Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: January 2021

Happy February! One month of 2021 down, eleven more to go!

What a strange, strange month- but are there any other kinds these days? It started off with frightening political stuff and has ended…kind of calmly,  or what passes for calm these days.  We had our first major snowfall here a few days ago, sending all the kids in my daughter’s class to virtual learning for the day. This was followed by another storm system, blanketing our town with almost a foot of snow on top of what was already there! There’s little I love more than watching the snow fall; it’s so peaceful, though I worried like crazy about my husband driving home from the city in that mess during the first system. It sure is pretty, though.

As far as reading goes, although my numbers weren’t anything crazy, I’m extremely proud of the books I’ve read this month, and I’ll get into the why of that. But suffice it to say, January hasn’t been too bad around here. We’re all healthy, I’ve taken up a new hobby (if you can call it that…), and we’re managing. That’s all we can ask for these days, I think!

Let’s get this show on the road, shall we?

What I Read in January 2021

1. Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

2. Bad Habits by Flynn Meaney (review to come)

3. My Basmati Bar Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

4. Dear Martin by Nic Stone

5. Julie’s Wolf Pack by Jean Craighead George (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

6. Stamped From the Beginning: A Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

7. Such a Perfect Wife by Kate White

8. What We Will Become: A Mother, a Son, and a Journey of Transformation by Mimi Lemay

9. Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness by Alisa Roth

10 How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish, edited by Ilan Stavans and Josh Lambert

11. An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz

12. Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett

13. Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein

14. Citizen 865: The Hunt for Hitler’s Hidden Soldiers in America by Debbie Cenziper (review to come)

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! I’m SUPER happy with the quality of the books I’ve completed this month. While my numbers aren’t impressive, the amount of pages I’ve read are pretty great- two of the books I read were over five hundred pages, which is amazing for me lately. I’ve shied away from the longer, more comprehensive books this past year because my brain just couldn’t handle it, but this month, I dove right in. Seven fiction, seven nonfiction. I really love nonfiction but read so much fiction last year because I just couldn’t focus on serious things (and there’s nothing wrong with fiction at all! I just really, really love nonfiction and it hurts when I can’t focus on it), but I think I’ve evened out a little and can handle it better. Plus I’m only doing the reading challenge with my parenting group (12 books; I’ve completed six of them so far), so I’m able to read more from my TBR and my own shelves. I feel really great about the quality of the books I’ve read this month and that makes me really happy.

Reading Challenge Updates

Only my parenting group challenge to worry about, which is honestly a relief. I love reading challenges for how they push me and expand my reading world, but I really needed a break this year. Six of the books I’ve read this month- Grown, My Basmati Bat Mitzvah, Stamped From the Beginning, An American Summer, Hollywood Park, and Turtle Boy were from this challenge AND from my TBR. That’s a win on all fronts!!! The only prompt here for which I’m not sure what I’ll read is the one that prompts you to read a book from a genre you never read. I’m thinking maybe a book of short stories, since I generally steer clear of those. If anyone has any suggestions here, I’m all ears! (Or, uh, eyes? Since I’m reading this? Not sure how that saying works when it comes to text…)

State of the Goodreads TBR

187 last month- down to 181 this month! I’ve been reading from my TBR and my own shelves, so hopefully this will start dropping faster! (If I can keep from piling the books onto it, that is!) Ten of this month’s books came from my TBR.

Books I Acquired in January 2021

None! I’m staying out of the stores thanks to the new variants of Covid, and I don’t usually order books online unless they’re something I need (and it’s too cold to walk to any of the Little Free Libraries near me!).

Bookish Things I Did in January 2021

The library had a presentation by some local musicians on the music of the Vietnam War, so I attended that virtually. Super fun!

Our library is open again for browsing, but I’ve stuck to just requesting and picking up instead of going in. A librarian friend of mine pointed out that libraries’ air filtration systems really aren’t meant to handle a virus like this, so if I can be one fewer person to add to the system’s stress, then so be it. I may go in early one day and grab some books for my daughter, but ONLY if there aren’t many people in there- but we’ll see. So far, she’s making do with what I’m able to order and pick up. 😊

Current Podcast Love

More of the same this month. Still making my way through Judaism Unbound with Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg. And while I bike, I’m listening to the Leaving Eden podcast with Gavriel Ha’Cohen and Sadie Carpenter. I cannot recommend this one highly enough. It’s about Sadie’s experiences leaving the Independent Fundamental Baptist cult (similar to the Duggar Family’s ATI group, but different). Sadie and Gavriel are both extremely intelligent, thoughtful, and fun; they balance the heavier issues with lighter episodes that keep me laughing out loud as I work out. I really enjoy this one a lot.

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

On hold until life goes back to normal. I did read two books from my own shelves this month, though! Progress!

Real Life Stuff

(The red decals are to keep birds from flying into the window. Doesn’t always work, sigh. This is from the first big snowfall. There’s actually MORE snow on the ground now!)

Not a bad month, with the exception of the drama of January 6th. I skipped reading that day and my son and I stayed glued to the news and our devices. Not something I ever thought I would see in my lifetime, and I hope to never see it again, though I’m not holding my breath in this political climate.

I’ve been trying to focus more on reading these days instead of doom scrolling, and it’s working well so far. My daughter’s managing the second half of first grade just fine; my son’s new classes haven’t started up yet, so he’s mostly just hanging out and working on other projects (and spending a lot of time online, of course- what else is there to do?).

In December, I realized how much SITTING I’ve been doing and decided that needed to change. I started doing yoga every day, then started adding in some cardio as well- usually riding my exercise bike that I keep in a corner of the bedroom or doing a workout video on YouTube if the living room is free (it usually isn’t). A friend started up a group for the YouTube Channel Yoga with Adriene’s 30 Day Breath program and I started participating in that- it’s a daily video, anywhere from 16-35 minutes of yoga, and after I finish that I get on my bike for 30 minutes. At night I do a 10-15 minute ab/lower body workout, and I’m happy to say that after five weeks, I started actually enjoying the workouts instead of just swearing all the way through them, haha! I just want to be healthy and still have my clothes fit when all of this is over (a new wardrobe would be expensive and I’m really not wanting to do that! Plus I LOATHE trying on clothes, ugh). The best part is that my right hip has stopped hurting so much. There used to be something in there that hurt all. the. time. Even my physical therapist couldn’t figure out what it really was or why, and none of the exercises she gave me ever helped, and whatever it was has been hurting for about five years. I got into pigeon pose the other day during yoga, which usually feels really good on that sore part of my hip, and I realized…it doesn’t hurt anymore. Not like it did. My lower back still hurts (especially today, sob), and my SI joints are still painful, but hey, ONE LESS THING!!!!!!!!!!

Still no vaccines on the horizon for us, so I’m just happy to hole up with my books and my workout videos and podcasts and waiting until it’s our turn!

What’s coming in February? I’ll have my Zoom Judaism classes, and then something I’ve been looking forward to since last year- Tara Westover, author of Educated, is making a virtual appearance thanks to our school district’s parent education group. She was supposed to be here in person but obviously that can’t happen, but I’m so excited to have this opportunity to hear her speak, and that she’s still doing this! That’s definitely something to look forward to. 😊 I have two other authors I *may* be able to hear speak virtually; check back in next month to see! 🙂

Stay warm and healthy this February, friends! Keep up the masking and social distancing; better days are ahead of us but only if we get there in one piece. Keep standing up for justice for all and staying true to who you are. And read on! May your February be filled with excellent reads and the love of excellent people. Be well, my friends.

Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: December 2020

Fare thee well, 2020, and may the door hit you twice on the way out. Let’s cross our fingers that 2021 will be a better year than…you know…whatever that mess was. *glances nervously behind me*

December started out to be about the slowest reading and blogging month I’ve had yet. Having far too much to do resulted in so little time to read- with a bit of a reprieve at the end. Yay, winter break! Not having much reading time grates on me, but there’s nothing to be done about it. I can’t create more time, and I can’t delegate any of the tasks I need to do, and I can’t create more quiet space for myself in the times where I’d like to read but can’t focus because it’s too loud in the house. (Even as I write this, I have 2348348932479832 things I need to get done today, including multiple errands that will take me out of the house, and the television is on across the room. Story of my life these days! At least no one is screaming.) Seriously, these vaccines cannot roll out fast enough, and I’d like to order one child-safe version so my daughter can go back to school in person for at least SOME of second grade next school year!

But if that’s my biggest complaint, I’m doing pretty great. A dear friend has had Covid and seems to have fallen into the long hauler category, and I’m worried about her, as well as her family member who isn’t doing well. So many others are struggling and suffering for so many reasons, and my frustrations pale in comparison.

Anyway. Let’s get this monthly roundup- small as it is!- started, shall we?

