Bookmarked Life #10

2The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:


Judgement.  This week, after much discussion and observation over time, and a lot of analysis of our family situation, personalities, and goals, we decided to switch Jack from cello to piano.  Not a big deal, right?  Wrong.  I jokingly texted Josh that extricating Jack from cello lessons was like a drawn-out break up.  Lots of “it’s not you, it’s me” affirmations and endless explanations and questioning, both over the phone and in person.  I was upset and drained after the ordeal, but my husband reminded me that Jack is OUR kid, that we know his temperament and challenges best, and that we understand our goals and family circumstances far better than other people can.  Although we like the music school and teachers, they don’t really have a say in whether or not I’m a good mom.

Josh’s encouragement about cello lessons reminded me that I have to be more careful about who I allow to weigh in on my life and my success (Remember that concept of an inner circle C. S. Lewis talked about, that Po Bronson used in his analogy of your inner dinner table?).  As Sarah Mackenzie put it, whose “well done” am I working for anyway?

…Furnishing my mind

downtonSince we were in the Carolinas last week, and since my parents got me an annual pass to the Biltmore Estates for Christmas, I took the girls to see the Downton Abbey costumes exhibit at the Biltmore.  It was really neat to see the costumes up close, staged in the rooms throughout the house.  The beadwork on the dresses was particularly spectacular.  I enjoyed reading about how the Downton Abbey costume designers incorporated old pieces with new, but the real highlight for me was the conversations between the girls about which dresses they liked best, as they imagined themselves living in the mansion and wearing the incredible clothes.  That’s just the sort of thing I loved to do as a child visiting the Biltmore with my grandparents, so it made me happy to share that with Hannah and Sarah.

…Learning about

The kids and I read about Japan’s isolation in the early 1800s (we really liked Shipwrecked and Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun – fascinating stories and great illustrations) and I got interested in that time period.  So I put a couple of books on hold at the library and am about to launch into a tear on feudal Japan.  The 30+ books on my To Be Read shelf looked at me sadly as I typed that sentence, but they may have to wait while I immerse myself in shoguns and daimyos and samurai.

…Living the Good Life

This week I ran into three people I know in real life who are in the middle of or have suffered in ways I can’t imagine–a family dealing with six years of unemployment, a young mother who was suddenly widowed, another who lost a child at birth.  I’ve been convicted about my tendency to assume that everyone else is living problem-free, and to reframe my own situations more positively.  My husband came home from work last night, washed the dishes, and gave the baby a bath.  My kids all woke up healthy this morning.  I get to do work I’m good at in a very flexible way and still have time to pursue other passions like homeschooling and reading.  I have a note on my desk that says, “This IS the good life.”  I am grateful.


I’m teaching a Lego engineering class for our homeschool co-op and it’s turning out to be really fun!  Lego Education puts out several kits for classrooms, and although I think they are pretty overpriced, they are fun to do in a classroom setting.  I have 20 very enthusiastic and energetic 1st-4th graders learning about simple machines and problem solving and it’s cool to see how they use concepts creatively.  This week their challenge was to use what we had learned about gears to build a wheeled cart for selling popcorn at the fair.  It had to have a sign that would garner attention and would spin in a full circle by means of a hand crank.  Without any instructions, they pretty much all came up with solutions.  They made all kinds of observations about how to prevent the carts from tipping over, different types of signs, different configurations of wheels and gears, and even exciting popcorn delivery systems.  Kids are weird and amazing.  I never get tired of seeing how their brains work!

