When I decided to commit to spending one day a week “unplugged” from work and screens as my resolution at the beginning of 2016, I expected that in addition to going back to regular churchgoing, I would spend more time sewing and would be even more productive than usual. And I have had a couple of uninterrupted sewing sessions during the last ten weeks and I made two dresses and a pair of PJ pants for my daughter. But what surprised me is that even more than sewing, what I have really relished is uninterrupted time to read, particularly in the early morning before church when the sun is coming up and the house is quiet and still. I have always enjoyed reading. I belong to a book group and I read for fun. But for many years, I was frustrated at the ever growing gap between the number of books I wanted to read and the number I had time to read, especially during the almost ten years I spent going back to school to become a Nurse Practitioner when all I read were text books and journal articles. I also have a long list of classics I feel I should have read but never did and I was starting to think I never would. But, this year has been different. I have read almost as many books in the last 10 weeks as I did all last year and it has been really wonderful. Not so much because I am crossing titles off a list but because having one day of the week with no plans means that I have a day when I can start a book on Friday and then read it all Sunday and really get into the flow of the book. It is different kind of experience than a chapter a night. Like watching a movie, I get caught up in the story and don’t want to stop reading. And I have read some great books which I am excited to share.
I also found some great resources online and learned how to make the most of my local library. And my husband gave me a kindle for a surprise birthday present back in January which I am really enjoying although I still do most of my reading the old fashioned way with printed books from the library.
I find the books I end up loving from a couple of trusted sources. These include the online group Great New Books which I follow on Facebook. This is a group of avid readers, some of whom are bloggers. I have enjoyed the variety of books that they recommend because each has different interests. One of the Great New Books members is Lindsey Mead who blogs at A Design So Vast. She and I seem to have similar taste in books and I have found books I have loved because I have followed her recommendations.
I have followed the writer Catherine Newman for several years. She blogs about parenting and life and shares amazing recipes on her blog, Ben and Birdy. I have not gone wrong reading books she recommends. I also highly recommend her book, Waiting for Birdy about pregnancy, motherhood, siblings. She is laugh out loud funny and also captures the magic and awe of parenting. It is a must read for all you young parents and parents to be. I am eagerly awaiting her new book: Catastrophic Happiness which is coming out next month. I pre-ordered it for my Kindle, something I have never done before, because I know it will be that good.
My main new source of great books and suggestions about how to fit in more reading time is Anne Bogel who blogs at Modern Mrs Darcy. Anne has always had great book suggestions and summer reading lists but I have sometimes been overwhelmed by the sheer number of titles on her lists but at the beginning of this year she started a new podcast, called What Should I Read Next. It is a simple premise: she has one guest and she gets feedback on books that they have loved and hated to make recommendations, but so far, there has been a wonderful magic that happens in the very short podcasts-20 minutes or so-and the conversations are really fun to listen to. Each guest has been really unique in terms of their taste, background, why they read and it has made the show so much fun to listen to and has added many new to-be-read titles to my lists. Anne also rates audio books, something I never took advantage of but as the result of a blog post she did about how to use Overdrive to download audio books from your local library, I have really enjoyed them in the car and at home when hand-sewing. I have also started reserving books I want to read online and picking them up from the library which saves a lot of time and money and motivates me to keep reading. I have picked up a couple of books that appealed to me at the library on a whim-because they were near the checkout. A few were forgettable but a several were great reads that I might have missed otherwise. All in all, I have read over 30 books in ten weeks-25 books and 7 audiobooks. I don’t read all genres but I do bounce back and forth between more heavy duty fiction and lighter smart chick-lit and murder mysteries and my favorite genre is probably memoir. I like contemporary fiction where the plot is unpredictable and the characters have flaws but I like there to be some hope and I like to like the characters. I have a hard time with books where the main character is unlikable or with whom I can’t identify at all. So here are the best of the group.
11/22/63 by Stephen King-it’s long but very captivating. He is an amazing storyteller. I could not put it down but it took several days to read–a commitment but worth it
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson-it is fiction but based on the author’s childhood. Told in free verse. I listened to the author read the book as an audiobook. Highly recommend
The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurent-translated from the french, a little gem of a book. Quite short if you have limited time. I enjoyed it and was sorry when I was done reading it. I then read The President’s Hat, by the same author. Equally charming but if you have time to just read one, I would read The Red Notebook
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff-this falls into the category of a book I am glad I read because it was well written and gave me food for thought but I wouldn’t exactly call it enjoyable. Quite intense and thought-provoking. Probably a good book club read.
The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin-mom dying of cancer so skip it if this is something you would have a hard time with but I loved the book. I loved the characters and the family she portrays.
Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon-10 years ago before I went back to grad school, I had read all of the Mitford books and really loved them but life got crazy there for many years and I missed a couple. I grabbed this from the library shelf and was really glad I did, especially since my daughter got married last year.
