BRL Quarterly Report #7

Hi guys!  Now that it’s nearly mid-April, it’s time to do my first Quarterly Report of 2017!    Big Reading Life Quarterly Report (1)

Here’s the breakdown of my reading in the first quarter of the year:

Books Read: 23

Fiction: 18

Nonfiction: 5

Audio: 0

Juvenile/Middle Grade: 328250841

YA/Teen: 1

Graphic Novels: 1

Authors of Color: 6

Published in 2017: 2

Favorites This Quarter:  The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (my review here,) Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (my review here,) and Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera (my review here.)

So how am I doing on my 2017 Reading Goals?  I’ve read NO authors in translation, NO books about body positivity/acceptance, only one work so far by a LGBTQ author, only one YA title (Lumberjanes Vol. 2, which is my only graphic novel or comic thus far,) and only one work with a spirituality focus. My reading has been all over the place, heavily on the fiction side.  So I’m not making a lot of progress so far on my goals, but that’s okay! On the plus side, I’ve only had one 2-star read (Peter Swanson’s Her Every Fear,) with everything else a 3 or better.  I participated for the second time in Reading Ireland Month, which is always a fulfilling reading experience.  I read my first Miss Marple mystery and my second ever romance novel!  I’m happy with my reading pace – for the first time ever I’m seriously considering trying to reach for 100 books in a year! I’ve still got plenty of time to make a serious dent in my reading goals.  And even if I don’t, I know my reading will take me to so many entertaining, satisfying, enlightening places!

How are you doing with your own reading goals?  Are you surprised at what you’ve read or not read so far in 2017?

PS… Shameless plug!  I have the honor this week of being Cathy’s featured blogger on her terrific feature The Books That Built The Blogger!  Check out my post here, and please DO follow her fab blog, 746 Books!

 

40 for 40: A Year Of Smallish Challenges

Hi friends!

In my previous post I mentioned recently beginning to practice yoga.  I’m doing it twice a week at night after my son gets to bed.  Three other nights I do some sort of strength training.  I’m especially trying to execute REAL push-ups, not the ones on my knees that I’ve been doing my whole life, but the ones on my toes.  Considerably more challenging! But I am happy to say that I’ve seen a little progress already in the month or so that I’ve been doing this.  I am more slightly more flexible and I feel like my posture is truly improved, and the yoga leaves me feeling refreshed and mentally clearer.

Why am I telling you this?

keep-calm-its-my-40th-birthday-4Because I’m turning the big 4-0 later this year.  And it’s kind of freaking me out a little.  I know age is just a number, or a state of mind, or something.  But there’s something about approaching what could be the halfway point of one’s life (if you’re lucky) to make you start thinking about how quickly time passes.  I’m assessing my goals, dreams, hopes, aspirations, wild longings.  And I feel a renewed sense of energy about accomplishing things.

To that end, I’ve embarked on a series of weekly mini-challenges that I’m calling 40 for 40 (I know, not terribly original, but I needed something to call it!)  Here’s what I’ve achieved so far:

  1. Drank 64 ounces of water daily for a week.  (I’ve kept this up!)
  2. Did not get on Facebook or Twitter after 6 pm daily for a week.  (Sadly, I have NOT kept this up.)
  3. Memorized a poem.  (The Summer Day by Mary Oliver.)
  4. Tried the 30 Minute Fitness area of my gym for the first time (weight machines and steps.)

I have to say that so far I’ve really been having fun with my challenges.  It’s added a much-needed sense of freshness and purpose to my daily routine. Some of my other ideas for this year include:

  • Hike with my Dad (an avid hiker) in the Great Smoky Mountains.
  • Ride a bike to the bridge not far from my house (this will mean I actually have to PURCHASE a bike!  I’ve not ridden one since high school, but we have all these great greenways in my county and I need to make use of them!)
  •  Get my passport renewed.
  • Travel to Toronto this fall and meet my cousin for the first time!
  • Spend a day volunteering for an organization, maybe a neighborhood clean-up.

parnassus-blog1Of course, I have some reading challenges on my list too!

  • Read a classic book that has intimidated me
  • Read something that my husband picks out for me
  • Visit Parnassus Books (Ann Patchett’s bookstore) in Nashville

This is where you come in, bookish friends.  I have space on my list for eight more challenges.  I’d love to hear any suggestions you may have for me!  I’ll tell you that I won’t bungee jump or jump out of an airplane, but I’m open to almost anything else.  So what have you got?  Have you ever done something like this yourself?

