Sunday, January 21, 2018

It's Cold, and I've Read Lots and Lots and Lots (Would You Believe 23?) Books

It's been winter here along the Texas Gulf Coast and I've had many, many superb reading days, huddled up in my reading room, wrapped in my favorite quilt. It shows in all the books I've read and am reading.

What Arrived Lately


I apologize but I received so many amazing children's picture books and board books as nominees for the Cybils Award that I just couldn't keep up with posting what I received here. Yesterday I donated a huge stack of these, over 150 books, to the Alvin ISD Book Bus (see this news report from ABC News for more information about our school district's wonderful book bus program), so I know publishers and authors will be happy to know that their books will be catalogued and checked out many times in our district's summer library program.

I have received many great books in the mail in recent days:

Escape from Aleppo
A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919
Martha Stewart's Slow Cooker
Colors of Love
A Different Pond
Why Travel Matters
Live Lagom
Pep Talks for Writers
Blue Window

What I Read Lately

I've already read 23 books in 2018. Thank you, cold weather.

Escape from Aleppo

Nadia is a typical pre-teen---enjoying spending time with her friends and family, delighted about being selected to appear in a tv commercial, celebrating her twelfth birthday---and then she is not. Suddenly, a man appears on tv and sets himself on fire, and Syria is at war, and Nadia's world becomes a world of bombings and soldiers and fear. Her family decides they must escape to a safer place, and Nadia unexpectedly gets separated from them and must make her own way out of the turbulent city, Aleppo, she has called home all her life.

This is an important story for children, both those who have lived through these horrors and those who have only heard of such events through the media.

Live Lagom

Everybody is looking at the Scandinavian people for guidance as to how to live our lives. After all, they are the happiest people in the world.

So what have you got, Sweden?

Lagom is Sweden’s answer. Lagom is about living a life in moderation, where the “me” is shifted to the far right of center and replaced with “us”.

This book explores lagom in words and pictures, through the workplace, the home, one’s surroundings, food. The pictures are especially meditative; you just want to cut them all out and pin them on your wall for inspiration.

Now, as always, to put these ideas into action.

Why Travel Matters

People who love to travel wish to share their love for travel.

And thus this book. Written by the Love-to-Travel folks to share with other Love-to-Travel folks? Successfully. Written by the Love-to-Travel folks with hopes of converting the Don't-Love folks? Possibly.

I, of course, am in the L-t-T group so I nodded my head throughout the book. 

What I liked most about this book: 

1. You won't find a better collection of quotes about travel, I think. 
2. The author offers a brilliant list of rules called How to Travel.
3. The ultimate question answered: Why does travel matter, then? You will find, the author tells us, that both differences and similarities of place and people work on us. 

If you are a L-t-T sort, you will probably appreciate this book, too.

A Different Pond (Review coming this week)

A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919

A few boys drift too far outside the racially-designated beach at Lake Michigan one summer and trouble ensues. A boy dies and rumors fly and it is soon black against white and white against black. Many die as the destruction goes on for days, fed by lies subtly shared by standing city gangs and by those who profit most from conflict. 

It's a dark story of people against people as pressures increase in the city after the war for jobs, for housing. It's a cautionary tale for today as well, with lies and innuendo shared on social media and through organizations of hate, of what can happen.

Appointment in Samarra

Julian English has everything a man could want in 1934 America---affluent background, beautiful wife, lovely home, rich friends, successful business---and yet, somehow, almost inexplicably, comes to destroy everything he has in the short space of 72 hours. It's the American dream turned nightmare, and it's horrific to watch, even from the pages of a book. A life overturned---and why? And for what? It's not clear and no one---not his friends, not his wife, not his parents, not even Julian himself---seem to understand what is going on. But it is very clear that this is no isolated incident, that this story is very real, that this story could happen to anyone.

Sarah Bakewell's How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer

Montaigne is the first essayist, a philosopher, an ordinary person. Sarah Bakewell takes a careful look at Montaigne's life and writings in this book and shares her thoughts on the ways Montaigne teaches us to live, with one question and twenty answers, including: 

Question everything. 
Live moderately.
Be convivial.
Be ordinary and imperfect.

