Reading Better | April.

Whoa, buck up friends, this is a LONG one … I don’t post all that often, and sometimes, the post I want to share is just … long!

I added another 14 books to my Read shelf (Goodreads link) last month, bringing my YTD total to 54 (this is a pace I can’t imagine I’ll keep up … and yet?) It was another month of great quality – four 5-star, five 4-1/2-star, four 4-star, and one 3-star.

Here are a few more stats from April’s book journal summary page:

  • a little less than 60% (8/14) were words on a page.
  • again, nearly two-thirds – 64% (9/14) – were borrowed, one I owned, and four were purchased … three of them “new” (including Anne Lamott’s latest Dusk, Night, Dawn which I borrowed and loved so much I bought the hardcover for my shelf), and one of them “used”.
  • three (20%) were non-fiction – and all were memoir.

My Reading Intentions continue to lean toward Connection and Delight, with a bit more Diversity this month:

Connection – 11
Growth – 6
Diversity – 9
Delight – 13

Four books checked all the boxes:
1. Giovanni’s Room
2. Aftershocks
3. The God of Small Things
4. In the Time of Butterflies

Other ♥ notes from my journal summary:

♥ all the short stories – I read four more this month! and three memoirs!!
♥ I re-read Gilead – a paperback copy I picked up last year – and gave it five stars. I loved reading on the page so much more than audio (which I did on my initial 2015 read). Maybe seeing the words, underlining and highlighting so many beautiful passages, and just being able to savor the language is what I needed.
♥ two of the short story collections were Horror. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything Horror before, but Katie and a group in Fiction Matters’ Patreon wanted to try The Dangers of Smoking in Bed and why not join in?! (that was one of my new purchases – on kindle). I must say, being able to chat with Katie about the stories was a lot of fun and I enjoyed trying something new. So I downloaded Enriquez’ other collection – Things We Lost in the Fire – and listened. I actually liked that one a little more (it almost moved up to the 4-1/2 star shelf) and it’s maybe an easier place to start if you’re new to this genre.
♥ Patreon bookclubs (I’m in two now – Fiction Matters and Novel Pairings) are adding quality (and, ahem, a little quantity … and a few more purchases) to my reading life. Three of those “checked all the boxes” books (Giovanni’s Room, The God of Small Things, and In the Time of Butterflies) were their selections.

I almost thought I wasn’t going to have a sleeper recommendation this month. And then… on April 23, Annie B. Jones (owner of the not-quite-local-to-me bookstore The Bookshelf in Thomasville, GA – it might be a day trip … but it would be a LONG day) hand-sold me House Lessons, by Erica Bauermeister (in a fantastic episode of her podcast From the Front Porch). I immediately downloaded it on audio and devoured it over the next two days. Part memoir – about buying and restoring an historic house in Port Townsend, WA, and mostly about how we make family, Part history of houses and architecture, it’s a total delight. I loved the metaphor of house/home as family and story. … and the writing. This is another book that I had to print and paste highlights into my book journal because there were too many! Here are three favorites to give a flavor:

So many of us declare that we will not become our parents. But they are the house we are born into. Their lives, their rules, their loves are the walls that surround us, make us. No matter what, we will always be renovations, never a clean slate. The trick, as with any renovation, is keeping the good bones. 

Perhaps that is what rituals and stories really are—another place to put our anxious minds. A safe space inside yourself in a world that doesn’t always make sense, that can terrify you or break your heart.

This was not the story I had imagined. Ben and I had fallen in love with this house back when it was ugly and beaten and sad. In that storybook of my childhood, we would save the house and bring it a family to love. But real life is not stories. Sometimes in real life, the endings are not what you expect. Sometimes, home is not a place.

The book came out early last year and I don’t recall seeing it ANYwhere.

Ditto this one – which I highly recommend for anyone who adores Jane Austen. It’s Miss Austen, by Gill Hornby. and I’m recommending the audio, narrated by the fabulous Juliet Stevenson. A friend who knows how much I love Jane Austen recommended this and she was so right. This is historical fiction telling the story of Jane’s sister Cassandra, and providing an explanation of why she destroyed (burned in a fire!) so many of Jane’s letters. Novel Pairings read Pride & Prejudice in March and gave a class on what life was really like in that time. I was struck by how few options “good ladies” had – either you needed to marry well, or have a sister who did. That helped me understand Mrs. Bennett (just a bit, anyway 😉 ) With Miss Austen, I was struck by just how personal that story was. Neither Jane nor Cassandra married; their brothers’ wives – and children – presented demands and challenges that are hard for us to imagine in the 21st century. So the story was interesting, but what makes me recommend it is the writing. It’s sharp and witty, just like Jane:

How useful it was to sew, to fuss about with a needle, to keep your eyes on the stitch. It was always her armor in difficult situations, the activity itself a diversion from the awkwardness of the company. She often wondered how men managed without something similar, although it did seem that they were so less often stuck for words. (obviously I love this one!)

