Category Archives: Books

How a Book Lover Deals With a Reading Slump

People who know me know that I like to read. A lot. I read 158 books last year, and that was pretty average for me. This year? Not so much.

We’re exactly halfway through 2017, and so far I’ve read 40 books. Last year at this time? 104.

40 books is still a lot of books to read in a single year, let alone six months. But it’s still way below par for me. For the last five years I’ve read well over 100 books a year, once over 200.

So what happened?

I’ve been in an extended reading slump.

Continue reading How a Book Lover Deals With a Reading Slump

Author Readings & American War by Omar El Akkad

This week I finished reading American War by Omar El Akkad. It’s a fascinating speculative story about a second American Civil War 50 years from now.

Two days after finishing, I turned on the radio and there was Omar El Akkad talking about his book. Even better, he was making an appearance in St. Paul the next day. Score.

A Word About Author Readings

I love seeing authors in person. It’s such a unique way to get a glimpse into who they are and how they create. It’s an opportunity that takes the book reading experience so much deeper.

And they’re almost always free.

I wish I had done a lot more of that in college when I was still learning how to be a writer. (One of my first experiences of it came in college—Wendell Berry reading Jayber Crow.)

Continue reading Author Readings & American War by Omar El Akkad

2016 Racial & Gender Diversity in My Reading

I read a lot of books. That’s no secret.

I love the power of reading, but I also think we have to be intentional about the kinds of books we read. I’m a big fan of reading what you love, but I think it’s still important to pursue diversity in those choices.

I’ve learned from experience that you have to be intentional about that. So every year I track those diversity stats to see how I’m doing. It’s not a perfect system and it’s not the only thing I do, but it’s one step.

I base gender simply on the author, counting a book if any contributor is a woman. For race I count a book if a contributor or main character is a person of color.

Here are the results for 2016:

  • 54% POC books
  • 59% female authors.

Here’s how diverse my reading has been since 2001:

2016 diverse reading chart

Here are the actual numbers (with totals) for 2016:

2016 diversity tracking

Results

While the numbers are just numbers, I think the real results are showing up in my lists of favorite books for the year. Both my fiction and non-fiction lists this year were topped by writers of color, and my fiction top five is all writers of color. Those lists have been getting more diverse over the years.

It’s all pretty subjective, but in general I think it continues to push me toward hearing and responding to more voices, especially ones that are different from my own experience and perspective.

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

Top 10 Non-Fiction of 2016

I read 158 books in 2016 and have some favorites to share. I already shared my fiction favs, now here’s a look at the best non-fiction.

  1. Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes – I’m not usually one for self help books, but this was funny, engaging, inspiring. Good stuff.  (I even wrote a blog series based on it.)
  2. Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles – Best faith-based memoir of the year. Gay atheist finds God through feeding the poor.
  3. Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark by Addie Zierman – Second best faith-based memoir of the year. (I wrote a blog post about this one.)
  4. Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World by Laura Barcella – A great collection of inspiring stories.
  5. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum – Very helpful insights on racism.
  6. Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew G.I. Hart – Very helpful insights on racism within the church. (blog post).
  7. Prayer: Forty Days of Practice by Justin McRoberts and Scott Erickson – Unique collection of art and prayers.
  8. Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending by Elizabeth Dunn & Michael Norton – A very insightful look at how we spend our money and why it does or doesn’t make us happy. (I wrote a blog series about this one too.)
  9. Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres – A very difficult to read memoir about adoption and abuse.
  10. Just Write: Here’s How by Walter Dean Myers – He wrote something like a hundred books and shares his writing tips and insights in this quick read.

More Reading

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

You can also check out more of my reading favorites for some suggestions.

Top 10 Fiction of 2016

I read 158 books in 2016 and have a few favorites. Here’s a look at the best fiction.

