Monday, June 29, 2020

Best of the Bunch: June 2020

Best of the Bunch header

Today I'm sharing the best book I read in June.

Of the 9 books I read this month, I had three 5-star reads:

Sadie by Courtney Summers

Women, Race, & Class by Angela Y. Davis

The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale

These were all great, but the one that most made me want to go out and recommend it immediately was...

The End of Policing is a thoroughly sourced summary of all the areas of society in which policing has made things worse rather than better, including schools, mental illness, homelessness, gangs, and border control. Vitale shows again and again how a stronger social safety net, along with a higher minimum wage and decriminalization of drugs and sex work, would be more successful at generating the outcomes we as a society want but which we instead have been attempting to accomplish through laws and policing. If you want to better understand the current "defund the police" movement, this is an excellent overview of the main arguments. Additionally, it includes a fascinating history of how local police forces were created in the first place (more recently than I realized). Definitely recommended.

What is the best book you read this month? Let me know in comments, or write your own post and link up below!

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Jellicoe Road
Five years ago I was reading: Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?
Ten years ago I was reading: Angela's Ashes
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Monday, June 22, 2020

Ten Changes in My Bookish Life Since 2010

I'm linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for another Top Ten Tuesday.

In celebration of the Top Ten Tuesday linkup turning 10, we're revisiting a topic we missed the first time around (or want to redo). I skipped this one last year, and it seemed particularly appropriate for this 10-year anniversary celebration: How has my bookish life changed in the last 10 years?

1. I started using Goodreads.
I had held out for several years because I had all my books and reviews on another site and I thought it would be a pain to switch, and then that site shut down and took all my data with it! So I set myself up with a Goodreads profile and since then have rated and reviewed just about every book I've read in the last 7 years — over 800 reviews!

2. I joined several different book clubs, two of which I'm still part of.
About a year after we moved to Portland, I read the book MWF Seeking BFF, which made me think to start seeking out book clubs for a first time. I tried out several local ones through Meetup before settling on one that I've been part of ever since, and I simultaneously found an online book club that I've also been with for the past 7 years. I've been part of a few others throughout the years that have formed and then disbanded, but these two have been constants. I try to never miss a meeting and to always read the book!

3. I switched to digital formats for the vast majority of my books.
I talked about this way back in 2014, and since my son was born in 2015 my opportunities to read hard copy books have been drastically reduced, so now the percentage of books consumed digitally (ebook and audiobook) is even larger. Thank goodness for OverDrive!

4. I started tracking and intentionally diversifying the books I read.
In 2014, I made an intentional effort to diversify the race, gender, and nationality of the authors whose works I read and the protagonists of the fiction books I read. This involved creating a spreadsheet to track these details from every book listed under my Goodreads profile at the time, which I've since added to as I read more books. It's been a good exercise in keeping myself accountable so that I'm not reading just book by and about white Americans.

5. I started this book blog.
A Cocoon of Books launched in September 2014! At the time I didn't know the blog would be almost entirely Top Ten Tuesday, Quick Lit, and Best of the Bunch linkup posts, but I'm OK with that — I knew I didn't want to post my book reviews here since I was already using Goodreads for that, so it's worked out well.

6. I started setting annual goals for my reading.
As part of Top Ten Tuesday — which used to have a topic at the beginning of each year to generate ten goals for the year, but hasn't in recent years — I've set goals around my reading life every year. At times these can feel constraining, but they can also push me toward books or genres I wanted to read anyway, get outside my comfort zone, and give me permission to read things I otherwise might not make time for.

7. I read tons of new picture books.
After my son was born in 2015, I got rid of a ton of old books on PaperBackSwap and used the credits to start filling his bookshelf. In addition to classics from my own childhood, I sought out books with diverse representation, most of which have come out within the last decade. For some of the more in-demand books that have long waiting lists on PaperBackSwap, I've put them on his Christmas and birthday lists. This has given me the opportunity to read lots of great contemporary picture books that I otherwise wouldn't have had reason to pick up!

8. I made my "to read" list less of a "to do" list.
When I realized that my to-read shelf on Goodreads was stressing me out, I stopped adding books to it and made a "might-want-to-read" shelf where I started putting everything. Just recently I moved a bunch of books from that original to-read list to my might-want-to-read list, so now I feel less pressure to read some of the books I was no longer as interested in.

9. I set up a special reading area for myself.
When we moved into a larger apartment, I wanted to make an area dedicated to reading. (I think I got this idea from a book, but I don't know which one.) I got an old stuffed chair my parents were getting rid of and decorated the wall behind it with bookish items — a poster, a shelf of our Harry Potter books, and a clock that says, "Too many books, too little time." The chair has an organizer over one arm where I keep my Kindle and my bookmarks. I don't get a lot of chances to sit and read, but it still makes me happy to have this special space for my favorite activity.