Brilliant, I think. In an ordinary way. 

And now I shall attempt to read the essays themselves.

The Woman in the Window

It was everywhere and I just had to request it from the library. Usually there is a long wait for a new book, but, no, it arrived the next day. I couldn’t leave it sitting there and risk having to return it before reading it, could I? No, I had to dive in.

And that’s what I did, dive in. There is no setting this book aside like I usually do with my books, the typical read-and-read-until-I-get-tired. No, I read and read this book until I fell asleep and then I started it again the next evening. 


It’s a thriller, but it isn’t a horribly violent and profanity and random sex filled thriller. The characterization was particularly good, with real people in the stories, with real problems. One would hope people who are working as therapists might not have quite as many emotional issues as the therapists in this novel, but, hey, therapists are just people, too.

It may be the best thriller I’ve read.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

There’s no doubt this book will be on my Best Books of the Year list. It will also go on my Best Books Ever Read list. But I don’t think I will ever reread it; it was a deeply emotional read.

What is the story? The plot has a huge timeframe, with the book spanning the childhood to old age of a man who served in World War II as an officer in the Australian military, and the story centers on the time the officer spent in a Japanese POW camp while his fellow soldiers were forced to build a railroad through the jungle in horrific conditions. The author is amazingly able to assume the point-of-view of not only the main character, Dorrigo, but also Dorrigo’s fellow soldiers, his on-the-sly girlfriend, his girlfriend’s husband, his wife, and even his tormentors in the Japanese POW camp. The author did this so well that I was able to empathize with an Australian soldier while he is being beaten to death, as well as the Japanese officer allowing the Australian to be beaten, and that is astonishing. 

The experiences of all of the people in the story were appalling because of the impossibility of the situations; no one could take action without having both bad and good results.

Isn’t that real life, pushed to the extreme, of course?

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics

Dan Harris shares more thoughts about meditation and its benefits in this second book in his 10% Happier series. This time he teams up with Jeff Warren, a master meditator, and Carlye Adler, a writer, and the result is a clever and thoughtful look at meditation, especially for those of us who tend to think meditation might be too much work. 

I took furious notes as I read this book. Some of my favorites:

There are hindrances in meditation (and life):
Desire (to do something, anything)
Aversion (fear, dislike anger)
Worry, anxiety, restlessness

To deal with the hindrances, look at them as they appear. Name them. Examine them. Lean into what arises, without judgment.

I also loved the idea of Free-Range Meditation, the idea of using little minutes here and there to meditate.

The whole book is like having a personal meditation trainer, encouraging you, sharing troubles, sharing tips, helping you over the hard parts.

Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy

Michael Perry is a paradox; he comes from conservative roots in the American heartland and is now a professional writer with an academic air. He takes on Montaigne, an essayist who is also similarly paradoxical, raised among peasants yet given an exceptional education. Perry talks about everything that comes into his mind, from kidney stones to sex, and ties everything to that old philosopher in fascinating and clever prose. By his own example and by the example of Montaigne, he urges us to carefully examine the world and to set aside the judgment of the right and the left, of the rich and of the poor.

Exit West

I still have the voice of the main character from Mohsin Hamid’s previous book, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, in my head, an acculturated Westerner, seemingly, commenting rationally and thoughtfully on the world he has taken on, yet unexpectedly and searingly angry inside. But I nevertheless passed over this book for many months until it was on a kajillion end of the year best books lists, and I decided I had to read it.

What do I think about it? It reminds me of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go; I read many pages before realizing that this book is not realistic fiction. Like Never Let Me Go, I felt jarred by the intrusion of the science fiction elements. 

I wasn’t ever deeply invested in the relationship between the man and the woman, though I was taken with the woman’s brave ventures out in a closed-off world. I liked how the author allowed the characters explore their native culture before war, their native culture after war, and an alien culture. 

It won’t be on my best of 2018 books, but it was completely fresh and it felt completely true and those are wonderful things for stories.