Novels:

  1. Freeman by Leonard Pitts Jr. – Exploring freedom and humanity in the aftermath of the Civil War.
  2. Roots by Alex Haley – Following multiple generations from freedom in Africa through the harrows of slavery to eventual freedom. This is the story of America.
  3. Copper Sun by Sharon Draper – Much like Roots, this book tells the story of slavery from Africa to America, but instead of generations it follows one girl. I read it one night.
  4. Spirit Car: Journey to a Dakota Past by Diane Wilson – This book mixes memoir with fiction as the author explores her family’s native roots and ties to the Dakota War.
  5. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – I’m not usually a fan of fantasy, especially when it’s not very clear what’s happening, but I rolled with it on this one and really enjoyed this story of a persecuted group of misfits with the power to control seismic activity.
  6. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell – This is fan fiction for a fictional universe created for another fictional story. Follow all that? Plus, it’s a lovely homage to Harry Potter.
  7. Frindle by Andrew Clements – Read this to my kids and we all loved it. It’s about how words come to be.
  8. Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate – Another outloud book for the kids and another 5-star book from Katherine Applegate. This story mixes the power of imagination and a child’s perspective on being homeless.
  9. Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff – This story of a girl in search of a family is a quick read, but touching.
  10. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng – This is a sad, but I think ultimately hopeful story. It’s probably my favorite book club book of the year.

Continue reading Top 10 Fiction of 2016

2016 Reading List

I finished 158 books in 2016. That’s about average for me.

Though I ran into a real slump this year. It probably sounds ridiculous to say I had a reading slump when I read 158 books in one year, but there it is.

Halfway through the year I had finished 104 books, so I definitely slowed down during the second half of the year. A few things happened:

  • Pokemon Go. I hate to say a game stopped me from reading, but it did. Sort of. The game works best when you get outside and move, and it’s ideal to play while running. And it doesn’t work very well to listen to an audiobook while running and playing Pokemon Go. So I stopped listening to audiobooks. Haven’t finished one in months (and haven’t run in a while either).
  • This fall I haven’t been consistently reading to the kids. We used to finish a book every week or two, but the last one we tried I think we quit.
  • Slump. Then the real reason is that I just hit a slump. I couldn’t get interested in a book and took a long time to get through the ones I did like. I’m not sure what happened, if I was just in a mood or what, but my reading seriously slowed down. I’m not sure if I’m out of yet (I still haven’t been reading as voraciously), but the closest thing I have to a cure is finding books I love. Not just like or enjoy, but love. That means quitting books a lot more, which is something I still have to force myself to do. I’m getting better at it. Slowly.

I’ll share my favorite reads (fiction & nonfiction), trends and look at diversity in separate posts.

For a more visual look, you can check out my Year in Books from Goodreads.

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

You can also check out my previous reading lists: 20152014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002 and 2001.

Continue reading 2016 Reading List

Summer Book Club 2016

Last year I did a summer book club with Lexi. We’d read the same book, then go to the coffee shop for snacks and talk about it. This year we did it again.

And Milo joined in.

I didn’t think Milo was ready for chapter books. He’s been reading those numbered early readers (1, 2, 3) that I find brain-numbing, and I thought he was still struggling with those. But when I started the book club with Lexi, he wanted in. He’s definitely not ready for the harder middle grade books Lexi is reading, so we opted to do a separate book club with him and he totally nailed it.

As we talked about the books, it was clear Milo completely understood what he was reading. I even tested him to see what he could read, and discovered he couldn’t actually read a lot of the bigger words. But he could still figure out what was happening in the story. That’s pretty incredible. (My wife the teacher is rolling her eyes; apparently this is what all kids go through as they learn how to read.)

So I did book club with both kids. We didn’t get started until July, and reading for two different kids took more time, but we still got through three books each.

Lexi’s Book Club:

  • Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass
  • I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin
  • Bird by Crystal Chan

Lexi’s favorite: I Lived on Butterfly Hill

My favorite: Every Soul a Star
(Learning about solar eclipses was pretty cool—we’re planning to check out the 2017 total solar eclipse in Nebraska next summer.)

