That Reading Life, Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Discoveries I Made In 2019

Top Ten Tuesday header

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly top ten list hosted by Jana at Artsy Reader Girl.

If there’s anything I like as much as reading, it’s learning about books, talking about books, and discovering books. OK, that was three things. But yeah. That’s why I have a book blog. If it involves books, I’m in!

So when I saw this week’s topic, I knew I wanted to share a list. Below are the Top Ten Bookish Discoveries I Made in 2019, which Jana indicates can be books, authors, blogs, websites, apps, products, etc.

Here we go!

299278401. New author: Barbara Pym

Believe it or not, I had never head of author Barbara Pym until I saw her novel Quartet in Autumn listed on Five Books. I started reading it but got distracted. But I did listen to the entire audiobook version of Excellent Women and I loved it.


2. A fun blog:

Books and book thoughts by Stacey, a librarian who hosts a Book Bingo game each year. I always enjoy hearing about what she’s reading. (Link)

3. Books at the Museum of the American Revolution


I had the pleasure of visitng Philadelphia for a second time in July. One afternoon, after conference sessions, I walked around a historic area (I love the federal/colonial style architecture in the city) and happened upon the Museum of the American Revolution. I didn’t tour the museum as I was a bit tired, but I popped into the museum shopped and enjoyed perusing the books. Because I’m on a budget, I only bought Sally Wister’s Journal. But I took note of others and ended up buying the kindle version of Ties That Bound: Founding First Ladies and Slaves when I got home. And I checked out The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton at the library. I love finding books while traveling!

4. Inflatable kayaks

inflatablekayakI didn’t know that inflatable kayaks were a thing until I read Hidden Nature: A Voyage of Discovery by Alys Fowler. I put two on my Christmas wish list and my sister- and brother-in-law came through, sending both kayaks and two life vests for my husband (or son) and me. I’m really looking forward to paddling down the river near our house in the spring.

5. The Literary Ladies Guide

I really enjoy following the Literary Ladies Guide on Facebook. Today, my feed hit me with this gem:


If that doesn’t just sum up working in a cubicle…

13167087._SY475_6. A rediscovery: Augusten Burroughs

I rediscovered Augusten Burroughs and ended up reading three of his books: Running With Scissors (a reread), Dry, and This is How. I liked This is How so much that I bought it. More here.



313267. Another new author: W. Somerset Maugham

I’d never heard of W. Somerset Maugham, but I came across Theatre in the classics section at the library and fell in love. May read another of his this year for the Back to the Classics Challenge.


8. The book that spurred a trip to the Robie House


At long last!

Several years ago, I discovered author Blue Balliet and read her children’s novel The Wright Three about three young sleuths solving a mystery around the Robie House, a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Chicago’s Hyde Park. It’s such a good book. Since then, I’ve wanted to visit that house, but none of our Chicago trips led me there. 2019 was the year! I finally made it to the house and Ben, Jacob, and I took one of their tours. It truly is a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece and an architectural treasure. I’m grateful to the author who led me there.


Here’s a view from across the street. Prairie style at its finest.


And check out these windows!

9. I realized I had a low-key reading project going


I’m rereading books from my younger years to see what I think now. Re-discovery is as fun as discovery sometimes. More here.

10. I truly cannot think of a 10th item…

What did you discover last year? Please share!

That Reading Life

Is there a book you think everyone should read before they die?



Thanks to a Facebook post by the Literary Ladies Guide, I have been thinking about this.

Is there a particular book you think every single person would benefit from reading in their lifetime?

Reading tastes are so personal. People who read for pleasure just read what they like, not what others have told them they “should” read. (I’m a big believer that you shouldn’t use the word should in the first place, unless it’s in dictating how we treat other people.) The point of reading for pleasure is that it’s pleasurable! I don’t want people to have to read books that feel like swallowing cough syrup.

On the other hand, throughout my reading life, I’ve come to understand that reading widely is the method by which I attempt to understand the world and the other people in it. Experiencing the world is important, of course. But because I have a regular job in an office and most of my friends are of the same socioeconomic class as me, I have to intentionally seek out diverse experiences. And one of the ways I do that is through reading.

For me, it’s important to read about other people’s lives in order to understand them. I read about people from other cultures in order to learn how they are similar to and different from me. It is an important aspect of my reading and the reason I was so disappointed to see that I’d only read 2 books by non-white authors last year.

