Resolutions: 2019

I have a thing about making New Year’s resolutions, and I have for maybe 20 years or so now. I really like them. I usually make three (that’s not a firm rule, but I’ve found it’s a good number to manage) and I usually keep them. (Not always. More to come on that.)

Resolutions for 2019:

Resolution 1: I’m keeping a gratitude journal. I decided to do this in late November, and got so excited about the idea that I started early (December 19). I’ve missed a couple of days, but given it’s been over a month now, that’s not too bad! The birds in my backyard figure highly in my gratitude, as do my friends, the sun (at least in winter), and books.

Resolution 2: Postcard Projects. I’m lumping all my postcard projects in one resolution. I have three postcard projects for 2019—my daily haiku postcard (that I’ve been doing since 2013—I can hardly believe that!); a weekly postcard to my niece (I started this last year and it’s been so fun, and we’ve gotten to know each other so much better, that I’m happy to continue it); and a weekly postcard to my brother (I started this in the fall of last year, and he’s been responding by text, and that’s been a lot of fun). No political postcard projects this year. I’ve found the family postcard projects much more rewarding.

Resolution 3: May Baskets. I don’t believe I made this resolution last year, because I was so sure I would just do it and didn’t need to resolve. But then we had that god-awful April blizzard and I just couldn’t do May Baskets because it still felt like winter. So, May Baskets go back on the resolution list, because it’s a thing I really like to do. It has introduced a small bit of playfulness in the neighborhood.

Resolution 4: This is also a postcard project, but so different, it is its own resolution. This is my big resolution for the year. The idea is this: I send out a lot of postcards every year, and to do this, I have collected large quantities of postcards. Lots of the boxes I get contain (which I miswrote complain) duplicates. And some postcards I’ve had for years never seem to fit anything—a haiku, a missive, a greeting—but perhaps they would be the perfect card for someone else. My postcards are crowding me out, and thus is born the Community Postcard Project, or, more simply, little free postcards.

Here it is in a nutshell: I cull cards out of my postcard collection and stamp them and bring them to local businesses to leave out for customers. I am completely excited about the idea. Why? Perhaps you think I’m nuts. Here’s my logic:

(1) People who get something free or unexpected—even change in a phone booth (yes, old research), are more likely to do something nice for someone they run into (e.g., buy them coffee, hold a door open) than those who didn’t. (2) Stamped mail is much more likely to be mailed than unstamped mail. People hate wasting stamps. I know this is true for me. So I stamp all the postcards I put out there. If someone grabs a postcard at a coffee shop because it catches their eye, my logic goes like this (hypothetically, of course):

The customer walks out of the shop feeling good because in addition to her usual experience, she has a free stamped postcard that she thinks is quite beautiful. Should I send it to my cousin? At the bus stop she notices a woman struggling with a stroller, and helps. The customer gets home, and decides to send the postcard to her mother instead. Her mother is thrilled (they talk on the phone a lot, but she doesn’t get much personal mail).

 Hmm. Maybe the next time I go to the coffee shop, they’ll have more free postcards, and I’ll send this one to my cousin.

Happy customers return, and recommend others (well, unless they want to keep the postcard thing to themselves).

While I get rid of postcards I don’t want, others get a beautiful/fun thing free. With luck, at least 50% of those people send the stamped postcards to someone, who might be particularly thrilled to get personal mail (as I always am) and do something nice for someone else. I can’t speculate far beyond that, but I think there is a fairly high happiness quotient in this stamped postcard project from many perspectives.

Sure, eventually I’ll run out of postcards and stamps. But think of all the happiness. Think of all the potential connections.

And maybe it will catch on. Maybe when I run out of steam the businesses and their customers will carry on. Maybe even before I lose steam (let’s not forget the best-case scenario).

Why? Why am I doing this crazy thing? Well, first off, postcard stamps are pretty cheap. It only costs $7 to send 20 postcards. And just thinking of 20 people happy to get fun postcards (I forgot to mention earlier the satisfaction one gets from filling out and mailing personal mail—it’s a wonderful thing; almost as good as getting personal mail), that in itself is a good reward.

