Reading

Read With Us: Book Discussion Week 1

Welcome . . . to the first ever Read With Us book discussion post!

Read With Us

We're so happy to have you join us as we begin our discussion of Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.  I'll be focusing our discussion this week on the Introduction and first 5 chapters of the book.  Next Tuesday (Nov 12), Bonny will talk about the middle portion of the book, and then Carole will follow up on Nov 19 with the final section.  On Nov 26, I'll be back to sum up our discussion for you.

Now for a bit of "housekeeping" regarding the discussion and how (we hope) it will work:  Please join the discussion by leaving a comment here on the blog.  I'll be responding to your comments IN the comments, so please do check back once in a while to see how the discussion is going this week.  Feel free to respond to other commenters as well.  We realize that this is not the most ideal discussion format, and that it's somewhat cumbersome and a little awkward --  but it's the most reasonable way we could think of . . . for a beginning step.  

So.  Let's get started, shall we?

IMG_6412

Welcome!

If this were an in-person kind of book group, I'd be welcoming you to my house for the discussion.  Since we're meeting via blog instead, let's just set the stage . . . and pretend we're all together.  In my living room.  Relaxed and sitting around my coffee table in front of the fire.  With a plate of homemade brownies and a couple of bottles of wine in easy reach.  After a few sips of wine and some social chit-chat, I'd announce that we were ready to begin . . . 

So.  What did you all think of the book?

Bryan Stevenson, an attorney in Alabama working with poor and underserved clients, provides a personal and sobering look at modern-day injustices in the US criminal justice system.  While the book closely follows the story of Walter McMillian, a man unjustly sentenced to death row for a murder he did not commit, Stevenson also weaves in several other poignant stories about underage and/or mentally ill clients suffering similar injustices.  By telling these heartbreaking stories, Stevenson brings criminal justice statistics to life and makes us care . . . and seethe.

I found this book to be heartbreaking AND hopeful -- and certainly inspiring.  Going into the reading, I already knew the criminal justice system in our country was broken; Just Mercy opened my eyes to just HOW broken it really is. Bryan Stevenson has challenged me to think more openly about what justice means . . . and what mercy looks like. 

(I shared quite a bit of background about the author, Bryan Stevenson, in an earlier post, and Bonny provided a link to his TED Talk, so I don't want to repeat any of that information here.  Please do take a look if you missed either of those posts earlier.)

Here are a few questions rooted in the early chapters of the book, just to get the discussion started:

  1. Just Mercy begins with information about Bryan Stevenson growing up poor in a racially segregated community in Delaware. He remembers his grandmother telling him, “You can’t understand most of the important things from a distance, Bryan. You have to get close." How does Stevenson get close to the incarcerated people he is helping? How does getting close to Walter McMillian affect Stevenson’s life? Do you think you can be an effective criminal lawyer without getting close?

  2. Walter McMillian was from Monroeville, Alabama.  Monroeville is extremely proud of its hometown hero Harper Lee and her book “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a Pulitzer Prize winning piece that sees white lawyer Atticus Finch defending African American man Tom Robinson against fabricated rape charges of a white girl in racially divided Maycomb, Alabama. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is likely the most famous 20th century novel dealing with racial injustice, a distrustful legal system, and the evils of stereotyping. What do you have to say to a community that simultaneously wrongfully convicts a man due in large part to their own prejudice, all the while celebrating Harper Lee’s work? Is it ignorance? Naiveté? Indifference? What would you like to tell the community of Monroeville about this startling parallel?

  3. Early in the book, Stevenson describes an incident when he was racially profiled and the police searched his car. He wonders, if there had been drugs in his car and he was arrested, would he have been able to convince his attorney that his car was searched illegally? Stevenson says, “Would a judge believe that I’d done nothing wrong? Would they believe someone who was just like me but happened not to be a lawyer? Someone like me who was unemployed and had a criminal record?”  How does Stevenson’s work shape his understanding of the justice system? Do his experiences make him more or less empathetic to those in the justice system?  Is it surprising that someone whose 86-year-old grandfather was murdered would work so tirelessly against the death penalty?