What I Read in December 2020

1. The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism by Katherine Stewart

2. Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles

3. The Drawing Lesson: A Graphic Novel That Teaches You How to Draw by Mark Crilley

4. What the Night Sings by Vesper Stamper

5. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

6. Dandelion Hunter: Foraging the Urban Wilderness by Rebecca Lerner

7. The Land of Truth: Talmud Tales, Timeless Teachings by Jeffrey L. Rubenstein (no review)

8. Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—And Doesn’t by Stephen R. Prothero

9. Chicago History for Kids: Triumphs and Tragedies of the Windy City, Includes 21 Activities by Owen J. Hurd (no review)

10. Julie by Jean Craighead George (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

11. Meet You Under the Stars by Traci Borum

12. Looking Back: A Book of Memories by Lois Lowry (no review)

13. Come Back to Me by Mila Gray

14. The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy (review to come)

I enjoyed most of what I read this month, so that’s great! The last three books came from my own shelves. Go me! Religious Literacy took me a long time to get through, solely because it was information-dense, which makes it more difficult for me to focus on (same for The Land of Truth). The Drawing Lesson made a MASSIVE difference in my drawings- I felt like it taught me so, so much, and I’ve been hearing the author in my head as I’ve been drawing with my daughter (you can see my latest drawings on my Instagram; there’s definitely been improvement!). What the Night Sings is still ringing in my head as well; it’s such a powerful, devastating, beautiful book, and I’m so glad I read it.

Now. Julie of the Wolves. Some of you probably remember this as a childhood classic. Maybe you even had to read it for school. (I never enjoyed books about nature when I was young, so I avoided it, and it never ended up on any of our lists at school.) I have a large book with all three books from the series crammed into one, and so I’m reading it to my daughter, and it hasn’t held up particularly well. My brilliant friend Sandy noted this in a better way than I ever could. Be sure to click on the review by Martha Stackhouse; she picks apart this book in an authoritative way and you shouldn’t miss that. Julie of the Wolves and the subsequent books in the series highlight the absolute necessity of the Own Voices movement, and my daughter and I are having plenty of conversations about the inaccuracies in the book and who gets to tell what stories as I read to her. She’s a huge fan of PBS’s Molly of Denali (highly recommended, especially the episode titled ‘Grandpa’s Drum.’ Get the tissues ready; I cry every time we watch this one). Huge thanks to Sandy for making me aware of the issues with these books before I started reading them to my daughter.

Reading Challenge Updates

I did manage to complete the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge earlier this year, a massive feat in this dumpster fire of a year, and I’m pretty proud of that. Here’s my final list:

Tada! I had to switch up some of the books I’d originally planned to read, simply because my access to other libraries was curtailed due to the pandemic. A bummer, but again, as far as problems go, not the worst to have. I’m just proud of being able to finish this one at all!

What’s next in terms of challenges for 2021? The only formal challenge I’ll be participating in this year is a challenge my longtime online parenting group is putting on. Twelve books, one book for every month (but they don’t have to be read in order and we can get through them at our own pace!), and the suggestions are fairly simple. I’m super excited about this! All my other reading will pingpong back and forth from my Goodreads TBR to my own shelves. I’m going to try to read one book from my own shelves for every book I read from the library, but we’ll see how that goes.

Something else I do throughout the year is keep track of where my books are set on my living room map of the world, by placing a marker on each country in which a book I read is set or about (each country gets only one peg, though I sometimes read multiple books set there). Here’s a (crummy) picture of how my map ended up this year:

I’m happy with all the books I read set in Asia and especially southern Asia; that was new for me this year. Europe is almost always featured heavily, but I definitely need to pick up the pace on South America and Africa! (I don’t necessarily try to vary the locations where my books are set; this is just how it ends up.) Who knows how things will go this year, with my reading looking different than other years due to being restricted to only one library.

State of the Goodreads TBR

From 176 last month to 187 this month! Those end-of-the-year book lists are killer!

Books I Acquired in December 2020

I don’t *think* I acquired any new books this month… I never receive books as holiday gifts, solely because I read so much that no one wants to take the chance of getting me a book I’ve already read, which is pretty smart!

Bookish Things I Did in December 2020

I’ve been able to attend several webinars via Zoom that clued me in to a few books I want to read, one on continuing Holocaust education and another on the future of Judaism now that it’s been forced to make a large digital leap (more on this below!). I so appreciate these opportunities to learn different things and, of course, find more great books to read!

Current Podcast Love

I’m still slowly making my way through Judaism Unbound with Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg. That second Zoom webinar I attended featured Dan Libenson as the main presenter, and it was fantastic to see and hear him in a different format than I usually do! He even referred to a few different episodes of the podcast, which I had actually listened to, which was kind of funny, because out of the several hundred people logged into this webinar, I was one of the few who was there due to the podcast (most of the rest were attending because of their association with the organization putting the webinar on). Dan and Lex are absolutely brilliant and sometimes I have a hard time keeping up with them because they’re so incredibly intelligent, but I learn a lot from this podcast and am really enjoying it.

I’ve also started exercising regularly, and on the days I use my exercise bike in the bedroom, I’ve been listening to the Leaving Eden podcast with Gavriel Ha’Cohen and Sadie Carpenter, about Sadie’s rejection of her IFB church upbringing (similar to, but with some differences from the Duggar family’s ATI cult group). It’s funny and heartbreaking and dark and intriguing as heck, and I cannot recommend this one highly enough if you’re interested in cults and niche religious movements.

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

On hold until life goes back to normal.

Real Life Stuff

What a busy month! Lots of various holiday preparation and activities around here; studying for my Judaism class (which continues to be awesome and I love it so much). Lots of cleaning and organizing around the house. Lots of cooking (latkes!) and baking (cookies!) as usual. I was able to see my parents- masked, distanced, and standing apart on the front porch- briefly. I cut my daughter’s hair from almost waist-length to shoulder-length, and it’s so cute! (Both kids are rockin’ the mom cut right now!) I’ve started exercising recently in the hopes that at least *some* of my clothing will still fit when the pandemic is over and also in the hopes that my body will stop looking like a semi-melted candle. (A girl can dream, right?) My kids are enjoying this break from school and the exhaustion that is virtual learning- and so am I. It’s hard to be constantly monitoring my daughter’s behavior AND academic performance while also trying to get my own stuff done. COME ON, VACCINES FOR KIDS!!!!!!!!!!

What’s next for 2021? WHO KNOWS??????????? It’s hard to make any predictions about anything right now. I’ve made my peace with the fact that my daughter will be at home for all of first grade; it’s the safest thing for everyone right now, but I’m cautiously hopeful that she’ll see at least some of second grade in person. My husband and son and I will be jumping at the chance to get the vaccine when it’s offered to us (whenever that is!), as will the vast majority of our close family members. I’ve already had quite a few healthcare worker friends receive theirs and I’m beyond thrilled for them!!! There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how distant.

This will be a year of changes for me, in terms of conversion to Judaism (although the timeline on that depends on the pandemic, and that’s fine- pikuach nefesh, the preservation of human life, reigns supreme here and I’m happy to bide my time so that everything is done only when safe for everyone involved) and hopefully being able to get involved at my synagogue in-person. I’m seriously looking forward to that!

In terms of reading, I’m assuming this will be a slow year for the most part, and that’s okay. Nothing to be done about that. I’ll still set my Goodreads goal at 100 books like I do every year, and I *should* be able to meet that, but I highly doubt I’ll get anywhere near the 200-some books I read last year. I’ll consider it a massive win if I even get to 130, simply because I’m just so pressed for time. I wasn’t thrilled with a lot of my reading this year, and I realized that’s because in years when I’m happy with my reading, I skew heavily towards nonfiction, and this year I read way more fiction, solely because it’s easier for my brain to process (and that’s not a slam at people who solely read fiction. I love fiction; I just also really, really love learning new things and I like to put my brain to work! It makes up for all the rest of my life being about taking care of my kids and scrubbing the kitchen counter!).

This is a year of taking it one day at a time, I think. With so much up in the air, everything so uncertain, I’m just going to enjoy the days as they come, read and learn as much as I can, and keep on doing everything I can to keep life as even as possible for my family. I think that’s probably the most we can hope for until things settle down- and hopefully they will (although my heart is still shaken by the suicide bomber that blew up 2nd Street in Nashville. I lived in Metro Nashville for a year and moved out to the suburb we lived in for four, but I’ve walked that street many times, and it hurts to see photos of the devastation. America, what are you letting yourself become???).

I’m wishing you all a safe, healthy 2021. May your year be filled with good health, as much normalcy as we can create, and the beauty of fabulous books to carry us through the ups and downs. Be well, my friends.

Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: November 2020

It’s December already! Although, technically, I think it’s actually still March, right??? What a weird year.

