Category Archives: Books

Better Politics, Please: Last Day

Today is the last day of my Kickstarter project for Better Politics, Please.

It’s also been one week since a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd. We’ve had a week of protest, looting, and violence.

And, oh yeah, we’re in the middle of a pandemic.

So it’s been a rough week. I have no words. It’s hard to end this project strong, when so many have greater needs.

I also think this project is more necessary than ever.

So today is your last chance to pre-order my book. I’d love to have you join the cause.

We all have a lot of work to do. It’s overwhelming. But I encourage you to listen, read up, and do something.

Thanks.

Better Politics Please

I’m launching a new project.

The Pitch

Politics can be pretty divisive and depressing. What happened to hope? Too often, politics feels like a battleground where we lob accusations back and forth. And that’s not likely to change after November’s presidential election, no matter who wins or loses.

Politics have long been divisive and people will always disagree. But I have hope that we can do better.

So I’m launching a new project. It will be a book of political profiles, titled Better Politics, Please, that will tell encouraging stories of finding common ground. 

Yeah, that’s a tall order these days. 

But if we want to make civic engagement civil, it starts with we the people. I hope you’ll join me in creating better politics, please.

Continue reading Better Politics Please

2019 Reading Stats

I’ve given my total reading numbers for 2019—107 total—and my favorite fiction and non-fiction books, now it’s time to look at some stats.

I’ve never really thought of myself as a data nerd. I can’t use Excel to save my life. But here I am: I ruthlessly track my reading.

Why? It holds me accountable to exposing myself to a wider range of views. It helps me spot trends, and figure out where I might be doing things wrong (or right).

Here are my numbers for 2019:

  • 59% POC books.
  • 67% female authors.

Here’s how that compares to previous years:

Continue reading 2019 Reading Stats

Top 10 Non-Fiction of 2019

I read 107 books in 2019, and about a quarter were non-fiction. I often have a hard time getting through non-fiction, with a top five or seven list at the end of the year, but this year I had a bunch of favorites and went for a top 10.

  1. Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans – Oh, it’s still hard to believe we lost Rachel last year. I love the approach she took engaging with the frustrations and difficult questions with the Bible. Lots of underlining on this one.
  2. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin – I’ve never read James Baldwin before, and now I’m kicking myself. He has such a profound, scathing, prophetic voice. The things he said about race more than 50 years ago are still painfully true today. It’s a quick read, but will take a lot longer (and multiple readings) to truly digest.
  3. Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller – I’m usually not a fan of marketing templates, but I’ve found this approach is really good.
  4. Sissy: A Coming of Gender Story by Jacob Tobia – A helpful and insightful memoir that gives a glimpse into the nonbinary perspective. Jacob makes the point that no single memoir can encapsulate the nonbinary experience and tries to avoid telling what’s become the typical tragic tale. What I found most interesting was Jacob’s experience in church. While they did have some rough patches, their church was ultimately affirming. 
  5. The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father by Kao Kalia Yang – Really compelling memoir about a Hmong refugee who grew up in Laos and escaped war to struggle with racism in America. The introduction really didn’t hook me, but once it got into the father’s story it really got good. The audio version is voiced by the author, and her voice breaks up in some of the really tough parts, making for a powerful listen.
  6. Tomboy by Liz Prince – Not only does this memoir skewer gender norms in a fun and playful style, but it’s a coming-of-age memoir about the most awkward time in our lives that explores dealing with gender issues. Nothing like a good awkward teen story.
  7. They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker – A graphic memoir about George Takei’s childhood in the Japanese internment camps of World War II. The story of the internment is pretty rough, though Takei does a good job couching it in with the perspective of history and our strides forward since then (and slips backward). It’s a history we often don’t remember, which makes this an important read. 
  8. We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates – I remember Ta-Nehisi Coates doing the round of interviews when the book came out, and there was a strain of a kind of incredulousness that he wasn’t more hopeful. After reading the book, I can see why. He sees Trump as a racist backlash to Obama, a return to who we are. The problem isn’t Trump, the problem is much deeper than that. And it doesn’t leave a lot of room for hope. Like other Coates books I’ve read, this one demands a lot more than a simple reading. I felt like I was scratching the surface and would need to revisit it multiple times to really grasp the ideas fully. Some powerful, well argued and well researched stuff.
  9. Onigamiising: Seasons of an Ojibwe Year by Linda LeGarde Grover – A book of simple stories and remembrances, full of wonderful turns of phrase and memory and history and culture. The focus on Duluth and the seasons gives it a nice local feel, but the best part is just the explanations of Ojibwe cultural practices with a sense of how they’ve changed over time. But it’s a story your grandmother would tell, not a rote history lesson. It’s intriguing how often the Indian boarding schools are mentioned, an intergenerational trauma that many of us might remember as old history, forgetting how it continues to have an impact.
  10. Diesel Heart by Melvin Carter Jr. – If you’ve ever met Melvin Carter Jr., it’s quickly apparent that he likes to talk. He tells stories and can jump from one topic to the next, always passionate and brutally honest. He has a raw voice that doesn’t sugar coat anything. Which makes his story of growing up in the latter half of the 20th century in St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood gripping. He encounters a lifetime of racism, from St. Paul’s gutting of the Rondo neighborhood to serving in the Navy during Vietnam to serving on St. Paul’s mostly white police force for 28 years. It’s a memoir with a lot of heart and character. (Read my recap of his reading at Amore.)