…and she decided that other families must be one of life’s unfathomable mysteries. It was no use sitting as an outsider and even trying to fathom them. One could have no idea what it must be like to be in there, on the inside.

Surely our history is all in our minds, in our memories. We can do no more than pass it on to the next generation with as much honesty as we can muster … and only hope that what lives on is true.” (Cassandra) … (and in response, her sister-in-law) “As if there were any interest … oh the stories of men will live on, I am sure … my good husband, my fine son in his turn, but our own? not a bit of it. There will be no one to care about us.

ahhh. the power of story. and the patriarchy.

So … nothing until the last week of the month and then I had TWO. I’m pretty sure I’ve tried to hand-sell many of you one or both of these titles in the last two weeks. I would love to know if you pick them up … and what you think!

AND just when you think I might finally be done, nope. I spent some time yesterday and today looking at some year-to-date numbers. Most of today was spent learning how to make charts in Numbers (and then make them pretty enough to share here) 😉

First up – just a simple look at year-to-date stars, format, and source:

I’m loving almost every book I’m reading. most of the books I’m reading are words on a page. and almost half of the books are borrowed.

Seeing that 70% 4-stars makes me really glad I decided to split into 4 and 4-1/2. I sense my words on the page percentage is up this year (I think it was closer to 50/50 before?). I’m honestly not sure about the source … more data needed!

When I shared my OLW | Choose update last week, I wrote about making connections with my reading and said I’d drill down a bit.That chart on the left shows how my reading is aligning with my intentions. I expected Delight to be high and I’m delighted that Connection is such a close second. I would love for Growth and Diversity to be bigger … and maybe my Bingo card will help with that this summer. When I compiled the data for that second chart – how many stars I gave the books where I had connection, I was surprised. The 5-star piece AND the 3-star piece are bigger in that Connection pie. I thought about that … and talked it over with my sister … and I think two things are at play:

First, the on-line communities are upping my book game in a real way. I tag a book “connection” if I get to talk about it with anyone. Second, I am more likely to stick with a book I “just like” (which is my definition of a 3-star book) if I’ll get to talk about it with someone.

OK – if you read this far – thank you! I’d love to know how your 2021 reading is going … what do you wish you had more of? less of? and for sure, if you read any of the books I’ve shared about today, please let me know.


11 thoughts on “Reading Better | April.

  1. Your charts are wonderful! I love the visual that connects your posts with the data. I remember going to an author talk where Erica Bauermeister (a local author for me) talked about this book. It seems like it was awhile ago but maybe it was just a new idea. I finished a book this week that made me pause before jumping into my next fiction and picked up some non-fiction. What do I want more of in my reading life? More books that make me think would be close to the top but as summer is coming, I think I want a bit of escape and inspiration too.

  2. What an incredible reading month! Bravo to you!! I am in awe of those charts and I love how you tied your reading into your word! Excellent reading! 🙂

  3. I read The God of Small Things when it was first published. I lived in NY State at the time and it was the first book chosen for our first book club meeting hosted by our local library. An English professor led the discussion and I will always remember how exciting it was to be a part of that discussion and how much I loved that book. I am pretty sure it was the first novel I read that was set in India and I followed it up by reading A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. I love when certain books bring back good memories!

  4. Since I’m still reading the 2 I started months ago-I’d say not so productive! I am pre-ordering Louise Penny and Diane Gabaldon’s next book(s) which I guess will keep me buys until the end of the year!

  5. The analysis of your reading is impressive and those charts are so professional looking! I don’t know if it’s because of my job but I really try to take a very relaxed approach to what I read, your attention to all of these details blows me away!

  6. I really love how you analyze your reading and how they are meeting your target intentions. I haven’t been quite that deliberate, but I am definitely trying to follow in your footsteps and read better. I’m trying to read more authors of color, more books set outside the United States, more books that challenge me intellectually and emotionally. This is a big reason that bingo appeals to me!

    I also have you thank you for introducing me to Novel Pairings. I have gotten completely addicted to it! I’m listening back from the beginning (I think I’m up to November of last year now), and it is like getting all the things I loved about English class without the work. I’d love to join up with their book club/Patreon at some point!

  7. I can’t decide if I love all of the book content or the charts! This is a great post filled with lots of stuff that makes me want to add to my tbr list. I am trying to reaad the books I own so I can donate them and chisel away at my kindle books as well.

  8. I’m also impressed by your charts and analysis! I’m going to look for House Lessons and some of those short stories. They are often hit or miss for me, and I’m definitely unsure about horror, but who knows? I just might like it!

  9. You’re so ambitious with all these charts! Love the intentions connected to your reading.
    I’ve just requested Miss Austen at my library, thanks to you!!

  10. Gosh, that’s a whole heap of serious reading and thinking, all beautifully chronicled … I don’t think I would have the energy to be so intentional, so am very admiring of your effort and skill. I’ve not long finished ‘Once Future Witches’; and am very attracted by ‘House Lessons’ which I know will be right up my street :). I will add it to my present/gift list.

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