West St. Paul Reader: Five Year Anniversary

Five years ago today I launched West St. Paul Reader with the first-ever post, a recap of a City Council meeting.

That first post really epitomizes the work we do: It’s narrowly focused on what happens in our first-ring suburb. It celebrates what’s happening in the community. It serves as an archive to mark what happened, when, and why. I just spent some time reflecting on that first post five years later.

Reflecting on Five Years

We’re doing a whole five-year anniversary member drive with an audacious goal of 50 members to mark five years by 5/25. But more than flogging a member drive and trying to bring in new members, today I’m trying to reflect on five years of this work.

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Bentonville/Eclipse Vacation

Abby and I went on a kid-free vacation to Bentonville, Arkansas to see the 2024 total solar eclipse and do some biking.

No kids?: If leaving the kids behind seems mean, I did invite them and they shrugged. They’ve seen a solar eclipse before—meh.

Why Arkansas?: There were closer locations to see totality, but Indiana isn’t a very exciting place to visit. I wouldn’t think Arkansas is either, but Bentonville is billed as the mountain biking capital of the world. I’ve been thinking about taking a trip there anyway. The eclipse being two and a half hours away made it a perfect location.

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The Audacity of Hope

In the summer of 2020 I published a book, Better Politics Please, yearning for a better way. Six months later January 6 happened and it felt like we were further than ever from coming together as Americans.

That book was written in hope, and I’ve felt awfully hopeless since.

Today I finished reading Barack Obama’s 2006 memoir, The Audacity of Hope. You have to read any political memoir, especially one released in the build up to a presidential run, with a grain of salt. There’s a lot of humble optimism and positive framing of life experience.

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Uncontested Elections Are Bad for Democracy: Worthington School Board

Interesting story from small town Minnesota about a school board forcing one of their only Latino teachers to remove his Puerto Rico and Pride flags. That’s a whole thing, and while I have feelings about it, I want to talk about elections instead.

Why it matters: Because Worthington School Board, like many of our local boards and councils, has a problem with uncontested elections.

Continue reading Uncontested Elections Are Bad for Democracy: Worthington School Board

2023 Reading Stats

I’ve shared my total reading numbers for 2023—184 total—and my favorite fiction and nonfiction books. Now let’s talk stats.

Raw Numbers

184 is certainly a ridiculous number. It’s my second highest ever.

Not bragging: But as much as I talk up the number (I even put it in the title of my own book), let’s be honest—that’s just clickbait. The number doesn’t matter. Don’t bother comparing. I know some people who love books but only manage a few a year. I know someone else who regularly tops 300 per year. So don’t get hung up on the numbers. Get hung up on the books.

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Top 10 Nonfiction of 2023

I read 184 books in 2023 and here are my favorite nonfiction reads.

I normally don’t read a lot of nonfiction (only 18% of my reading in 2022), so this is usually a shorter list. But I went on a memoir spree and found a ton of good ones—with nonfiction hitting 43% of my reading!

So this year we get a top 10 list:

  1. This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us by Cole Arthur Riley – I listened to the audiobook and was initially put off by the author’s monotone, but once I got into the groove it was really compelling. Extremely well written, to the point that I want to read it again in print so I can underline the morsels.
  2. Smart Brevity: The Power of Saying More With Less by Jim Vandehei, Mike Allen, Roy Schwartz – The best book on writing I’ve read in years. I keep buying copies for my contributors.
  3. Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee – The best book I’ve read on the gay debate in the church.
  4. Rapture Practice: My One-Way Ticket to Salvation by Aaron Hartzler – This growing up in a Christian subculture memoir hit way too close to home.
  5. Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality by Sarah McBride – This one made me cry.
  6. Love Thy Neighbor: A Muslim Doctor’s Struggle for Home in Rural America by Ayaz Virji with Alan Eisenstock – Really incredible story.
  7. A Heart That Works by Rob Delaney – The story of his son dying, which is just awful, but it’s poignant and honest in that “well, fuck” kind of way.
  8. I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times by Monica Guzmán – We need more of this if our democracy is going to survive.
  9. Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House by Cliff Sims – As much as I dislike Trump, I’m not a fan of the tell-all books gushing with juicy details. But the Smart Brevity guys referenced this one, so I checked it out, and the style was super engaging.
  10. When They Call You A Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele – I put this one off for a while, but glad I finally got to it.