Slow but steady month around here, folks- nothing new. My stomach is still recovering from the stress it went through with the elections earlier this month. Our Covid numbers are horrible where I am. 11-12,000 cases per day, 150-200 deaths each day. My daughter’s school decided to go virtual for the week after Thanksgiving; I’m thinking they’re hoping that anyone that’s going to be symptomatic will be by the time the kids go back. I wish they’d go all virtual until after winter break; I think that would be the smarter, safer move for everyone, especially since yesterday’s return to virtual school involved stories from all the students about where they traveled to to spend Thanksgiving and with whom they spent it (one girl is *still* out of state and will be all week). It’s all such a nightmare.

But we’re doing okay and staying healthy at the Not-At-the-Library-Because-They’ve-Returned-to-Curbside-Pickup-Only household! I’m not getting much reading time in; I can’t read during the day because I also have to pay attention to my daughter’s classes so I can keep her on track and reinforce what she’s learning, and then we do extra stuff when she’s released from her virtual learning sessions. But I’m making my way through my last stash of library books and then I’ll move on to reading some from my own shelves, because I promised I’d be better about that this year, and I will. 😊

Let’s get this recap started, shall we?

What I Read in November 2020

1. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

2. Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale by Adam Minter

3. The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

4. The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf

5. Resistance by Jennifer A. Nielsen

6. Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States by Samantha Allen

7. The Heir and the Spare by Emily Albright

8. The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

9. An Introduction to Judaism by Nicholas de Lange (no review)

Quiet month around here! Five of these were from my TBR; two were read-alouds (don’t bother with The Frog Princess; the writing was so awkward and the dialogue so stilted that it made for a kind of terrible read-aloud); one was an impulse grab. An Introduction to Judaism was a short book but a slow read; the author is at Cambridge and writes in such an academic style (and in a way that shows he is way, way smarter than I could ever dream of being!) that getting through this took all month, especially with my limited reading time. Six fiction; three nonfiction.

Reading Challenge Updates

Nothing from my own shelves this month (other than the two read-alouds, but that’s solely because I’ve been anticipating another library shut down, so I grabbed a STACK of books), but I’ll do my best to get back to those next!

State of the Goodreads TBR

173 last month; 176 this month! Not too much creep, so that makes me happy! We’ll see what this looks like next month, haha! All those ‘Best Books of 2020’ and ‘Most Anticipated Books of 2021’ lists should be making their way to the internet soon. Craaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaapppp…

Books I Acquired in November 2020

Um…none? I don’t think?

Bookish Things I Did in November 2020

So, not entirely bookish, but at the beginning of the month, I virtually attended a seminar on the future of Holocaust education in the US, which was both sobering and super interesting, and I added a book or two to my TBR from this (one of which I have checked out from the library right now!).

Current Podcast Love

Still listening to Judaism Unbound, and I’ve added in Stuff Jews Should Know, which is super fun and informative. 😊 The iTunes podcast player keeps shutting it down and telling me some episodes are temporarily unavailable, which is annoying and wakes me up at night, so I’ll only be able to listen to this one at certain times.

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

On hold until life goes back to normal, although I’m trying to keep a Judaism-themed book going at all times (I have one on stories from the Talmud next), which also factors into my other reading time, so this kind of counts? Maybe?

Real Life Stuff

Just another month of quarantine life around here! We just did virtual parent-teacher conferences for my daughter; she’s doing really well in everything (especially reading!), so I’m very happy with her progress- not that I doubted it, because I’m literally RIGHT BEHIND HER at all times during school, haha! Her math has improved as well; I really love the curriculum the school uses, as I feel it teaches math in such a logical way. She has such a better grasp on math than I did at her age, which makes me incredibly happy. She’s also started picking up chapter books and reading them on her own, which is a HUGE deal. She’s currently enjoying the Bad Kitty series; I get such joy out of watching her read and giggle.

My son has taken up cooking as a hobby, so I hang out with him in the kitchen and help out when he needs advice (I also chop onions for him; he reacts pretty badly to them!). He’s made some seriously amazing food so far, including a baked ziti that was restaurant-quality and better than anything I’ve cooked in the last eight months. I highly approve of this new hobby!

My husband and I have been watching The Path on Hulu at night, and since it’s about what basically amounts to a Scientology-like cult, you know I’m in. I’ve been knitting hats for a mobile homeless shelter (for whenever things go back to normal) while we watch (at least most nights! Some nights I’m too tired), so I’m at least trying to make the best of that time.

Thanksgiving was quiet here. I made a turkey-flavored seitan with white bean mushroom gravy, my son helped make not-crab cakes (made with black-eyed peas; he also made crab cakes for the rest of the family) and a red pepper tomato mayo sauce, cheese potatoes, green beans, and rolls. We had a store-bought cheesecake for dessert. Everything was SUPER delicious! I’ve spent half of my adult life living out of state from the rest of my family, so Thanksgiving with just the four of us was really nothing new. We did meet up with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law for a masked, distanced outdoor walk afterwards, but that was the extent of our gathering. No virus-sharing for us!

That’s about it for us, it was a quiet month. Hang in there, friends. We’ve got Hanukkah and Christmas coming up, still distanced- except for the people who won’t, and that’s going to overwhelm our healthcare system. The small hospital where I was born is at capacity with HALF of their patients in there because of Covid. Don’t be one of those people; wear your mask, keep your distance, celebrate virtually so we can all be here to celebrate in person next year. And, as always, fight for justice and equality wherever you go; elevate the voices that get pushed out of the way; lift as you climb. Society doesn’t function to the best of its ability unless we’re all able to participate equally.  

Happy reading, friends! May your December be full of warmth, light, love, and amazing books.

Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: October 2020

Goodness. What a month. Have you ever had a month where you get so little reading done, it’s laughable? That was this month. It’s just been one thing after another. Nothing major, just pandemic-life business. Daughter’s virtual school blends into daughter’s home school which fades into Zoom class which turns into errands and then dinner and then daughter’s bedtime and then husband wants to watch something on TV. And there goes my entire day! We’ve had a LOT of days like this, with errands, chores, online meetings, and household tasks (like overhauling my daughters room, AGAIN; three hours of life I’ll never get back, AGAIN) that have just sucked away my reading time. It’s not been a great reading month for me.

Things are crazy all over, though; my state is doing terribly in regards to case numbers and people are screaming like toddlers about their rights to cough all over nursing home residents (“They’re old! They were going to die anyway! Disabled people can just stay home! It’s my RIGHT to eat in a restaurant!!!”), and I just don’t understand anything anymore. I can’t imagine November is going to be any calmer, but I’m glad I have plenty of books to get lost in when I have time for them, because boy, the real world stinks right now.

Let’s focus on recapping October, shall we?

What I Read in October 2020

1. Being Jewish: The Spiritual and Cultural Practice of Judaism Today by Ari Goldman (no review)

2. Pointe by Brandy Colbert

3. The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

4. Home Sweet Anywhere: How We Sold Our House, Created a New Life, and Saw the World by Lynne Martin

5. Behind the Attic Wall by Sylvia Cassedy (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

6. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

7. This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live by Melody Warnick

8. Year of the Rabbit by Tian Veasna (no review)

9. Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul by Naomi Levy (no review)

Seriously about the worst month of reading, numbers-wise, that I’ve had since my daughter was a non-sleeping infant/toddler! But if we look behind the numbers, The Librarian of Auschwitz was emotionally taxing and took me a bit to work through. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is information-dense and isn’t a quick read at all. This Is Where You Belong was a great read but a bit bittersweet, since literally none of its suggestions can be implemented right now, and then there’s the constant doomscrolling I’ve been engaged in, and the fact that my husband wants to watch TV with me every night and the fact that I have a hard time reading when all of first grade is taking place about five and a half feet in front of me (and I spend probably a good three+ hours a day engaging with my daughter with either classwork for her virtual schooling or doing extra school stuff that her school just isn’t able to do virtually, due to time constraints). It’s been a month, seriously. Home Sweet Anywhere and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle came from my own shelves, so I’m happy with that progress! There’s actually SPACE on my shelf by the TV!

Reading Challenge Updates

In the Read From My Own Shelves challenge, I’m down two books (and took another one off, because two pages in, I realized this was absolutely not the book for me). These books will head off to a Little Free Library near me as soon as I can remember to grab them before I head out the door on a walk!

State of the Goodreads TBR

170 last month, 173 this month. Four of the books I read this month came off of my TBR. Slow month for everything!

Books I Acquired in October 2020

Hmmm. I grabbed a bunch of books for my daughter on a quick trip to the thrift store, including a copy of Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, which I’m reading out loud to her now. I’ll give her this stack of books for the holidays; she’s started to pick up chapter books on her own, without being prompted (a HUGE deal; she’s a good reader but hasn’t seemed hugely motivated to read unprompted in the past, so I’m extremely excited about this!!!), so hopefully these will be a welcome gift. I didn’t find anything for myself on that trip, but that’s okay, because I won an ARC of Katie Henry’s This Will Be Funny Someday on Twitter! I adore her, so I’m looking forward to reading this. 😊

Bookish Things I Did in October 2020

Do things even exist anymore???