But also, it could catch on, and that’s my hope. Little free postcard boxes everywhere. Who doesn’t have postcards sitting around their house? This is my long-term dream goal.

It could happen. You never know.

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Favorite Books of 2018

The first week of January I usually go over the list of books I read the prior year and make a list of my favorites. Note, these are the books I read in 2018, not necessarily books published in 2018. (In fact, very few are from 2018 as I rarely buy hardcover books.) They are in approximate rank order of favorites, though on any given day the order will likely change (though I don’t think there would be much movement in the top 3).

For those of you curious about such things, I read 123 books last year (that’s a kind of fun number, isn’t it?)—more poetry than anything else, but fairly evenly balanced with fiction and nonfiction. My list, however, is not at all balanced, running heavily nonfiction. I have not been in much of a fiction place for the last year or so. A book really has to knock my socks off to make an impression. That’s probably reflected in my list. Also, I read a lot more light/escapist fiction than nonfiction. Light books can be a nice diversion, but they tend not to have staying power.

In contrast, these favorite books have staying power, often occupying my thoughts for days after I finish the book, and sometimes much longer. Here are the books that I most loved in 2018:

1. You Can’t Touch My Hair, by Phoebe Robinson is hands-down the best book I read in 2018. I recommended it to more people and learned more from it than any other book I read last year. This is a race-based book, mostly focused on black women. It is very direct, and will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but most of the friends I’ve recommended it to have also loved it. Some have even recommended it to others.

2. The Sun Is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon is one of the few fiction books on the list. This is a YA novel, but I’ve been recommending it to my friends and it has been well received. I liked it so much I didn’t want to put it down, and read it in one day (344 pages—not long, but not a novella). Highly recommended to one and all, and especially people interested in immigration issues. The only thing I regret about this book is that I got it from the library, so now I don’t have my own copy.

3. Homer’s Odyssey, by Gwen Cooper was a surprise December find. It was mentioned at Thanksgiving dinner; I got it from the library in early December. I expected this memoir about a blind cat to be sad (possibly even pathetic) but it was the opposite. Little Homer is just a crackerjack; an intrepid explorer, and a charmer. If you like cats, you might want to meet Homer.

4. After the Stroke, by May Sarton. I’ve loved all of May Sarton’s journals, and this was no exception. This is the first time I’ve read this particular journal (I have reread several of her others) so that made After the Stroke particularly refreshing. This journal focuses primarily on her recovery from a stroke—both regaining her physical strength and her writing strength. A lovely book.

5. My Cat Saved My Life, by Phillip Schreibman. Apparently 2018 was a good year in cat books for me! This short memoir is too short to really say much about without giving away the store. If you like cats at all (or are thinking about getting a cat, or like reading books about people and animals) check it out. Can easily be read in an afternoon, though I stretched it out over several days.

6. Grace, Eventually, by Anne Lamott. Lamott is one of my favorite spiritual writers. She’s good at reminding me of things that I need reminding of; she’s got a wry sense of humor; she makes me think; and sometimes she comes up with good suggestions for every day life.

7. The Panther and the Lash, by Langston Hughes. Poetry of great power. This was a reread for me, and while I liked it the first time I read it, I loved it this second time.

8. Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, by Krista Tippett. This book is based on a wide variety of people that Tippett has interviewed over the years, which she portrays through five categories: words, flesh, love, faith, and hope. I am quite sure I will reread this book.

9. Great Tide Rising, by Kathleen Dean Moore. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say this book made me look forward to climate change, it certainly made me dread it less. It gave me both hope and faith, and gave me some good ideas about changes I can make and things I can do as an individual that can indeed help save the world.

10. Slow Medicine, by Victoria Sweet. Sweet, herself a medical doctor, tells the story of things she learned—both fast and slow—in medical school, internships, and residencies. Based on the concept of the slow food movement, Sweet suggests that while fast medicine is good for many things (e.g., broken bones, heart attacks) it would be well complemented with slow medicine, which is often good at those very things that fast medicine has more trouble with (chronic conditions like eczema, for example). I found it fascinating and it got me interested in traditional Chinese medicine.