2017 Reading Goals

Here’s what I want out of my reading life in 2017: MORE MORE MORE.  More time, more focus, more diversity, more discovery, more fun.  That’s not too much to ask, right?

More authors of color – my goal is 35-40% (this year it was 26%.)

More authors in translation.  (Besides Elena Ferrante!)

More LGBTQ authors.  I’ve not yet made this a priority and want to rectify that.

More YA and middle grade books.  Six of each.

I want to read the book The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson.  After hearing her speak with Krista Tippett on the On Being podcast a few weeks ago, I knew I had to finally take the plunge and read this highly-acclaimed book.cover_book

I want to read books by and about body-positive people.

I want to make room for the random picks, even if they’re not on my Goodreads TBR. Again, shooting for six random picks.

I want to explore and deepen my spirituality in 2017, so that’s another reading goal.

I want to read more nonfiction in general – more science, more history, more social justice/current events.

I want to reread three books:  Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.  It’s been far too long since I’ve read any of these.51gbhsui1jl-_sx334_bo1204203200_

Do you think my goals are a bit too ambitious?  I actually don’t think they are.  I am excited to start fresh and tackle my TBR with renewed energy and purpose!

Please offer suggestions if you can think of any titles that fulfill my reading goals.  Tell me some of your own goals for the coming year!

 

BRL Best of 2016

Well, Christmas has come and gone, and it’s been a truly lovely one here for our family. My son is five, and he is still at a sweet age to believe in Santa and the magic of Christmas, and not too cool yet to sing carols with his family on Christmas Eve while Dada plays guitar.  (He still calls my husband Dada. We’re hanging on to that as long as we can!)  Our parents are all still healthy and with us, and even though they’re long divorced, my mom and dad get along well enough to spend Christmas Day with us at my in-laws house.  I’ve had some days off and return to work tomorrow.  My family has baked and listened to Christmas CDs and watched The Charlie Brown Christmas Special and drove around looking at lights.  We’ve done all the holiday things we love to do, including reading lots of Christmas picture books!  It’s been so sweet and I really feel grateful.

That said, I’ve not done a lot of reading the past few weeks, and I’ve done even less blogging.  But I feel the desire for both returning, and I’m super excited about my reading plans for 2017!

But before I get to that post, I need to take stock of my reading for 2016.  So without further ado, here’s the Big Reading Life Best Of List!

visit-our-site-to-find-out-more-spark-com

  1. (TIE) Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and The Book of Night Women by Marlon James.  Both novels deal with slavery – James’s book is set in Jamaica on a sugar cane plantation, while Gyasi’s spans continents and centuries.   Both illuminate the horror of slavery in ways I’d never even considered before.  Both are stunning.
  2. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen.  A memoir as open and vulnerable, but also as joyful and hilarious, as The Boss himself.  I truly appreciated Springsteen’s willingness to call out his own bullshit while not “telling tales” about others.  I especially loved the sections in his childhood and young adulthood.  I love this guy.
  3. Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt.  Weird, sad, and hauntingly romantic.  I haven’t been able to forget about this one all year.
  4. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison.  Words fail me here.  Utterly magical.
  5. The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney.  This  kind of book is my catnip anyway – multiple perspective family saga!  Rich People Problems!  But I was wholly invested in these messed-up, authentic characters.  Truly a standout of its type.
  6. March Books One and Two by John Lewis.  While I haven’t yet read the third in the series, I am wholly taken with the first two.  They’ve shown me the power that a graphic novel can have to illuminate and educate.
  7. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  Quietly devastating and powerful coming of age story in Nigeria.  So glad I finally read it.
  8. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye.  So. Much. Fun.  Romance and gothic intrigue, a respectful but liberated take on Jane Eyre.  It’s not for everyone, but I just adored it.
  9. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler.  A surprise love for me this year.  Something about this novel just hooked me and didn’t let go even as I could see its flaws.

Goodreads tells me that I completed 80 books this year.  Of these 21 were by authors of color, which is about 26%.  Not quite as high as I’d intended at the beginning of the year, but an improvement on last year.  More stats:

Audiobooks: 4 (Interestingly, all were nonfiction.)

Graphic Novels/Comics: 14 (the most I’ve ever read!)

Nonfiction: 20  (8 were memoirs.)

Middle Grade: 3

Mystery/Crime/Thriller: 10

Rereads: 4 (an unusually high number for me)

Fun Fact:  The only YA titles I read all year were all comics/graphic novels!