Current Podcast Love

Still making my way through Judaism Unbound. I lay awake through all of the interview with author Eric Weiner the other night and ended up adding the book he was promoting to my TBR. 😊

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

On hold until life goes back to normal.

Real Life Stuff

Whew. Just an entirely crazy month. So far my daughter’s school *seems* to be doing okay (that we know of…) but there have been multiple cases of Covid in other local schools, and a few neighboring districts have returned to virtual learning due to an explosion of cases (including the high school I attended). We’ve chosen for my daughter to remain at home; I no longer harbor any optimism that she’ll attend in-person school this year. My son’s freshman year of college will remain at home as well, and he’s considering changing his major to marketing from music education, because he sees more of a future in that. I’m sad for him; he loved helping behind the scenes with high school choir so much.

My daughter has specials on Wednesday: art, music, and gym class. She was really self-conscious about doing art by herself, so I’ve joined her, doing some sort of drawing along with her every Wednesday. I’m not exactly the greatest artist, and I haven’t done any kind of art at all since I was about sixteen (and that was something I made for work; prior to that, I’d quit drawing around age 12). I’ve been posting my art creations on Instagram as part of what I’ve titled #ShittyArtWednesday (along with another set of doodles I did to keep my heart rate from exploding due to rage during the final debate), so if you’re interested in viewing some not-at-all-professional art, check out my Instagram.

That’s really about it! We’ve already had several days of snow; no accumulation, but the long, cold days of winter (let’s face it, winter lasts from late October to late May here) have begun. My anxiety has been out of control this month, but it’s increasingly more and more difficult to tell if it’s anxiety or fear about legit things. Mostly I’m just sad about the state of everything.

Hang in there, folks. I don’t think November will be any easier, especially since it’s not safe to gather for American Thanksgiving, but people will anyway, and healthcare workers like my friends Jen W. and Jen T. and Jen B. and Alicia S. will all be working themselves to the bone and coming away with PTSD because of it. Think of them before you gather; things are getting desperate and they don’t need you on their wards, because an unfortunate amount of people leave there only to be stashed in portable morgues, and the rest leave with permanent organ damage and health challenges science doesn’t yet understand. Be safe, please.

Keep up the fight for justice, friends. So many people are hurting right now; kindness matters, but remember, kindness doesn’t mean suffering hatred and bigotry with a smile on your face. Sometimes the kindest thing of all is to stand up and speak out, loudly. Black Lives Matter. Love is love. Women’s rights and trans rights are human rights. No human being should go to bed hungry, not if they’re out of work, not if they’re here without papers, not if they’re disabled, not if they’re addicted to drugs. Far too many people have lost their humanity and forgotten all of this. Cruelty isn’t attractive, y’all.

May your November be peaceful.

Monthly roundup · reading life

Monthly Roundup: September 2020

Month 438247392838924389792 of the pandemic, folks, with cases on the rise in the US because no one cares anymore, and human lives and suffering mean nothing! It’s utter insanity here. People in my own town are screaming to reopen the schools (while schools a few counties away have had to shut down because their students keep testing positive for Covid-19, and my son’s former high school had to quarantine the entire cross country team because someone went to a meet while awaiting the results of a Covid test that turned out to be positive, but apparently we are incapable of learning anything from anyone and no one will be happy until everyone has permanent lung damage), people are gathering in large groups and breathing and coughing all over each other, and no. one. cares. It’s crazy-making to watch, and I’ve basically been coping by reading every moment I’m not cooking, cleaning, or acting as my six year-old’s office assistant. (Shout-out to all you teachers teaching virtually; you are AMAZING and I love you all.)

I hope you’re all managing to stay sane while the world melts down around us. September seems to have gone by in a flash for me, but time means nothing these days, so maybe it dragged on as long as March seemed to. Who knows? *crazy laughter* Anyway, let’s talk books instead of pandemic.

Ready to recap?

What I Read in September 2020

  1. Living a Life That Matters by Harold S. Kushner (no review)
  2. Nazi Wives: The Women at the Top of Hitler’s Germany by James Wyllie (review to come)
  3. Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger by Louis Sachar (no review, read out loud to my daughter)
  4. Lighting the Flames by Sarah Wendell
  5. Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder
  6. Like No Other by Una LaMarche
  7. In the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton
  8. Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
  9. Overcoming Life’s Disappointments by Harold S. Kushner (no review)
  10. There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom by Louis Sachar (no review; read out loud to my daughter)
  11. Overground Railroad: The Green Book & Roots of Black Travel in America by Candacy A. Taylor
  12. The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure by Rachel Friedman
  13. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (no review, though I mentioned it here)
  14. Plum Fantastic (Sugar Plum Ballerinas #1) by Whoopi Goldberg and Deborah Underwood (no review, read out loud to my daughter)
  15. Unseen City: The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails & Other Wonders of the Urban Wilderness by Nathanael Johnson
  16. Broken Faith: Inside the Word of Faith Fellowship, One of America’s Most Dangerous Cults by Mitch Weiss and Holbrook Mohr
  17. They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker (review to come)

Not bad for a month of reading. Two of these were from my own shelves, as per my new reading goal of reading my own books. Eight of them came off of my TBR. Three were read-alouds to my daughter; we loved the Louis Sachars, but neither of us really enjoyed the Sugar Plum Ballerinas book (A+ for diverse characters, though!). Ten non-fiction, seven fiction. That’s a pretty good mix.

Reading Challenge Updates

I finished the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge (go me!), so my newest challenge is to read off of my own shelves. I started the challenge late in the month; so far, I only have two read off of my by-the-TV shelf. That’ll increase in October. Watch this space next month for updates! 😊

State of the Goodreads TBR

Like I said, because I’ll be focusing on my own shelves for a bit (and most of the stuff on my TBR comes from the library), this won’t be decreasing at any real rate anytime soon, and that’s something I’m okay with. Last month I had 158 books on here; this month I’m up to 170. The last two library books I have checked out are from my TBR, though, and after I finish those, I’ll read four from my own shelf!

Books I Acquired in September 2020

None!

Bookish Things I Did in September 2020

Nothing but reading on my swing on the back porch every afternoon (and on my chair in the evenings!), but sadly, those days will be coming to an end soon, since the temperatures will be dropping this week. I’m going to miss those hours of quiet outdoor reading…

Current Podcast Love

I’ve been mainly listening to Judaism Unbound, but I find their voices so soothing that it puts me to sleep almost immediately! Hard to get much listening done that way!

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

On hold until life goes back to normal, whenever that is…

Real Life Stuff

I swear, I wish I had time to keep a journal, because it’s hard to remember what happens when all the days kind of look the same…

My son is doing well with virtual college. My daughter is into the swing of things with virtual first grade learning, and I’m basically acting as her personal assistant, signing her in and out of meetings, keeping an ear out for what she’s doing so I can help her with her schoolwork later on, monitoring her behavior to make sure she stays focused (NOT an easy task!), along with getting my regular housework and cooking done and trying to keep up with this blog. It’s not exactly simple, but we’ve adjusted well and my daughter is doing just fine (perfect score on her reading assessment the other day!!!). Her school is attempting to go back to a hybrid model in the middle of October; she’ll remain entirely virtual because I’m not interested in taking chances with her health, our health, or her teachers health. I feel for the families who are struggling with all of this and feel they have no other choice but to send their kiddos, whether because of the difficulties of virtual learning or due to work or both. Nothing about any of this is optimal for anyone.

Her school district is being really awesome and is participating in a program that hands out food (no income restrictions) to its students; if people don’t participate, they lose funding, so twice a week, we schlep over to the school for a bag of breakfasts and lunches for my daughter. It’s amazing of them; the food is surprisingly healthy and my daughter, who spent all of last year pining for school lunches, is in love (it also takes some of the stress off of me, since I don’t have to figure out what to make her for lunch anymore, and she’s got a pile of healthy snacks she can grab so I don’t have to get up- which sounds like laziness, but it’s really just a benefit for my back, which has been kind of terrible lately. I’m still walking and getting exercise, but getting up and down can be acutely painful, so this helps). They’re doing this all this year, and I’m extremely grateful.

Our other big excitement this month: we got a bird feeder! It sits right outside our living room window and I can watch it from my reading chair. We mostly get house sparrows and song sparrows, but we’ve also had a crow of some sort (it stops by so rarely that I haven’t been able to narrow it down more), a cardinal, some sort of what I think is a warbler, a blue jay, and a few hummingbirds at the hummingbird feeder. It’s so fun and relaxing to watch them, though they eat like hogs and are constantly bickering and pecking at each other. I’m looking forward to seeing if the birds we get change or increase in number during the cooler weather.