…Seeking balance

I read an article in Fortune about how work/life balance is a passe concept, and really we should be aiming for work/life integration.  As someone who lives “work/life integration” far more than anything resembling balance, I’m not so sure it’s a straight win.  There are good sides to blurring those lines–I don’t have to go to an office and put in face-time for no reason, I can schedule meetings and work time around other responsibilities, and I basically fit a more than full-time workload in with homeschooling and general life stuff.  However, there is no off button.  The day often starts early and ends late.  A client needs a meeting smack-dab in the middle of our homeschool day or, worse, when I’m supposed to be teaching a co-op class.  Deadlines overlap and converge right when I need to handle a family crisis.  When work and life mingle, you get a lot of flexibility, but you also get a fair amount of stress and uncertainty, and it becomes difficult to consistently block out time for rest in the face of competing demands for your time and energy.  Ideally, as the article says, you’d integrate your work and life so you’re at your personal best in all arenas.  Sometimes it looks like that.  Other times, though, it feels like you’re not getting the peanut butter all the way to the edge of the bread.  Work/life integration is where I am personally, and I still think it’s the best thing for our family situation right now, but it’s not all positive, and I’m not sure if it’s really universally superior to the 9-5-and-done workplace model.  What do you think?

…Listening to

I’m trying to listen to the audiobook of Wizard: The Life And Times Of Nikola Tesla from Josh’s Audible account, but I can’t listen to it while I’m driving because it makes me feel like falling asleep.  It’s a fascinating book, but I think I need it in print because it’s so, so hard to focus on with the narrator’s lulling voice.  But if you need an alternative to counting sheep, this might be your answer!

What are you bookmarking this week?


Note: Most of the links in this post are to my longer reviews, but some are to Amazon, and they are affiliate links, just so you know! 

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Far To Go

far to goAlison Pick’s exceptional novel Far to Go weaves a riveting story of an assimilated (secular, non-practicing) Jewish family in Czechoslovakia just as the country is overtaken by the Nazis.  While the main story is noteworthy, the narrative devices Pick chose are what really give the book it’s weight.

The World War II era story is told by an older narrator–a Holocaust researcher dedicated to preserving the stories of survivors before death reduces the details to names and dates.  As the story unfolds, primary documents like letters and telegrams intersperse with the family’s tale until at the end the two storylines converge and resolve.  Pick pulls this off brilliantly.

Beyond even the converging storylines, the narrative structure allows Pick to explore the way we tell our stories, the way stories are lost, and how we can remember and honor people who are gone.  As soon as I finished the book I wanted to re-read it so I could more fully appreciate the depth of this exploration.  I wish I could write more about it without completely giving away the plot.

I didn’t plan ahead to read so many books about memory and personal histories one after the other, nor to read them over the week after my grandfather died and when I visited my grandmother who has Alzheimer’s.  But I certainly have been giving the topic a lot of thought due to this confluence of events and reading material. Pick wrote Far to Go in part to work through her discovery in adulthood that her paternal grandparents had been Jewish and escaped from the Nazis while most of the remaining family members perished. She waited until her grandmother had passed away to write the book, which I understand although this isn’t the story of her grandparents.  It is, as the narrator says, one way of telling the story, one possible version of events.  When all you have is names and dates, it’s very hard to put living faces and mannerisms together, but in some way, constructing the story as it might have been does honor the lost memory of how it actually was.

I found Far to Go a deep and moving novel and would highly recommend it.


As a caveat because my own 9-year-old picked the book up and started reading it and I know some blog readers also scan lists for their kids–this is an adult novel, and there are a few scenes of violence I would not recommend for younger readers.  


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The Madonnas of Leningrad

madonnasThe Madonnas of Leningrad snuck up on me.  The cover has a “here’s some fiction written by a girl” look, the book itself is short with larger print and more space between lines than most literary novels have (Have you noticed that about books?  Do different genres seem to have different typesetting standards?), and the story read very quickly.

Part way through the book it hit me that this wasn’t just a compelling story with an interesting setting, it was really great writing too.  The best kind of surprise.

Marina’s story is told in two points of time–in one she is a young docent at the Hermitage during the seige of Leningrad, and in the other she is an old woman in America, falling victim to encroaching dementia.  As her present-day memory fades, Marina remembers more scenes from the seige, and her seeming confusion in modern day reflects where she is in her older memories.  The device could have been cumbersome, but was exceptionally well implemented, such that the shifts from young Marina to old Marina appeared seamless and spoke volumes about the nature of memory and identity why culture and beauty are worth preserving.  These themes are masterfully played out, but the pacing is so well done that you absorb the bigger issues of the book organically and only consider them in full later.