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 non-fiction lists: 201820172016201520142013, and 2012.

Top 15 Fiction of 2019

I read 107 books this year and found a few winners. Here’s my list of top fiction. I’ve done a top 10 the past few years, but this year I went with 15. The top five are probably a few steps above the others, but they’re all worthy reads.

  1. I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan – This is one of those books that just comes at you with a quiet, tender story that just grabs you. I loved the characters and I love the simple, matter of fact asides the story continually offers (though it can make getting into the book a little harder). It reminds me a lot of a character I tried to write about a few times, and that might be why the story connected with me the way it did.
  2. Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill – A more personal, localized, and urgent version of Robopacalypse. From the first chapter I was hooked. I loved the way it switched back and forth from current action to robot history, keeping me hooked and wanting to know more (even in the history chapters). Good stuff.
  3. The Power by Naomi Alderman – Wow. This is a compelling book. The style really sucks you in and grabs you. Ultimately it’s a story about the power dynamic between men and women being flipped, and what happens to society if that were to happen. Naomi Alderman fleshes it out to a frightening degree. A few times that felt a little heavy handed, but honestly that just felt realistic. The power dynamic is heavy handed, so what do you expect.
  4. The Last Thing You Surrender by Leonard Pitts Jr. – A brutally honest exploration of racial issues during World War II. It’s a great story with a lot of heart and a lot of depth. 
  5. Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik – This was just a flat-out fun space adventure. 
  6. A Study in Honor by Claire O’Dell – The description made me think this was a near-future retread of Sherlock Holmes that might be fun but would have a fair bit of camp. While it does play on Sherlock Holmes, it’s not a fun, witty adventure. Instead it paints a bleak picture of a nation plunged into civil war in reaction to gun safety measures and civil rights. We follow Janet Watson, an army surgeon who loses her arm, as she tries to place her life back together while struggling with PTSD. It does eventually slip into a mystery, but it’s much more focused on the struggle to reaclimate after war. The world building is incredible and Watson’s gritty pain is real and ugly. 
  7. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates – The writing of Ta-Nehisi Coates is always pretty dense, and his first novel is no exception. But it does suck you in a tell a powerful story. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. Giving real events fantastic explanations always puts me off. The Underground Railroad actually happened and the real story doesn’t need that kind of embellishment. But still. It’s incredibly well written, and while I’m usually not one for literary works, this one definitely kept me interested.
  8. Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen – This is a fun time travel story that follows an agent trapped in the past (circa 2030) who has to start his life over again, only to get pulled back to his present (2142). It’s typical time travel complicated (not too confusing) and spends more time on the family relationships than the hard science, making for an enjoyable read.
  9. Autonomous by Annalee Newitz – A sci-fi Law and Order of sorts, that follows a do-gooder pirate drug dealer and the robot agent tracking her down. Set in the mid-22nd century, this is the kind of story that can often can too weird and far out to follow. But it’s really engaging and interesting, throwing in all kinds of history and bringing us along with out being too fantastical or unrealistic. 