The Light of the World by Elizabeth Anderson-beautiful, heartbreaking-a must read, unless it would be very upsetting to you to read about the death of a spouse-in that case pass
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanthi-beautiful, heartbreaking, a must read-same caveat as above and the author here has cancer so if that is difficult for you then pass
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates-a letter from a father to son. I listened to the author read this and it was incredibly powerful. It is about 3.5 hours long. Can’t recommend more highly. I will listen to it again. In these times with all that is going on in our country, this needs to be heard.
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett-I loved her essays about her writing process, her relationships with her grandmother and her husband and everything in between. The Getaway Car, a story about becoming a writer, should be required reading for anyone who wants to write
Gratitude by Oliver Sacks-four long essays previously published. I had read them all before but got so much from them on rereading. I have this on my kindle and I know I will go back to it
Hammerhead-the Making of a Carpenter by Nina Maclaughlin. I loved this. I loved reading about the nuts and bolts of how this writer started out with no experience and learned a trade. I loved reading about Boston where my son lives. It reminded me of learning to be a nurse. Knowing about something and actually learning and performing the skills are very things. She also had some wise observations that she shared along her journey. Highly enjoyable. Not heartbreaking!
For the medical people: When the Air Hits Your Brain by Frank Vertosick, Jr MD-I really liked the author’s writing style and I have liked this genre of medical memoir since I was in 6th grade and read Emergency Room Diaries. I learned a lot too. Might not be for the non-medical people or those who are squeamish
My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl. I expected to like this but I ended up really loving it. I focused less on the recipes-although they looked amazing-I may have to buy the book at some point-I read the library copy–and read the little stories that introduced each recipe. Really a wonderful book. She wrote about picking up the pieces of her life after the magazine that she was the editor in chief of-Gourmet-folded under her watch. She comes across as someone who you would like to have for a friend-and not just because she would make you the best food you ever ate.
Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr-a memoir of a year he spent as a Fellow in Rome working on the novel that would eventually-ten years later-because All the Light We Cannot See- and being a new parent to twin babies. I love the descriptions of the city and the honesty he has in describing parenting and the struggle to put words to page.
I am loving the Flavia De Luce series on audiobook. The best. SO wonderful-although the heroine has a love of chemistry and the macabre so be forewarned, she will discuss the decomposition of bodies so if this would upset you, beware. But the narrator is so fantastic, the writing is smart, the character is so engaging-as if Roald Dahl’s Matilda became a sleuth. I will be sad when I am done with them but will probably listen to them all over again next year. They are that good.
I discovered a fun new series through Great New Books: the Amory Ames mysteries by Ashley Weaver: Murder at the Brightwell and Murder Wears a Mask. They have a Downtown Abbey feel and there is some romance. Very fun. There are just two so far but I am hoping she will write more.
I also read a couple of the Aunt Dimity series by Nancy Atherton which I have enjoyed for many years and the latest book in Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series which are very different in terms of style but both very enjoyable.
How to Read More
I have adopted many of the suggestions Anne Bogel makes here. I read multiple books at a time. I have a book available on my phone at all times because the kindle syncs to the phone, I listen to audio books in the car and when I sew. But the biggest change has been having one day of the week that is unscheduled and during which I don’t go online. It has really enabled me to read in a a way that was not possible for many years and for that I am very grateful.
I keep track of the books I read on Goodreads. I like being able to look back and see what I read and what I loved most. I don’t write reviews but I do rate the books and Goodreads has a tab called STATS that you can click on that will sort the books by year and by rating. I also like to be able to add books I want to read to my Goodreads account so I don’t forget the titles.
Right now I am loving Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I was not a huge fan of Eat Pray Love. I think I read it when I was also newly divorced and so broke that reading about her travels was hard to relate to but I loved her novels: The Signature of All Things and Stern Men, a novel about lobstermen on an island in Maine that I read way before Eat Pray Love and before I knew who she was. It is interesting reading her take on the creative process right after reading Ann Patchett’s book since they are friends and have similar insights.
Happy reading! And check out What Should I Read Next on itunes even if you are a mom with no time to read. You can subscribe for free. I honestly look forward to the new episode each Tuesday. And all you moms, have faith. You won’t always be up to your eyeballs in laundry and soccer practice. One day you will have time. For now, you have to be creative and use nap time or do what I did and tell your kids after dinner that if they are very very good and brush their teeth and get into bed in their jammies, they can have extra “Quiet Reading Time”. I did this every evening. I tucked each one into bed with a stack of books and they loved it. And then you can read your book-if you are not too exhausted. But you have to start them early! I also love what Austin Kleon says here in his post on How to Read More. Pay particular attention to number 1.
More all-time favorite reads for adults and kids below.