One thing that struck me in particular about this book was the idea that memory is valuable when what we preserve is passed on.  An elderly lady at the museum has memorized every detail of the vast Hermitage collection, and helps Marina to create a memory palace (if you’ve read Moonwalking With Einstein you know about that!) so that the beauty of the art won’t be lost.  Marina’s commitment to recreating the art for visitors to the museum is juxtaposed with later life Marina, who never shares her past with her children.  The reader sees how often Marina’s experience could have helped her children navigate difficulties or know better who they are, but she missed that opportunity, until Alzheimer’s renders it completely lost.

My grandfather died last week, and my brother and I talked about how many things are lost when you lose a relative.  So many stories just die with people–and the majority of people don’t write things down so you just never know the details of their upbringing or how it was to be in a different era or how they felt about the milestones of life.  Even the most pedestrian lives are full of interest for your family–especially as history wears on.  I think I was so sad about Marina’s failure to connect with her children because of my own sense of loss not knowing all of the stories my grandparents had to tell.

I really enjoyed The Madonnas of Leningrad and would highly recommend it–as a book about the seige of Leningrad, a book about the unraveling of memory Alzheimer’s brings, and as a book about the things worth preserving and passing on.


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February 2015 Read-Alouds

We read and/or finished a couple of read-alouds this month, as well as one family audio book and another I read in order to discuss it with Hannah.  Without further ado (side note: has anyone else noticed how often people misspell that phrase?  I keep seeing it written “adieu,” which is funny since it would then mean “without any more goodbyes!”  Yeah, I’m a dork, but you knew that!)  Onward.  February read-alouds:

eggIf you’re looking for a fun adventure involving intrepid small town boys and {SPOILER ALERT!} a dinosaur that shows up in the 1950s, The Enormous Egg is for you!  We all enjoyed this story, and the kids begged for more chapters every night.  The book is fun, lightly informative, and well written.  I think it would make good independent reading for kids, but it does lend itself well to reading aloud, and to enjoying with other people, especially because you will feel the need to speculate as to how a dinosaur would fare in your own neighborhood.

tucketWe stumbled upon Gary Paulsen’s excellent series of frontier adventures in the course of studying westward migration, the Oregon Trail, and the California Gold Rush.  We read the first book of the series, Mr. Tucket, out loud together.  It’s fast paced, full of adventure, and rife with detail about wagon trains, mountain men, and Native American tribal life.  I won’t give away too much of the story line here, but I highly recommend this as a read-aloud, especially if you have kids who like adventure.  My older kids co-opted the rest of the series to read on their own, but I may finish the series too because I am intrigued!

ringWe got The Fellowship of the Ring on audio for a long car trip.  It’s a long book any way you look at it, but in audio form it is really, really, really long.  Jack has read the book and loves it, but I think the audio was so lengthy that it sort of lost all of us at various places.  It doesn’t help that we had it playing in the room while everyone was coming down with stomach flu like dominoes, so I don’t think anyone heard the whole thing.  However, the version on Audible, which is unabridged, is very well done and I do recommend it.  I’m glad we own it (or sort of do, however that works with Audible) because I think it’s one we will revisit in future years.

horseI started hearing and reading about all sorts of people loving Elizabeth Goudge.  First I heard about her on The Read Aloud Revival podcast, then I saw her mentioned on Carolyn Weber’s blog, and after that I kept seeing references.  So I got The Little White Horse from the library.  I kept thinking “you know, I would have totally loved this as a ten-year-old.”  And then it turned out it was a YA novel, so I passed it on to Hannah, who liked it.  The descriptions are good.  I wouldn’t say I agreed with every point of the implicit philosophy, but it was fine as “books that are kind of fairy tales and include unicorns” go.  I’m not sure I’ll read any more of Goudge, but I might.  It might be the sort of thing where you need to discover her at a young age.

What was your family’s favorite read-aloud this month?