11. Covering Rough Ground, by Kate Braid is an excellent, fun book of poetry that I truly enjoyed. These poems focus on her experience as carpenter, a rare woman in a world of men. A book of wonderful empowering poems.

12. Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, by Nadia Bolz-Weber is not your typical spiritual read, but Bolz-Weber is not your typical pastor (or pastrix, if you will—the derogatory label that she has adopted with pride). She is quite profane and takes no shit. Unconventional to be sure. Interesting? Yes. Compelling? Yes. Did I learn something? Yes. Will I read her again? Absolutely.

13. Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly. I read this book after I saw the movie of the same title, which I loved. For those of you who missed it, this is the story of African American women and the roles they played at NASA and in the space program. The book is quite different from the movie, as per usual, since it’s difficult to get a whole book into a 2-hour movie. The book has a lot more background information and a lot more science, more people and more relationships. I loved both the book and the movie. Don’t make me choose.

14. Reflections on Aging, by Bruce McBeath & Robin Wipperling is almost a coffee table book. As I was reading through it, I thought it a bit skimpy and light. But. Later I went back to it, looking for a snippet I remembered, and found myself rereading huge chunks. Found myself saying, “I should reread this every five years.” And I think I will.

15. Now the Green Blade Rises, by Elizabeth Spires, is a poetry book that had been on my to-read shelf for over a decade. Why in the world did it take me so long to discover this poet? Delightful poems. And she has several more books; so much to discover!

16. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce was my final book of the year. This is a rather quirky novel about a man’s pilgrimage to visit a dying friend, and the impact the journey has on him, his relationships, and total strangers. An excellent book to wrap up the year.

That’s it. The best of 2018, from where I’m sitting in Minnesota.

What was your favorite book of 2018?

Rollout: 2019 Monthly Book Themes

Last month my friend Sheila and I set aside a special day to identify our monthly book themes for 2019. This is always a fun afternoon that we both look forward to, and this time was no different. Without further ado, here are the monthly reading themes for 2019:

January: Questions. This includes any book that has a title that’s a question, has a question mark, contains any of the usual question words (who, what, where, when, how, why), or is questionable. Fun titles from poetry include Held for Questioning, Second Guesses, and Ask. Since this theme is right around the corner, I already have a small stack of potentials. I’m most excited about Prius or Pickup? by Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler (looking at the political divide). Sheila and I are reading this one together, and I think it will make for good discussion.

Other books I’m excited about in January include Where We Stand: Class Matters, by bell hooks; and What Matters? Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth, by Wendell Berry. Starting the new year with a Wendell Berry book seems like a really good idea. In the fiction realm, I was pleased to see that the next Louise Penny mystery that I’m up to fits the theme: How the Light Gets In. That will be my first fiction of the year. And I think it will be followed by How to Find Love in a Bookshop, by Veronica Henry (called “a love letter to books and the shops that sell them”—that seems like another very good start to the year).

February: Love & Death. The book can have either word in the title to qualify, but I have one top runner already, with Simone St. James’s An Inquiry into Love and Death. That just leapt off my shelves. I haven’t done any looking ahead for this theme. I wonder which will be more plentiful—love or death?

March: Geography. This one is really broad, such that common geography words like city, country, town, in a title would work; as well as proper nouns: Minnesota, Africa, Alberta. The books will be falling off the shelves for this theme. I only have two books in mind so far: The Rain in Portugal, by Billy Collins; and The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, by Margareta Magnusson, which Sheila and I have talked about maybe reading together. (Although now that I think about it, Death Cleaning could also fit into February, if we’re in a hurry (or there is a dearth of nonfiction in that theme). It will be a perfect February-March bridge book!