  10. Fool’s War by Sarah Zettel – This was a really fun space adventure that dove into artificial intelligence and the potential threats they pose. That sounds like it could be a little too heady, but the author managed it in a pretty approachable, fast-paced manner. Kept me hooked. I’m also impressed the sci-fi concepts from more than 20 years ago really held up. There’s also an interesting sub-thread where the main character is Muslim. It doesn’t have that much to do with the overall story, but it’s an engaging piece we don’t often see.
  11. The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson – I was really excited to see another novel from Ms. Marvel co-creator G. Willow Wilson. Overall it was a good read, but I felt like I really wasn’t hooked until the second half. The flight of Fatima and Hassan didn’t hook me like it should have, and it wasn’t until Gwennec came on the scene that the story really took off. I think the story felt more conflicted then, and it resonated a lot more. All in all, it’s a different kind of fantasy novel, and that’s part of what I love about Wilson’s writing.
  12. The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan – I have a soft spot for books about book lovers. This love letter to book lovers is just a fun read about a librarian who loses her job and starts a mobile bookstore in rural Scotland, falling in love along the way. 
  13. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech – Oh Gooseberry. What a wonderfully sad little story about change and loss.
  14. The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz – This is a fun time travel story (if a story with lots of murder can be called fun) in a world where time travel is normalized. It’s all about men’s rights advocates trying to edit women’s rights away while a group of feminists try to defend the timeline. It’s a little mind-bending, but if you don’t dwell on that it’s lots of good fun.
  15. Erasure by Percival Everett – I find Percival Everett’s work to be so beguiling. In some ways it feels like I’m reading snobbish literary fiction, the kind that bores me, but then it take interesting twists and is written in a style that pulls me in. Erasure is no different. The main character, Monk, is a prolific but virtually unknown author and professor, a not-too-far-off caricature of Everett himself. Disgusted by a popular ghetto novel, Monk decides to write his own parody and pass it off as someone else’s—and of course it becomes wildly successful making Monk rich. We get the entire novel Monk writes, making for a bizarre novel-within-a-novel experience. Overall, it’s a weird book, but also so intriguing. 

Let’s give an honorable mention to Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories by Naomi Kritzer. As much as I like stories, I have a hard time with short story collections. I often can’t even finish them. But this one I devoured. Kritzer’s latest novel is in my Christmas stack, and I can’t wait to read it.

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: 201820172016201520142013, and 2012.

2019 Reading List

I read 107 books in 2019.

It’s nowhere near my record, but it is up slightly from last year.

2001-2019 reading numbers

My reading still hasn’t returned to 2012-2016 levels, but I suspect that has a lot to do with continued rejection of YA and middle grade stories (only 11% this year, last year it was 25%). Sci-fi amounted to 37%, pushing up from a third or less in previous years.

Here are my top 15 fiction books of 2019, top 10 non-fiction of 2019, and my diversity stats for the year.

Continue reading 2019 Reading List

Fine Forgiveness Week at Dakota County Library: April 6-13, 2019

Library fines may seem like a minor annoyance, but when those fines add up you can be blocked from using the library.  The blocking threshold is $25 for adults and $10 for kids. That can lock people out of vital resources. And the people with the greatest difficulty paying fines are the ones most in need of the library’s free resources.

23,000 people are currently blocked in the Dakota County Library system. 

That’s a lot of people shut out of books, resources, and internet access.