Essentially, in my own life, books have been a powerful catalyst in helping me to understand other people’s lives. They have given me the gift of empathy and the willingness to acknowledge that my perspective and worldview are not the only perspective and worldview (and certainly not the only “right” worldview) that matter.

Other than immeasurable pleasure, this is what reading has meant to me.

Having seen the power that books wield, I want everyone to read books by people whose life experiences differ from their own. To read books by authors of other races, genders, countries of origin, sexual orientation, social classes, political views, and languages.

But I don’t know that I could pick just one book that I’d want everyone to read. Because who’s to say that book will affect others the way it affected me?

That preamble aside, in mulling over this question, several books did come quickly to mind. So, here are four books I would love for everyone to read. But no presh! 🙂

The Color PurpleThe Color Purple by Alice Walker

This is one I read as a teenager and I continue to read it periodically as an adult. In the 90s, it helped this young white girl to understand that racism is still, and was always, very much alive in the U.S. despite a Civil War that was fought, or so she was taught, to free slaves in the name of equality. It drove home the terrible injustice served up by systemic racism. I would love for all people, at least all Americans, to read this one.

ThesoulofAnOctopusThe Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness

This might seem like a weird choice to some, but this book helped me understand the fullness of life beyond what we see every day. There is life being lived by creatures that science has only just begun to understand. Best of all, in reading this book, I felt an incredible sense of wonder, not an emotion that comes readily to me as a cubicle warrior who lives in a midsized city.

Things Fall Apart (The African Trilogy, #1)

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

I read this classic in high school and again in college. It’s a glimpse into the life of a Nigerian Igbo tribe that reveals the effects of colonialism. Once again, this is a book that opened up another culture to me and taught me to question the dominant values of the society in which I live.

8520610Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

I almost didn’t include this one, but I’m gonna’. In this book, Susan Cain really toes the line between introvert appreciation and extrovert bashing. And even though I am a classic introvert, I don’t think one way of being is better than another. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being an extrovert.

But this book is stellar in a couple of ways that are important to me: It helped me and a lot of other people understand the differences between being shy and being an introvert (I am both, hah!). And it outlines and promotes the value of introvert ways of thinking in a country (I’m thinking just the U.S. here) that rewards extroversion (namely in the world of work).

It helped me personally to feel seen and understood. But I’ve also spoken with several extreme extroverts, including the vice president of my division at work, who said it helped them understand that introverts/quiet people/reserved people aren’t dysfunctional. They just have a rich inner life that can’t be expressed on demand, especially in a room of extroverts. I love that a book has the power to bridge gaps like that!

989013Boundaries by Anne Katherine

Every time I see a post on Facebook about how someone is upset, it’s usually because someone they love or loved has crossed a boundary. This book is about giving yourself permission to set boundaries that keep you not just safe, but sane. I wish everyone would read it and try to identify themselves in the boundaries setters and boundary crossers. Most of us have been both. Reading this book would lead to self-awareness that would benefit so many people.

And that’s where I’ll leave it.

I would love to know, is there one book, or are there several books you wish everyone would read? Tell me what yours are!

Re-reading Project, That Reading Life

The Accidental Re-reading Project

Guys! I have a little reading project going and I didn’t realize it until now. I’ve been re-reading books from my teenage/college years kind of intentionally but not on a schedule. Spontaneously, I’ll remember a book I loved during those years and then order it so I have a copy and re-read it just to see what 39-year-old Shannon thinks.

I didn’t recognize it as a pattern until today. Perhaps my subconscious, knowing me quite well, has kept this pattern from being noticed by my conscious mind because she knooows it would just turn into a big fat PROJECT with a spreadsheet and thus end in disappointment when I inevitably didn’t finish it.

But…isn’t that fun? I think I’ll make a category for it so one can sort through all the posts that are part of the project. And I’ll go back and re-categorize books I’ve purposefully re-read and blogged about so they all show up.

Right now, I’m re-reading Object of My Affection by Stephen McCauley, which teenage Shannon read about five times, and which became a movie starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd.

Here’s a small stack of books I’ve bought in the past year or so (peep the copy of Follow That Boy – don’t judge me, it was the early 90s! :D).


Next, I’m planning on acquiring some of the books we read in my college Feminist Memoir class. I remember loving those books and that whole class was an eye-opener for a cis, white, Midwestern teenager.

So, do you re-read books from your past to see if present you still feels the same way (good or bad) about them? Tell me!

That Reading Life

Books we…love, hate, etc.