What’s up in October? Who knows! Our village hasn’t made any decisions about Halloween; I’m not sure how comfortable I feel about taking my daughter out anyway. If everyone wore masks, that would be one thing, but I don’t trust that people will do that (other than in stores where it’s mandated). Either way, we’ve reassured my kiddo that there will be plenty of candy, and we’ll make some special food and watch some kid-appropriate spooky movies. We won’t let her miss out on the fun stuff. 😉

Hang in there, folks. Nothing’s going to get any easier until we work to make it that way, so try not to lose hope; fight with fire for justice and equality for everyone, and keep masking and social distancing, because otherwise, we’re never, ever going to get through this, and people will continue to die and suffer permanent organ damage. There’s been far too much of this already, and it doesn’t have to be like this. ☹

L’shanah tovah, g’mar chatimah tovah, and may you all have a peaceful October filled with amazing reads.

How was your September???

reading challenge · reading life

Crossing the Finish Line on the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge!!!

So, this week, in celebration of Banned Books Week, I read this book:

(Incidentally, it came from my own shelves. I bought it from a used book sale last summer. It’s one that I’ve always wanted to read but had never gotten around to it before. Mission accomplished!)

I didn’t write up a review; this book has been around long enough that the world probably doesn’t need yet another review of it. It’s definitely a product of its time and has a *lot* of racist and misogynistic remarks and references. I haven’t seen the movie; I thought the story line was interesting but predictable (though really, it ended in the only possible way that made sense), but it’s a good study of human nature and power.

BUT. With the completion of this book, I now have THIS:

I FINISHED!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge is one for the books! (Buh-dum-CHHHH!!!!)

Whew! That was a lot of books.

My thoughts on this challenge:

I enjoyed it. Not quite as much as I liked last year’s Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge, but it was fun. I felt like there were lighter book choices for this challenge; I definitely read more YA than I did last year. There were a few books I didn’t care for (It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips; The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald; I didn’t love State of Wonder by Ann Patchett); I read a few books I haven’t been able to stop thinking about (The Color of Love by Marra B. Gad, Sunny Days by David Kamp); I read some books I’d been meaning to get around to for ages (Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithewaite), I discovered new authors I love (Dani Shapiro, Geraldine Brooks, Camryn Garrett) and read authors who are like old friends to me (Naomi Kritzer- an actual old friend!, Kathleen Gilles Seidel, Jennifer Weiner). It’s been an interesting, fun literary tour this year- not without stress and some scrambling changes, thanks to the pandemic and the months-long closure of the library (thank goodness for ebooks!!!), but it was a worthy challenge to participate in, and I’m glad I made the decision to join in.

I’m planning on forgoing the usual challenges for a bit in order to read the books off of my own shelves in between reading down my TBR, but who knows, maybe I’ll join in something else later on in 2021. Who knows. But I’m pretty proud of myself for completing the 2020 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge with plenty of time to spare!!!

Are you a fan of reading challenges? How are you doing this weird, weird year? This is the second year I’ve participated and finished my reading challenges of choice (though I made the decision to not do this year’s Book Riot Read Harder or the Modern Mrs. Darcy challenge. The pandemic threw a *lot* of things off and made reading really difficult for a while). I like that it directs my reading and introduces me to new authors I might not have read without the challenge, to new subjects I may not have considered reading about without a prompt, to new formats (last year, I read poetry for the first time in years, and I’m still planning on reading more!). It does get a little frustrating sometimes when I would prefer to be taming the beast that is my TBR, but really, the trade-off is worth it.

Are you planning on taking part in challenges next year?

Happy reading, friends, no matter what shapes your book choices. 😊

Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: August 2020

Oh, August, we hardly knew ya!

It felt like this month went at warp speed. First, I was turning 40 at the beginning of this month; now, my daughter has started virtual learning! And somewhere in all that whirlwind, we did school at home, I started a new virtual class (more on that later), my back turned into hot summer garbage again, I walked around the neighborhood with my family a zillion times, and I read a few books. Not a terrible month as a whole, really, but still. Pandemic life isn’t exactly optimal.

We’re doing okay, though. Hanging in there as best as we can amidst all the chaos of the world. Lots of deep breathing, escaping into books to avoid everything out there, and making the best of everything we can. I hope you’re managing as well as you can, too.

Let’s get this recap on the road, shall we?

What I Read in August 2020

  1. The Chosen Wars: How Judaism Became an American Religion by Steven R. Weisman (no review)

2. Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai

3. Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

4. Chasing Echoes by Dan Goldman and George Schall

5. Otis Spofford by Beverly Cleary (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

6. Bingo Love by Jenn Franklin and Tee St-Onge

7. The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy by Masha Gessen

8. No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert

9. The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez

10. Sideways Stories From Wayside School by Louis Sachar (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

11. Someday We Will Fly by Rachel DeWoskin

12. The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren (review to come)

13. Wayside School Is Falling Down by Louis Sachar (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

14. The Happiness Prayer: Ancient Jewish Wisdom for the Best Way to Live Today by Evan Moffic (no review)

15. Passenger by Alexandra Bracken (review to come)

16. Our Year of Maybe by Rachel Lynn Solomon (review to come)

Phew! Not a bad month of reading. As you can tell, I spent a *lot* of time reading aloud to my daughter (and this isn’t even all of what we read aloud. I’m not marking down the shorter books we read for schoolwork. My mouth gets seriously dry some days with all the reading aloud!). Nine of these came off my TBR, so I’m happy about that- of course, I probably added eighty books to the TBR, so it doesn’t quite balance out, but that’s okay. 😊

Reading Challenge Updates

And there we go! I realized that The Brothers by Masha Gessen fit the prompt for a book by a journalist, so all I have left is to read a banned book for Banned Books Week, and I’ll start on that at the end of this month. GO ME!!!!!!!!!!!!

State of the Goodreads TBR

Last month, I was at 152 books; this month, it’s expanded to 158. I *was* in the 160’s, but I read it down a bit. It’ll be time for another trip to the library soon, so I’ll grab some more off my TBR and we’ll see where I am after that.

Books I Acquired in August 2020

I grabbed a copy of All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle Brown from a Little Free Library on a walk with my son; I’ll read it (eventually!) and send it back out into the world. And I bought a copy of Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin (something I’ve always wanted to read!) for a virtual class I’m taking.

Bookish Things I Did in August 2020

Some of my awesome parenting group friends gathered online to have a book chat- which of course dissolved into a general chat, but we talked about favorite books and favorite authors and lots of other random things, and it was fantastic.

Current Podcast Love

Catching up on some new episodes of What Should I Read Next? with Anne Bogel (I was sorry to read on Instagram that her father passed away; may his memory be a blessing), and then listening to all the back episodes of Jew Too? Tales of the Mixed Multitude with Rabbi Emily Cohen. Lots of interviews with a diverse group of people who speak about a lot of things I can relate to. She’s on a break but hopefully there will be new episodes in the future, because I really enjoy this one.

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

Currently on hold until life goes back to normal and I have two seconds of quiet time to actually read tougher stuff!

Real Life Stuff

I turned 40 this month. Doesn’t feel much different than any other decade of my life, but, like my childhood best friend said when we were young, I was 40 before I turned 12. *grin* We celebrated by taking a several-hours-long hike around a local preserve, and by ordering Indian food (my favorite!) for dinner that night, and then consuming a key lime pie. All in all, an okay version of an at-home birthday.

My son started virtual college and is enjoying it. My daughter has done some prep-type stuff and has had one full day of virtual first grade so far. Too soon to say how it’ll go as a whole, but her school is virtual until further notice and, even when they go back, parents who wish (like me) will have the option to keep their students virtual. My daughter is pretty stressed out by the idea of physically going back to school (no matter how much we reassure her that we won’t be sending her back until it’s safe) and we’ve been dealing with a few meltdowns here and there, which breaks my heart. There’s going to be a lot of mass trauma on the part of children when all this is over and I pray that schools are making plans to step up their counseling departments in light of this.

Not much writing done at all this month, but that’s fine. My focus has been elsewhere.

I started another virtual Judaism class. I’m studying with a local rabbi here in town with the goal of of pursuing conversion- that’s where my new copy of Jewish Literacy by Joseph Telushkin comes in. It’ll be a slow process, especially with the pandemic and synagogues and mikvehs still being closed (although I’ve been attending virtual services most Friday nights since March!), and that’s okay. It’s definitely something wonderful and amazing and exciting to look forward to. 😊

So what’s coming up in September?

