Deep Kindness

I’m nearly halfway through the kindness book, and already it’s making a difference. No, I have not become a better, kinder person overnight, but I have begun to take notice.

A Year of Living Kindly: Choices That Will Change Your Life and the World Around You, by Donna Cameron, can be read in many ways. It comprises 52 chapters in 12 sections. You could read a section a month, a chapter a week, or just pick it up and read a chapter whenever you feel like it (which is the way I’m doing it). The chapters are short, generally 3 to 5 pages, and invariably give me something to think about.

I don’t underline in most of the books I read, but this one I am. As I finish each section (five so far), I’m writing to the friend who gave me the book, telling her what stood out for me in each chapter. Now she’s rereading the book and we discuss it each time we meet for lunch (she’s saving the cards so we can discuss later as she reads at her own pace). What fine conversations we’re having!

Here are some of the things that stood out for me in the first part of the book:

In the introduction, Cameron calls kindness a “superpower that has the capacity to transform lives and change the world.” Hmmm. That’s a bit of a tall order. I will wait and see.

In the first chapter, she talks about the difference between niceness and kindness. “Nice doesn’t ask too much of us. It isn’t all that hard to be nice. In fact, it’s easy. It’s also benign. Passive. Safe.” Kind people go beyond what’s expected of them; they go beyond the easy response. And they do it without expectation of anything in return. I am a nice person, but I am not a particularly kind person. Occasionally yes, certainly. I rarely go beyond the expected response, and I usually do expect something in return—like gratitude or a thank you.

As you can see, I have a ways to go.

One particular thing the author says in the early pages really caught my attention. She’s talking about how she’s been practicing kindness for over a year now, and she’s getting better at it.

But there are still days when, as soon as words come out of my mouth, I recognize that they were not especially kind words and contributed nothing of value.”

That made me stop and think about my own speech, and it has stayed with me. How many times every day do I say words that are not especially kind and contribute nothing of value? Far too many, I will tell you. But there is good news already: I have started to take notice of it (“That wasn’t very kind, was it?”) and I think my behavior is already slowly starting to improve. Not bad for page 24, huh?

There’s a lot of research on kindness out there, and they’re finding that acts of kindness have a positive effect on the body’s immune system, and they produce serotonin (the brain’s happy chemical). Interestingly, the recipient of the act of kindness also experiences the positive effect on the immune system and the serotonin, and—wait, there’s more!!—even bystanders who simply OBSERVE the kind act get the immune and serotonin effects! Seriously, who knew besides all these researchers and everyone who’s read this book?

It gets even better: Kindness is contagious. The giver of the kind act, the recipient, and, again, the observers are all more likely to go on and do kind acts, and it doesn’t stop there. It spreads outwards to three degrees of separation. So my kind act will cause those around me (or at least increase the likelihood) to also commit kind acts, and then those observers will commit kind acts, and the observers of those acts will commit kind acts. That’s quite a potential effect.

But even if every act doesn’t go that deep, there’s always the potential. You just never know.

On the other side of the fence, rude behavior acts in a similar manner. People who experience rude behavior are more likely to subsequently behave rudely, and even those who simply observe the rude interaction are more likely to engage in their own form of rudeness.

And there I was, stopped in my tracks again. What? A rude behavior on my part can precipitate three degrees of rudeness? Now there’s a motivator. At so many given junctures I can choose to be kind or rude. Either act will have a ripple effect on those around.

As I pondered the numbers, I realized that if more people increase kindness and decrease rudeness, then kindness will spread. And if it does indeed affect observers as well as actors, and to three degrees, it could spread quite quickly.

And that would be a very good thing. I’m going to give it a try.

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Emotional Maturity

I honestly thought (assumed, really) that by the time I got well into adulthood, I would become wise and emotionally mature. No more temper tantrums or sulking. No jealousy, no resentments (that I can’t get past no matter how hard I try).

Holy cow, was I wrong.

While it’s true that I don’t sulk nearly as much as I used to, that’s only because a friend called me on it. We were on a road trip, and I didn’t get my way on something, and after an hour of me sulking in the car, she said something along the lines of, “So are you just going to sulk all day, or what?” Well.

Apparently, I thought in my wee mind that nobody noticed my sulking. Or at least if it was noticed, there was a tacit rule that it not be mentioned. But I think mostly I thought it was somehow not that noticeable. Why, I cannot say. Is there any behavior more annoying in a friend than sulking? It’s annoying in children and even more annoying in adults.

I’m embarrassed to admit that this event took place in my 40s. I’m pleased to admit, however, that it effected immediate change. What? You can see my sulk? That behavior ended that very day. Not without an occasional backslide, I’m sure. But it was quite a verbal slap to the face, and I am ever grateful to my friend for pointing out my poor behavior. I still feel sulky once in a while, wishing I had gotten my way. But now I usually either say something or just get over it. The hours-long sulk is behind me. Which goes to show that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

And resentment. Don’t get me going on resentment. I don’t think I’ve made one iota of progress on that front. When I was young I could carry a grudge longer than god, and that hasn’t changed much. Oh, except that I don’t get grudgeful nearly as often. But still the grudge is inside and it festers. Why can’t I let these things go? Years ago I said something that offended a friend. They demanded an apology. I said I wanted to tell my side. They said I didn’t have a side, and apologize or the friendship is over. Well, I apologized, but of course as you know, the friendship was over.

I’m still not sure to this day whether I’m more outraged or flabbergasted, that a friend would tell me in any kind of disagreement, “You don’t have a side.” Who says that? A judge, perhaps. A dictator, certainly. A czar, a despot, a tyrant.

Forgiveness. Definitely not my strong suit.

It all feels so petty. I thought I would be past this by now.

