Featured Post

Happy 6th Birthday, SPR!

As of my "maternity leave," here are the stats of the past year: 74 books reviewed 9 guest posts 4 independent bookstores 3 d...

Thursday, April 25, 2019

American Prison: A Reporter's Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment

I picked up Shane Bauer's American Prison: A Reporter's Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment at Book Expo last year, because, while it's not my primary research and advocacy focus, the prison system is a deep and important area of interest for me. It's intricately connected to education, and I can't help but care about the business of prison. 

Bauer is a journalist for Mother Jones magazine, and several years ago he decided to go undercover at a Louisiana prison to repent his experiences as a corrections officer there at a for-profit prison. His year-long experiment was quickly shortened — he lasted only a few months. However, it was enough to shape him and leaving him questioning everything he thought he knew about himself. 

He’s first hired over the phone, sight unseen. The for-profit prison system pays CO’s less than minimum wage, and they are hurting for employees. In fact, before finishing training, Bauer’s cohort is whittled down quite a bit. His whole training experience is enough to turn your stomach; beginning from the moment he walks in the door, not a single inmate at the Winn Correctional Center is seen as human. They are animals, and the COs’ jobs are to treat them as such. 

There is so much packed in this book, including a concise history of the for-profit prison industry, and it’s hard to know where to begin. The overall trajectory Bauer presents of himself — of a man seeking justice through journalism to a man who begins to see the inmates of Winn as the animals he is trained to view them as — was the most startling albeit the most predictable to anyone who has taken Psych 101. It’s the Stanford Prison Experiment writ large. It also feeds into a long-term research plan of mine related to education, but that’s neither here nor for this particular post. I wasn’t surprised at all at Bauer’s transformation, but wow, was it fast. Only a matter of months. It’s shocking how quickly the human brain will transform into full-scale survival mode. 

Winn, as many for-profit prisons, was facing a CO shortage. Who wants to do that job for less than most cities pay in minimum wage? And then, for those who do, who feels as though they are respected enough by their managers that they then respect the men they are tasked with supervising? It’s a recipe for disaster. My favorite parts of this book quickly became the footnotes, which usually invoked the mentioning of Winn’s denial that any events Bauer discusses aren’t true or that they have no record of them. It’s laughable, really. Anyone who has simply read an article online from anyone who has ever walked into a prison knows that Bauer’s experiences are the norm. 

I highly recommend this book for several reasons: Bauer’s persons journey, his interactions with the incarcerated men on his watch, the history of the for-profit prison system, and the final chapters in which Bauer shows the aftermath of his experiences and his reporting. It is well worth the time to ingest this book and sit with it for a time. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Strange Alchemy: A Novel

One day, many moons ago, I picked up Gwenda Bond's Strange Alchemy specifically because a friend and I had just finished watching the season of American Horror Story that took place on Roanoke Island. I figured she would love it, but unfortunately it was tucked away on that insane TBR book shelf. I picked it up recently in my quest to find ways to pass books on. 

Roanoke Island is infamous in the United States for originally having a settler colony on it centuries ago. One of the leaders went back to England briefly, and when he returned, everyone had disappeared. They haven’t been seen since, and the legend of Roanoke Island lives on. Miranda was born and raised there, one of the infamous Blackwoods believed to be descended from one of the settlers left behind. She physically cannot leave the island due to a curse laid upon her family’s head. Grant, the sherrif’s son, has his grandmother’s gift of hearing spirits, and he rebelled his way off the island two years ago to boarding school. Suddenly, at the end of the summer, 114 residents vanish — the exact number from the original colony. Where did the go? What happened? Grant is summoned home, and he and Miranda must pair up to use each of their skills to solve the mystery before everyone else on the island pays the price. 

I have loved Bond since reading her Lois Lane series, and I indulged in this book because she is such a great writer. She understands adolescents thoroughly, and her ability to write from their perspective is just astounding. This story toggles back and forth between Miranda’s and Grant’s perspectives, providing the reader with a couple of different ways of looking at the story while keeping a solid through-line. Bond also builds a romance between the two that isn’t cheesy or overwrought, which I believe is under appreciated in current YA literature. 