More of the same! School for my daughter, college for my son. My son is in his classes in his room, my daughter is using a previously unused end table from the basement as her desk in the living room (if this goes on past this school year, we’ll get her an actual tiny desk). She’ll be on her school-issued iPad during various live sessions throughout the day; thanks to our split-level house that is ridiculously open, I’ll be able to hear her from every corner of every room and will be available to help out if needed. I’m hoping to get her as independent as possible when it comes to things like logging in to various apps and meetings; that way I can get whatever parts of dinner started as early as possible so I can help her with her post-virtual session work. We’ll see how it goes! I already love her teacher this year and I’m deeply impressed with all the hard work her school has put into making virtual learning an exciting new prospect for the kids.

My apologies for any mistakes in this post; WordPress isn’t letting me save my work at certain points in each post, and I’ve had to go back and forth between a Microsoft Word document. It’s also not letting me preview before I publish- anyone else having these issues? It’s been going on all month and it’s been *seriously* annoying.

Hang in there, friends. I know we’re all feeling tense and anxious these days. Spend some time in nature if you can (WINTER IS COMING, FOLKS). Be there for your Black and brown friends. If you’re in the US and you’re not already registered to vote, get on that, and bring some friends with you to get registered as well. Be kind; you never know what others are going through, but always remember that bigots never, ever deserve peace if you’re trying to keep the peace with them. Stand up for justice, friends, and read on. ❤

Here’s to a peaceful, book-filled September!

Monthly roundup

Monthly roundup: July 2020

Hello, hello, and welcome to Pandemic Month 478274983249372, or so it feels! I’ve been fairly terrible about blogging this month, and I apologize. My brain is just exhausted and it’s been difficult trying to cram in everything I need to get done every day, so some things are falling by the wayside- seriously, you should see my laundry pile. YIKES.

We’re still hanging in there at the Only-Very-Occasionally-At-The-Library Household (I’ve made, I think, three trips to the library this month? It’s been awesome). We had a socially distanced picnic with my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and nephew; we let the kids run around but only when they were wearing masks (which they do with no complaints, unlike so many of the adults I see on FB, seriously, wtf guys, my daughter was running far enough and long enough to get sweaty while wearing a mask, I think you can handle it for a ten minute errand to pick up Old Spice deodorant at Walmart…), and that was pretty much our highlight of the month!

Let’s recap this month, shall we?

What I Read in July of 2020

  1. The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt

2. How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones

3. Billion Dollar Cowboy by Carolyn Brown

4. Till the Stars Fall by Kathleen Gilles Seidel

5. Confessions of a Closet Catholic by Sarah Darer Littman

6. The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

7. I Want You to Know We’re Still Here: A Post-Holocaust Memoir by Esther Safran Foer

8. Hostage by Guy Delisle

9. Ester and Ruzya: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler’s War and Stalin’s Peace by Masha Gessen

10. Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares by Aarti Namdev Shahani

11. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

12. Roomies by Christina Lauren

13. Twice in a Blue Moon by Christina Lauren

14. Closer by Alexa Riley (no review; listened to the audiobook as I exercised. More on this below)

Many of the books I didn’t review fully were included in my mini-review post here. Somehow, when I was writing that post, Ester and Ruzya got left off, so let’s include that right now. Masha Gessen writes the story of her grandmothers surviving World War II and Stalin’s regime in Poland and Russia. It’s a bleak story starring two strong, determined women. I have a few other books by Ms. Gessen on my TBR and I’m looking forward to seeing how her storytelling style translates when it comes to less personal stories. Great book; difficult to read at times (more because of my mental exhaustion than anything).

Not a bad month for reading, all around. I’m finding I have a tougher time focusing on nonfiction right now; I’ve got what I’ve been referring to as ‘pandemic brain,’ where I’m just exhausted and can’t take in information quite as well. I’ve got an information-dense book going on right now that I began in the middle of the month, but I’ve had to cut it down to reading 25 pages a day and reading something lighter at night because I’m just too worn out. Such are these strange times, I guess.

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis REALLY irritated me. The ending was just… Have you read it? My husband was in the room as I read the last few pages aloud and even he was like, “WTF…” I don’t know how much of it my daughter really got, but we were super weirded out, and now we’re always joking about Susan, that nylon-wearing tart. SUCH a strange way to end a series, and my daughter and I are so glad to be done with it.

Five books marked off my reading challenge! Speaking of which…

Reading Challenge Updates

I’m close to being done! Check out these bad boys:

I’m currently reading a book recommended by Smart Podcast, Trashy Books, the podcast from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (plus I have another one on hold at the library!), so that’ll be checked off soon. I have a book by a journalist on hold as well; if it doesn’t come in after next month, I’ll maybe try to search for another one. And obviously I’m waiting to read a banned book, because Banned Books Week doesn’t come around until September. So, basically, lots of waiting going on around here. I’m glad to be mostly done with this, though I do miss the direction the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge gave me! 🙂

I’m holding off on the other challenges I was planning on participating in; my brain needs the break.

State of the Goodreads TBR

OY. 149 last month, 152 this month. Not a huge leap, but that’s because I knocked a few off of there this month, including Here We Are, Ester and Ruzya, How We Fight For Our Lives, and The Things a Brother Knows. I’m working on more, but I’ve strayed a few times because a lot of what’s on my TBR is heavier nonfiction and I simply cannot right this moment. Light and fluffy is winning.

Books I Acquired in July 2020

None!

Bookish Things I Did in July 2020

I’ve made three (I think) library appointments so far. It’s been awesome having new books around for my daughter. We’re doing about 3 hours of school per day, and a huge chunk of that is us reading together or me reading to her. We finished up the Molly series of American Girl books and have moved on to Kit; Molly’s sacrifices as a child growing up during World War II, and Kit’s struggles during the Great Depression have helped my daughter understand about sacrifice and working together for the common good. They’re excellent examples of why we stay at home, and why we wear masks in the rare instances when we have to be out in public. Reading these stories really illustrates these concepts for my daughter, and I’m really enjoying reading them with her.

We’ve also been reading a lot of stories of people who fought against injustice and worked to improve life for people (mostly in the US right now, but not all). Malala Yousafzai, Coretta Scott King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Marian Anderson, Lena Horne, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Soujourner Truth, Billie Jean King, Jane Addams, Florence Mills, John Lewis, Gordon Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rube Goldberg, Rosa Parks. There are *so* many interesting and beautifully illustrated biographies out there for kids, and I’m really enjoying using them to show my daughter what courage, dedication, sacrifice, and hard work look like.

I feel so fortunate that the library has at least partially opened again. 🙂

Current Podcast Love

I’m finishing catching up newer episodes of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. I’ve listened to a few different episodes of a few different writing podcasts, but haven’t fallen in love with any of them yet (I used to love Writing Excuses, but as I usually listen to podcasts as I’m falling asleep, I need something just a little bit calmer! They’re hilarious!). I’ll keep hunting until I find one that appeals to me.

I also discovered Read Me Romance, a podcast hosted by Alexa Riley and Tessa Bailey (Alexa Riley is a team, like Christina Lauren, so this is actually three people!). The hosts chat for the first 10-20 minutes of the podcast, and the rest is an audiobook chapter or two from a romance novella (sometimes written by the hosts, sometimes other people). I’ve been listening both as I’m falling asleep and when I’m exercising, and it’s fun. 🙂

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

Currently on hold.

Real Life Stuff

Oof. What a month. It wasn’t busy, but the weight of all of this *gestures broadly at everything* has really started to bear down on me. The amount of people not taking this virus seriously- how did so many people graduate high school, COLLEGE, EVEN, and lack a third-grade understanding of science and basic, BASIC civics education?!?!?!? HOW??? HOW ARE WE SUPPOSED TO HAVE A FUNCTIONING SOCIETY WITH THESE PEOPLE? I have truly lost every last bit of patience on social media and I’m not afraid to let my ire out these days. NO, COVID-19 isn’t the sniffles. NO, you cannot have your tax dollars back when your child graduates high school and you (so you think) no longer use the services of the public school system. NO, there’s not a magic cure for cancer that scientists don’t want you to know (do you think scientists don’t die of cancer???). I seriously cannot with these people anymore.

*deep breath*

Life goes on around here. I’m missing my family an awful lot these days, which adds to my frustration when people are out there being stupid- they’re being stupid and those of us taking this seriously are stuck staying away from our loved ones even longer. It’s like we’re being held hostage by the dumbest people out there, and it makes me angry and sad. I do my best to keep it together for my kids, though. My son is getting ready to start his classes with the community college- all online, thankfully; we’re referring to it as the University of the Holy Basement (the basement is where his computer is located). My daughter and I do school in the mornings; she has a video chat playdate with a friend’s daughter most afternoons. They play dolls and other various toys, and it’s so cute hearing them chatter to each other. She looks forward to it every day.

