like. Especially the secondary characters. ordinarily this would bother me a lot, but in this case it didn’t. i can’t tell you why.
– this is not a deep, literary novel, in my opinion, it’s a feel good story about the unbounded love of a mother and thus things fall into place in the ways in which they do in such novels.
– there is a strong religious component to the story as the mother is very religious. that didn’t bother me but i know it might bother some.

I bounce around in my reading. I will be in the mood for something educational, something sad, something light, something serious, something weird, something thought-provoking and sometimes something uplifting. Each of these books have their own types of formulas. I know that going into the story (and sometimes the book surprises me, of course, but that happens relatively rarely.)

This is the uplifting kind. And on that note, it delivers beautifully.

Born a Crime (4 stars): I finally finally got around to reading this book. It’s been in my audible pile forever but I kept prioritizing my library checkouts so this one has been sitting quietly waiting for me to be ready for it and today was the day.

I had heard so much praise about this book that it was going to be hard for the book to live up to the hype. But it didn’t disappoint. 

I’ve stopped watching The Daily Show since Jon Stewart stopped hosting it so I knew nothing at all about Trevor Noah. I also knew almost nothing about growing up in South Africa and so much of what he talks about in this book. I think this is one of the reasons why this book is such a success: he talks about topics most of us don’t know about and manages to make the reader feel the horror at the same time as making the reader laugh. There are moments of terrible tragedies in this book and yet it doesn’t feel didactic in the least.

And, of course, the biggest joy is seeing where he came from and where he ended up. The kind of story that gives you hope, reminds you much is possible in this life, and makes you feel another level of respect for Trevor Noah.

The Library Book (3 stars):  I have mixed feelings about this book. 

I checked it out of the library several times before I finally decided to tackle it today. Often times, there’s a reason I end up putting the book off but sometimes a book I’ve checked out six times ends up being one of my favorites and I regret not having read it sooner. I’ve liked Susan Orlean’s previous novel and I love libraries so I had reasons to read this one. When I saw it was the Reese bookclub pick for January, I decided it was a nudge from the universe (or Reese?) to finally read it.

The book is told sort of in alternating chapters. There’s the story of the fire which I found fascinating and then there are stories about the author’s childhood around libraries and also about the history of the library which I found less interesting. In my experience, many non-fiction novels end up stretching their subject too much in an effort to make a book out of it when it could be a really intriguing long article. This felt a little like that. Like there was a lot of filler. And the book, in my opinion, didn’t fare better for it.

I did enjoy several of the stories and especially the little mention of Overdrive which I love and use multiple times a day. But there were too many side stories, too much of the history, and too much back and forth for my liking.

I am still glad I read it.

The Art of the Good Life (2.5 stars): It’s always tricky to write a book on “how to be.” I know this book isn’t titled as if it’s telling you what to do/who to be but it’s trying to do exactly that, in my opinion. Even though I agreed with some of his ideas, learned new ideas, and disagreed with some of what he said, the part of the book that put me off the most was the tone in which it was written.

Maybe it’s necessary to be “authoritative” when writing a book on how to live, but I would have been more open to his ideas if the author took some of his own advice and was more humble and argued the opposite of his ideas more often. Presenting alternate ways of thinking is most valuable to me when you give me both sides of the coin and I can make my own choices with what I’ve learned. But then again maybe that’s an altogether different book and this one is the author having done his homework and telling me the choices he’s come to after having done his homework. 

Alas that was my favorite part of the book, all the stories throughout and the appendix which is full of his sources, other thinkers that he quotes throughout, etc. The author clearly did his work. He’s well read, he spent the time thinking about what matters to him, what he thinks should matter to me, etc. But I guess I didn’t end up as big a fan of how he distilled it all. He brought together several different thoughts of school, wrapped it in a nice bow for me and ta-da! I have my present on how to life my life well.

I guess, for me, part of living a good life is learning what that means for me. What my definition looks like and what are the pieces that contribute to it. So a book that’s wrapped up this neatly was never going to get me there.

Having said all of that, I’ve highlighted a bunch of this book and it gave me a lot of ideas to think about and of course a lot of sources on who else to read to go deeper, to learn more, to think more. Hence the stars. 

