What I’m Reading

Starting in January I joined the Literary Life Podcast 20 for 2020 Reading Challenge to challenge myself to read 20 books, all of which will be a little bit out of my normal reading choices.

I am trying to push myself to read on a variety of topics, and from some of the greatest writers, so I can become a more well rounded, educated person for my little ones. They will also get to see me reading, which will be great modeling for them.

On this page I’m going to keep a running list of the fiction and nonfiction books I’m reading.

Fiction Books:

May 2020Animal Farm by George Orwell – This was the second time I read Animal Farm, but the first time I spent time with it, looking into the author and background, so I got a lot more out of it. I listened to the George Orwell webinar from House of Humane Letters right after reading the book, and read a few commentaries on the book, so I may go back and reread it in the near future. It was perfect for the “satire” category of The Literary Life Podcast 20 for 2020 Reading Challenge.

The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx – I read this for the “contemporary fiction” category of The Literary Life Podcast 20 for 2020 Reading Challenge. I enjoyed getting a glimpse into life in Newfoundland, something I had no experience with. I learned a lot about fishing, living closer to the land, and family closeness. The writing in this book was different than anything I have ever read, but a nice change of pace.

April 2020Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien – I listened to this book on Audible after trying unsuccessfully to read it in print twice. I have enjoyed the story since the movies came out, but wanted to read the unabridged story and get lost in the language. Audible was the best way for me to do that.

It continues to amaze me just how much work and imagination J.R.R. Tolkien put into this series. He created whole histories of multiple peoples, along with lands, languages, songs, and poems. My husband and I are now watching the movie in manageable parts so I can compare. haha!

The narrator of these books on Audible is absolutely incredible and worth every penny (or credit).

Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – This was my first experience with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and it won’t be my last. My friend and I chose this book to read for the “classic detective novel” in the The Literary Life Podcast 20 for 2020 Reading Challenge because I happen to have my grandparent’s copy of the Complete Sherlock Holmes on our bookshelf still. With our libraries closed for the foreseeable future, we wanted to pick a book we had access to.

I enjoyed the story, and didn’t know until close to the end who the murderer was, which I appreciate in a detective story. I get bored when I can figure things out too quickly. I also found the characters likable, the writing concise, and it left me wanting to read more.

March 2020Cry Thy Beloved Country by Alan Paton – I will without a doubt be reading this book again soon. I read it this time for the story, but want to read it next time for the writing. A mother on a podcast I listen to said she does not allow her children to leave her homeschool until they have read To Kill a Mockingbird and Cry Thy Beloved Country. I can understand why.

This book has made a lasting impression on how I see the world and marginalized groups of people. I went into reading Cry Thy Beloved Country not knowing much about apartheid in South Africa, and this book transported me there. My heart broke for some of the characters and rejoiced for others. They had depth few fictional characters do. I could visualize the country, cities, villages where the story took place. It was beautifully written and I can see why it is found on many “must read” lists. I highly recommend this one.

The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett – I listened to this classic on Audible for the “classic children’s book” category for The Literary Life Podcast 20 for 2020 Reading Challenge. I have listened to a few of the books for this challenge on Audible because I spent so much time driving Big Kid back and forth to school before we were all quarantined.

I really enjoyed this narrator of the story for her accent, voices, and soothing voice. I had never read this story before, but I’m really glad I did! I do find myself thinking about it ever so often and will share it with Big Kid once she is older because we do so much gardening together.

February 2020The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare – I read this as part of The Literary Life Podcast 20 for 2020 Reading Challenge. I finally feel like I understood, appreciated, and got a lot out of a Shakespeare play! It took a lot of work.

I’m kind of embarrassed to say I have a degree in English. I took two semesters of Shakespeare in college, but I am only just now appreciating him. Probably because when I was in school I was taking 18 credits a semester, working part time, and trying to have a social life. Now I’m in no rush to just “get through” the plays.

You can read more about how I read this play on this post.

February 2020The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – I read this for the “Reread a Book You Read in High School” category of the Literary Life Podcast 20 for 2020 Reading Challenge. After finishing it, I can honestly say I have no recollection of any part of the story from high school. What’s even more interesting is I must have reread it at some other point because I have notes in the margins of the book in my adult handwriting. All that aside, I’m glad I reread it. I spent some time with it this go round and listened to the Close Read Podcasts that went along with it, and I also listened to it on Audible (the Jake Gyllenhaal version – which I really enjoyed)

As far as a summary goes, I don’t even know where to start, so I won’t. You can easily find a summary online. I do understand why this is a classic. It is exquisitely written and is an interesting commentary on the prohibition period of the 1920s in America. It gave me a lot to think about and left me at different points feeling sad, embarrassed, nostalgic, and almost a little nervous to continue.

January 2020The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – {Gasp} I had somehow gotten through my entire childhood without ever reading this book. It was always one of those books that I thought “should” be read, but for some reason never did. So, at 35 I decided to remedy the situation and at least listen to it on Audible while driving. It is one I am absolutely going to get a copy of and reread. I find when I listen to a book I understand the story, but miss the beautiful language and small bits that I get when I actually hold and read a book. The copy shown is probably the one I will get so I can share it with Big Kid and Little Kid when the time is right. It has excellent reviews and looks beautifully illustrated.

October 2019-December 2019Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, took me a looooong time to get through. I did read the linked annotated version so I could better understand the time period and cultural references discussed. It was well worth the time spent, and once I got into it I found myself reading whenever I had a few free minutes.

August 2019/September 2019 – I kind of cheated (depends who you ask) with this one because I listened to it on Audible. But, I will most likely go back and actually read it in the near future.

Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens, is an exquisitely written coming of age tale about Kya Clark (Marsh Girl) who begins life with an abusive father, siblings and a mother who leave, and a house to take care of all on her own by the time she is 6. She learns to live and thrive in the marsh on her own, trusting only herself until she meets 2 men, one who abandons her after teaching her about the “civilized world” and one, Chase, who she falls in love with only to be heartbroken again. When Chase turns up dead, Kya is arrested and charged. I don’t want to spoil anything by going any further.

One of the main characters in this book, Kya’s loyal companion, is the marsh. Described in vivid detail through the seasons, it is the only thing that never lets her down. The vegetation, animal life, water, and landscape is all an important part of the story and makes it so much more beautiful.

I loved listening to this one as I cooked, drove, cleaned, any minute I could spare. Audible is definitely a great way to “read” books for a busy mom!

July 2019Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, this novel tells the story of Olive Kitteridge through 13 different characters, all with their own views and experiences with her. In a few chapters she is the focal point, but in others she is just mentioned. We read the stories of a troubled teen, a bar piano player, a former student of Olive’s who has lost the will to live, and her husband who seems to have fallen in love with his pharmacy assistant. The writing is beautiful. This was not a book I could just breeze through; it often made me stop and think, and there were parts I had to reread. I would recommend this one for when you have time to sit, think, and enjoy the rich experience this book has to offer. It is one of the few books I plan to reread when I’m not chasing toddlers, changing diapers, and racing to get dinner on the table.

May 2019 The Lake House by Kate Morton. This looooong mystery kept me interested and turning the pages to read “one more”, long after I should have gone to sleep multiple nights. A few times I thought I had the whole thing figured out, only to find I had everything all wrong yet again. Set in the early 1900s and in 2003, this is the story of 3 families who have endured similar losses, and the journey each takes to come to terms with where life has led them.

April 2019The Tattooist of Auschwitz , by Deckle Edge. I’m not going to lie. I read this book in ONE day. Yes, I am the mother of a 2 1/2 year old, and a 3 month old, and I read a 288 page book in ONE day. It was the first fiction book I had read in a while and I got lucky when both girls had a 2 hour nap in the middle of the day. No laundry got done, the house remained a mess, emails were ignored, but I seriously enjoyed it ( I also conned my husband into putting Big Kid to bed so I had time to finish it while I held Little Kid who sat calmly while I read).

If I had to pick one genre to read for the rest of my life it would be historical fiction. This one fit the bill. Set in Europe during the Holocaust, most of this based-on a true story novel, takes place in Auschwitz-Birkenau. The protagonist, Lale, arrives at the camp in the early years of World War II and ends up working as a tattooist where he falls in love with one of the young women he is tasked with tattooing when she arrives at the camp. Most of the book describes their lives separately and together surviving the horrible conditions in one of the most notorious concentration camps in Europe. While appalled by the conditions and situations these people found themselves in, I could not help but continue reading, mostly because of the situations described where the tenacity of the human spirit shone through.

Nonfiction Books:

March 2020 – 101 Essays That Will Change the Way You Think by Brianna Wiest – For the “book of essays” category in the Literary Life Podcast 20 for 2020 Reading Challenge I chose to read this book containing 101 short essays that challenge the way you think about life, love, passion, and work. The writing is concise and in your face. I found some of the essays to be repetitive, but did find some gems that helped me change my thinking in small ways.

January 2020 – The first of my Literary Life Podcast 20 for 2020 Reading Challenge books was Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History, From Aesop to Harry Potter by Seth Lerer, which fit into the “Book About Books” category. This was an intense read for me, but I’m feeling very accomplished now that I’ve finished it. I learned a lot and definitely have a better understanding of how children’s literature has represented the different time periods in history, as well as changed throughout the millennia. I added a lot of books to my TBR list and am excited to start keeping in mind the historical time period a book is from when reading it.

July 2019 – When I started reading The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction, by Meghan Cox Gurdon, and ended up highlighting half the introduction, I knew I was in for a treat. Any parent who is wondering what is the best way to connect with your kids, enrich your kids’ lives, and set your kids up for success, should read this book. Meghan makes the case that the way to do all those things and more is to spend time reading to your kids every day. As the Wall Street Journal’s Children’s Book Reviewer, she probably knows what she’s talking about. She backs up her claims with data, as well as anecdotal notes. This was a fun, engaging read, not at all dry or preachy as a book on this topic could be. I highly recommend this book to any parent of small children.

June 2019Introverted Mom: Your Guide to More Calm, Less Guilt, and Quiet Joy, by Jamie C. Martin. I heard about this book on the Read Aloud Revival podcast when it first came out. I was intrigued because I have always been someone who is quiet, prefers to spend free time alone, and is easily overwhelmed in large social situations. I had never thought about how my introversion affected my mothering. This book helped me see that a lot of the choices I make as a mother are a result of my personality type. Like, I don’t often have music on in the house in the background because the constant noise makes me anxious. Or, I insist my daughter use a normal to quiet voice when speaking to me unless there’s an emergency. This book helped me put my own feelings into words so I could talk to my spouse about my need for some time alone each day, even if I’m cooking dinner. It helped me grant myself permission to be myself and not feel guilty when I need a few minutes of quiet in another room, or I ask my daughter to stop talking for a minute so I can think something through. There was quite a lot of writing about religion in this book, and even though I am not very religious, it was not a turn off. The book did truly help me understand that I am not alone in how I feel, and it’s one I will reread again every year or so as I learn more about myself as a mother.

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