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of supernatural literature, so I faded a bit in the third quarter around the intricacies of the spirit plot, but I think if I were more into the genre as a whole I would have been super into it. However, as someone who isn’t into it, I still felt that Bond’s creation of characters and writing style lend the book to an enjoyable peoce of work that will hook you early and keep you reading through the end. Great writing transcends genre, and Bond is just about the best you can get when it comes to YA lit.  

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Getting Life: An Innocent Man's 25-Year Journey from Prison to Peace

I have been familiar with Michael Morton's story -- and the egregiousness of Texas's gross misuse of the justice system to put away men for crimes they didn't commit -- for a while. I picked up his memoir, Getting Life: An Innocent Man's 25-Year Journey from Prison to Peace recently on my library-book binge of true crime. 

Michael Morton was married with a small son when he left for work as usual one morning outside of Austin, Texas. His son wasn’t at day care that afternoon when Michael went to pick him up, and when he arrived home, it was cordoned off with crime scene tape. His wife had been brutally beaten to death in her bed with her toddler home to witness it. As if that wasn’t horrific enough, a few weeks after Michael becomes a prime suspect regardless of the evidence of his innocence, including an alibi and his son’s statements. Within a short time Michael is convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison, losing his son and his freedom in a matter of minutes. Decades later his case is taken on by the Innocence Project and Michael is exonerated. 

One of the lines that stuck out to me the clearest from his trial preparation was his lawyer telling him that truly innocent people are the hardest to defend in a murder trial. It dawned on me that this statement must be one of the truest I have heard, particularly in light of the hundreds of men and women exonerated in the last decade and a half due to DNA evidence. It’s heartbreaking to know that these mean and women have been sitting in prison for no reason other than hard-headedness and stubbornness on the part of prosecutors, who often have sole discretion on charges, plea deals, and sentencing requests. I found myself livid when I read about Michael’s case having evidence withheld because the prosecutor just simply didn’t call the lead investigator— he called a minor one in order to not have the lead ha d over his notes into discovery. There was information that, presented in court, may very well have exonerated the defendant. 

Micheal’s story, along with that of so many others, makes clear that our prosecutorial system must change. People are losing their lives — decades in prison, and many put to death — over crimes they did not commit. It should make you angry. Michael speaks candidly about the pain he endured over losing his child. His in-laws were granted custody, in part because Michael was strategically kept out of court the day of the custody hearing. They believed deep down that Michael was guilty of killing their loved one, and because of that they only put up with the required visitation, keeping his son away from him for most of his childhood. This caused a huge rift between father and son, one that could only be recotified later in life post-exoneration. 

The thing that makes me the most angry of all the issues surrounding prosecutorial misconduct is that the obsession with pegging crimes on certain people regardless of evidence to the contrary is that the true perpetrators go free and often kill again. This happened with the Morton killer, and it’s happened in several other cases. The dogged insistence of prosecuting someone around whom there is, at a minimum, reasonable doubt (notwithstanding true innocence) put the rest of us at grave risk. It allows the bad guys to strike again, and prosecutors who have put away innocent men and woman are complicit in this. 

Michael’s book is well worth the read if you are just now dipping your toe into the world of faulty convictions. If this is your first go-round, wait until you hear about fade confessions. It will knock your socks off! 

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Dear Mr. M: A Novel

On a list somewhere, Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch came up as a book to read if you loved another one. Can’t remember the details, but I did remember to get this from the library. Since I was a fan of The Dinner, I ran to get this from the library. It came out in 2016, but it’s new to me! 

I’m not even sure how to begin to describe this story in terms of blurb-ing it. The narrator is an older man now, but he was once I high school student madly in love with the most gorgeous girl. That girl had an affair with her teacher who suddenly went missing one snowy day when he went to visit the couple at her parents’ vacation home. A famous author wrote a novel based on these events, and now our narrator has found himself inserted in the author’s world. Who tells our truths, and what is the author’s role in a story? Is it to tell the truth, or is it to tell the most compelling story he can? 