I’m writing or, I should say, I’m trying to write. I wrote about 6000 words this month, which is pretty good, putting my current WIP at just over 28,000 words. Some days even trying to come up with a single sentence is difficult and like swimming through a pit of mud; other days, I dash off a thousand words at a pop without think. Slow and steady wins the race, though. I’ll get there. 6000 words is awesome progress, being that I was stuck at 19,000 words for so. freaking. long!

So what happens in August?

My son will start college classes, fully remote. My daughter’s school will begin fully remote- which is excellent, because, as I told the school on the survey they sent out last month, if they didn’t have a fully remote option, we’d be pulling her and fully homeschooling until it was safe (I love and support our public schools, but I’m not risking my daughter’s life. I’m able to keep her home and school her at home, and thus she’d be one less kid in the stream. I absolutely feel like because I can keep her home, it’s my responsibility to society to keep her home). The school is apparently working on ways to get kids back in the building safely, but even then they said they’ll still be offering the option of remote learning, and we’ll take full advantage of that. I’m happy to do it completely myself, but it’ll be much easier to have the guidance of the school and she’ll have fewer gaps in her learning when it IS safe to go back (meaning, she’ll have learned the same things they have and stayed on the same track. Were I to homeschool her on my own, she may learn other things and not exactly what they have. It’d be the same thing as transferring from one school to another, if that makes sense!).

I also turn 40 this month. 😀 What a way to celebrate that milestone, amirite???

Anyway, hang in there, friends. If you’re outside the US, hopefully your country is handling the pandemic well and things are getting back to normal for you. If you’re in the US like me, well, hopefully you’re doing the best you can under such awful circumstances. You’re all in my heart. Be strong, be creative, fight against injustice wherever you see it, wear your mask, wash your hands, and keep socially distancing so we can get through this and I can see my mom and dad again. My kids miss their grandparents. Love to you all. Be safe, and have as lovely of an August as you can make it. ❤

Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: June 2020

Month Four of this pandemic in the US, can you believe it??? And things aren’t any better. They’re actually worse in a lot of places than when this first started. 😦

Life hasn’t changed much for us here at the Library household. We’re still living the quarantine lifestyle, not seeing friends or family except via video chat. If there’s an errand that needs to be run, one of us is in the store and out with no dawdling, no browsing, it’s just getting what we need and getting out. Masks are worn at all times when we’re in stores (fortunately, this went into effect here on May 1st and at least where I live, almost everyone is compliant. And I feel very, very grateful for this), and we sanitize our hands before removing them. We’re doing everything we can to stay safe, but all of this feels like one of those group projects in school where one or two of them members did nothing and everyone ended up with a bad grade because of it.

But really, our day-to-day life is okay. Reading with my daughter in the mornings, playing music with my son in the afternoons, walking with the family when it’s cool enough, reading in the evenings. It’s not a bad life. 🙂

Let’s recap the month’s reading, shall we?

What I Read in June 2020

  1. Devotion: A Memoir by Dani Shapiro

2. Sunny Days: Sesame Street, Mister Rogers, and the Children’s Television Revolution by David Kamp

3. Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place (A Transgender Memoir) by Jackson Bird

4. A River Could Be a Tree by Angela Himsel

5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

6. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

7. Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe (no review; more on this below)

8. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

9. All the Young Men by Ruth Coker Burks (review to come)

10. Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

11. The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

12. The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum (review to come)

Another quiet month; it’s just how my reading is going to be until life settles down. Slow and steady. 🙂

I didn’t review Say Nothing because it’s so complex. It tells the story of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, something I knew very little about. This book is a wallop of information. It’s incredible, but it’s a lot to digest and took me almost a week to read. If you’re wanting to understand the Troubles, this is an excellent resource. I’ll need to read much more before I have a solid grip on this piece of history, though, which is why I didn’t feel comfortable doing a full write-up.

Nine books marked off my reading challenges, though! Speaking of which…

Reading Challenge Updates

I think I’m going to go ahead and complete the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge and call it good. Doing others would be a little too much this year, what with my reading slowing down so much, but I’m pleased that I’ve made so much progress on this one.

Here’s what that challenge looks like right now:

Two notes here:

First, when I went to look for a suggestion for ‘a book with an upside-down image on the cover, one of the suggestions was Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. And since I read that back in February, you bet your behind I’m using that for this challenge!

Secondly, I realized that the prompt ‘A book set in the 1920s’ was cut off of my graphic (but not the paper I’m using to keep track with my reading binder), so I added that in at the bottom of the left hand ‘Advanced’ column.

Not looking too bad, eh? I’ve got four ebooks on hold from the library for this, although if a few take too long, I’ll probably end up picking something else, which is fine. I won’t be able to mark off the last box- Read a banned book during Banned Books Week- until September, but depending on how quickly my books come in, I may be able to tick off the rest of the books next month! Stay tuned…

State of the Goodreads TBR

Oof. 139 last month, 149 this month. That’s partly why I’m going to bow out of my other reading challenges. I’d like to get this down lower in order to keep it under control. A few years ago, it was up to 332 and I read almost 200 books from it and then tidied a few up out of there, and it was down in the 70’s, so once PopSugar is done, I’ll focus on reading more from my TBR. I’ve updated my library list based on my TBR, though, and twenty-eight of these books are available as ebooks from my library (with more than two pages total of books available through my library if we’re also including physical copies), so that’ll make this a little easier. 🙂

Books I Acquired in June 2020

I stopped by a thrift store a few weeks ago (all masked up, of course!) to pick up some shorts for my daughter and also grabbed a copy of Given Up for Dead: American GIs in the Nazi Concentration Camp at Berga by Flint Whitlock. My daughter got a few paperbacks as well. There was one other mask-wearing person browsing the bookshelves, and we steered clear of each other!

Bookish Things I Did in June 2020

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, nothing. Just reading.

Current Podcast Love

I went back and forth between a few different things and have settled on catching up on older new episodes of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books, from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. It’s like returning home to old friends. 🙂

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

Currently on hold.

Real Life Stuff

Sometimes it’s hard to remember what happened in the space of a month, as all the days kind of blur together! Especially now, when my kids are out of school and life is a little slower. My son sent in his application for our local community college, though we have no clue what classes will look like. My daughter is plugging along with The Magic Tree House and the Junie B. Jones series of books; she’s on #11 in The Magic Tree House and #11 in Junie B. Jones. We’re still going back and forth, each of us reading one page at a time, and I make her do some workbook pages as well to keep her learning and keep her mind occupied. It definitely helps! We also performed the dreaded chore of cleaning out her clothes on a really hot day when no one would have wanted to play outside. We ended up culling TWO huge garbage bags stuffed with clothing, and someone from Freecycle came and grabbed them off our porch that afternoon!

My son and I have been playing and singing music together in the afternoons, which has been fun. I play guitar and we sing together, and it’s been nice. He turned 18 this month, which was wild. No party, of course, but we celebrated with a key lime pie, which was delicious! I also took the old plastic coffee containers I’d been saving, spray painted them, poked some holes in the bottom, and planted flowers in there. I also filled up an old carved up tire left by the previous owner of the house with some potting soil and flowers. I’m not a flower person, but this is what happens when you’re stuck at home and can’t go anywhere! Let’s hope I don’t kill these things off.

Ignore the crack in my sidewalk…

That’s about it for this month! If these were normal times, the kids and I would have been gearing up to go on vacation to Virginia with my mother, but obviously that’s out for this year. It’s a bummer, but honestly, I’m more focused on keeping everyone safe and healthy, so really, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a disappointment but doesn’t register much more than a blip on my radar. We’ll also be missing out on the fourth of July parade we’ve enjoyed attending for years. Ah well. Such is life during a pandemic! We’re making our own fun at home, where it’s safe. 🙂

July offers more of the same, only with steamy, smoking hot weather. Our library has opened back up by appointment, which is encouraging. Ten appointments per hour, and you have one hour to browse the collection. I haven’t made an appointment yet, but I probably will soon. It’ll be strange to be back in there. Speaking of which, the best thing EVER happened:

WE’RE GETTING A NEW LIBRARY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So, a few years ago, there was a referendum on our voting ballot to fund a new library or an expansion of the old, and it was voted in. Our library began talks with our park district in order to figure out how to best use the allotted land, and the park district wouldn’t budge on anything or agree to anything, and to make a very long, very frustrating story short, the library moved ahead and has decided to purchase the site of an empty supermarket about two blocks from its current location. The grocery store is old and nowhere near up to code and so it’ll be razed and a new library will be built in its location. (The library building we have now is also old, out of date, not ADA-compliant, and the HVAC system needs replacing entirely, something that wouldn’t make sense financially, considering how old and leaky the building is. It would be upwards of 83 degrees in the building even with the air conditioning running in the summer, the back wall had water and mold damage, it was just a mess and they’ve been making do for ages. Building an entirely new building and thus not having to rent an interim space while they renovate the old building will actually save them money!)