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The Geography of Memory

memoryIn The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage Through Alzheimer’s, Jeanne Murray Walker describes her mother’s progression through Alzheimer’s Disease and the way in which that process illuminated and gave context to Walker’s own memories.

I recently read a fascinating article about how we can’t trust our memories and why.  It’s amazing how the memories we most fiercely believe are true are often demonstrably false, at least in part.  As I read Walker’s memoir, I often wondered how these events must have played out from her sister’s perspective.

During her mother’s illness, Walker lived in Philadelphia while her younger sister lived in Dallas, where their mother lived.  Walker sees herself as a caretaker, remarking again and again how she has flown halfway across the country, five or six times a year, and washed her mother’s laundry or packed up boxes.  Meanwhile, her sister, who also has a full-time job and family responsibilities, is passed over although her caretaking duties as the local child must have been immeasurably more involved and more burdensome.

I often felt annoyed on behalf of the younger sister, and even on behalf of their mother, who was subjected to Walker’s tendency to swoop in like she knows what’s best when she’s actually quite out of the loop.  However, while I didn’t find Walker to be a very likeable narrator, this is her memoir, and she is certainly entitled to write about her experiences dealing with a parent’s aging even from a distance.

Walker’s method of using her mother’s fading memories to examine how her own recollections shaped and impacter her understanding of herself, her parents, and her role in the family is well conceived and well done.  If you take the book more as a memoir and an examination of memory, and less as a book about what Alzheimer’s is like, it comes across better.  However, I still have some trouble recommending it, because I didn’t honestly like the book very much.

My grandmother has Alzheimer’s and I picked up the book thinking it would be insightful as to her condition.  It wasn’t.  I’m relieved that my mom and her siblings seem to be better at communicating than Walker and her sister were, but I’m sure that nothing really prepares you for someone you love leaving before they leave.  If you’re interested in Alzheimer’s, you might do better reading Still Alice (link is to my review).  Although it’s a fictional account, Still Alice does a better job of explaining and exploring the disease and its impact, whereas The Geography of Memory is ultimately much more about Walker than about the disease.

If you’ve read anything on the subject, what books on Alzheimer’s would you recommend?


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“Majah, minah, and mediocah” takes on Sabbath

In her book Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle remembers a talk by Mary Ellen Chase, who said that all of literature could be divided into “majah, minah, and mediocah.”  Sometimes books are so terrible you stop reading, but often they are “mediocah” and you keep reading for the small handful of sort of useful takeaways.

sabbathI ran across this phenomenon recently in Wayne Muller’s Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives.  I wanted to love it.  I love the concept of sabbath, and who doesn’t want more “rest, renewal, and delight” in her busy life?  I read the book in bits and pieces, finding a few things here and there.  I disagreed with Muller on lots of theological points, thought several of his metaphors were dreadful, and found the vast majority of his suggestions to be silly, the sorts of things that earnest people who are taking themselves too seriously tend to do when they want to be deep.

I think Muller meant well, and there were a few good insights in the book, but overall it’s not one that I would recommend since there are so many other great books on the topic.

If you’re interested in Sabbath, here are a few different books I’d recommend instead of this one (links are to my original reviews):

If you’re interested in the idea of Sabbath, I’d love to hear other book recommendations on the topic!


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A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

vitalThere are plenty of reasons to read fiction. We read novels to relax, to be entertained, to revel in the beauty of words, to unravel structure and technique, or to join in a cultural conversation. Every now and then I run across a book that reminds me of one of my favorite facets of great fiction: it can change the way we view the world.

The basic plot synopsis of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena didn’t initially grab me, so I’m glad one of the book clubs I’m in picked it for our February meeting. I’m guessing it will make my Year in Books list come December.

The book traces how the lives of a handful of individuals interweave and influence one another in wartime Chechnya. The story is haunting and well written, with an amazing capacity to convey both the harsh realities and the moments of beauty that break in on the lives of the ordinary people caught up in truly desperate situations.  The present action of the book happens over the course of only a few days, but the author skillfully uses memories to provide historical context and deepen the character development and their relationships to each other.  The structure of this book is so well done and so deliberately chosen that the timeline feels intuitive and you’re never caught wondering where you are in space or time.  I’m not sure how that would come across in the audio version, but in the print copy it worked brilliantly.

