Monday, May 16, 2016

Ten Books I Picked Up on a Whim

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

I rarely pick up books on a whim anymore — I much prefer getting recommendations and then working my way through these books on my to-read list. However, for a short time I volunteered as a shelf reader at my local library, so I picked up some books that way, and other books have found their way to me unexpectedly. Here are some books I hadn't heard of before I decided to read them!

1. The Autobiography of an Ex Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson
This book I found on my brother's bookshelf when I was staying at my parents' house one time, and I guess I was bored because I sat down and read it all. (It's a pretty short book.) Knowing nothing about it when I picked it up, I don't think I realized until I was done that it was actually a novel and not a true autobiography.

2. The Book of Sarahs by Catherine E. McKinley
I came across this randomly in the library at college and picked it up because 1) it was about adoption and 2) I have been inadvertently called "Sarah" for various reasons throughout my whole life. Although the writing wasn't great, this book started me on looking more into transracial adoption and was one of the reasons we ultimately chose not to adopt a child of another race.

3. The Complete Financial Guide for Young Couples by Larry Burkett
I picked this up at a garage sale the summer we got married, while we were out searching for secondhand furniture for our new apartment. Although some of the ideas are really dated and occasionally sexist, I found Burkett's practical tone an antidote to the guilt I'd felt after reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad about the fact that I was just getting a regular office job. Nowadays I would recommend I Will Teach You to Be Rich, which is a better book about defining and achieving your own definition of "rich," but this one was a good starting point for me at the time.

4. Devilish by Maureen Johnson
My then-fiancé and I spent a summer living with his aunt in New Jersey in her big, non-air-conditioned Victorian. We were both sporadically employed that summer, and on many days I would make the sweltering walk to the local library where I would spend the afternoon reading in glorious air conditioning. This was one I picked up because I recognized the author's name from vlogbrothers, but it wasn't nearly as good as some of Johnson's other work that I've read since.

5. How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill
This is one that caught my eye while shelf reading. Like many other less-well-known memoirs, the writing isn't stellar, and yes, it can come off like an advertisement for Starbucks. But I still remember scenes from this "riches-to-rags" story of a laid-off middle-aged white guy who gets an hourly job at Starbucks and has to totally revamp his worldview.

6. I Had Brain Surgery, What's Your Excuse? by Suzy Becker
This is another one from shelf reading — I guess I'm a sucker for an interesting title and fun cover. This one actually ended up being quite good — I laughed a lot and I learned a lot.

7. I Like Being Married by Michael Leach and Therese J. Borchard
Another shelf-reading pick. I read this when we'd been married for a little over a year, and it was a nice contrast to the doom-and-gloom and sitcom portrayals of marriage everywhere. It's basically a collection of quotes and stories from people (including some celebrities) about why they like being married or about meeting their spouse. Nothing earth-shattering, but it's a cute, sweet book about the positives of marriage.

8. Letters Between a Catholic and an Evangelical by Fr. John R. Waiss and James G. McCarthy
It's been a long time, but I'm almost positive that I found this book while I was a trip to a local monastery with my Christian scholars program in college, and I bought it on a whim. It turned out to be an extremely helpful book for me — despite being raised Catholic, I didn't know a lot about the tenets of the faith until coming to a Catholic university, and I knew even less about what separated Catholics from Evangelical Protestants. The answer turned out to be a series of things that are surprisingly small but ultimately vital to everything else each faith believes.

9. Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog
My brother was actually the one who came across this book, and he sent me a text of the cover with the words "haha" because "Some We Hate" was on the silhouette of a rat. (We had two pet rats at the time.) I was curious about the book so I ended up getting it at the library and reading it. I remember that the writing was a little choppy, but the ideas in the book have stayed with me and informed my thinking about human-animal relationships ever since.

10. Water from the Well by Anne Roiphe
I read this as part of my 2011 "happiness project," for the month I was focusing on Faith. I actually have no idea how I chose this specific book, but given the very small number of ratings on Goodreads (38) I think it's more likely that I came across it at the library than that it was recommended to me. It fleshes out the stories of four women from the Bible, not fictionalizing them but using historical context to describe what was probably going on in their lives. I don't remember if I liked it!

It's interesting to see from this list that many of these books wouldn't necessarily have been recommended to me because their writing was only so-so, but in some cases their ideas have stayed with me for a long time. Maybe I should try to read books spontaneously more often. What do you think?

What are some books you've picked up on a whim?

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