I also like books about the Tudors

I saw this on a Facebook post in a book group I’m in and thought I’d try it just to see what my brain comes up with. Then, I asked my boys to fill it out too. We thought there could be a ton of overlap between categories but tried to avoid it.

BOOK I HATE: The Shack. The effing Shack. If I never hear about that terrible book again, it will be too soon.

BOOK I LOVE: Jane Eyre; I love lots of books. This is just one.

BOOK I THINK IS OVERRATED: The DaVinci Code ; Girl, Wash Your Face (So sick of seeing this schlock everywhere, especially endorsed by MLM sellers.)

BOOK I THINK IS UNDERRATED: Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky; Dietland by Sarai Walker

BOOK I COULD READ ON REPEAT: One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus, The Lord of the Ring series, The Secret Garden

BOOK THAT MADE ME FALL IN LOVE WITH BOOKS: Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink – I read this in about third grade and, while I was already an avid Baby-sitters Club reader, this book sort of opened me up to the general wonder of books, maybe because it was about a girl my age and set in a different time. Historical fiction is still one of my favorite genres.

BOOK THAT CHANGED MY LIFE: Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott; given to me by a friend as a young mother and it helped me to have less mom-guilt.

GUILTY PLEASURE: Books about French women doing it better; books by Cathy Glass; Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

BOOK I SHOULD HAVE READ BY NOW BUT HAVEN’T: War and Peace, The Catcher in the Rye, Les Mis, and anything by Virginia Woolf

Here’s Ben’s


Unrelated pic of Artemis for fun

BOOK I HATE: The Pearl. Had to read it for school. Who knew that a book so short could be so tedious, or that symbolism so heavy-handed could be regarded as impressive?

Book I LOVE: Moby Dick. It seems to be polarizing, but I love it. Thought about it for “Underrated” but it’s recognized as a classic so it can’t be THAT underrated.

BOOK I THINK IS OVERRATED: To Kill A Mockingbird. I read it and it was totally decent. But it gets wayyy too much hype. Fight me.

BOOK I THINK IS UNDERRATED: The Name of The Wind (and the Kingkiller Chronicle in general) is amazing. But it is naturally overlooked because it’s “genre” fiction. And it hasn’t crossed over to the mainstream like Game of Thrones or Harry Potter, despite being better than either.

BOOK I COULD Read ON REPEAT: The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

BOOK THAT MADE ME FALL IN LOVE WITH BOOKS: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, particularly the Michael Hague illustrated edition gifted to me by my Aunt Kate. It features an engaging story, glorious world-building, and the book itself is beautiful.

BOOKS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE: The Hobbit (because see above), Life Inc by Douglas Rushkoff, Watership Down, On the Genealogy of Morality, After Buddhism by Stephen Batchelor, and the works of David Gemmell. No one book in particular for Gemmell, just all the down-to-earth philosophy he doles out through his characters.

GUILTY PLEASURE: The Complete Hammer’s Slammers Vol 1

BOOK I SHOULD HAVE READ BY NOW BUT HAVEN’T: A People’s History of The United States

And here’s Jake’s…


Just one more

BOOK I HATE: A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

BOOK I LOVE: The Great Gatsby; Animal Farm; 7 Brief Lessons on Physics


BOOK I THINK IS UNDERRATED: Captain America Comics






So, how about you? What would you list under some of these categories?

That Reading Life

I’m in a reading slump so give me your best tips

image of booksm on shelf

Not today, TBR pile.

Really mailing it in right now on the reading front. Ugh.

What breaks you out of a reading slump?

I have some general strategies around this as it is not my first rodeo. They include but are not limited to:

  • Reading something really short. Something I can knock out in an afternoon just to get the gears in my brain grinding. May result in momentum gained and, therefore, a renewed interest in reading in general. Or may not.
  • Reading something squarely in my wheelhouse. Ben taught me this one. This is not the time for reading challenges or tackling the stack of books I want to have read but don’t actually want to read (another phrase borrowed from Ben). This is the time for: reading the next book in a series I know I like; reading something new from a favorite author; rereading something from a favorite author; and themes I know and love (for me: ghosts, oppressed women; historical fiction; weight loss memoirs, self-help that I don’t find too annoying, etc.). This is the low-hanging fruit of your TBR or ABR (Already Been Read).
  • Reading a children’s book. If Mary Downing Hahn can’t get me through a reading slump, there may be no hope. In my experience, children’s books tend to move quickly because they can be plot-based and the language and characters are approachable. (Don’t come at me, children’s lit experts. I, too, am well-versed in the topic and these are generalizations. I’m aware of that.)  ❤
  • Audiobooks. I walk often and audiobooks are my boon companion. Those who cannot read may find that being read to is a much easier way to consume a book.
Production mode

Things I do in “production” mode: Art/crafting, puzzles, walking, decorating, writing

Accepting that I don’t want to read.