I lived in Europe during part of the timeline of this novel, spent time in Russia in high school, studied Russian language, history, and literature in college, and of course had a more western perspective on Islamic extremism in the years following 9/11. I knew about Chechen conflicts, but I viewed the country with a distant lens.  Because of that background, my perspective on Chechnya was really challenged by A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. My previous understanding of Chechnya was based on what I had read about historical and geopolitical issues from a primarily western point of view, so getting a feel for the country, the history and origins of its issues and conflicts, and the personal costs of each maneuver from the Chechen people’s viewpoint was invaluable.

One strength of the novel is in showing the human costs of both the influx of Wahhabi ideas into the Chechen rebellion and also the senselessness of the Russian response to what they perceived as terrorism.  The question of how to define Chechen nationalism when the people are Sufi or Catholic and the money is Wahhabi and/or Arab is complex: are the rebels a nationalist movement or a terrorist group? And how could the Russian response be justified in either case?  The book doesn’t get deeply into that issue, but rather focuses on the fact that whether a village is being “liberated” by the rebels or “liberated” by the Feds (Russians), normal people are always caught in the crossfire.  You can see pictures online of mass devastation and completely obliterated cities, but the novel’s ability to focus in on individuals–on one little girl, one university professor, one doctor, one artist–adds critical nuance.

Throughout my reading of the book and afterwards I kept being struck by what courage and determination it must take to keep surviving, maintain your humanity, and even raise children over decades of terror, uncertainty, and deprivation.  Even though circumstances have improved in Chechnya somewhat, I find myself praying for Chechens and their country because of how massive and lengthy an undertaking it will be not just to rebuild the cities but to heal as a people and a culture.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena would be a great accompaniment to The Locust Effect (link is to my longer review), which is a powerful and also perspective-changing nonfiction discussion of the effects of violence and human trafficking. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena illustrates how senseless violence, lack of reliable and just law enforcement, extreme poverty, and human trafficking impact normal people when countries are in crisis.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a great story, with memorable characters and excellent writing.  But it’s also a high impact, thoughtful, and ultimately hopeful book that will expand your understanding and deepen your knowledge of the world.  I highly recommend it.


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A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President

destinyIn my ongoing quest to listen to audiobooks my husband liked so we can talk them over, I recently finished Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President.  Josh loves presidential history, and this is a particularly good selection.

Prior to reading (hearing, whatever) this book, I hadn’t been very familiar with James A. Garfield.  Although he wasn’t President for long, I was struck by what a gifted, humble, and good man he was.  That combination is not the norm nowadays, so I was fascinated by the account of how Garfield rose from poverty and obscurity to high office.  I also admired how Garfield was a man of strong principles, and yet was also a great uniter of people (another trait sorely lacking in our milieu).  I wonder what he might have achieved had he lived out his term of office.

While a biography of Garfield, this book also weaves in profiles of the assassin who shot the President, the physicians whose pride kept them from accepting medical advances that might have saved Garfield’s life, and the inventions and advances that either had their start or gained an audience by virtue of Garfield’s wound.

The kids listened to parts of the book with me, and we had some really interesting conversations about pride and believing in things you can’t see, and checking with the Bible to see if God is really telling you something that seems crazy or wrong.  Josh and I had more in-depth conversations about the medical aspects of the case and what responsibility the physicians bore for Garfield’s death given that their malpractice is what actually killed him.

Destiny of the Republic gives a great feel for the post-Civil War period in America–its politics, popular opinion, and progress.  After reading the book, I feel like my understanding of that era is deeper and much more informed.  If you’re a fan of history–especially political or medical history–I’d recommend this book.

Side Note: My friend Amy also reviewed this book recently and gave it high marks–check out her review too.


