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

Gilmore Girls: Why Is It All the Boys? Because You Wrote It That Way

Thanksgiving weekend the Gilmore Girls: A Year In the Life came out on Netflix. We watched the entire thing (7 hours?) in one day.

It’s a fascinating bit of pop culture and TV fun that a beloved show that ended nearly a decade ago can come back for another hurrah.

As part of all the hoopla surrounding the show’s release, I came across some comments from creator Amy Sherman-Palladino that has me scratching my head. She’s responding to the constant fervor about the dating life of Rory Gilmore and whether she ends up with Jess or Dean. She laments that people aren’t more focused on Rory’s professional career:

Sometimes I wish that the Dean and Jess thing weren’t so prominent because in the grand scheme of Rory’s life, who her boyfriend was when she was 16 years old is such a small event. … I don’t see people debating “What newspaper is Rory’s working for?” “Did she win a Pulitzer yet?” It’s all about Dean and Jess.

Um… people are obsessed with the romantic angle because that’s how you wrote the show. Continue reading Gilmore Girls: Why Is It All the Boys? Because You Wrote It That Way

A Better Way to Internet Politics

I often wonder if there’s a more productive way for politics to move forward. It’s especially bleak right now after the election of Donald Trump, an election that was very short on actual policy positions and very high on the spread of fake news.

Everybody has a take on the 2016 election, and I’m sure we’ll be reading about it forever, but one story I read compared Trump to Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi and suggested the way to beat Trump is to ignore his antics and focus on policy.

I wonder if that would work. That seemed like one of the most telling moments of the presidential debates (and I commented on it my election post), though I don’t know if that moment changed anyone’s mind (it was easily overshadowed by other moments).

Maybe it’s idealistic and wouldn’t actually work, but I think a better, saner grasp of the facts and issues would go a long way to helping democracy, for all sides.

So what might that look like? Continue reading A Better Way to Internet Politics

Local Politics & How Candidates Communicate

Oh this election. I don’t know what to do with you.

I usually try not to blog about politics. I did too much of that in previous cycles and said stupid things and annoyed even myself.

Early on this year, I couldn’t hold back and had to try to understand the Trump phenomena as it was happening. Even now I don’t understand it (though the Anxiety, Nostalgia & Mistrust Survey explains a lot), but I’m trying not to engage in the endless what ifs and blame and the rest (though I am being very vocal about stopping hate and violence).

I think instead of engaging on the national scene, I’ve been talking up the local scene. It’s bothered me for a long time how difficult it is to research local elections. Technology was supposed to make that easier, and in some ways it has. Most serious candidates have websites or at least Facebook pages these days (but not all of them).

But in other ways technology just allows politicians to spread the same misleading information they always have. And voters are stuck with just as little information to sort it all out.

This election I tried to sort out who said what, who did something questionable and who blatantly made stuff up assuming people wouldn’t research it. My only hope is that I’m making it easier for other frustrated voters like myself.

You know what? People liked it. Continue reading Local Politics & How Candidates Communicate

Love Trumps Hate

A lot has already been written and will be written about Donald Trump’s stunning victory yesterday, and I don’t imagine I have much to add. But I’m also a writer and need to get it out of my head.

The one thing I keep coming back to is how divided we are as a country, and not just that we’re divided, but that we don’t understand each other.

I shared this quote when I explained why I voted for Clinton:

“If two smart and logical people disagree, it’s most likely because they are acting on different information.” -Bill “Billo” O’Donnell (A Truck Full of Money by Tracey Kidder)

I think we’ve been acting on different information. If we’re going to overcome that division, we need to reconcile that information (not an easy task). I wish candidates did a better job of this (they rarely do because it doesn’t fire up their side), but now it’s time for us to do a better job of it.

So let me explain some information as I see it.

Today my social media feed is full of fear.

My minority friends are scared. People of color, LGBT friends, Muslims, immigrants, the disabled—scared.

And they’re sharing examples of harassment, intimidation, hate. (Those are just a few examples. Ask a teacher. Talk to a minority.) They’re justifiably scared.

Trump may say he’s not a racist, not a misogynist, not a xenophobe, not a homophobe, not an Islamophobe, but his words and actions—whether intentionally or through mere carelessness—bring hate out in people. (And it’s not just my liberal friends saying this. Many of my conservative friends refused to vote for Trump because of this.)