Here are a few of the ideas that stuck with me:
– First pay, then enjoy. I don’t like to spend money, especially on myself. When I buy things, I like to pay cash because, at that moment, I made up my mind and I am ok to spend it and generally I get an immediate satisfaction (of whatever I bought in return.) With a credit card, I get the bill in the mail later and I have to “re-pay” that bill. I have to relive the decision to spend that money. It makes me unhappy all over again. The downside to paying with cash is that it’s very hard to track where your money goes which is why I now usually use credit cards. The author here talks about how he pays for the hotel at the beginning of his vacation so he can really enjoy it and end it on a high note since we know endings matter so much. So this made me think about how I can incorporate more of that into my life. Maybe I can get a prepaid credit card where I put X amount of money up front into it and then use it. This way I have the “records” of what I spent it on but I am not paying again at the end of the month. (In this same chapter, I think, he talks about how the duration of the vacation is less important than how it ends, which gave me a lot of food for thought on how to spend our vacations, too. this one is still forming.)

– It’s easier to do it 100% of the time: I believe in this wholeheartedly. Gretchen Rubin has a saying that what you do everyday matters more than what you do occasionally. I find that it’s easier for me to commit to something every single day than it is to do it X times a week etc. If it’s everyday, there’s no question or bargaining around it. I am doing it. 

– Don’t pick a side. When we pick a side, we look for proof that our perspective is right, that our story is the correct one and we keep feeding it so it gets more and more solid. I like the author’s idea of a “too complicated” bucket. Saying “I don’t know” helps reaffirm the truth that I don’t actually know.

– Don’t assume the things/people you’ve accumulated in life are due to some credit to what you’ve done to deserve it. So much of life is chance. The part of this thought that resonated with me the most was this “The best attitude to have is that all of them are on loan to you, and may be taken away at any time.” I love this. Not just for the non-attachment part but as a reminder for me to really pay attention to what I have and how lucky I am. Not sure the author meant it that way but it doesn’t matter to me. 

– The idea of pre-mortem was not new to me in this book but it’s a good reminder to help avoid potential circumstances I can avoid and also help pinpoint sources of my own anxiety around a decision.

– I wildly disagreed with reading only a handful of books of course. The fact that I don’t remember much of what I read doesn’t bother me and doesn’t detract from the experience of reading it and feeling what I feel at the moment. Maybe it’s a way to honor my experiencing self 🙂

– I liked the idea of mental subtraction but I have to read about it more to really understand it better. 

– I liked the idea of applying Sturgeon’s law to my thoughts too. 90% of what I think is garbage. It helps me not take myself so seriously.

A bunch of food for thought. I’d really give this 2.5 stars but somehow it doesn’t feel right rounding up to 3. Maybe in a few weeks, I’ll come back and change it.

Uprooted (4.5 stars): I started this book yesterday thinking is was going to be slow and long but I had three more days before I had to go back to work. Having read Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver I should have known better.

The moment I started this book, I was lost in Novik’s world. I am not usually a fantasy lover. The more complicated the world building, the sooner you might lose me. I am not super patient and have no appetite for unusual creatures. But if you give me flawed, interesting, funny and three-dimensional characters, you pretty much have me. Novik’s characters never disappoint. Her twisty, dark, rich plot is just icing on the cake. The fact that her main character is a strong female character is the bonus that just makes her one of my favorite fantasy writers ever.

Not to say that the book is perfect. I think if I had read this first, I would have given it five stars because discovering an author this talented comes with a halo effect. But since this is my second one, I think a bit of that has worn off. This book definitely could have been edited down a bit; there were parts that I would have likely glazed over had I not been on audio. I’d say this is a 4.5 star book, for me, but not enough to tip over to 5. 

Having said that, I couldn’t stop listening to it all day, and it took me less than 24 hours to finish this ~18-hour book, even at 2x, you can do the math that I pretty much read it the whole time I was awake. On a side note, the audio narrator is excellent and aligns with the feel of the story perfectly.

If you haven’t read any of Novik’s books and like Fantasy, I say it’s time to grab one of her novels. Just make sure you have nothing else to do all day.

And there we go, a reasonably solid start to 2019. I am now reading book number 7 and loving it. Here’s to wonderful books in 2019.

Books I Read this Week 2019 is a year-long project for 2019. You can read more about my projects for 2019 here. I am also tracking my books in real time on Good Reads here. If you’re on Good Reads add me so I can follow you, too!