Milo’s Book Club:

  • Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst
  • Ellray Jakes Is Not Chicken by Sally Warner
  • Stink and the Incredible Super-Galactic Jawbreaker by Megan McDonald

Our favorite: Lulu and the Brontosaurus (we both liked that one best)

Since we got a late start and I couldn’t seem to keep up with both kids, it didn’t feel like we got through many books. Both kids are wanting to keep doing book club in the fall (I imagine more motivated by the chance to go get a snack than anything), so we’ll have to see. It is a fun way to engage with them.

Favorite Books So Far in 2016

So we’re halfway through 2016. How’s your book reading going?

I’m on a ridiculous pace: 104 books so far this year. Of course I read a lot. If this pace continues, I’ll beat my record of 203 books in 2014. But I don’t really care about that. While I like to talk about the numbers because they’re shocking, I’m not in it to set records. I’m in it to read good books.

I also track the racial and gender diversity in my books. So far this year I’m at 52% racial diversity (books written by or featuring main characters of color) and 54% female authors. Last year, my most diverse year to date, I managed 54% POC and 56% women.

So I’m on track there, which is encouraging. Seeking out diverse books isn’t always easy, but I’m starting to see it pay dividends as I try to understand the world around me and help my kids navigate it.

But enough about numbers. Let’s talk books.

Favorite Fiction Books So Far This Year:

  • Freeman by Leonard Pitts Jr.
  • Copper Sun by Sharon Draper
  • Spirit Car: Journey to a Dakota Past by Diane Wilson
  • Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
  • Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff
  • Roots by Alex Haley
  • Frindle by Andrew Clements

Favorite Nonfiction Books So Far This Year:

  • Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles
  • Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World by Laura Barcella
  • Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark by Addie Zierman
  • Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: A Psychologist Explains the Development of Racial Identity by Beverly Daniel Tatum
  • Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew G.I. Hart

I’ve got about 25 library books sitting in my to-read stack, so I’m excited to discover some more great books in 2016.

How Do We Overcome Our Bi-Partisan Ignorance?

Ignorance stalks us wherever we go. Stupidity too—it’s easy to lash out in anger or dismissiveness. And maybe arrogance as well, to think that none of these apply to us. To me. We—I—live a great contradiction.

It’s so prominent in the political debate in this country right now—filibusters and sit-ins over gun rights, refusing to consider Supreme Court nominees, etc.. One side decries the other side’s actions, even though the first side has used the exact same tactic in the past. Both sides do it.

And so it goes. And that’s just in politics.

I read a lot. Some might say too much. In that reading I come across portrayals of overwhelming ignorance. Just this morning, in a matter of pages I read about The Colored Motorist’s Guide that told black people in the first half of the twentieth century “where they could and could not sleep, in what towns the citizens would shoot them if they stayed after dark,” and then that “deaf schools banished sign language, declared it backward and a threat to the wholesome spoken word, subscribed to the theory that sign language would encourage the deaf to marry only each other and create a perpetuating race of non-hearers, and swaddled the hands of their most defiant students in thick cotton mittens.” Continue reading How Do We Overcome Our Bi-Partisan Ignorance?

Giving Cancer the Middle Finger

I’m excited to read the new book from Nora McInerny Purmort, It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too). You may have seen the headlines about her: she married her husband after his brain cancer diagnosis and they decided to have a child even though he was dying.

A book about cancer and death? Oh joy, right?

Yeah, Nora is freaking hilarious. I saw her speak a few months back and the whole place was laughing to tears. She’s one of these incredible people who can make us laugh in the face of cancer and death.

Sometimes we need to give cancer the ol’ middle finger.

The Pioneer Press has a great profile of Nora, and I just loved this section:

Grieving widow books are thriving, many offering some version of “God gave me strength and made me a better person.” Not Nora Purmort.

“I hate that sh–. I didn’t want to write that book,” she says. “I don’t think things happen for a reason, and it’s not nice to say this is God’s plan.”

Amen.