This political campaign has given license to hate. The rare few (I hope) who are racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic and/or bigoted have been emboldened to speak and act their hate.

And that’s not OK.

I know we disagree on a lot, but I have to assume that’s not OK with Trump voters either. I know we disagree, but I have to believe you don’t support hate. 81% of evangelicals voted for Trump, and I know faith in Jesus shouldn’t spread hate.

So prove it. Don’t endorse hate with your silence. Let’s make sure Love Trumps Hate is not just a campaign slogan tossed around as an insult. Reclaim it, bring unity across the aisle, and reject what I must hope are isolated acts of hate and violence.

Prove to my minority friends that there is a place in America for them, that you will defend them and stand up for them, even if you disagree with them.

Because otherwise, what are we doing?

These hateful acts are not America. I don’t believe that. But if we let them continue because they don’t impact us personally, then we’re enabling hate.

I can’t believe all Trump voters are hateful. Maybe we don’t understand each other, but that’s something we can work on.

I’m naive and idealistic and probably foolish, but I think love truly can trump hate.

Update: Maple Grove Students Respond (Nov. 10, 2016)

This is how we need to respond to hate. (And let it not just be warm, fuzzy words, but real action. May those kids love and protect one another.)

Voting as a Heroic Act

So Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and director of the Avengers movies, created his own PAC to encouraging voting this year.

I love this comment about the ethos of what he’s doing:

“There is this heroic act called voting. And the world is scary, and things are overwhelming, and there’s a lot at stake. But this voting thing is actually beautiful. Not just necessary—it’s a wonderful thing and it makes you powerful.” -Joss Whedon

Pairs nicely with the Ms. Marvel “to the polls” image:

Ms. Marvel & Joss Whedon on voting

(And yes, that’s a direct visual reference to the 1830 painting “Liberty Leading the People.”)

It’s easy to become frustrated or disillusioned, especially this year, but I think there is something incredible about voting.

This year my family went together, lining up with a hundred neighbors waiting for the polls to open. I wore my Captain America hoodie—an older woman remarked about its appropriateness.

My son watched as I voted. I pointed out that I’d just voted for a woman for president for the first time in my life. I voted for what could be only the fourth woman to represent Minnesota in the U.S. House and our first gay member of Congress. I voted for what could be West St. Paul’s first female mayor. I pointed to the school district levy, that I was voting for his school to keep getting money. (And I voted for at least a dozen judges running opposed, which felt kind of silly.)

The candidates have had their many, many months. But now it’s our turn.

However you vote, this is our moment. So vote.

West St. Paul Nonprofits You Can Support: Let’s Do Some Good

This election has been a little crazy-making. But no matter who wins, life goes on. Great things will continue to happen in our community, and we should support them. So let’s talk about West St. Paul nonprofits.

I’ve been especially vocal about some local races here in West St. Paul, so in the interest of supporting local community, I want to encourage people to support some West St. Paul nonprofits.

Nov. 17 is Give to the Max Day, where donations can be multiplied with all kinds of incentives and matching gifts. It’s a great opportunity to rally together to support nonprofits, and you don’t even have to wait until Nov. 17—every donation between now and then will count toward Give to the Max Day.

So let’s support local organizations that work to make our community a better place. Continue reading West St. Paul Nonprofits You Can Support: Let’s Do Some Good

Election 2016: Why I’m Voting for Hillary Clinton

Every presidential election year since I started blogging I’ve talked about who I’m voting for and why. I do this not so much to convince other people, but for myself. Sometimes I think it’s helpful to have a snapshot of what we were thinking at a certain moment in time. My views have changed over the years, so I think it’s interesting to see that over time.

And oh the 2016 presidential election is one worthy of a snapshot. Or two.

Before I dive too deep, let me give the disclaimer that I don’t like blogging about politics. I did a lot of that in 2008 and ended up alienating some folks, myself included. It’s a difficult subject to talk about, and I wish we could do a better job. This year I tried to stick to local politics.

“If two smart and logical people disagree, it’s most likely because they are acting on different information.” -Bill “Billo” O’Donnell (A Truck Full of Money by Tracey Kidder)

Sometimes I think that’s the crux of division right now.

All that to say, this is what I think right now. If you disagree with me, that’s fine. But before you think I’m a jerk or an idiot or something, maybe we should examine our underlying positions.

I’m voting for Hillary Clinton for president. Continue reading Election 2016: Why I’m Voting for Hillary Clinton

A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.