Honoroable Mentions

And a few more worth mentioning:

  • Birding While Indian by Thomas C. Gannon – Really enjoyed this mix of Indian politics and birding, which clued me into the gamification of birding, something I found intriguing (who knew I’d enjoy keeping lists?!).
  • Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Failed a Generation by Jon Ward – I read several deconstruction memoirs and this one was perhaps the most interesting.
  • Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World by John Hope Bryant – Business books are often awful, but this one really engaged.

Note on Trends

I noted last year that I read a couple LGBTQ+ memoirs and enjoyed them and would probably do more this year. I did. A lot. Three of those made it to my top 10, and I read a bunch more. The Christian ones were the most intriguing, which led to a related field of deconstruction memoirs. By the end of the year I stumbled into birding memoirs, and that pushed me to spend Christmas money on binoculars and start exploring birding.

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.

And how about previous top non-fiction lists: 2022202120202019201820172016201520142013, and 2012.

You can also see this year’s top 10 fiction and reading stats for the year.

Top 10 Fiction of 2023

I read 184 books in 2023, and here are my favorite fiction reads:

  1. Where Peace is Lost by Valerie Valdes – Really fun and unique world building that just sucked me in. Very enjoyable.
  2. Inquisitor: Rise of the Red Blade by Delilah S. Dawson – The best Star Wars book I’ve read, following a a broken Jedi who flips to the dark side after the fall of the Republic.
  3. Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah – A really brutal and fascinating story that reminded me of the 1980s movie Running Man about death row turned sports entertainment.
  4. Apocalypse Yesterday by Brock Adams – The best post-apocalypse story I’ve read in a while.
  5. The God of Endings by Jacqueline Holland – Perhaps the most unique and engaging vampire story I’ve read in a while.
  6. Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Cañas – A vampire romance that avoids all the tropes of Twilight.
  7. Secret Identity by Alex Segura – Really fun mystery set in the world of comic book creation.
  8. A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker – Freakishly prescient, this pandemic story would have hit differently a few years ago.
  9. How to Stop Time by Matt Haig – One of those fascinating stories with an intriguing premise and then you just have to see how it plays out.
  10. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion – An unexpected romance in my top 10? It works so well because of the rock solid voice of the probably autistic main character. I’m a sucker for a good voice.

Honorable Mentions

I read a lot of good books, so here are a few more to mention:

  • The Deep Sky by Yume Kitasei – A space mystery that was really kind of simple, but I enjoyed it.
  • Pieces of Blue by Holly Goldberg Sloan – I’ve really enjoyed her middle grade stuff and her first adult novel just as good.
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – I really have a hard time reading classics, so I was surprised how much I enjoyed this one.
  • Wanderers by Chuck Wendig – A complex, intertwined story about a weird issue (shades of Stephen King) that just pulled me in.
  • 2034: A Novel of the Next World War by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis – Near-future story of was between the U.S. and China that’s frighteningly real.

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.

And how about previous top 10 fiction lists: 2022202120202019201820172016201520142013, and 2012.

You can also see this year’s top 10 nonfiction and reading stats for the year.

2023 Reading List

I read 184 books in 2023. I think it’s safe to say my COVID reading slump is officially over.

You can also check out my previous reading lists: 202220212020201920182017201620152014201320122011201020092008200720062005200420032002, and 2001.

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 see my top 10 fiction, top 10 nonfiction, and reading stats for the year.

Continue reading 2023 Reading List

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