This book was mind-bogglingly good. It was a slow burn; there wasn’t anything about it that made me rush through the pages. Instead, I was captivated by the detail of the story and who the characters were. Koch is the most interesting writer; he has this way of writing thrillers that don’t have you biting your nails, but rather furrowing your brow and changing your plans so you can keep poring over his words. The devil is quite in the detail in his work, and you keep pushing through because the end will be worth it. In this case, that was absolutely true. The book ends on such a quiet note that it’s explosive in the brain. 

I absolutely hated M, the writer. (Koch does this thing where very few people have names and instead are called by the first initial of their last name.) I recognize that this was Koch’s point; he’s not supposed to be likeable. It makes the last half of the story go down smoother. But I absolutely hated him. He was a heinous person both in and out, and it made me question the character is his much younger wife. She wasn’t the focus of the story though, so I could let that go. However, I say this as a testament to Koch’s character development, because if I hate a character that much, he must be written very well. I also wanted to hate the narrator — even as a boy he is not presented in a good light — and I just couldn’t. Try as I might, I couldn’t hate him. Koch has developed these characters within an inch of their fictitious lives, and it’s a glorious read. 

This is a book you must commit to. It isn’t a beach read, wherein you can whip through it in a matter of hours. I described it earlier as a “slow burn,” and that’s exactly what it is. But once you are in, you will be hooked. Koch has a lot in store for you, and you won’t like everyone you meet on your journey. You won’t even know who is writing, “Dear Mr. M” until the very end. But it will hurt so good, as it were. Promise promise. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths are Solving America's Coldest Cases

The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths are Solving America's Coldest Cases by Deborah Halber fascinated me, particularly after all of the Golden State Killer brouhaha. I was pleasantly surprised to find out while reading this that it wasn’t necessarily about solving murders, but much more about connecting I identified remains with missing persons cold cases.

All over America, tens of thousands — perhaps even hundreds of thousands — remains of unidentified human remains sit in morgue lockers or buried in Potter’s fields, unconnected to their identifies for a cmvarietu of reasons. It’s been only recently that the government has been able to grasp the magnitude of the problem; poor record keeping, lack of reporting, and coroner change over in smaller cities and towns has kept the information under wraps. It turns out that the problem is much bigger than anyone could imagine. So big, in fact, it’s almost impossible to find employees who can work these cases in addition to their jobs. Enter The Skeleton Crew. 

The dawn of the internet has seen thousands of couch sleuths come out of the woodwork, be it morbid curiosity or a love of puzzles, to solve these cold cases. Halber highlights several of these cases, both successful and not, in this book. I was pleasantly surprised at how taken I was by this story. Halber is a strong writer who weaves in a clear narrative into her larger work (featuring two cases: Tent Girl and Lady of the Dunes), and her writing style kept me hooked. I found myself wanting to get back to the book, not to finish it but rather to find out more about what she had to tell me. 

I did see parallels to MacNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, published three years after this. The websites devoted to solving cold cases, the people on the other end of those computers for reasons that are all their own. Some are trying to escape, some are trying to find themselves. Each is looking for someone — a perpetrator or a victim. I love true crime myself, and solving puzzles, and I could easily see myself getting sucked into this work. I’m amazed at the devotion of those not just in the higher ranks of these websites, but the gumshoes as well. 

I took some time to poke through one of the sites, the Doe Network, and before I knew it two hours had passed by. So yes, I can see how easily one who loves this stuff gets taken in. I’m also curious as to how, four years after this book was published, public DNA databases are changing the face of missing persons cases and the connection to unidentified remains. I would love to see Halber do a follow up on this connection. I loved this book, and I thoroughly enjoyed having my world opened to a new, not-so-dark corner. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

No Stone Unturned: A Novel

I picked up James W. Ziskin's No Stone Unturned (An Ellie Stone Mystery) many years ago at a Book Expo, and it was part of my 2019 resolution to get through my TBR pile. The description interested me enough to bump it up on my list, and here we are.

Eleanora Stone is working to make her name in reporting. One night her police scanner comes alive and she gets the lead on a the murder of a beautiful young woman — the daughter of a prominent town judge and most popular girl of her graduating class. Knowing that this will be her big break, Ellie begins to investigate this case like she’s running out of time. Every hint leads to a newer, bigger lead until she finds herself in the midst of one of the strangest plots involving an engineering college program, an hourly hotel, and foreign nationals. Solving this case is not just about Ellie’s job, but also a matter of her own safety. 

