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Best Book of 2021

So many books to choose from…

I bet you think I can’t do this, but I am. I’m going to narrow it down to just one book. Not necessarily the best book that came out this year but rather my pick for best book that I read this year. 

I put a lot of thought into it. I hemmed and hawed with fervor. I tried to choose specific criteria. Most relatable? Most touching? Most thought-provoking? 

I tried keeping you in mind. What book would I recommend the most? That process immediately branched off into a lot of paths. Because it depends on who you are and what you read. Do you like character-driven fiction (Anxious People) and exquisite storytelling (Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows and The Song of Achilles and The Book of Longings)? Do you like books that challenge you (Hood Feminism or Caste)? Do you want to like the main character (I Wish You All the Best), or do you get a thrill from an unreliable narrator you know is up to no good (You)

So I scrapped all my criteria and asked myself what book meant the most to me. What book – of all the ones I read – was exactly what I needed to read in 2021.

That book for me was The Hollow Kingdom.

That’s right. The zombie novel narrated by a crow (named Shit Turd, of course – ST, for short) who loves humans and wants to be one.

That look on your face right now? I feel that. The premise is odd as hell. And the author could have gotten real weird and super dark with it. 

(Real talk – I probably still would have read and enjoyed that.)

But it’s so clever. It’s funny and delightful. I swapped between reading the print version and listening to the audio on commutes, and I think I liked the audio better. The reader captures the characters well.

I love ST. This crow’s purity of heart and stubborn hopefulness is so endearing. ST’s unwavering belief in and love of humanity – even in the face of all of them becoming mindless zombies – makes me want to feel that way about humanity, too.

I don’t know if you would enjoy this book. It may be too strange for some people and too crass for others. Having a pretty high tolerance for both, though, I was able to enjoy all the delights that kept surprising me throughout the story. I loved a lot of the books I read this year, but The Hollow Kingdom was my favorite.  

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Resolving 2021

I’m participating in December Reflections, a challenge issued by Susannah Conway every year, and many of the prompts are things I want to include in my musings about how 2021 went. So I’m going to wrap up the end-of-year review now and leave the rest of the month to post specific moments that stand out.

This was one of those years that some resolutions really took off while others did not. I listed five main goals at the beginning of the year:

  1. Read 120 books.
  2. Write 300,000 words for my copywriting job.
  3. Make spaces in my home “more inviting.”
  4. Build a steady practice for art/music/dance/creation.
  5. Pursue joy.

I definitely exceeded the 120 mark for books. It’s only December 2, and I’m already at 128 for the year. This is good news beyond just meeting a goal. It means that, for the most part, my focus and time management have been pretty consistent, all things considered. 

I did not meet my word count goal for my copywriting job, and I’m at peace with that. I feel like the person who made that goal was basking in some vacation time and also maybe looking at a new pair of boots that would be easier to justify buying with a little extra cash on hand. One thing I’ve learned by making resolutions is that the most realistic goals are not set when I’m in the midst of enjoying time off. That self forgets she has a full-time job and gets super ambitious. Dreams are great, but so is not having to work 60 hours every week. A reasonable schedule. That’s the real dream.

Regarding the cozy spaces in my apartment…I mean…maybe? Sort of? The goal was a bit vague overall, so whether or not I met it is also vague. I did get two cute bookshelves from Steph that make the living room look better, and I made the office a more workable space. I still don’t have people coming over regularly (and frankly, I’ve enjoyed the reprieve), so I don’t have a lot of motivation to tidy. I organized the office better so that Maggie would have a place to sleep when she and Michelle spent the weekend in May, and I got bored and rearranged my bedroom during Icepocalypse. My home still doesn’t look the way I want it to most days, though. The changes I did make have given me so much joy, though, that I will likely make more specific goals for next year.

I have probably written more this year than the previous two or three years combined (not counting my copywriting job). I am also collaborating with my friend Sarah on an album. I have not quite reached the lofty 25 hours of practice a week that my former self was going on about (lol when? When would I do that? What was I thinking?), but I have definitely made more room for and progress on creative pursuits this year.

I loved having “joy” as my word for 2021. I read quite a few delightful books on the subject, and even on bad days there are usually moments of light and longing and…aliveness (dare I even call it hope?). I’m sure I’m not done with the word, but I’ll talk more about that in depth later in the month.