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Eliza’s Favorite Board Books

IMG_3958Eliza is 21 months old and she loves books.  She sits with us while we read for school, and she plays with Duplos while we have our family read-alouds, but she really, really loves her board book collection.  Because I remember the hours I spent reading picture books to her older siblings back in the days when I wasn’t responsible for anyone’s progress in math, spelling, or Latin, I have a goal to read at least 10 books JUST for Eliza every day.

It doesn’t take long to read a board book with a baby on your lap.  Even reading a short stack of 10 is pretty doable.  Some days I read a couple of books every time we’re in her room (wake-up, nap time, diaper change, etc) and some days we sit down in the rocking chair and just read for half an hour straight.  And the unexpected bonus to having older siblings is that Eliza has multiple voices reading to her.  It’s not just me and Josh–the older kids all enjoy reading books to the baby too.  And when no one is available, Eliza can often be found hiding in cabinets sitting in her room looking through her books page by page, prattling a few words or an inflection to IMG_3955sound just like we do when we read them out loud.

We have a collection of board book favorites, and mostly we just read them over and over again.  Kids like to know their books well, so I curate the collection carefully.  There’s no reason to have poor illustrations or mediocre text if you’re only going to have 20 or so board books around.  Here are Eliza’s favorites:

barnBig Red Barn – This may be my most favorite board book–I read it almost every day and never get tired of it.  I love the cadence of this book, as it goes around the farm introducing animals.  The language is great, and the pictures are sweet and memorable.  Eliza’s favorite is the little pink pig.  She finds him on every page and says, “Mama!  Piiih!”  Then she sort of snuffle snorts in an attempt to make a pig noise.  It’s adorable.

kissKiss Good Night – In this book, a mama and her little boy go through the bedtime routine and she forgets to kiss him good night.  Let’s see, what did she forget?  “Oh I know!  Kiss good night, Sam!”  My older kids still sometimes do good night kisses this way “Kissing same ONCE (smack) then TWICE (smack, smack) then TWICE more…AGAIN, cried Sam!”  You really have to act out the kissing while you read the book, or else it wouldn’t be as good.

goodMy Good Morning Book – I had this book when I was a little kid.  I don’t have any particular memory of my parents reading it to me, but I know the pictures and lines like the back of my hand.  Eloise Wilkins’ illustrations are so sweet and timeless, in spite of being obviously set in that curious late 70s/early 80s decor.  This is another book that is often quoted by the big kids, for some reason whenever they put on running shoes.  “Daddy helps me with my sneakers.  I let HIM tie the bows!”

greenWhere Is the Green Sheep? – This book of opposites featuring sheep and one missing character is fun and quirky.  Some of the opposites are normal “here is the near sheep and here is the far sheep” and some are funny, like the sheep who is scared to go off the high dive.  The sheep are kind of wild and crazy, but that makes it fun and memorable.  Eventually the green sheep is discovered, not to worry.

bedTime for Bed – I was about to write “we don’t go around quoting books ALL the time at our house…” but actually we do.  Our favorite line from this one is “Good gracious me!  You’re STILL awake!”  Great illustrations of mama and baby animals, sweet aren’t-you-sleepy type text, and it’s a win.


bearMy Friend Bear – One reason we love this book is the very particular voices we use for the bear and the boy.  We have a big loud dufus voice for the bear, and a squeaky high pitched voice for the boy.  In between are the great rhyming couplets and fun illustrations that do a great job of conveying emotion.  This is a really fun book to read!


sleepCan’t You Sleep, Little Bear? – I like the illustrations of the baby bear in this book, as he pretends to try to sleep and is really turning somersaults and standing on his head and using various familiar delay tactics while his daddy bear is just trying to finish the last couple of pages in his “big bear book.” Can we not relate?  A sweet story with great illustrations.


harryHarry the Dirty Dog – This story doesn’t make a lot of sense, because surely families recognize their own dogs even when the dog gets dirty and changes from a white dog with black spots to a black dog with white spots.  Fortunately, a bath sorts it all out.  If you have a reluctant bather, I suppose this could be an incentive.  Otherwise, it’s just a fun story with cute pictures.