There are some books, as I’ve mentioned on here prior to this, that I’m grateful that I waited so long to read as they came to me at the right moment. This was not necessarily one of them, although I found myself intrigued enough to keep on reading. The main character was flawed enough yet a ball of strength wrapped up in herself, and she could kick your ass from here to Sunday if you get in her way. She took her fair share of licks in this story, and it was quite a sight to behold. I enjoyed her immensely as a lead character. 

The storyline itself was also captivating and certainly intriguing. I was a bit hesitant at first about a storyline set in the 1950’s, but it ended up working very well for the story and for the character. In 2019 this would have been solved much faster with less intrigue. I love a good murder and mayhem story, and this one had more twists and turns than a mountain road. I enjoyed this, as it kept me interested and turning the page to put it all together at the end. There were a couple of moments that I wasn’t expecting, and the ending was ultimately quite satisfying. I’m now curious about additional mysteries involving Ellie. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

No Regrets and Other True Cases: Ann Rule's Crime Files Vol. 11

Ann Rule's 11th volume in her Crime Files Series is No Regrets and Other True Cases. I picked it up over winter break and indulged in some murder and mayhem.

The main story is called “The Sea Captain,” and its about a man named Rolf Neslund, a brilliant ship captain and easily manipulated dupe. He was in love with one woman — he even had two sons with her — but then found himself forced to marry Ruth, a woman who was significantly less attractive and widely known to be unkind and cruel to everyone, specifically her husband. They grow old together — although not without their raging arguments known all over town — until one day Rolf disappears. To Norway, Ruth claims. But there is no evidence of that. Detectives search for Rolf, finding that the truth is far more disturbing than they can imagine. 

I found this to be the most interesting story in the book, and not just because it was the longest. Rule pulled out her usual charms of describing her characters and made Ruth come alive on the page through the descriptions of friends and family. It was hard not to hurt for Rolf and his not-quite-bride, but my sympathies lies more with the woman than with Rolf. He came across as an idiot and quite a sucker. Why would you move another into your home when you have the love of your life and the mother of your children there? Do you think that’s going to go over well? Keep your tiny man in your pants and take care of your family. Otherwise, you will absolutely get conned into marrying someone like Ruth — ugly on both the outside and the inside. 

Some of the smaller stories I found more disturbing than usual, and I can’t quite figure out if it’s me or if it’s the stories. One is about a woman abducted from her workplace and held hostage, another story is about a family that is murdered by their father right at Christmas. The story of the abduction and attempted murder by pimps was interesting, and not just because the story had merit. Rule made her disdain for pimps — and the Academy Award-winning song, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.” The song must have just been released when this book was being put together, as she spends a not-unreasonable portion of this story expressing her disgust for it. 

The actual most interesting story of the smaller ones was the story of the bank robber, Sam Jesse. It had some twists and turns that were of interest to me as a reader, and not just because of the cold-hearted murder of a bank manager. The investigation was quite intriguing, and the story was laid out well. Otherwise, I think I could have skipped some of these shorter stories and just stuck with the main one. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl: A Novel

As a tie-in with the movie a couple of years ago, the publisher was giving away copies of Jesse Andrews’ Me and Earl and the Dying Girl at Book Expo. I ended up not seeing the movie or reading the book until this last week, and not damn if I’m not kicking myself for reading this earlier. 

Greg is a kid with no ties in high school. He likes it that way — he can float around with no group affiliation and just marginally stay out of trouble that way. He has a friend, Earl, who barely has parents and smokes and peppers his language with curse words regularly. They are film aficionados, and they bond over watching and making films. Those films, though, are never presented or shared. That is, until one of Greg’s classmates, Rachel, receives a cancer diagnosis and Greg’s mom makes him befriend her. She gets her hands on these films and they bring her joy. Unfortunately for Greg, this sets off a chain of events that make the knowledge of his filmmaking public and changes the events of his last months in high school. And not, I might add, for the better. 