Can You Be Happy for 100 Days in a Row?

Yes, it’s another little book of beautifully illustrated ideas of small ways to experiment with being happy, but it is quite novel and it’s filled with small ideas that anyone could easily incorporate into a busy life. Open to a random page and try something. It’s that easy. 

I will take the #100happydays challenge in 2018.

Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World

Who wouldn’t love to do this? Who wouldn’t love to ask the best in the world a few important questions about life? Who wouldn’t love to read a book in which the best answer the questions? 

That’s what this book is, and I did love it. A few teeny-tiny problems for me. I wouldn’t have chosen this list of bests in the world; I’m not terribly interested in the thoughts of wrestlers and big business sorts, for example. Also, I wouldn’t have chosen this list of questions, although I do honestly like most of the questions. The answers are thoughtful and worth a reread, I think, and I was surprised to hear that even wrestlers can come up with some rather profound thoughts when given an opportunity to speak.

If you are curious, here are the questions I like:

“What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?

What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?”

Pep Talks for Writers

We writers want so much to write, and yet many of us have great difficulty in actually writing. That’s what these pep talks are designed for. Grant Faulkner, the executive director of National Novel Writing Month, is an expert on inspiring writers to write, and to write quickly, and to write well. In this book, Faulkner shares fifty-two insights and actions to jolt a writer’s creativity. Some that I loved (and plan to use next year) are:

*building a creative community
*using your life in your story
*trusting in the absurd
*using the secrets of improv in your writing
And, probably most importantly, *logging in the hours.

This is a book I want to keep and reread a month into the year when my writing mojo starts flagging. Thank you, Grant Faulkner, for this book.

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

I didn’t get to hear the author at the Texas Book Festival last November but it is the book I chose to buy and take home from the festival. It was a good pick. Who isn’t intrigued by such a person? I love how the author focused on da Vinci’s creativity as displayed in his journals and works of art, rather than spending a lot of print space speculating about his personal life. I also loved how the author took a very close look at the journals and art and reflected upon these.

What did I take away from the book?

Da Vinci spent a lot of time thinking and studying and investigating what interested him. When his interest changed, he dropped a line of thought. 

His journals were the place he was able to explore ideas unreservedly. 

He wasn’t good at completing long projects. I find this very interesting.

He had free time to explore and create since he had few financial worries and no family.

Winter by Karl One Knausgaard

Knausgaard is a master essayist. He is, for one thing, a regular person. He is a smart person, yes, but not an academic, and he leads a regular life of having to fix things around the house and to take your kids to soccer practice. He is, however, able to look carefully at things and ideas and beliefs, very carefully, almost like taking a zoom lens to them, and flipping them, and looking at them upside down and backwards, and wildly speculating about things, until the reader marvels at the brilliant thoughts that Knausgaard has about perfectly ordinary things. 

People keep telling me, in admiring tones, “Oh, you read a Knausgaard book,” as if it were some dense tome of physics or calculus. I urge you to banish that thought. Knausgaard is completely novel, and completely fascinating, but he is also completely readable and applicable. 

I can’t think of anyone who couldn’t read this book and take pleasure in reading it and feel satisfaction in the ideas taken away from the essays.

We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter

We need to talk, Celeste Headlee tells us, we need to have conversations that matter.

Do we ever?!

I don’t set myself apart from anyone else in our broad American culture; I’m as much at fault as anyone else. 

I think we all know that we need to do better. Headlee has done some research about good conversations and she shares some important ideas here. I’m trying to practice these:

*Keep it short. The average attention span when a person is engaged in a task, like a conversation, has dropped from three minutes in 2004 to 59.5 seconds in 2014. 

*A conversation isn’t a monologue. “Conversation is a game of catch,” Headlee says, “both parties want to play.”

*”Think about solutions instead of focusing only on what you don’t like.”

*”Be willing to let the other person win.”

*Ask open-ended questions.

*Stay out of the weeks; avoid too much detail and too much unnecessary information.