Please join in the discussion by commenting below.  We're eager to hear what you think!  And if you don't like the questions I've asked, that's okay!  Please feel free to share your thoughts and impressions about the book -- or ask your own questions.  

==========

"My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.  Finally, I've come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment ot the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, adn the respected among us.  The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned."
    ----- Bryan Stevenson

 


Top Five: Best of My Summer Reading

Recently, Tom and I watched High Fidelity . . . again.  It's one of our favorite movies, and we've watched it many, MANY times over the years.  (There are very few movies I can watch over and over again.  High Fidelity is one of them.  If you haven't seen it - or haven't seen it in a while - I highly recommend it.)  In the movie, the main character - Rob (played by John Cusack) - owns a record store and is working through a recent breakup with his longtime girlfriend, Laura.  Rob summarizes pretty much everything in his life with Top Five lists.

Thus . . . my inspiration for today.  
Top Five:  Best of My Summer Reading

37539457._SY475_

I started my summer reading in a strong way, with Normal People by Sally Rooney.  Now I know this one won't be for everyone, but if you like spare, witty writing and well-done character studies (but . . . not a whole lot of action), this one might be for you.  I loved it, and found it to be heartbreaking and authentic.

34563821._SY475_

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips is a compelling story told in a unique style -- spreading different characters’ voices and points of view across a 12-month period of time. I very much enjoyed the structure and style of this book – it reads like a brilliant, interconnected short story collection (think There There, Winesburg, OH, Olive Kitteridge, or Reservoir 13).  If you like that kind of structure, this might be a great book for you, too.

16729

During the summer, I tend to pick at least one book to re-read --  AND I also read at least one big, sprawling epic.  Beach Music by Pat Conroy checked both those boxes for me!  I initially read Beach Music back in 1995 when it first came out.  I remember lugging the beast of a hardback around with me when my kids were very young . . . Anyway.  Re-reading it this summer did not disappoint.  I was, once again, moved to tears by this sweeping tale of forgiveness and reconciliation set in Rome and the South Carolina Lowcountry. (And if you haven't read Pat Conroy, you really ought give one of his books a try.)

9781555978402_custom-dded1dd0b29a898d9b5a1adec96357664d7e520c-s300-c85

I really don't know how to describe Lanny by Max Porter . . . except to say it may be one of the most perfect books I've ever read. It's compact, completely unique, creative, mystical and so engaging that I sat and read it in one sitting.  (Which is not that hard to do, as it is pretty short.)  There is just . . . a lot going on under the surface in this one.  If you liked the "experimental" style of Lincoln in the Bardo, you might enjoy Lanny, too.  (And I recommend reading the actual book instead of listening -- because the physical book is a visual treat and adds to to overall effect of the story.)

43064559

I just managed to squeak in reading Inland by Téa Obreht over Labor Day weekend, so I ended my summer reading on a high note.  This one was rather a slow burn for me, and it did take a fair amount of attention while reading.  Totally worth it though!  There are two storylines that spiral in seemingly disconnected ways throughout the novel. . . until they DO connect in a most magical way, creating a wholly satisfying ending.  Give it a try (especially if you liked Téa Obreht's previous novel, The Tiger's Wife) -- but you might want to keep a glass of water nearby for sipping-while-reading.

If you want to see what I'm reading now, or check out my recent reviews on Goodreads, just check out the sidebar here on my blog.  You can find me here on Goodreads.

==========

How about you?
What books would make it to your Top Five list of summer reading?

 

 


An Embarrasment of Riches

Last year, I made some changes to my reading habit.   Changing not so much what I read, but how I was reading:
I slowed my reading pace.
I started taking notes and writing reviews.
I committed to using my library more.

It's that third one I want to talk about today.  Using my library more.

IMG_1965

When I was a child, I loved going to the library.  It was my Happy Place!  I loved nothing more than walking through the stacks, choosing books at random.  Reading and reading and reading.