Thankfully there’s a solution. For the week of April 6-13, 2019, Dakota County Libraries are hosting Fine Forgiveness Week. Simply use your library account online or in-person during the week and your fines will be waived.  Continue reading Fine Forgiveness Week at Dakota County Library: April 6-13, 2019

2018 Reading Statistics

I’ve given my total reading numbers for 2018 and my favorite fiction and non-fiction books, now it’s time to look at some stats.

I’ve been tracking my reading stats for a while. It’s a good way to actually gauge my progress and encourage diversity in the books I read.

Counting these numbers can be hard, but here’s how I do it: I base gender 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 my numbers for 2018:

  • 55% POC books.
  • 70% female authors.

Here’s how that compares to previous years:

Graph of 2018 female authors and POC books.

It’s also helpful to compare it to my total reading:

Chart of total reading, female authors, and POC books for 2018.

It’s encouraging to see these numbers stay high. POC books slipped a bit from last year, but having it over 50% is good. The percentage of female authors hit a new high. That might not seem like a number worth paying attention to in the 21st century, but I’ve had years when J.K. Rowling was the only female author I read. Continue reading 2018 Reading Statistics

Top 7 Non-Fiction of 2018

I read 101 books in 2018 and about a quarter were non-fiction. I often say I don’t like non-fiction as much, but I still manage to read a fair amount.

Here are some of the year’s best:

  1. Run for Something: A Real-Talk Guide to Fixing the System Yourself by Amanda Litman – It’s quite fitting to have this guide for running for political office in the top spot in the year of the 2018 midterm elections when I became more politically engaged than I’ve ever been (and no, I’m not running for office).
  2. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown – Straight talk on race.
  3. The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever by Jamie Wright – A funny memoir on being a missionary.
  4. Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison – Some engaging vignettes and illustrations.
  5. For Every One by Jason Reynolds – Inspiration from a prolific writer.
  6. Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story by Martin Luther King Jr. – Reading about the nuts and bolts of an incredible civil rights campaign is pretty amazing.
  7. Together We Rise: Behind the Scenes at the Protest Heard Around the World by the Women’s March Organizers and Conde Nast – And reading more nuts and bolts about an incredible protest is also pretty amazing.

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 non-fiction lists: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012.

Top 10 Fiction of 2018

I may have read 101 books in 2018, but I’ve been in an ongoing reading slump. Makes it harder to choose a top 10.

I think I made the same complaint last year. These are good books, but I’m not sure they’re books I’d run up and down the street with. Those are becoming harder and harder to find.

I’m also not sure how well these lists hold up over time. After all, I did put Octavia Butler’s Kindred at #6 in my 2013 list. It’s probably one of my favorite books.

But aside from all that, I think it is a fun collection of books.

  1. Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray – A robot falls in love would be the cliche way to pitch this book, but it was a much more fun and engaging adventure than that trite description would have you believe.
  2. A Live Coal in the Sea by Madeleine L’Engle – I love the way L’Engle weaves this whole complicated story together.
  3. All Systems Red by Martha Wells – The opening chapter of the Murderbot diaries is gripping, fast-paced and fun.
  4. The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan – This was a lovely little book. It also has cliche potential, but it was just a wonderful tale.
  5. A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain – I almost wrote this one off early, but it really shines.
  6. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland – Zombies in the Civil War. Need I say more?
  7. Front Lines by Michael Grant – If women were drafted in World War II. It’s an interesting thought experiment and artfully executed.
  8. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid – A beautifully written bit of speculative fiction (this is the kind of book that helps you understand the difference between sci-fi and speculative fiction).
  9. Sunny by Jason Reynolds – My favorite installment of the Track series, this one just has a delightful quality.
  10. The Last Good Man by Linda Nagata – A fast-paced futuristic military thriller.

And let’s give an honorable mention to What Alice Forgot by Alice Moriarty. I had a rocky time reading it (listened to part of the audio book, slept through some of it, then read the rest), but I really liked the way it explored the overdone amnesia ground in a fresh way.

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: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012.