April: Men. This is also a very broad theme, and I expect it to be loads of fun. It encompasses books with any common male reference (men, boy, he, brother, etc.) in the title as well as books with proper male names. On my nearby shelf I find, for example, My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Family’s Past, by Ariel Sabar; White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era, by Michael Kimmel; The One-in-a-Million Boy, by Monica Wood; and The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, by Phaedra Patrick. That only skims the very surface. This will be another theme where the books fall into my hands.

May: Black & Blue. Yes, that sounds a little macabre, but we were throwing around individual colors as themes. A black theme? A blue theme? Will there be enough books with the specific colors? So we decided to combine them. Why not black and blue in May? I don’t have much in mind for this one yet, though there is a new (to me) mystery writer I want to check out, and she has two books which fit the theme: Black Water Rising (which is the first in a series set in Texas); and Bluebird, Bluebird, a stand alone—both by Attica Locke.

June: Size. Another one I’m looking forward to, it includes any reference to size: small, medium, large, giant, huge, etc. in the title. One book has jumped off the shelf for this one: The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, by Tiffany Baker. This could be the month to read Little, Big, by John Crowley (daunting in size but I’ve heard such good things). In nonfiction, I’m looking forward to Sleeping Giant: The Untapped Economic and Political Power of America’s New Working Class, by Tamara Draut.

July: Water. Titles including the word water, also lake, river, puddle, rain, ocean, bay, etc. I think this will be so easy I won’t even start looking for titles until the end of June. The one book I do have in mind is Daughters of the Lake, by Wendy Webb (a local author I’m quite fond of).

August: Women. This is the same as the April theme of men, but this time for women. The nearby shelf provides: The Alice Network, by Kate Quinn; The Girl with All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey; and Eve, by Elissa Elliott. This is a repeat theme from last year (we obviously both loved it).

September: Literary Forms. This is also a repeat theme, but from a few years ago. For this theme, the title should contain a literary form (e.g., book, letter, chapter, play, poem, verse, handbook, memoir, diary, etc.). I don’t have anything on tap for this yet, but I have so many books with the word “book” in the title that I’m covered right there. (Not that I would ever care to be that samey.)

October: Pronouns. Basically any title containing a pronoun (he, she, they, we, I, us, etc.). There will be tons of these. On tap so far: I am, I am, I am, by Maggie O’Farrell; and Republican Like Me, by Ken Stern. I’m sure books will start falling off the shelf months before October arrives.

November: Taste. Any title with a flavor/taste in it—e.g., sweet, sour, bitter, salty; but also to taste food, so any title with sip, sample, bite, savor. It’s a kind of fun heady mix, and I think it will be a great reading theme for November. I have one book on my radar so far: Umami, by Laia Jufresa. Plenty of time to grow this list!

December: Prize Winners. These are books that have won any sort of prize—Pulitzer, National Book Award, Orange, Hugo, any old award at all will do. This is also a repeat. I don’t have anything in mind for this yet but I’m sure a few good books will make themselves known by next December.

Happy New Year a little early, and I wish you many good books in the new year.

A Reading Odyssey

The reading theme for December is Journey (especially a spiritual journey). We seriously considered scrapping this theme because it seemed so narrow. But then we decided to make it personal. What book might be a spiritual journey for each of us (or just a journey in general). That opened the gates, and we decided to stick with the theme.

And then at Thanksgiving, our host was telling us about a book he had read, a memoir, Homer’s Odyssey, about a blind cat. He highly recommended it, and I realized it would be a good fit for the December theme. (Full title: Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, Or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat, by Gwen Cooper.)

I’m about two-thirds through and it’s an absolute delight. I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book where a cat and a person seem like soul mates, but these two—well, they potentiate each other, they make each other stronger. It could just as well have been called Gwen Cooper’s Odyssey, but that’ not nearly so catchy in a title. A lovely book and a fantastic December read. If you like cats even a wee bit, I highly recommend this book.

Each chapter of Homer’s Odyssey begins with an epigraph from The Odyssey (by the Homer who is not a cat). It gave me a nudge to read it again (I read The Odyssey in college), and I went to get it off the shelf. I couldn’t find it! Iliad and Metamorphoses yes, but not The Odyssey.