As an adult, though, with empty bookcases at home and suddenly-everywhere big box bookstores, I started purchasing books.  I built my own library.  Still reading and reading and reading -- but no more worries about due dates.

I told myself that the library didn't have the books I wanted to read anymore.  That I couldn't get the books I wanted to read immediately.  I convinced myself that it was better to just buy what I wanted to read.  So I did.

What was I thinking???

So, a couple of years ago, I went through every book in our house and ended up donating 30-some boxes of books to my local library for their quarterly book sales.  And I donated boxes of my kids' books to their former school libraries.  And I dropped off books to other local organizations that promote literacy or protect women and children.

And I started to use the library again.  

At first, I mostly used Overdrive to check out books.  I think Overdrive works wonderfully -- so convenient and so easy.  But I often have to wait months and months (and months) for the titles I most want to read.  So I started reserving books through my local library's online system.

Ohmygod!  It's raining books here!!!

It seems there are rarely people requesting the books I want to read through the actual library.  And although the library doesn't have every title I want, they have most of the titles I want.  I've been able to pick up books at my library - right away with no wait at all - that I've been waiting months to read through Overdrive.  I put in a hold through my library's online system, and I get a notice that I can pick it up. 

It's an embarrassment of riches, I tell you!

==========

I'm making a few housekeeping changes here on my blog.  I've added a sidebar list of the books I've recently read (through Goodreads) if you're interested.  I stopped blogging about my reading when I started posting reviews on Goodreads -- so just click in if you're interested in what I'm reading and what I thought of it.

 


Three Things About My Reading in 2018

I've reached that time of year . . where I begin reflecting.  Looking back over the past year -- before I look ahead to the coming year.  I usually start with some easy reflecting (what did I read, for example) before I tackle the harder stuff (did I accomplish what I hoped to accomplish, for example).

So. Let's talk about reading, shall we?

IMG_6038

According to Goodreads, I've 66 books so far this year.  That's fewer books than I've read in years past, but that was actually by design.  (Yes.  That's right.  I opted to slow down my reading this year; to focus more on what I was reading, and to try to make deeper connections with the books I did read.)

Turns out I read mostly 4-star books (by my own grading system), which is typical for me.  I'm pretty choosy about the books I read, and I have a good idea of what I tend to like, so it doesn't surprise me that most of my books end up with 4 stars.  Besides, for me, 5-star reads just don't come along very often.  (A book has to be really fabulous for me to give it 5 stars.)  That said, I also read a few real duds this year, too!

My top 5 books of 2018? *

And here are three things I've learned from my reading in 2018:

  1. Early in the year, I decided I wanted to focus more on my reading.  I spent a while thinking about what that meant, exactly.  (Especially because I have always - all my life - focused on my reading!)  I came to the understanding that what I wanted . . . was to focus more on making my reading meaningful.  I decided to slow down.  To make better connections with what I was reading - and to, ultimately, remember more about the books I read.
  2. I started taking notes about each book I read this year.  I don't mean . . . notes like you take in school or anything (I certainly wasn't outlining chapters here).  But I did create a format for myself so I could jot down a basic synopsis, a list of characters, my impressions, and quotes I particularly liked from each book I read.  I discovered that by taking notes, I was connecting at a deeper level with what I was reading -- and I'm certainly remembering the books more than ever before.  These notes helped me write reviews on Goodreads (another reading goal of mine for the year), and it helped me create . . . space . . . between books.  In years past, I would open another book as soon as I closed one.  By taking the time to go over my notes and put together a review, I was creating a boundary between my books -- and that turned out to be a great strategy for me in slowing down and finding more meaning.
  3. I used my library more than ever.  While this was frustrating for me sometimes (because I couldn't always get the books I wanted WHEN I wanted them), it taught be other lessons.  Like just because a book finally pops up on Overdrive -- along with 3 others! -- you don't have to pressure yourself to read it Right Now.  You can put yourself back on the hold list and read it later.  (That was a big lesson in letting go for me.)  There were still times I purchased a book because I didn't want to wait (my Overdrive wait for Michelle Obama's Becoming was 8 months long, for example, so I purchased it on Audible), but I was much more likely to wait for books from my library.