I hope this year has been a good one for you so far, and I hope you have a lovely December as well.

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December TBR

“Ruth knew that books had power…” From Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

If you ask me what my favorite month is, I’ll usually say, “October.” The weather starts cooling off, and spooky season is nigh. Fall/winter fashion is my favorite. Or I might say, “March,” since that’s the month I was born, and what’s better than that?

But December holds a special place in my heart. I’m not a fan of the busyness of the holidays or commercialization in general, but I must admit that I adore some of its side effects. Suddenly, there are twinkle lights everywhere. My favorite coffee company usually has some pretty good sales and it’s finally cold enough in Texas that I can stock up on their chocolate without it melting (yes, even with the ice packs). The church year in my tradition begins with Advent, which is my favorite season in the liturgical calendar. 

And best of all, I always have at least one week of the month off from work, which means extra reading time. Here’s how I plan to spend it this month.

Community Reads

Joy Reads

Seasonal Reads (Advent/Wintery/New-years-y)

I’ll probably also finish up some of the many books/series I’ve started in previous months. I hope you’re reading something delectable that you can’t put down!

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My reading plan derailed a bit this month as I was finishing many books planned for October and got a late start. And also in part because I just some different books than I planned to read. That happens sometimes. Anyway, here are the five books I read/started in November that I enjoyed the most.

  1. The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny – The latest in the Inspector Gamache series. This one hit differently because it dealt with themes of the pandemic and different people’s reactions to it. It is set as the beloved characters of Three Pines are celebrating together again for the holidays. I love this whole series, but there were times reading this one that I had to put it down and catch my breath.
  2. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman – Why did I wait so long to read this? I devoured this book in early November, and I’m already halfway through the third in the series. If you like magical realism and you haven’t read it yet, learn from my mistake. Do not wait any longer.
  3. Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God by Brian Zahnd – This is a quick read, but I was reading along with my discussion group at church, so I took it more slowly and finished it with them. Highly recommend for Christians who get mad at God every time they read the Bible. It might help you do that less. Be advised that it might not help you be less mad at Christians, though.
  4. Still Life by Sarah Winman – Not to be confused with the first Inspector Gamache novel. Beautiful storytelling. I am not finished yet because I keep going back to re-read really exquisite passages. The dialogue is particularly well done.
  5. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – Another “Why did I wait so long?!?!” title. For years, this book has been recommended to me by people who know what I love to read the most. They were right. It’s so good. There’s not one thing I dislike about it.

What have you read recently that you loved?

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Whew. The holiday season is approaching at a breakneck speed and I am not sure I’m ready. There are a few things I’m looking forward to, such as our mid-week Advent services, the solo I get to sing the first Sunday of January, and the twinkly lights of the Christmas tree, but for the most part, I’m already tired and over it. Here are some things that I enjoyed this week while trying to coax myself into the holiday spirit.

  1. Speaking of spirits, I have toyed with the idea of a wine Advent calendar for years but this may be the year it actually happens. A little celebratory libation to end each day and trying out some new wines? I think so.
  2. Some people love turkey, dressing (or stuffing, if you prefer), and other holiday standards. My favorite holiday foods are the pies. I would eat every single one of these. Except the pot pie, because yuck. But otherwise? Yum.
  3. Earlier in the week, Maggie and I had this exchange:
    Maggie: You know what I forgot about? FoodGawker
    Me: …..
    Me: !!!!!!
    Me: OMG ME TOO
    So I have spent a good portion of time this week strolling down Memory Lane by scrolling back through my saved recipes and remembering all the tasty treats I enjoyed courtesy of this site. Wow, at one point I really did think I was going to make my own cheese. I appreciate my former self’s ambition. That’s adorable.
  4. “I want to line the whole place with bookcases. Then I want to paint them green, because that is the proper library colour, and then I want to fill them with books and be happy for ever.” Life goals.
  5. If you’ve already done your gift shopping…I’m jealous and also do you want to do mine, too? No? Really? You’re just going to sit there and be smug with your I’ve-finished-my-shopping-already face and leave me to suffer? Well, ok then. But if you haven’t finished and want to order things in time for Christmas or your holiday of choice (or January birthdays…I don’t know your gifting habits), Sarah Bessey curates a gift guide that features places that do good in the world in some form or fashion.