10. I stopped owning books I haven't read.
After clearing out many of my old books after my son was born, I was able to get my unread stack down to a manageable amount, which I read through over the next few years. I try very hard now not to add anything to my shelf unless it's a book I've already read and loved so much that I want a physical copy to be able to reference or lend to others.

What has changed for you in the last 10 years?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Warmth of Other Suns
Five years ago I was reading: The Miracle Worker, Angle of Repose, and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Ten years ago I was reading: Everything Is Illuminated

Monday, June 15, 2020

Top Ten Books on My Summer TBR

I'm linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for another Top Ten Tuesday.

First of all: success! I read all the books on my spring TBR list. Now it's time to look at my plans for the summer.

1. 10 Things I Hate About Pinky by Sandhya Menon
Menon is one of my must-read authors, and I'm excited she has another one coming out in the Dimple & Rishi universe!

2. A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green
This is the sequel to An Absolutely Remarkable Thing and I CAN'T WAIT!

3. The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby
This book, about the American church's complicity in racism throughout history, seemed right up my alley when I heard about it and particularly relevant to conversations that happen on my podcast. And now that a lot of people are suddenly wanting to learn more about racism, this also seems to be a book that some of my fellow Christians (and others) are picking up, so I look forward to discussing it with them.

4. The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale
This book has been recommended a number of times in connection with the national conversation around defunding the police, so I'm interested to read it. After I checked it out I also heard about Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?, which I might want to read as well.

5. For the Love of Men by Liz Plank
I had heard of this book before a friend sent me a copy of it, and it seems in line with my goal to read more books about feminism this year. I'm interested to read her vision of a masculinity that isn't toxic.

6. Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall
This is one that I put on my holds list weeks ago as part of my aforementioned goal to read more feminist books, and now that my library has bought tons more copies of ebook related to race my wait time suddenly jumped from 10 weeks to 2 weeks. Then it was mentioned on the latest Get Booked episode, so I feel like it's a sign that I picked a good one!

7. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
One of my book clubs picked a theme for August that is "books that take place in a single day." I nominated this one because it fit the theme and I've heard it recommended several times, so I'm interested to see if I like it.

8. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
This one has been on my "shelf of shame" for far too long and I'm tired of feeling like the only one who hasn't read it, plus people have been talking about the miniseries that wrapped up in April, so I finally put a hold on this book.

9. Love, Creekwood by Becky Albertalli
Albertalli is the best and I particularly love her Creekwood books, so I was very excited to see there was a novella set in that universe coming out this summer.

10. You're Not Listening by Kate Murphy
This one was recommended by a Goodreads friend and I put a hold on it on impulse. I love me a good nonfiction read and particularly one that offers the opportunity to learn to be a better person, so I'm looking forward to seeing what I can get from this one.

What do you plan to read this summer?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Warmth of Other Suns and Educated
Five years ago I was reading: The Tale of Desperaux, Little House on the Prairie, Angle of Repose, and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Ten years ago I was reading: Everything Is Illuminated

What I've Been Reading Lately (Quick Lit)

Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit to bring you some short and sweet reviews of what I've read in the past month. For longer reviews, you can always find me on Goodreads.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton: At first I wasn't sure about the jumps back and forth in time and between POVs, but Morton manages to weave a mystery and provide frequent reveals/twists while you think you already know what happened, which is masterful. I'm glad to have finally read my first Kate Morton, and I look forward to reading some of her other works!

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard: I liked parts of this, although it was slow going for a 300-page book. Her writing is beautiful at times, incisive at times, and meandering and tedious in between. For someone who is particularly interested in both nature and theology, I might recommend this. For the average reader, probably not.

Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God by Kaitlin B. Curtice: Curtice weaves together her own story as a white-coded Potawatomi woman learning about her identity in adulthood with the stories of others to preach powerfully on the erasure of Indigenous cultures in America and in the Christian church. The second half of this book is very, very strong, but the opening few chapters felt very scattered. It's worth pushing through the beginning to get to the riches she shares in the rest of the book.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin: I won't say I was riveted for the entire 41 hours of this biography of Lincoln and his contemporaries, but it was extremely well done and I enjoyed the chance to understand more about Lincoln and about the Civil War. Goodwin clearly lays out exactly why Lincoln was such a good man and a good president. I would definitely recommend this if you have the patience for it!

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd: Christian tradition holds that Jesus of Nazareth was unmarried, but the Gospels don't actually say either way, and little is recorded of his adult life before his public ministry began at age 30. Kidd has envisioned one possibility, in which Jesus followed the traditional path for a Jewish man and took a wife and then was forced to separate from her during the years of his ministry, causing her to be erased from history. This was a daunting task to take on, and I think she did an admirable job with the end result.