CAN YOU TELL HOW EXCITED I AM???

Seriously something to look forward to in these strange times. It’ll be a while before they get going on this, but planning is underway and I couldn’t be happier!!!

That’s it for now. Stay safe and healthy, friends. If you’re in a high Covid-19 area, take care of yourselves and others. Wear your mask (mine has fish on it!) to protect yourself and your community, wash your hands, stand for justice wherever you go, and make your own fun at home so we can get through this together and come out stronger on the other side. Love to all of you, friends. ❤

Monthly roundup

Monthly Roundup: May 2020

Month three! Give it up for month three of Pandemic Lockdown! (Or, you know, whatever month it is where you’re at.)

We’re still managing just fine here at the Not-At-All-At-The-Library household. My daughter has completed kindergarten; my son has- literally- virtually graduated from high school. Heck of a way to end the beginning and end of my kids’ academic careers, but it’s something they’ll remember all their lives. Living through history is weird, man.

My state is beginning to reopen things- slowly and safely, fortunately. Masks are required everywhere, something for which I will be eternally grateful. We’ll be hanging out at home for much, much longer though: there’s still no vaccine, there’s no cure, and there’s not even an effective treatment. Our lives will look very different until science is able to get a handle on this, but that’s just something I’ve accepted.

Reading is still slow-going around here, but that’s just life with the kids (particularly my daughter) at home, and I’m okay with that as well. We’ll see if I get more reading done as we relax our school-at-home schedule a bit in the coming days.

Let’s get this roundup started, shall we?

What I Read In May 2020

  1. Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetti

2. A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

3. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

4. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

5. Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

6. American Royals by Katharine McGee

7. Painted Pomegranates and Needlepoint Rabbis: How Jews Craft Resilience and Create Community by Jodi Eichler-Levine (review to come closer to release date)

8. There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done: Actors and Fans Celebrate the Legacy of Supernatural, edited by Lynn S. Zubernis

9. Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis (no review; read out loud to my daughter)

10. 40-Love by Olivia Dade (review to come)

11. Replay by Ken Grimwood (review to come)

Slow month yet again! We’ve also been spending a lot of time in the yard (which has been neglected since…uh…basically since we moved here), lots of time taking walks, and I’ve been doing a lot of organizing and cleaning, so that eats into my time as well. I’m not worried. It’ll pick back up one day. 🙂

Reading Challenge Updates

Still swimming on this front. Slower than I’d like, but ever onward. I haven’t had to make any changes to my selections yet, what with the libraries being closed; so far, I’ve been able to get the books I wanted via ebook. Word has it that our library will be opening soon, most likely for curbside pickup at first, so we’ll see how that goes. A few of my reading challenge picks come from other libraries or will need to come via interlibrary loan, which won’t be happening for a while, so I may have to choose other books for those categories (more on this below). No biggie. 🙂

Here’s what the challenges I made progress on this month look like:

And the second page of BookRiot! (No change for the first page.)

Ahhh, I love when book challenges overlap, don’t you?

Seven books added! I’ll take it. If things go on long enough that I’m unable to access interlibrary loan, I may have to scrap BookRiot’s Read Harder challenge for the year- their prompts make tracking down books a little trickier and often require books my library doesn’t stock, but again, I’m okay with that. Nothing is normal this year.

State of the Goodreads TBR

Yup, it’s still there. My TBR still exists. Goodnight, friends.

Oh. You wanted the number, huh?

So last month the TBR stood at 124 books. Today? 139. Lotta sweet books headed my way when I can get to them- meaning, both physically get to them, and have time to get to them! I do need to go through and maybe clean it up a little; there are still some older books on there I need to make sure are still in line with my interests. We’ll see if I get to that!

Books I Acquired in May 2020

None! I think we grabbed another Magic Tree House book and a book on fairies from a Little Free Library, and my son received a book on music history from Amazon, but that’s about it.

Bookish Things I Did in May 2020

Zoom book club! For real. My library book club has moved to Zoom and will be there for the time being (read: until it’s safe to gather in large groups), so we all struggled to remember and then discuss a book we read in February. It was pretty entertaining, and it was nice seeing other people, especially the librarian who runs it. She has the best, most outgoing personality. I don’t know that I’ve ever met a more sunshiny human being. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend the rest: book selections have moved to Hoopla, and I don’t have a device new enough to access the app. Well, I could read it on my computer or phone, but neither of those options sound great to me, so I’ll just focus on my own reading for now. 🙂

Current Podcast Love

Listening to a few different things right now. I’ve listened to a bunch of episodes of Too Jewish with Rabbi Sam Cohon and Friends, which I really enjoy (but the music tends to wake me up at night, so I listen to this when I walk or cook instead). I’ve listened to a bunch of episodes of Call Your Mother from Kveller, which I’ve been enjoying. I’ve listened to a few episodes of Brave, Not Perfect with Reshma Saujani (some episodes have been more interesting to me than others). And the other night, after seeing Rabbi Emily Cohen mention her podcast on Twitter, I began listening to Jew Too. Funny story about this- about the third or fourth night of turning this on, listening for a bit, then falling asleep, I woke up at 3:20 in the morning (I checked!). The podcast switched to the next episode and I was like, “Okay, cool, I’ll listen to help me fall back asleep.” And then they interviewed one of the rabbis who taught my (Re)Introduction to Judaism course!!! I was like, “HOLY CRAP I KNOW THAT VOICE!” SO wild to encounter that entirely unexpectedly! 🙂

Stephanie’s Read Harder Challenge

Currently on hold.

Real Life Stuff

Phew, another lockdown month under our belts! Our state is slowly opening up, but I’m content to stay where I am at home. The virus is still out there and there’s no vaccine or cure, and I’m not willing to risk my life or my friends’ or family members’ lives for any kind of convenience. I make the bare minimum of trips that I need to, and the rest of the time, I’m home. My husband continues to work a reduced schedule, but they’ll be back to normal soon with everyone wearing masks all day. (If his ears start hurting, I’ll knit him one of those ear savers that are all over Pinterest. I made my daughter one after her doctor’s appointment; they whip up pretty quickly.)

My son has graduated from high school, and he’ll turn 18 this month. So bizarre to think that I’ve raised a human being all the way to adulthood. Such a strange way to end his high school career, but it can’t be helped, and it’ll make for good stories down the road. He’ll continue on at the local community college this fall, whether in person or online. My daughter is done with kindergarten and will go on to first grade, whatever that will look like! She’s had a hard time with kindergarten being done without really getting to say goodbye, but it is what it is, and we’re making the best of it.

My (Re)Introduction to Judaism class has completed! It was a fabulous experience, I miss it already, and I look forward to learning much more in the future. My TBR is so full of Jewish-themed books, but they’ll have to wait until interlibrary loan is up and running again. It’s okay, I’m patient. 🙂

The owl cam that we loved so much is done and over with. The baby owls flew off on their own and we were sad to see them go, but we learned so much watching them! I’m really looking forward to watching the cam all over again next year with a new crop of baby owls. We haven’t started watching anything new yet; I need some time to heal from saying goodbye to the owls- we all really got attached to those guys!

My daughter’s reading has SERIOUSLY taken off. We started The Magic Tree House series, which she enjoyed, and then I introduced her to Junie B. Jones, and that was it. After a few chapters of Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, my daughter recognized a kindred spirit (God help me) and has fallen in love. We use the back-and-forth method- she reads one page, I read one page- and together we’ve read seven Junie B.’s and four Magic Tree House books. Not bad for a kindergartner!

My son turns 18 in June, and we trunk-pick up my daughter’s school belongings this week, but that’s it on the calendar! I’m not scheduling anything for the time being until we see what life looks like once things start getting at least somewhat back to normal.

The US is basically chaos everywhere right now- chaos that exists because we’ve never dealt with our problems and have shoved it all under the rug and pretended it’s all fine. It’s not fine, it’s never been fine, and what you’re seeing now is a result of that. My town hasn’t been immune to this; we’ve had looting in the stores at the other end of town, and last night there were reports of gunshots close enough to us that I could walk there within about two minutes. My husband can’t physically get to work today because so many streets are closed in the city, so he’s working from home. We’re in firm support of the protesters; America has needed a wakeup call and to deal with its history of and current tolerance of racism- overt and institutionalized- for a very, very long time. Black lives matter, and I pray that this is the beginning of a conversation that never ends, because dealing with the problems you’ve created and perpetuated for hundreds of years should never, ever stop.

Stay safe, stay healthy, make good decisions about your health and life and safety whenever you go out, enjoy the warmer weather if you’re in the northern hemisphere like me, and stand for justice wherever you go. I’m looking forward to seeing what you’re reading as we head into summer!