Library to the rescue! But wait. There are a lot of holds on this book that is thousands of years old. What gives? Ah, a new translation. By what? A woman? A woman! Homer, translated by a woman! So I signed on. Finally, today, a copy came up for me: The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson.

Yikes! It’s 582 pages! Oh, but wait. The first 100 pages are intro, maps, and notes (I skip all this except the maps and the note from the translator). At the end there are 50 pages of notes, and these include a summary for each of the 24 books in The Odyssey. (I find this a nice back-up. Good to know that if I get confused about what’s going on, I can just turn to the back of the book for a bit of clarification.) I’ve only just started, but already I’m quite excited to read it.

I’ve been dawdling through Homer’s Odyssey, simply because I’m enjoying it so much. But it’s time to get a move on. There are other journeys to be had this month. I picked up another book at the library today, Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World, by A.J. Swoboda. Now, doesn’t that sound like a spiritual journey? Or how about Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy, by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone? I’ve also been considering a reread of The Crone: Woman of Age, Wisdom, and Power, by Barbara G. Walker. So many options and only half the month left.

In the fiction realm, I’m going to read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry alongside The Odyssey. And while I try to avoid reading similar books at the same time, I don’t think I’ll get confused between these two male journeys. (But wouldn’t it be funny if I did?) If there’s any time left in the month, I’m looking at After Life, by Rhian Ellis—a book I’ve had for 10 years, and I pull it off the shelf and say, “Why haven’t I read you yet?” Maybe this will be the time. Ann Patchett called it “exquisitely written and a thrill to read.”

Last month’s theme was health. My favorite book was After the Stroke, a journal by May Sarton. I have loved all her journals, but I think this is my favorite one yet (perhaps excepting Journal of a Solitude). The other best book of the month was Slow Medicine, by Victoria Sweet, M.D. This got me interested in traditional Chinese medicine, and now I’m reading a book about that. It’s complex and I’m reading it slowly, but it’s fascinating. When I know more than a gnat, I might write a post about it.

For those of you in the north, take heart—the winter solstice is only a week away, and then the days will start getting longer.

Happy reading to all!

One Thing Leads to Another

Yesterday I didn’t get much on my to-do list done, but a series of events led me down some fun memory lanes. It all started with my decision to put a few tree ornaments on the small tree growing too close to the garage, but it’s so beautiful I couldn’t bear to pull it up when it was little, and every year I told myself I should and now it’s taller than me, and still I love this tree.

So I went to look through my tree ornaments which I haven’t touched for years (I don’t do a tree but that’s a different story), and I found several that seemed they would work on an outdoor tree (though none of the garden variety shiny red balls that I was hoping for—just one or two; it’s a small tree, after all).

At the bottom of one of the boxes of ornaments, I found a book I got from my aunt when I was in 2nd grade, A Christmas Story, by Mary Chalmers. It’s a very small book—a gift book, maybe 3×4 inches. I remember being shocked at getting what I considered a picture book in 2nd grade. I was quite insulted. It was a kid’s book! I’m pretty sure I didn’t say any of these things out loud.

Here’s the thing I didn’t get at the time: The main character is named Elizabeth (which just happens to be my name), and she is a little girl (hmmm, possibly 2nd grade or so?) who has to find a star for the Christmas tree she has just decorated with her friends, Harry Dog, Alice Rabbit, and Hilary Cat. I will not ruin the story by telling you how it ends. I treasured the book more and more over the years, and used to take it out every Christmas. But I moved and traditions changed, and it got packed away. But now that I’ve found it, it’s back on display for the season.

Also while looking for ornaments, I found a large bunch of Christmas cards from the early 2000s. Thinking this would be an easy dispatch and free up space in the box, I grabbed a large stack to go through. Another trip down memory lane. Pictures of friends with their little kids (who are now adults); cards and letters from graduate school friends; cards from former coworkers and former former coworkers. I haven’t finished going through them all. So many of my parents’ generation of relatives are dead, but they were not dead in the early 2000s, and it’s nice to be running into them again. I’m keeping more of these cards than I’d thought I would, because I figure if I enjoy going through them now (not all of them—some are being repurposed as postcards, and most are getting recycled) I’ll enjoy it every bit as much 10 years from now.