Quelle horreur! This gets its own section. People who love to read, who are book nerds, who take joy in tallying up the titles they conquer, can have a hard time accepting this one.

Also, I usually feel like my life is missing something when I can’t read. It is a major part of my existence and, therefore, my identity.

But I go through these “modes” in my life that I have come to accept as just how I am. There’s production mode: this is about being creative and making things and doing; not necessarily about accomplishing, more about creativity. And then there’s consumer mode: this one is about taking things in: books, movies, tv, blogs, shows, whatever. Reading is much easier when I’m in consumer mode.

And that is just not the mode I’m in right now.

What about you? Would love to hear about other people’s reading slumps and the reasons/work-arounds.

Thanks so much for stopping by!

That Reading Life

Books I’m no longer interested in reading

This post is part of a blog hop for Top Ten Tuesday hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. See how it works here.

I hate to use the word “never,” but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve honed my interests and learned the value of giving a hard pass to just about anything I don’t immediately take to. I mean, life is short and time’s a-wastin’.

Why read a book I don’t like or care about?

I have my favorite genres/tropes and a list in my head of books that will always grab my attention—is there an orphan? Is it the 1800s? A nanny and a haunted house? I’m in.

Conversely, I thought it’d be fun to write a list of book themes and tropes that I usually give the dis to. So this week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme was right up my alley.

The kinds of books I never want to read

11. Fairy tales and mythology

I don’t want to read the original stories and I don’t want to read a novelization of Little Red Riding Hood, or a retelling of the unfortunate Persephone/Hades episode. I wrote a paper on fairy tales for a college class on Sorcery and Damnation (no kidding) like 15 years ago and I guess that was it for me. (Update: I just found out about this book and now I want to read it. See? Never say never.)

2. YA dystopia


Btw, I actually read this when it first came out and really liked it.

I had my fun with The Hunger Games as it was published and now there are so many other dystopian YA books that I can’t keep up. I think I’m just worn out on the theme.

33. Political books or books by politicians

Fiction or nonfiction, I don’t seem to be able to tolerate books that are explicitly about politics. Like at all.

44. Books about WWII

I can’t watch movies about WWII either. I had this war shoved down my throat in public school so forcefully that I can only stand tangential stories. The last book I read set in/around WWII was The War that Saved My Life and that was more of a book about a certain family of displaced kids.

55. Books about how education in this country is going to hell in a handbasket

Education in this country has made a home in this fiery handbasket. I applaud the authors who are trying to incite change, but everything I read on this topic upsets me so much that I’m starting to worry about taking minutes off my life.

66. Anything by Brene Brown

I want to like her style. I just don’t. Instead, I look to Martha Beck for insight into how I can feel better about life.

77. Diet books

Other than the snooty French eating advice I can’t stop reading, I’m sooo done with diet books.

88. Comics

I like a good graphic novel, but I’m just not into comics. Ditto anything that’s on the borderline between comic and graphic novel. Automatic meh from me.

99. And for that matter, anything featuring superheroes

I mean, maybe if the heroes are sort of off the beaten path – like a story about a girl who makes up her own superhero. Or maybe the protagonist is hardcore into a fandom. Other than that, nopenopenope.

1010. Erotic fiction

Unless it’s by Anais Nin. Everything else: yawn.


Visit That Arty Reader Girl today to see what everyone else’s lists look like.

Also, I’d love to hear what would make your list of books not to read!

That Reading Life, Top Ten Tuesday

10 slightly weird niche books/genres I really like

This post is part of a blog hop for Top Ten Tuesday hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. See how it works here.

When I worked at my public library for about a year, a coworker told me, “I only read nonfiction philosophy.” She was great at recommending books not in her preferred genre to patrons though.

I was thinking about her the other day and ruminating on my own niche tastes, the deep dives I tend to take into some obscure topics. I thought about how many books I own that are kind of peculiarly un-mainstream. I definitely delight in following my curiosity, which is, now that I think about it, one of the chief reasons I read for pleasure.

Anyway, this week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is a “love freebie,” meaning, I think, that we should create a top ten list of book-related things we love. So, here we go.