*Don’t respond to stories of loss and struggle with stories of your own experiences. Instead, try to ask questions that encourage the other person to continue.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Stop it, Amazon. Reading this book doesn’t mean I’m a runner and need more recommendations for how to up my running game. Nor (sigh) am I a writer either, in need of recommendations for how to finish a book (though I kinda-sorta do need a book like this, if one exists). 

I read this book because it was recommended as a good read by a book friend. It is. It’s a book about how Murakami became a writer and how he became a runner and it’s a little bit of a memoir, but it’s about more than that. It tells about how Murakami gets into a meditative state when he runs and when he writes. It tells about how running and writing are alike and difficult and good. It doesn’t proclaim to know the truths about either of these; it’s not a self-help book but I did take away a lot of self-help that wasn’t explicitly stated...good books are like that.

Life is a Verb

Digh worries that we are not living our lives. This book is her attempt to share six ways of living intentionally: (1) With intensity by saying yes (2) with inclusion by being generous (3) with integrity by speaking up (4) with intimacy by loving more (5) with intuition by trusting yourself and (6) with intention by slowing down. Brilliant.

Martha Stewart's Slow Cooker (review posted here)

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Wow. It’s been a long time (years? an actual decade?) since I’ve read a sci fi book I’ve liked as much as this one. It’s a soap opera of a sci fi book, with a Star Trek cast as diverse as we can get in this universe, with a plot centering on a broken-down ship with a mission to dig wormholes through space. I lingered over the stories of a man in love with the AI system on the ship and the character connected to a mystical guidance system that will kill him if he continues to allow it to reside inside him and the captain’s illicit romance with a non-human being and the hard-to-get-along-with algae specialist...all the characters and all the stories, really. It’s a delight of a book. I’m happy to hear book two is already written and on the shelves. 

What I'm Reading Now

What are you reading today?

What is the Sunday SalonImagine some university library's vast reading room. It's filled with people--students and faculty and strangers who've wandered in. They're seated at great oaken desks, books piled all around them,and they're all feverishly reading and jotting notes in their leather-bound journals as they go. Later they'll mill around the open dictionaries and compare their thoughts on the afternoon's literary intake....That's what happens at the Sunday Salon, except it's all virtual. Every Sunday the bloggers participating in that week's Salon get together--at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones--and read. And blog about their reading. And comment on one another's blogs. Think of it as an informal, weekly, mini read-a-thon, an excuse to put aside one's earthly responsibilities and fall into a good book. Click here to join the Salon.

The Sunday Post is a meme hosted by Kimba at Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It's a chance to share news and recap the past week.

Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia at The Printed Page. We share books that we found in our mailboxes last week. 
 It is now being hosted here.

Stacking the Shelves is a meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews in which you can share the books you've acquired.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is where we share what we read this past week, what we hope to read this week…. and anything in between!  This is a great way to plan out your reading week and see what others are currently reading as well… you never know where that next “must read” book will come from! I love being a part of this and I hope you do too! It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is now being hosted at The Book Date.


  1. Wow, lots of tempting books! I absolutely loved The Woman in the Window, too.

    I want some of Martha Stewart's slow cooker recipes.

    Enjoy your week, and thanks for visiting my blog.

    1. I was surprised to find I liked Woman in the Window so much. I’m not usually much of a thriller reader.

  2. I am adding Escape from Aleppo and Woman in the Window to my TBR list! Once I am done judging the final round for CYBILS I will get back to reading fiction.

    1. Children need to hear the story in Escape from Aleppo.

  3. That is quite a list!! Thanks for visiting today!

  4. Those essays in Winter are appealing. Congrats on reading so many books!

  5. Wow! That's sure a lot of books you've been reading! I hope you enjoy them all!

    Here’s my Sunday Post!

    Ronyell @ Rabbit Ears Book Blog and join in this week’s Book Photo Sundays!

  6. OK, I know it's been cold, but you have been on a crazy reading spree!! I've got THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW and also THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL, ANGRY PLANET on my lists as well. Will likely get to the first one first. I'm surprised you read a thriller and liked it. Just goes to show that we all need to step out of our comfort zones now and then. I'm glad that it's now 68 degrees at my house instead of the 11 degrees it was a few days ago. Whew! Have a good week!