What are some things (internet or otherwise) you’ve seen this week that you loved?

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(I enjoy that the name of the font used for the “Friday Five” in this pic is Glacial Indifference.)

In no particular order of favoritism (just in the order I finished them):

  1. I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver – I want to hug this main character. The story is about all the terrible and wonderful things that happened after they came out as nonbinary to their parents. This would be a great book for anyone who wants to learn how to respond (and also how very much not to respond) when entrusted with the gift of who a person is.
  2. Hitting a Straight Lick With a Crooked Stick by Zora Neale Hurston – I looove Zora, so I went in with high expectations for these short stories that appeared in publications during the Harlem Renaissance. And my expectations were met. I only wish I had realized the editor is local before the day of our meeting. I could have invited her to be a guest at our book club.
  3. Vengeful by V.E. Schwab – I liked the first book in this series, and I was looking forward to the second. One of the reservations I had about the first (the character of Eli was a little flat) was taken care of in this one. I really like Schwab as a writer.
  4. Autumn by Ali Smith – I want to read all four seasons this upcoming year! I love how Smith uses language and reveals nuances in characters.
  5. Beach Read by Emily Henry – It may be because the main characters were writers. Or because they lived on the beach. Or because it talked a lot about book clubs and misunderstandings that happen during awkward encounters. At any rate, I thoroughly enjoyed and devoured it.

What’s the best book(s) you’ve read lately?

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November TBR

13 is a weird number of books to fit into a square, but I didn’t want one of them to feel left out, so here you go. Look how happy they all look in yellow.

I am going to tell you what books I’m reading this month, but first I want you to go read/watch this post. I love Jenny Lawson so much. If you feel the need to order a book today, might I suggest Nowhere?

I’m still finishing up some things from October, but I have book club tonight, so I will at least finish Greenlights today. If you’re interested, go with the audiobook, because Matthew McConaughey reads to you (if you like that sort of thing).

Book clubs:

Joy:

  • The Joy of Cooking – originally self-published by Irma Rombauer (assisted by Marion Rombauer Becker) but since updated and renewed and loved on by a slew of et al. The specific copy I have is an older version, but I don’t remember which edition.
  • Taste by Stanley Tucci

Independent Reads:

What are you reading this month?

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“You know what made The Girl on the Train happen? Book clubs.” Damn right, we did. (From Emily Henry’s Beach Read)

This month has been a lot of fun for me. I hope you have enjoyed the series. I hope you have been able to relate to a few of the things I’ve said and that you are inspired to find the perfect book club for you. Whether you enjoy reading audiobooks in your car, thumbing through ebooks in the line at the market, or cuddling up with a cup of tea and a novel in your favorite chair, I can’t wait for you to find the next book that makes you come alive.

As seasons change, I notice that I look for books that have elements of wonder and magic. It fits right into my own rhythms that our theme for November’s meeting at the library is magical realism. I think I’ll be picking up Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and other similar books that people who know my reading style best have recommended. As the days darken, I long for things that feed my imagination, and I think it’s clear from this month’s posts that few things do that as quickly and thoroughly as a well-written book.

I am currently five books away from meeting my yearly goal, so as we get ready to head into another new year, I’m going to be thinking about whether keeping up this momentum is feasible or if I keep the same goal again just to show myself it’s not a fluke.

Let me know if you read any of the recommendations that I made this month, and tell me what you thought of them!

I’m not great at goodbyes, so it’s fortunate that I have no intention of ending my chatter about the books that I am reading and loving any time in the near future. I’ll just see you later this week when I post my November TBR list and my five favorite things I read in October.

In the meantime, happy reading, friends!

Click here to see the whole series list.

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I’m finishing up a week off from my job at UNT. I used the week as intended for the most part. I got some things done around the apartment that I had been neglecting, worked a few extra hours than usual on my writing job, and got to do some things (long weekend at the farm, long lunch with a friend, late night listening to live music) that I don’t usually get to do. It was busy but manageable. I was able to take care of both my life and myself. I actually slept well and drank enough water and ate well-planned meals.