Looking back, it's been a really great reading year for me.  I know that there will always, always be far more books out there that I'd like to read . . . than I'll ever have time to read.  And you know what?  I'm okay with that!

How about you?  What were your favorite books this year?

==========

* My other 5-star books this year:  Calypso (David Sedaris), The Overstory (Richard Powers), From a Low and Quiet Sea (Donal Ryan), Our Souls at Night (Kent Haruf), Gilead (Marilynne Robinson)  The Ninth Hour: A Novel (Alice McDermott), The Light of the World (Elizabeth Alexander), The Temporary Gentleman (Barry Sebastian), Winter (Ali Smith), and Reservoir 13 (Jon McGregor).

==========

Be sure to visit Carole today, for more Three on Thursday posts.

 


Notable

This list came out this week in the New York Times.  Each year, I'm surprised by this list - the 100 Notable Books of [fill in year here].  I mean, I regularly scan the New York Times book reviews, and I (mainly) read from the longlists of the Man Booker Prize, the Women's Prize, and the National Book Award.

IMG_6199

And yet . . . 

I usually haven't even heard of the 100 Notable Books of [fill in year here]!

This year, I've read 5.  (Which includes one I'm in the midst of reading right now.)  And a few more are on my want-to-read list.  But not many.

So.

Looks like my list of possibilities just got longer.  (Again.)

How about YOU?  How many have you read? 


Thoughts on Summer Reading

"Time is a river, and books are boats."
                            --- Dan Brown

IMG_6038

Unlike past summers, this year I decided not to play Book Bingo.  It was hard at first.  So many of you in the blogosphere were planning your cards and choosing titles and reporting early BINGOs.  In this FOMO (fear of missing out) world, it's hard to swim against the tide!

But this was the right decision for me.  It's been delightful to just . . . read . . . this summer.  Whatever title strikes my fancy.  However many pages.  Whatever the color of the cover.  Or whether it matches my knitting.  No matter the year the author was born.  Or who the narrator is.  

I've been reading at a slower pace this summer -- really savoring each book, and taking the time to write summaries and notes and take down quotes.  I'm giving myself . . . space . . .  around each book -- a kind of pause between books.  Sure,  that means I've read fewer books this summer than in previous years.  But I'm sure I'll remember them with more clarity by the time next summer rolls around!

I've really enjoyed reading all the book reviews and BINGO calls this summer -- but I'm happy with my own decision, and I don't feel like I missed out on the fun at all.  (If you want to check out the books I have read this summer, you can visit my Goodreads page by clicking on the link at the bottom of the sidebar.)

==========

Here's a little book-related tidbit for all you fans of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels.  HBO is putting out a television mini-series based on the books, beginning with My Brilliant Friend, and then continuing through the rest of the series Read all about it here and here.

 

 


A Brief Trip Down Memory Lane

When I was around 10, there were three books that I especially loved.  Although I never owned them for myself (owning books was such an extravagance back then), I checked them out again and again from my library, and read each multiple times:

1 - A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Hardcover-edition1

2 - From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

Frankweiler-cover3

3 - The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

220px-Phantomtollbooth

I adored these books!  (Just seeing those familiar book jackets again gives me a warm, happy feeling deep in my soul.) 

I've been thinking about my childhood favorites again, now that the new Wrinkle in Time movie is due for release in a couple of weeks (click here for the trailer).  The movie looks pretty cool -- and I know the effects will be more than anything I could have imagined when I was reading the book as a 10-year-old.  But, still.  I'm not quite sure I want to see it.

What do you think?  
And what were your favorite childhood books?

==========

To read more Three on Thursday posts, head on over to Carole's!