    1. It is 70° at my house and we are so happy. Im not getting as much reading done, though.

  7. I'm so excited about The Woman in the Window! It looks wonderful and I'm glad to see you enjoyed it. The cold actually slowed my reading down but that's only because school was out for most of the week so I had some extra company. Left to my own devices I would have gotten under a blanket with a stack of books and refused to move. Have a great week!

  8. Wow, you got right to the heart of a lot of books I'm interested in reading! I recently finished A Closed and Common Orbit, so can't wait to go back and read The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, and also apparently a third book is coming out this year!

    1. I have book two. Glad to know it’s so good you want to read book one. And I’m happy to hear three in coming soon.

  9. Oh my goodness, Deb - that is an AMAZING number of books to read in a single week! And such a variety... I'm particularly pleased you enjoyed The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet - I loved the second book every bit as much, although it's quite different:). Have another great week!

    1. I’ve got the second book here. I need to read it soon, I think.

  10. Winter is great reading time and 23 books is amazing. I want to read The Woman in the Window, I keep seeing it everywhere. Enjoy your books!

  11. Can you please help me with the Cybils Award! They didn't accept me this year :'(. Do you know what I need to do for them to accept me?

    Have a great week!

    1. My advice is to try again next year. If you really want to participate, I'd suggest that you choose categories that are hard to fill, like one of the nonfiction categories.

    2. Thank you! I will try that next year.

  12. Holy cow, you've been busy! I'm going to start The Woman in the Window today.

  13. Wow. I really like A Different Pond, hope you did too.

  14. You read such a wonderful variety of books. All weathers make good reading time for me but cold, snowy days are especially nice reading days. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

  15. I placed a hold on a book about Lagom at the library, but I can't remember if it's same one that you read. I just clicked over and read your review on the Crock Pot cookbook. It sounds like a great book. Are there very many recipes that are tomato-free in the book. I have a tomato allergy and I'm having trouble finding recipes for the crock pot that don't contain tomato.

    1. I don’t think tomatoes are a common ingredient in this cookbook.

    2. Thanks. That's good to know. I'll have to add this to my to-buy list!

  16. Would you say Escape from Aleppo is more of a middle grade or YA book? I'm looking for independent novels to add to our suggestions for world literature (10th grade), and we have a lot of below-level readers at my school, but if the story feels too young they'll be turned off.

    1. I think it is more of a middle grade book. But I don’t think anything about the story would make them feel like it is too childish. The main character is very pretty and wins a contest to be in a commercial on tv, so I think that would cross grade levels. The fighting going on around the characters is very intense, and, again, it has an older feel. I think it would work well for older students because of the war theme.

  17. Wow, lots of good books. I think we all need more shifting away from "me" and to a more collective "us"

  18. Wow, that's a lot of books you've read! Didn't know Martha had a slow cooker book. Will look into that one!

  19. You did read a lot.

    The new ones that I like are BLUE WINDOW and SLOW COOKER.

    Have a terrific week.

  20. I’m always impressed by how much you read. It looks like you found some really good ones, too. Have a good week!

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  21. Wow - 23! Was that in one week? I like the sound of your cozy retreat in the cold.
    So many good sounding books. I want to take the #100happydays challenge too. :-)
    Hope your weather warms up and you continue to have wonderful reading!

  22. I always love the breadth of your reading. And how much, that's a lot even for you! I'm glad to hear good things about the Knausgaard. I've bought Autumn and Winter but not started them yet. Are they very seasonal? I was going to wait for the appropriate seasons (of course it's summer for us, so not too long to wait). Very glad to hear about The Woman in the Window- I've bought that one. and two books about Montaigne? Are they both recent? They do sounds intriguing though.

    1. The two books about Montaigne are both from the past five or so years. They were both better than the original Montaigne. Of course I didn't read it in French, so maybe that's better.

      Autumn and Winter were mildly seasonal.


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