Some of these cards were from the same aunt (who also happened to be my favorite aunt and my godmother) who gave me The Christmas Story. She died four years ago, and I still miss her. I’m keeping all the cards from her that include significant personal notes. And all of this made me remember the ceramic Christmas tree that she made, and gave to my mom, and my mom gave to me many years later. I decided this was the year to put up the tree again. I knew exactly where it was, and on a whim decided to get it out right that minute. But it wasn’t where I was sure it was. It wasn’t in that closet at all, which caused pause. Where could it be? I sat down to read for awhile to let my brain relax and remember. And then I remembered exactly where in the basement it was. But no. And no and no and no.

And then I remembered the closet under the stairwell. It would be right up front. It was not. Sigh. What’s that box back there? Old books (shocking). Surely not that one way in the back—I reached, I tipped—ceramic tree! I tugged it out of the box (which did not want to come out from under the stairwell), and brought it into the kitchen to plug it in. But, what? No plug, no switch. I knew it lit up; that’s why I liked it so much. Did I miss something in the box?

I did indeed miss something in the box, and it was a big something that didn’t want to come out. So I hauled the box out over the top of all the other things in front of it, and a huge pile of photographs cascaded to the closet floor. Of course.

It’s a cramped closet so I pile up the photos and stick them on the shelf outside the closet. I get out the box and the bottom portion of the ceramic tree, plug it in, and it works! While it wasn’t really like my aunt was with me, it was in a little way.

And then I grabbed a bunch of photographs off the top of the pile, and took another trip down memory lane. They were nearly all from road trips I’ve taken around Minnesota with a good friend of mine. I thought the photos would be easy to cull, but my friend is such a good photographer, and he has such a good eye for mood, that I find I’m keeping far more than I’m tossing. And I have realized that there are so many good memories here, while I will do some culling, I want to organize rather than get rid of these photos. Already categories are emerging: quirky town monuments (we have a lot of these in Minnesota—Paul Bunyan, loons, Jolly Green Giant, chicken, walleyes—this could be its own post, and maybe will); nature shots; bird shots in particular; town names (often on water towers); various kinds of signs (road signs, billboards, street signs); and that was just a handful off the top. This could be a hugely fun project.

So the little tree outside is decorated, The Christmas Story is on top of the bookshelf, the ceramic tree casts its light again, I’ve more Christmas cards from years past to look through (and mostly recycle), and an entire photograph organizing project ahead of me.

Life is good. Happy December.

Of Winter Birds and Books

I had some fine winter birding today without even leaving the house. A few birds caught my eye as I was folding clothes this afternoon—a small flock of robins! I haven’t seen many robins since early September, so it was nice to see several. (While most robins move further south for the winter, a smallish number, about 10%, overwinter here.) I am hoping this flock stays in the neighborhood all winter. There’s nothing to bring a smile to your face in the winter like a flock of robins.

I watched the robins for quite a while. And then I noticed one that had a—what? Wait—a yellow band on the end of the tail? Really? I grab the binoculars at the top of the stairs, and sure enough, exactly what I thought: a cedar waxwing! But only one? How odd. Where you see one, usually there are several. Sometimes dozens. Of course I kept watching. And true to form, I spotted several more.

Cedar waxwings are not uncommon, but neither do I see them often around the house, so that was a special treat.

I looked closely at each waxwing, hoping one would turn out to be the much more elusive Bohemian waxwing, but no such luck. No complaints on that count, though.

Later in the back yard, I had cardinals (two male, one female), blue jays, and, for a brief period, a singing robin (not so very common in November and a lovely bit of cheer on a grey day).