The only thing I wanted to do that I ended up not doing was driving to San Antonio to visit Nowhere Bookshop in person. I could have done it – I technically had the time and the money. I could have spent a few hours in the hotel working on articles and been frugal with my spending so that next month’s budget wouldn’t be strained.

The only problem with that is that I don’t have frugal feelings about bookshops.

I love the way they smell. While it varies a bit depending on whether I’m walking into a used bookstore like Booked Up or a store that sells only new books, that underlying scent of ink and paper is always there. I am generally an impatient, get-in-and-get-out shopper in most places, but I can completely lose track of time in a bookstore. If I have someplace else to be that day, I actually have to set an alarm because otherwise hours sail by unnoticed. I always assume I’m going to spend at least $50 with each trip, and that’s if I’m very careful.

My favorite places are the ones with cushy armchairs and coffee shops inside. They invite patrons to stick around and thumb through what they find. It would be easy to be stingy – to have a strict buy-before-you-try policy. But bookshops that are owned by people who love books are designed to give everyone who walks through the door the opportunity to do the same. They want you to take all the time you need to find a book you adore. They would rather risk you walking out empty-handed than end up with something that sullies your reading experience. They have faith that if you find what you’re looking for, you’ll be back time and time again when you seek your next literary loves.

I have a list of bookshops I want to visit. Nowhere is at the top, but the list also includes:

I’m happy to add your favorite shop to my list, so feel free to drop a link in the comments. Even better – go give them some love yourself. I know Amazon is easy, and I don’t begrudge anyone taking extra work out of their busy lives. But if all of us committed book lovers could manage to spend in an independent shop at least once a month, it could really make a difference. It could keep the places I love alive.

I’ve talked about books all month, and it’s been so much fun.

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I am skeptical about self-help books. I want to know the author’s credentials (formal or experiential) before I commit to taking what they have to say seriously. But credentials are not enough. If, at any point, I get the sense that the author is trying too hard to make a point or wrap something up in a neat, little trite bow, it’s hard for them to get my attention back. I will DNF* a book meant to advise or inspire me faster than any other type of book if I am the least bit dissatisfied with it. Or worse, I will finish it out of spite just so I can rant about how bad it is on the internet.

Sloppy advice books are the Twilight saga of nonfiction.

But when the writers get it right, these books become some of my favorites. I 5-star them on Goodreads, give them away as gifts, and recommend them with reckless abandon. Here are the first five that come to mind.

  1. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes – I didn’t expect to like this one as much as I did. I thought it would be a fun weekend read from the person who writes some of my favorite TV dialogue. But I hadn’t even finished the first chapter before I was reaching for my notes journal and scribbling down all the lessons I was learning. If you feel stuck and suspect it may be nerves or fear holding you back, this is just the kick in the pants you need.
  2. The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp – Speaking of kick in the pants, this is one of the best books I’ve ever read to get out of creative slump. Tharp’s main art is dance, but the principles in this book can easily be applied to any creative pursuit. Highly recommend to artists of any kind.
  3. Burnout by Amelia Nagoski and Emily Nagoski – In all my therapy sessions, not once have I ever been taught how to complete a biological stress cycle. Or – that’s not completely true. I have been given good advice on things I can do to relieve stress, but this book breaks down why it works and what to do when it doesn’t. Reading this book cut the occurrence of my panic attacks in half because I learned how to identify the signs that lead up to them so I can head some of them off at the pass. Eternally grateful.
  4. Quiet by Susan Cain – I apparently have not marked this one as read or rated it on Goodreads, but I have pages and pages of notes on it. Before reading this book, I knew in my head that there was nothing wrong with being an introvert, but Cain’s social commentary showed me that it’s not just not-wrong. It’s a superpower. This is a very gratifying and encouraging read.
  5. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – Ok, hear me out. This book is not just about having an organized home. I mean, it is, and it will absolutely help you do that. But it also reminded me not only of the importance of surrounding myself with beauty and joy but also just how easy that is to do.

Honorable mention goes to The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and Professional Troublemaker by Luvvie Ajayi Jones. Both of these books remind me to stay focused and give practical advice for doing so. Also, if Luvvie doesn’t make you cackle out loud, your sense of humor is broken.

What books inspire you?

I’m writing about my favorite books this month.

*DNF = Did not finish

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