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Warmth of Other Suns and Educated
Five years ago I was reading: The Tale of Desperaux, Little House on the Prairie, Angle of Repose, and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Ten years ago I was reading: Everything Is Illuminated

Monday, June 8, 2020

Ten Books I’ve Added to my TBR and Forgotten Why

I'm linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for another Top Ten Tuesday.

This week we're talking about books that are on our TBR but we don't know why, which is a good time for me to share a big step I took with my to-read list on Goodreads! You may remember that a couple years ago my ever-expanding to-read list was stressing me out, so I capped it and started putting everything on a might-want-to-read list. However, I'd decided to still read through everything on my original list. Inspired by this recent episode of What Should I Read Next?, I finally decided it was time to let go of things on my to-read list that I was no longer sure I wanted to read and move them to my might-want-to-read list. Employing the criterion of "If I had a year left to live would I want this book to be on the list?" I got my list of 100+ books down to 48. And they're all ones I'm excited to read! That felt very freeing to do.

What's funny is that everything on that to-read list, both the books that stayed and the books I re-categorized, I know exactly why they were on the list! (I even did a post about this a few years ago!) I then started going through the oldest books on my might-want-to-read list, and even then I could pretty easily pick out why the vast majority of them had been added to my list. These ten, however, were ones I came across for which I have no ready explanation. It doesn't appear that anyone I follow on Goodreads had recently read them around the time that I added them to the list, and so I must have heard about each one from some outside source that convinced me I might want to read it, even though it's not the kind of book I'd normally gravitate toward.

Without further ado, here are the books!

1. Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams

2. Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

3. Chronicle in Stone by Ismail Kadare

4. Nexus by Ramez Naam

5. Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie

6. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

7. The Things I Didn't Say by Kylie Fornasier

8. Three Souls by Janie Chang

9. To Serve Them All My Days by R.F. Delderfield

10. A Work in Progress by Connor Franta

Have you read any of these? Do you want to make a strong case for them?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Blue Castle and Educated
Five years ago I was reading: The Tale of Desperaux, Little House on the Prairie, Angle of Repose, and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Ten years ago I was reading: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Monday, June 1, 2020

Ten Books that Take Place in Summer

I'm linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for another Top Ten Tuesday.

This week's theme is books that have a summer vibe. I'm not sure, but I think that's intended to be lighter books that are more like "beach reads," which isn't my usual reading fare. However, I did pick ten books that all take place during summer, so hopefully that will give you some possible reads for this summer!

The Bell Jar

1. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The first line is "It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York." We see the protagonist's mental health deteriorate over the course of the summer while interning at a fashion magazine.

Cold Sassy Tree

2. Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns
Rucker Blakeslee's wife dies in June, and barely three weeks later he marries a much younger woman and shocks this small Southern town. The scandalous summer is seen through the eyes of his grandson.

Everything Leads to You

3. Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
Having just graduated from high school, Emi is already working on movie sets in Hollywood as a set designer, but this summer is going to teach her about a lot more than designing sets.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake

4. The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield
An annual family reunion in Arkansas is marked by dark secrets and tragedy in this beautiful, heartbreaking book.

I'll Meet You There

5. I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios
Skylar has finished high school and just has to survive three months of a minimum-wage job before she can leave her small town for art school. But then her mother loses her job, a coworker comes back from Afghanistan minus a leg, and Skylar doesn't know what the future holds anymore.

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors

6. The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork
Pancho moves into a group home planning the murder of his sister's killer, but he's asked to help care for D.Q., who's dying of cancer. What life lessons will he learn over the course of the summer?

Murder with Peacocks

7. Murder with Peacocks by Donna Andrews
Meg's not happy to be spending her summer back in her hometown trying to serve as bridesmaid to three different brides. Then, someone turns up murdered — can she help figure out who and still pull together the pieces for three perfect weddings?

The Summer Book

8. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
In this quiet book, a girl and her grandmother spend the summer on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland. Through a series of vignettes, we get a sense of the time and place as well as the characters. Both of them can be difficult at times, but they care deeply about one another.

Tash Hearts Tolstoy

9. Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee
Tash's web series goes viral, and over the course of the summer she has to figure out where her priorities lie — and how to navigate a possible romance as someone who's asexual.

When Dimple Met Rishi

10. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
Dimple can't wait to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers, and can't believe her parents agreed to it. But, oops, they maybe neglected to mention that the boy with whom they've arranged a marriage for her is going to be there too. Suddenly the summer's gotten a lot more complicated!

What other books are set during a summer?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Trespasser
Five years ago I was reading: Gilead, The Tale of Desperaux, and What If?
Ten years ago I was reading: The Book of Three