So there you have it.  It’s been a very good reading year.  I began the year participating in a reading challenge (the TBR Triple Dog Dare) and ended the year rereading a trio of books, apparently seeking comfort (Little Women, Murder on the Orient Express, Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies, which I’m still reading.)  I’ve been thinking about my reading goals for weeks now, and am really excited to share them in my next post.

I hope you all had/are having very Happy Holidays!  Have you met your reading goals for this year, or made progress towards them?  What was your standout book for 2016?  Have you read any of my top ten?

 

Body of Truth by Harriet Brown

One of my reading goals for next year is to read books that feature body-positive themes.  I don’t know about you, but as I approach my fortieth year, I’m exhausted by battling my body.  I’m exhausted by viewing foods as “good” and “bad” and feeling either virtuous or full of self-loathing depending on which I eat.  What I seek is clarity on what really matters, peace with myself, and the pursuit of health even if it doesn’t result in weight loss.  I want a healthy relationship with food and I want to move my body in ways I enjoy. Sounds simple when you read it yet (for me) it’s actually anything but.

519rtaeemkl-_sy344_bo1204203200_So I began my reading resolution a bit early with Harriet Brown’s Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight – and What We Can Do About It. It’s a slim book, just 274 pages, including 60+ pages of notes and index.  You can tell that she’s done her research.  But you can also feel how deeply personal this issue is for her, both as a woman and as a mother of a daughter who battled anorexia.

A sixth-grade “wellness” class kicked off both her anxiety about eating and her interest in health.  Though her weight was normal, she started to worry about being fat.  She cut out desserts, telling us she’d learned that sugar was unhealthy.  Over the next six months or so, her restricting took on a life of its own, and eventually turned into full-blown anorexia that nearly killed her.

What I really liked about this book was the way Brown made me rethink my assumptions about weight and health.  I’d already thought that being overweight does not automatically equate to poor health, because people can still be active and have healthy blood tests yet still carry extra weight. Conversely, some people are naturally thin but don’t exercise at all; they may have chronic health problems too.  The first chapter is devoted to chipping away at the four most common myths (or lies, as she puts it) about weight and health:  1) That we’re all getting fatter and fatter; 2) Obesity can take at least a decade off your life; 3) Being fat causes heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other illnesses; and 4) Dieting makes us thinner and healthier.  The last one gets its own full chapter.

Dieting can make people thinner for a while – six months, a year or two, maybe three.  Which, coincidentally, is about how long most studies follow dieters, and how they claim success.  In reality, your change of maintaining significant weight loss for five years or more is about the same as your chance of surviving metastic lung cancer: 5 percent.  …only 3 to 5 percent of dieters who lose a significant amount of weight keep it off.

You’d never know any of this from reading the weight loss research, or talking with most researchers in the field.  In fact, when I asked the University of Alabama’s David Allison about dieting research, he insisted that studies do show success after five years, ‘just less than what we’d push for.’  I told him I was aware of only one research project that followed dieters for five years or more, the Look AHEAD project, a ten-year study of people with type 2 diabetes.  I asked Allison to point me toward other studies that followed dieters for five years or more, regardless of their findings.  He couldn’t come up with any.  

Brown wants her reader to question what they think they “know” about weight and health.  Who controls the purse strings for weight loss drug research?  Do doctors feel and exhibit obesity bias towards their patients?  Does yo-yo dieting eventually destroy a person’s metabolism?  Is prodding kids and adults into weight loss by any method necessary, including shaming, worth the emotional and physical risks involved?  These are some of the issues Brown addresses.  Besides including her own life long experience being 50-ish pounds “overweight” and yo-yo dieting over the years, and her daughter’s experience, she also includes interviews from people who have struggled with unhealthy behaviors and attitudes about weight, both their own and those of others around them.

The big takeaway for me from this book is the pursuit of health at any size.  “Normal” eating includes a range of foods and behaviors, and is much more flexible than most of us allow for ourselves.  We should all be giving ourselves permission to enjoy food, to seek a balanced diet, to engage in fun ways to move our bodies.  There is a lot of money to be made by the diet, pharmaceutical, and medical industries, not to mention women’s magazines, in keeping people dieting and hating themselves.  Brown wants us to be able to think critically about weight and health, not blindly swallow all that the diet and medical industries tell us.  As she points out, there is still that science simply doesn’t know about weight loss and the human body (like how to keep us thin, for one.)  It is a highly individual process.

I consider this a good, solid book to put in your body-positive arsenal.  There are so many passages I jotted down from this book that I’d love to share with you, but in the interest of brevity I’ll end with one of my favorites:

We’d do better for ourselves and our children if, instead of pushing diets and surgeries and medications, we looked at real-world strategies for eating more fruits and vegetables, getting enough sleep, dancing and playing sports, and other joyful physical activities.  And especially if we supported those things for everyone, no matter what they weighed.