Ten slightly weird niche books/genres I really like

1. Ros Byam Shaw

Covers of Perfect English Farmhouse, Perfect English, and English Eccentric by Ros Byam Shaw

I want to live in these books.

I love English interior design so so much. It encompasses both decorating like you live in an English country estate and decorating like you live in a Hobbit Hole. Both are aesthetics to which I aspire.

Ros Bym Shaw is the author of several fantastic coffee table-style decorating books on the topic. She is also my favorite decorating author, though I also adore Justina Blakeney.

2. Needlepoint

Covers of Hoopla and Plain and Fancy

I used to have a blog about needlepoint. A few years ago, I got suuuuper into it and spent a lot of time creating needlepoint and cross-stitch works and, of course, researching and reading about those topics. I don’t do needlepoint anymore because I actually have a hand injury and can’t grip a needle all that well. (It’d be like a dolphin using its flippers to sew.) But I still enjoy books on stitching and the history of “women’s work.” I particularly like Hoopla: The Art of Unexpected Embroidery and the out of print history Plain & Fancy: American Women and Their Needlework, 1650-1850.

3. Unusual job memoirs

Book Covers: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes; It's What I Do; and The Long Haul

To read one of these, I have to actually be interested in the job the writer is doing or has done. Three of my recent faves are:

I also just heard about The Line Becomes a River, a memoir by a former border patrol guard, which I’ll be putting on hold at the library.

4. New Age

Book covers: You Can Heal Your Life; Ghosts Among Us; and Children's Past Lives

I wrote about my somewhat embarrassing affinity for New Age books here. I think it comes from some urge to seek a way of spirituality outside of traditional religion. But I’m not willing to commit to New Age beliefs either. The jury is out, I guess. Anyway, that post mentions a few books I’ve read that are the furthest out from logic.

A few more I’ve enjoyed:

5. Nannies

Covers of: Jane Eyre; This House is Haunted; and Governess

Why do I identify so hard with nannies? I dunno but if the protagonist is a nanny, I’m in.

Some favorites:

  • Jane Eyre (obvi)
  • This House is Haunted
  • Governess: The Lives and Times of the Real Jane Eyres – This is a somewhat academic look at the lives of well-known nannies, including, most interestingly, Mary Wollstonecraft and Claire Clairmont (lover of Lord Byron with whom she had a child). I enjoyed this a lot, but at first I was hoping it’d be a peek into the daily lives of the governesses—it wasn’t. If anyone knows of a book like that, I’d love to read it!

6. Haunted houses

haunted house book covers

I like books that make me afraid to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Books like:

  • The Haunting of Hill House – If that nighttime door-banging doesn’t get to you, you are not human.
  • Rebecca – Asks the classic question: Is the house haunted or is it all in your head?
  • The Doll in the Garden – I read this book as a kid and it stuck with me so long that I re-read it last year. Yep, still freaked me out. Mary Downing Hahn, you wizard.

I’m always looking for more of these, so if you have any suggestions, hit me up in the comments—bonus if there’s a nanny!

7. Foster care


I’m slightly obsessed with books by/about foster mothers and children, both fiction and nonfiction. I wrote a post about my most recent dive into that world here.

These are a few I recommend:

8. Animal memoirs


No, not memoirs by animals. Memoirs by people about their time spent with animals.

Some favorites are:

9. Tudor history



Part of my Tudor and Tudor-related collection

I’ve always been interested in British history and literature in general, but honestly, my interest in the Tudors was cemented by the show The Tudors. I fell in love and went through a phase where I read everything I could get my hands on about Henry VIII and his wives. Then, everything I could about any other Tudor.


Here’s a mishmash of books I’ve read on the topic:

I will also confess to reading The Other Boleyn Girl and seeing the movie. DON’T JUDGE ME.

10. Women leaving oppressive religions


I left Catholicism (not because I found it oppressive but because it didn’t make sense for me) so I suppose that’s where this interest comes from. I like books about women leaving long-established religions as well as books about women who’ve left homes where weird made-up religious rules were foisted upon them.

These are a few standouts:

11. And a bonus category: anything about how the French do it better


Sick of these books? I find them condescending at best, but I still love a good book on how the French are doing things better. Cooking better, eating better, raising their children better. I wonder if I’m into this theme because I partially agree with the sentiment?

A few I’ve enjoyed:

To see what other people did with this Top Ten prompt, check out today’s post on That Artsy Reader Girl.