In a somewhat different realm is worry. Worry can be useful if it reminds you to do things. But once you’ve done everything and you’re still obsessing, worry becomes less useful, and it can even become debilitating. I used to swirl in worry, but I’ve learned (or been taught) some tricks: food and drink often serve as an excellent distraction, especially if the food is good and the drink is hoppy. Getting out in nature almost always soothes my soul, and if I can manage at least two hours, sometimes the worry moves away like the clouds. I can also find solace in physical activity: raking, weeding, doing dishes, cleaning out storm drains.

So this is a bit of progress, a bit of maturity. I’ve found some productive outlets (detours?) for my emotions.

I began drafting this post weeks ago (some posts are tougher than others) and just a few days ago I got an amazing (to me) gift from a friend. A book, A Year of Living Kindly: Choices That Will Change Your Life and the World Around You, by Donna Cameron. While kindness is not exactly an emotion, it sure seems to be tied to a lot of emotions that would not well entertain things like sulking, resentment, and worry.

I am intrigued. I was originally going to write, “I don’t think kindness is a panacea for my emotional immaturity” but I couldn’t do so, because now that I think about it, it might indeed be a cure. I mean, if you really think about it, kindness might well be the cure for many things. Maybe even for everything.

Could kindness save the world? Stay tuned.

Hate Speech: Liberal Style

“All Republicans should die.”

That’s what a liberal friend said to me at lunch a few weeks ago. It gives one pause, doesn’t it? Well, at least I hope it does, whether you’re liberal, conservative, in between or above or below.

I’ve been hearing a lot of such sentiments from my many liberal friends. (Mind you, I’m a liberal myself, which is why I have so many liberal friends.)

I am of an age where I think of the Democrats and the liberals as the party of love. But over the last two years in particular, it’s gotten to a point where politics are off limits in many of my friendships. It’s a rabbit hole of negativity.

I am particularly concerned when people my friends use broad terms, like “all Republicans.” Like assuming that every asshole on the road is a Republican (I know several liberals who are bad drivers and one that might qualify as an asshole—on the road, I mean). It’s the sweeping nature of the condemnation that bothers me.

Republicans, like Democrats, come in all sizes, shapes and colors. I happen to have some Republicans that I respect in my life. My father is one of them (even though he’s dead now). He was super conservative and I was radically liberal, but we always managed to find common ground (sometimes with difficulty, and most often in the realm of economics). And I learned some of the things about why he was conservative (e.g., a small-business owner dealing with one-size-fits-all government regulations) and that has helped me to understand conservatives in a small way.

Which is to say, they are not all alike. I expect there are as many reasons for being conservative as there are for being liberal.

And for this reason, I suspect that liberals and conservatives might have a lot more in common on a lot of issues than they realize. We box each other into categories and demonize the worst in each other. So easy to do, and almost expected. A knee-jerk reaction.

A potential remedy: The next time you’re in a situation with someone on the opposite side of the political fence, spend some time finding what you have in common. It might not be as hard as you think. Talk about books or health care. Or maybe the number of people in prison. Or the price of soybeans.

Just…talk.

Black History Month (and reading themes)

February is a small reading quandary for me. It’s Black History Month, which makes me want to read a lot of Black writing—African American, Somali, Cuban—so many Black voices. So many books I want to read.

The reading theme for February is Love and Death. Now this seems like it would be a really broad field, doesn’t it? And I do have plenty on top of plenty in the fiction department. But nonfiction is a near total bust (two books, and I had to expand beyond love to eros to get two). I have zero books in the death category, and no, I do not want to read Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Even poetry is skimpy, with four books (two love, one death, and another stretchy eros).

What’s a reader to do? In my case, I say, read as much as you like for the theme, and don’t forget about Black History Month.

Happily, I have the February theme covered in one book, An Inquiry Into Love and Death, by Simone St. James. (I am a bit of a sucker for the gothic novel, and this is a good one.)

Moving on to Black History Month, I have one book that clearly fits the monthly reading theme, Anything We Love Can Be Saved, by Alice Walker. (What is going on with me? Why do I have so little love and death in my nonfiction? Poetry as well. Mind you, fiction is teeming with love and death. What is that about?)

Oh, but wait. There’s this one book I’ve been wanting to read—still—since I got it several years ago (often the shine wears off, but not with this one). This is the beauty of a scanty theme month—finally getting to the book you keep looking at, the one I keep hoping will fit a theme, but it never does. But I think that’s it for white authors this month. I am a big fan of immersion reading. For the most part, I intend to spend February on Black writers.

I predict that a large portion of these books will be fiction. Oh, there will be nonfiction and poetry as well. But fiction has an important place. Fiction is most likely to put me in someone else’s shoes; to have me crying, to understand the injustice—almost experience it in a visceral way—as happens with the best fiction. I learn more factually from nonfiction; I learn more emotionally and socially from fiction.

Top of the pile: Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Spots two and three are taken by Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Warrior, and N.K. Jemisin’s Kingdom of the Gods. Both of these books are parts of trilogies that I started last year (Okorafor’s first book, and the first two of Jemisin’s). I liked both of the trilogies, mind you; it’s just that for me, a little SF/fantasy goes a long way, and perhaps I should have had closure on the first trilogy before starting the second. But I do so like Okorafor, I couldn’t stop myself. Also on my radar as of today (it’s amazing what you don’t see until you look at a stack of books eight times)—A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest J. Gaines (which actually ties into the theme, and how did I not notice that before?).

The singular nonfiction that is at the top of the pile is Phoebe Robinson’s Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay. Her first book, You Can’t Touch My Hair, was my favorite book last year.

Happy reading to you, and happy Black History Month. Read an old favorite or discover someone new. I hope to do both!

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.

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.