Reading Better.

Way back in November I wrote a post about six things I was going to be working on this year. By mid-April, I’d whittled the list to five things (there was no way a trip to England was going to happen) … and I’ve been making progress on all of them. It feels really good to say that! and 😉 now that there are just over 100 days until my next birthday, I want to get more specific about the progress I’ve made and the actions I still want to take.

Today, I’m getting specific about Reading Better.

I remember being really pleased when I figured those words out. Read Better. I loved that “better” described the reading itself AND maybe invited an object to complete the thought (better books, better authors, better quality, better diversity). It also didn’t (necessarily) mean reading harder or reading more.

One of the first things I did was join Anne Bogel‘s Modern Mrs Darcy (MMD) book club and her Patreon community (for the podcast What Should I Read Next). It’s one of (two of?) the best investments I’ve made in my reading life. I know some of y’all belong to bookclubs that are all about Reading Better. You have real, maybe hard, conversations with other people about what you love – and don’t love – about books. I am part of three other book groups (my neighborhood, my church, my small group) and none of them has Reading Better as a goal. My neighborhood group is about staying in touch. My church group is about staying in touch and learning new things. My small group is about growing spiritually. They are all important. and yet. folks don’t want to read certain genres. some topics are just Too Hard or Too Tired (the Holocaust, racism, slavery, colonialism, domestic violence, suicide, substance abuse).

The MMD book club has solved a lot of that for me. The monthly selections are widely varied in genre; the on-line community (the entire book club is on-line) is very diverse. I love that Anne promotes dissent about the books (something I’d never be comfortable about in my neighborhood); and I’ve learned so much from reading about why readers HATED something (honestly, it’s more enlightening than reading about why folks love something).

Last weekend, Anne and her team hosted a Stay at Home Book Club Retreat and I was happy to join in. I even set an alarm to be one of the first to sign up so I could snag an advance reader copy of Charlie Lovett’s upcoming Escaping Dreamland. Y’all I sat in my chair in front of my laptop on Zoom for eight hours over Friday and Saturday afternoons and it was completely wonderful. The team did a great job with the program logistics – it was a nice mix of presentations, small groups, and bathroom/drink/snack breaks. and the program itself. The first presentation was “Putting Words to Your Reading Experience”. yep, writing reviews. I’m going to try it.

Reading better means being able to articulate my reading taste so I can relate better to the books and to other readers.

Then Anne talked (for over an hour) with Charlie Lovett. Author talks are one of my favorite things about MMD book club and this one was Amazing. I loved Escaping Dreamland (4 stars) but this author is a solid 5 stars. He really gets books. He talked about how the author and the reader spend time in each other’s heads that creates an intimacy and completes the creative process. Yes! The creative process is only complete when the reader reads the book! and every time the reader reads the book it’s a different experience. He also said “storytelling makes us human.” and “the theme you [the author] have in mind is not always the theme the reader sees.”

Reading better means connecting with the folks who write the books!

Saturday afternoon (near the end), Anne talked about Cultivating and Celebrating Your Reading Life. Cultivating is about intentional skill-building (e.g., knowing how to choose books you’ll love) and Celebrating is personal – for me it’s about talking about books, buying books, taking photos of my TBR and favorites shelves.  Seasons ebb and flow.  You build skills by practicing.

Reading better means being intentional about what I am (and am NOT) reading. It also means talking about books with other people who love books the way I do (even if we don’t love the same books), supporting the people who write the books, and (occasionally at least) venturing outside my comfort zone. Reading better means growing as a reader and as a person.

I finished three books this week and I’m going to practice writing reviews (stay tuned). I also started a sort of book journal to capture my notes from the retreat and I’d love to have a Real Book Journal (or at least a Real book journaling practice).

Finally, the retreat packet included two drinks recipes. Of course I chose to riff the one with bourbon. and of course I mixed up one to share with y’all this weekend.

Summer in Kentucky Mule (modified)

1/2 oz mint simple syrup*
half a lime, juiced
2 oz bourbon
ginger beer
2-3 fresh mint leaves, torn

Add the syrup, lime juice and bourbon to a lowball (or mule) glass. Stir. Add ice. Top with ginger beer (about 3-4 oz). Garnish with the torn mint leaves. Enjoy!

*Mint Simple Syrup

1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
a handful of fresh mint leaves

Heat the water and sugar over medium high heat until the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat off and add the mint leaves. Let steep 20 minutes and then strain the syrup into a jar (it will keep practically forever in the refrigerator … unless you add it to everything from iced tea to sparkling water to gin & tonic … in which case you’ll need to make a fresh batch every weekend).

Cheers to the weekend – and to books! – my friends!

12 thoughts on “Reading Better.

  1. I look forward to reading those reviews! I often search for reviews that go beyond whether a reader felt a book was “good” or “bad”, preferring those that explain what a reader liked, didn’t like, and why. Maybe it’s selfish, but these rare reviews better help me decide if a book is one I will enjoy and gain something from.

  2. I love everything about this post. Your excitement at discovering something that fit is contagious. What a great affirmation about your Read Better goal.

  3. This is a great post, Mary. Thanks for sharing your thought process on Reading Better, I look forward to your more in depth reviews.

  4. I hope you know that I aspire to read like you when I have more time, predictably, to do so! I have tried to be more intentional about my reading over the past couple of years (reading books that challenge me, that are outside my comfort zone, that are written by authors who are different from me in notable ways, etc.), but it would be great to be able to treat it like it’s a job and be serious about it. I really loved what you had to say about what you learned from watching that conversation with Charlie Lovett and I’ve already got one of his books on hold from the library!

  5. What an interesting, thoughtful post. There is a lot to think about here. It sounds like you are reading better with these ideas/challenges. I love the idea of cultivating and celebrating our reading lives. And the knitting in these photos? Do tell. I often knit through my book group gatherings and so do a few of my fellow members.

  6. I am so sorry that I was unable to participate in the book retreat last weekend. After months of nothing to do, I did have something to do on Saturday. Oh well, maybe next time. I would have enjoyed the information on writing book reviews. I often have a difficult time articulating what I liked and didn’t like about a book and I think this goes way back to school when what you liked or didn’t like could be the wrong opinion to have. I also have a difficult time if I don’t have strong feelings one way or the other about a book.
    I enjoy the reviews you have written on Goodreads and I look forward to reading more of your reviews!

  7. Sadly, I managed to NOT sign up for this session – drats! But I do so appreciate your very thorough and inviting review of the event and most essentially, sharing your experience!
    Read on and look forward to more of your shares over these next 100+ days! Birthdays – so soon?!

    BTW: I often have my iPad and Mac at my helm when I’m in a Zoom session…


  8. Sounds like you had a great weekend Mary (and the Mule sounds delicious). Looking forward to the reviews you write.

  9. Looking forward to reading your reviews! Interesting post and would like to hear more about this seminar. I must say, I love to read but I feel if a book doesn’t grab me, I put it aside, only so many moons left for me and I want to read what I like. This is the reason I do not join bookclubs, sad but true.

  10. You bring so many interesting items to our world Mary – I can only imagine that your book reviews will be wonderful. I’ve got a pretty big mint plant…may be making simple syrup tonight!

  11. Thank you for describing your retreat and the intention of reading better. I agree with your assessment of learning more from someone who didn’t care for the book. They bolster their reasons well and are often considered and enlightening.

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