I was quite pleasantly surprised by how humorous I found this book. Not every book that purports itself to be a comedy about cancer is actually funny. Andrews’ protagonist, Greg, is hilariously amazing. I completely understood him as a character very early on, because Andrews’ character development is fully on point. I imagine he must be a teenager at heart because his characters were fully, entirely three dimensional and incredibly real. I know Earl; I’ve seen him and met him and he was painted with such a fine tip that I got him. Rachel is important but somewhat minor; her illness is sad for sure, but it’s more of a vehicle to understand Greg than it was about her dying. 

This book was just so funny. It’s not a traditional kind of funny, but more of a snarky and “catch me if you can” kind of funny. Greg is odd, and that’s what makes him so likeable. His telling of this story in differing formats, including as a screenplay at times, made the story enjoyable and easy to relate to. After all, who doesn’t envision their lives as part of a movie? I’m holding on to this book to put on my son’s shelf when he becomes of age to read it. I think he will enjoy it as much as I did. 

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Murder in the Stacks: Penn State, Betsy Aardsma, and the Killer Who Got Away

How I got to this book is interesting in and of itself. It started with one of those articles that lists books you would love if you love true crime, and when I saw that this one occurred at Penn State, I was excited because a dear friend of mine works there. This is David DeKok’s Murder in the Stacks: Penn State, Betsy Aardsma, and the Killer Who Got Away. 

1969 was quite a year across the United States, and Pennsylvania State University was not to be left out. It was in between some students who fought for more rights and against a government sending their friends off to war, and a state university in the middle of a tiny, conservative town that wanted everything to stay the same. In the middle of all of this, a beautiful, young graduate student is murdered in the library the day after Thanksgiving. No one knows it’s a murder for hours; it appeared as though she fainted. The crime scene was destroyed, and it would take years to identify all of the witnesses. 

But most interesting is who on earth would want to murder the young woman whom everyone says was wonderful? While the murderer would be pinpointed within a few years, he would never be brought to justice. Her close-knit family, her friends, and her fiancĂ© would be forever broken hearted after losing the light of their lives. This book, however, gives Betsy life in a way that had been missing for decades. DeKok gives readers this woman who had so much promise — she wanted to enter into the Peace Corps, but instead commuted to being a physician’s wife, which at that time meant hosting and supporting and philanthropizing. However, she was lost to a violent act that could — and should — have been stopped. 

You can (and should) read about the man that we all accept as her killer in this book. It never ceases to amaze me how many people are willing to cover up horrible acts by people in order to save their own reputations or belief systems. For example, and quite related to this book, is the current sexual abuse scandals coming out about the Southern Baptist church, which mimics that of the Catholic Church. This was done to protect an institution, which protected individuals’ reputations and belief systems, not to mention keeping systems of power in place. This reminded me of this book, in that the man responsible for Betsy’s murder was an established pedophile who was let go by police and the community time and time again. 

There are many points in this book that are dry and tedious, and I tried to think of how they could have been edited or cut to make the story flow better. However, after much thought, I realize that this story called for these details. It’s not a whodunnit — at least not the whole book — but rather a full bodied portrait of a murder and a system that allowed her perpetrator to get away. It’s Betsy’s story, but it’s also a treatise on what happens when we don’t hold our fellow citizens to account for their egregious acts. It’s the story of a small town with politics owning every move the police force makes, and it’s the story of what happened, not what might have been. It’s detailed for sure, but it captures the entirety of the story, not just the juicy bits. And that is what makes the book well worth the time you will spend with it. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

His Favorites: A Novel

I read a blurb about Kate Walbert's His Favorites on a "Best of 2018" list somewhere, so I picked up an e-book version from the library. 

The blurbs were right — this is a bewitching story that weaves two huge events together. The beauty of this book is not in a climactic punch, but rather in its intense prose and weaving together if the narrative. Jo is a young, carefree girl until the death of her best friend which will haunt her for years to come. She can’t go back to school — it’s too much to bear. She is lucky to be accepted to Hawthorne, a boarding school, so late after the start of the year. Her isolation, however, makes her a target of Master, the notorious teacher who gloms onto the beautiful young things he grooms through his modernist seminar. These two seemingly disparate events shape Jo into adulthood. 