jeepSheep in a Jeep – This book has very simple rhyming language that manages to be really funny.  Not as simple as you might think!  The funny pictures of silly sheep are great.



friendsHow Do Dinosaurs Play with Their Friends?  We have a couple of board books from this popular series, and enjoy the sly reverse psychology “Does he throw his friends’ coloring books in the air? No!  A dinosaur doesn’t!  He knows how to share!” and fabulous pictures of dinosaurs existing as members of human families.


stStellaluna – What happens when a baby fruit bat accidentally winds up in a bird’s nest?  A very interesting story contrasting bats with birds, and about being who you are not having to be just like your friends.



artDancing with Degas, A Picnic with Monet, A Magical Day with Matisse, In the Garden with Van Gogh, and Quiet Time with Cassatt – These great books, which come individually or in a set, feature paintings by famous artists with loosely related rhyming text.  The text is fine, but the early association of the paintings with the artists is really great.  The whole set is well worth owning.


As I put this post together I remembered writing a board book post when the big kids were little, and noticed that we have lost a couple of favorites.  Pat the Bunny, where are you!?!

What are your family’s favorite board books?

I’m linking up at Modern Mrs. Darcy’s monthly Quick Lit list, because board books are REALLY quick lit!

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Know When to Hold ‘Em, Know When to Fold ‘Em

WhenThat wisdom obviously applies to never counting yer money when yer sittin’ at the table (thank you for your insight, Kenny Rogers), but also to making the most of the time you have available to read.

After I finally gave up on Owen Meany, I devoted more thought to dropping books.  Maybe my general plan of quitting a book if I don’t feel engaged by page 50 wasn’t detailed enough, since it didn’t kick in for that book club selection.  Once I started framing my reading time as a limited but very valuable tool for living the life I want to lead, it was easier to come up with a framework.

Know why you’re reading.

First, I think it’s valuable to decide what you’re in this for.  Sometimes you want to master a particular subject or skill, like a foreign language or how to garden organically or how to structure a book proposal.  Sometimes you have a more nebulous goal like giving yourself space for an intellectual life or making time for restorative leisure.  For me, reading is all of that (except for the gardening–I’m over that phase!), but in any case it’s not just passing time mindlessly.  That’s what TV and the internet are for.  :)

Be mindful of your time.

In the last newsletter I wrote about finding pockets of time for reading, so I already know I don’t usually get great swaths of time for books.  But because I love reading I sometimes lose track of what I’m actually doing with the time I do have.  Being mindful means I’m trying to stay more attuned to how what I’m reading fits in to my goals.

Ask yourself some questions.

Depending on your reading goals your questions may vary, but this is part of making your reading time more valuable for YOU.  If a book was a best seller, or won a prize, or is beloved by everyone in your book club, or was given to you by your mother-in-law, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a great fit for you personally.  And that’s ok.  To make the most of my time, I’m trying to make sure that what I read fits me.  Here are a few of my questions:

  • Is this book inspiring me?
  • Is this causing me to think differently or more deeply about an issue, a culture, the way I live my day-to-day life?
  • Is what I’m reading challenging me?
  • Is the language or content or structure exercising my mind?
  • Is this book expanding my understanding?
  • When I read this, am I increasing the truth and beauty in my life?
  • Am I learning anything from this book?
  • Is this book sparking my creativity?

My reading purpose is to make space for beauty, creativity, and the life of the mind in the midst of my responsibilities as a wife, mother, teacher, and professional.  It’s to interact deeply with ideas and be changed by what I read.

This leaves room for lots of different books.  Literary fiction, narrative non-fiction, history, Oreo sci-fi/YA fairy tales…as long as my mind is working and I’m really feeling restored and energized, I’ll keep reading.

But, if I need to cut my losses, that’s all right.  I can walk away from books that aren’t good fits for me.  I’m not letting anyone down if I choose another book that delights or challenges me more.

Hopefully I’ll do better in the future at applying this framework before I start to seriously regret lost time!

What are your criteria for deciding not to finish a book?

Posted in Bookmarked Life, Contemplation, Reading | Tagged | 2 Comments