For over a week I have had a small flock of cardinals visiting my feeders and bird bath, but recently the (heated) bird bath went on the fritz and I haven’t seen them in the last few days. I got a new heated bird bath, but then I was having trouble with the outlet (not so very bright not to check that first), but I think I may have gotten it fixed. Tomorrow will tell (it’s getting down to 17 degrees tonight).

And while I was watching the birds out the window, I decided it was finally time to compile all my lists of books read over the years into one spreadsheet. Right now, some are in a three-ring binder, some are lists in Word, and some are still in my desk calendars (which is where I track it through the year). I’m kind of excited about this and have already started. I have decades of lists of books that I’ve read. A good winter project.

When I went to get the three-ring binder, I discovered I had not written down the first names of any of the authors in the first year. This did not surprise me. But what horrified me is that I continued this. I didn’t bother to record the author’s first name for SEVEN years. The lists do evolve over time. After a few years I start adding book ratings. Years after that, I start making those ratings more consistent. And at some point, I started adding the length of the book.

And now, the next evolution: the searchable spreadsheet. All those titles in one place. Imagine!

I’m kind of excited about the whole thing. I’ve already done the first year. A fine trip down memory lane. (Wow, I was really into mysteries!)

Book Theme Update

Life is full of surprises. I was so excited about the October reading theme, Life, and had a nice stack of books waiting for me—two stacks, actually, one fiction and one nonfiction. (There’s also a poetry stack, but that’s in a different room.) There were many titles that I was quite excited about.

But when it came time to choose a new fiction book in early October, none of the titles in the stack appealed to me. I ended up reading only one fiction book for the theme, and that was a graphic novel, Get a Life, by Dupuy & Berberian. Instead I read a novel about books (The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, which I recommend) and a YA novel (Akata Witch, which I also recommend).

I read four poetry books, but none of them stood out, so I’ll just move on.

Nonfiction has been the standout in October. I’ve already written about Birds Art Life, by Kyo Maclear (see Life After Animals). The other theme book I read was Life Without a Recipe, by Diana Abu-Jaber (also discussed in Life After Animals), which I loved. Life Without a Recipe is a very food and family-oriented memoir, including recipes (both Jordanian and German).

November’s reading theme is Health. I do not have a large stack of books for this coming month, but that’s okay. I have one book I’m really looking forward to: Slow Medicine: The Way to Healing, by Victoria Sweet. Sweet is a physician and also has a Ph.D. in history. Still, this book looks compulsively readable. She considers medicine a craft, a science, and an art, and I can’t wait to read more. The Introduction is titled, “Medicine Without a Soul.” Does that feel familiar to you?

Since the pickings are a mite slim for the theme, I’m casting a wide net and realize that several of the books from the Life theme are defendable contenders. To wit: The End of Your Life Book-Club, by Will Schwalbe (a memoir of a book club between a son and his mother who is dying of cancer); Coming Alive, by Taylor Brorby; and Life Is a Miracle, by Wendell Berry. Is that too much of a stretch?

I have to come right out and admit: There is not a lot of health on my fiction bookshelves. Here is what I found: The Diagnosis, by Alan Lightman; Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri; The Wasties, by Frederick Reuss; and A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest J. Gaines (the latter may be a stretch, but there are no book theme police, so it’s in the pile).

My nonfiction shelves were moderately healthier. I found For the Health of the Land, by Aldo Leopold (his book, A Sand County Almanac, is one of my all-time favorite books—it changed the way I look at nature, and possibly life); Wounds of Passion, by bell hooks; My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor; Ill Fares the Land, by Tony Judt; and The Hidden Wound, by Wendell Berry.

Poetry nearly always has good theme titles, and this month is no exception:

  • Talking Cures, by Richard Howard
  • Tourniquet, by Roy Jacobstein
  • The Manageable Cold, by Timothy McBride
  • Echolalia, by Deborah Bernhardt
  • You Won’t Remember This, by Michael Dennis Browne
  • Swoon, by Victoria Redel
  • Breath, by Robert VanderMolen
  • Bodily Course, by Deborah Gorlin

I wish you a happy Halloween, and a healthy November filled with fun books.