 


A Focus on My Reading

I've been a Reader ever since I discovered I could read at age 5.  As a child and throughout my adolescence, I always had my nose in a book.  I checked out books by the stack from the library, and my favorite classes in school were always "reading" or "English" or "literature."  The college years were tough on me -- because while I had plenty to read, it wasn't of my own choosing.  I missed reading-for-pleasure -- and always looked forward to semester breaks when I could dive back into my piles of books.

And . . . this reading habit just continued as I became an adult.  I read books.  Lots and lots of books!

IMG_6199

But one thing concerns me about my reading:  It seems like I don't have the retention that I used to.  I remember reading particular books, and I'll be able to recall key characters and plot points -- but I won't be able to go much further than that.

I know.  I know.  I'm getting older.  And my brain is getting full.  And my memory is not what it used to be.  And - after reading thousands of books in my lifetime (I estimated at one time that I've probably read over 3,500) - I guess it's not surprising that I can't remember all of them.  But still. . . I'd really like to remember more than I do.

So I've decided to . . . focus . .  on my reading this year.  Not reading more.  Not reading "harder."  Just reading more attentively. More mindfully.  With the intention of savoring - and, hopefully, remembering more details about the books I read.

I think it's easy to feel overwhelmed by all the books out there in the world -- especially when you're a Reader, and so many titles appeal.  (So many books, so little time . . . and all that.)  But I've decided to change three things about my reading habit this year to try to improve my retention and savor the books I read:

  1. Fewer books.  I know that it's "normal" in a goal-setting way to try to increase the number of books one reads in a year.  But I've decided to . . . just say no to quantity-based reading.  I'll still read a lot of books, sure.  (Because that's what I do.)  But I don't want to be driven by a number -- and I don't want to challenge myself to read MORE.  I want to choose fewer, high-quality books that really appeal to me this year.  And I'm not going to be concerned about hitting some arbitrary goal I set for myself.   (Disclaimer:  I still set a Goodreads Challenge for myself this year -- at 60 books.  Which is 15 books fewer than what I've typically read for the last few years.  I'll likely remove it altogether, though.  Eventually.)
  2. More time.  Rather than rushing through the books I read, I'm going to allow myself more relaxed time to read -- and build in occasional pauses for thinking-time.  Research (from one of my alma maters; Hook 'em Horns!) shows that hitting pause now and again while you're reading - actually allowing some time to rest and reflect on what you just read - can really help your brain connect the dots and synthesize the new information.  It turns out that giving yourself a mental rest and a little time to reflect on what you're reading really helps commit new material to memory.  (Here's a link to an article about the study.)
  3. Take notes.  I am not talking about outlining chapters here!  I'm just looking for a thoughtful way to ... pause and reflect while I'm reading.  Lately, I notice that I hurry to crack open my next book as soon as I finish my current book.  That can't be helpful in the retention department.  So I'm going to do a little writing to help my brain make sense of things.  I'm planning to write more thoughtful reviews on Goodreads, and I think I'll get back to "collecting" quotes and passages from books as I read.  I will probably even do a little journaling now and then as a way to think about and connect with the what I'm reading.

It's hard to pull back when there are so many books in the world waiting to be read.  But I'm going to give it a try!  Sometimes . . . less is more! 

==========

To read more Three on Thursday posts today, hop on over to Carole's!

 


Determined to Finish

In knitting news . . . 

IMG_1970

we have progress!

I took this photo sometime last weekend to check the length of that sleeve.  Since then, I finished that sleeve, and I'm well on my way with the next.

I'm determined!  I'm going to finish soon.  (Mostly because every time I try this sweater on, I just want to keep wearing it.  Very comfortable.  I think I'm going to love it.) (But also because I'm ready to knit something else.)

As far as reading goes, I just finished two duds that I really can't recommend.  So I'll just leave it right there.  (If you want more details, you can check out my Goodreads reviews.)  I've just started reading Reservoir 13, which is much more promising from the start, although reviews are mixed . . . so we'll see.

How about you?  What are you knitting and/or reading this week?

==========

Be sure to hop on over to Kat's to read other Unraveled Wednesday posts.