Top Ten Fall TBR Books

Y’all should know by now that I can’t resist a TBR list – mine or anybody else’s.  So I had to get in on this week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme, hosted by The Broke and Bookish, which is Top Ten Books on Your Fall TBR.  My Fall TBR is the same as my Winter, Spring, and Summer TBR.  It’s just one massive Goodreads list of 500+ titles that I add to and delete from constantly.  But these are the books that I’m most likely to read before the end of 2016.

  • White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi.  For my first ever R.I.P. Challenge!
  • The Sundial by Shirley Jackson.  Also for the R.I.P. Challenge.  I intend to eventually read everything Shirley Jackson has written.  This will be my fourth.
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.  I am SO READY for this one.
  • The rest of Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.  I started reading this in July, got halfway through, and had to turn in back in to the library because it had holds on it.  It STILL has holds on it, but I’m reading it now and I’m confident I’ll finish it this time.
  • Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley.  This just came in for me at the library this week.  This is a fun, light mystery series.
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.  I own it and I have heard NOTHING but good things about it.img_0325
  • Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler.  This book has a New York City foodie setting, two things I like. Who knows, I may hate this, but I’m going to give it a try.
  • Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  My book group is reading it for this month!
  • Modern Lovers by Emma Straub.  I really enjoyed her last novel, The Vacationers, and I have high hopes for this one.
  • Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen.  I am one of the biggest Boss fans you’ll ever meet. He and his music are everything to me.  I pre-ordered this the day I heard it was coming out.  My copy is heading to me through the mail as I write!

Have you read any of these?  What’s something you’ll be reading in the next couple of months?

Books With Happy Endings

I’ve been mulling over this post for a few days now, ever since a regular library patron of our branch asked me a seemingly innocuous question.  “Have you read any good, happy-ending books lately?” I was completely stumped.  So many questions swirled in my brain. Had I read any good happy-ending books lately?  Had I ever?  What was wrong with me that I couldn’t think of a single book to recommend to her?  Why do I only read sad books? Would I be a happier person if I read happier books?

I know that I used to read happy-ending books.  I went through a huge “chick-lit” phase in my 20’s.  (Yes, that term is problematic, but I do find it an apt way to categorize a large chunk of my previous reading habits.)  These were books about young women in their 20’s, mostly looking for love, a good job, and their identities in big cities like New York and London.  I was in a medium-sized Southern city, with a job I wasn’t sure about, but I still felt a kinship with these young women.  Most of them eventually found what they were looking for, or at least got started on a path that they liked, and it was comforting to read.

garden-spellsI’ve read and adored authors like Elinor Lipman and Sarah Addison Allen, who both write smart, charming fiction about love, family, and relationships.  They’re mostly happy in the end, usually.  I read The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion last year and thought it was adorable and fun.  (Although I don’t feel compelled to read the sequel, The Rosie Effect.)  Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and Attachments were pretty happy and funny.  So I know that every once in a while I do read on the lighter side.

Looking at my Goodreads 2016 Reading Challenge, out of 62 books read thus far, I’d classify only 7, maybe 8, of them as “happy-ending books.”  That equals about 11%.  No wonder I totally blanked when my library patron asked me to recommend something.  I am often attracted to messy, bittersweet, or downright sad books because I read to experience and learn and feel.  I want my reading to teach me something – an emotional truth, the reality of a person’s life on the other side of the world or someone totally different from me in my home region – I want to experience it all, the good and the bad.  I look for connection, for understanding, for enlightenment.  That said, sometimes I just want a thrilling page-turner!

9780007161195-us-300I don’t mean to say that because I seek emotional realism and complexity in my fiction that I am better than someone who reads mostly for escape.  I have already wrestled with book snobbery years ago and I won.  I thankfully left that crap behind.  I know that people read for many reasons, all valid.  These just happen to be my preferences and habits, most of the time.

I know that there is room in my reading life for both the emotional texture I crave and the restorative practice of escape. I saw that patron a couple of days after she asked me my question, and I told her that she’d really gotten me thinking about my reading habits.  I said that I am going to start mixing in more happy books, taking a chance on authors or books I may have previously not given a fair shake to.   Besides, I want to be able to help the next person who comes in looking for that sweet, feel-good story when they’ve had a rough week.

So this is where you come in, dear readers!  Give me your picks for books with happy endings.  I need some inspiration!  My library patrons and I thank you.