This book was such a whirlwind that taking a step back to think on my thoughts about it knocks the wind out of me. It’s such a beautiful book that I felt like a lobster in a cool pot of water; it wasn’t until the book ended that I realized the water was boiling and I wouldn’t make it out alive. Jo was at times sympathetic and at others quite not so, as it’s hard to tell her that she shouldn’t blame herself for her best friend’s death. However, the most beautiful part of Jo is when she explains her confusion with the public reaction to Stephanie, her best friend, after she dies. Suddenly, in the newspaper articles and funerals notices, it’s a new girl. While everything these reports say is true, they capture an angel and not the true person Stephanie was on a Tuesday evening. This description was apt and quite affecting, as it’s something I’ve ruminated on for sometime, how we take people in death and make them into someone they weren’t in life. Or at a minimum a better version. Walbert wrote it better than I could. 

This book was just glorious, and it was quite a meditation on who we become when we live our lives. Every little event affects us, and shapes our souls. Walbert’s prose brings this through the paper and to the surface of our consciousness. And what a beautiful ride it is. 

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Long Road to Mercy: An Atlee Pine Thriller

I think at some point I told you about my family's tradition (began last year) to give a book on Christmas Eve and then spend the day and night reading. This year my husband wanted to get me something that would surprise me, so he picked out David Baldacci's newest, Long Road to Mercy

Altee Pine is doing what she does best as an FBI field agent assigned to A small area in Arizona. It’s what she prefers to the stuffy, suited world of the East Coast. Her domain includes the Grand Canyon, so she is called out one morning when tour guides find a mule dead and a client missing. Little does Atlee know that this confusing case will lead to twists and turns, dips and peaks, leading her on a chase for people from the Southwest to the Northeast that don’t seem to exist yet are putting national security at risk. It’s literally a matter of life and death for Atlee and many residents of the United States. 

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Baldacci’s work overall. It shouldn’t surprise me — the man is a prolific crime writer with dozens of tomes to his name — but as this was my first foray into Baldacci-dom, I found myself quite pleased with the book overall. He weaves a tight narrative, keeps me on my toes, and builds suspense so that it keeps me plowing through the pages with a forcefulness that mimicks the protagonists’. This wasn’t a page-turner in the sense that I absolutely had to find out what happened next; rather, there was a forcefulness to the mission to support to Pine in discovering the truth that Baldacci made me feel was my responsibility. 

Pine was also a great character. She has her flaws and her weaknesses, but she is a hard-ass who has no shame in being exactly who she is. She loves her job and also doesn’t take shit from anyone, as attested by the hole she punched in her wall to get a suspect to talk. She slowly and skeptically let’s her secretary in to become her unexpected partner, and while she is hesitant, I came to see the deep humanity in this character. I loved how smart she was — and how she owned it — and how Baldacci used his character as the backbone of the story that drove it. I’m unsure that this particular mystery would have been solved without Pine. 

The best surprise? My husband’s name in the final pages. He didn’t know anything about this, but imagine how my jaw absolutely dropped when I read this. 

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family's Fights for Desegregation

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family's Fights for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh is a book I picked up to read to my son on one of our airplane trips. I found myself blown away by this book because it is not only child-friendly, but it’s full of rich history that I was able to use in my teaching. 

Sylvia Mendez was a young girl in California when her father moved the family to Orange County to help run a farm left by a family moved to a Japanese internment camp during World War II. (The book doesn’t mention this part, but I think it’s an incredibly poignant point in this story.) When Sylvia’s ain’t took her, her brothers, and her cousins to register them for school, her aunt was told that Sylvia and her brothers had to go register at the Mexican school. Her cousins — with lighter skin and a French last name — could stay. Her aunt refused to register any of them, and they all went home. This fired up Sylvia’s father and mother, who went above and beyond to ensure that their children would have the same education that their neighbors had. Their fight went all the way to the Supreme Court, with a ruling stating that children of Latino heritage were entitled to an equal education as their White peers. 

This was a lovely story, and a wonderful book, and not long after reading this to my son, the Mendez case came up in my urban schools course. We read about it in several readings and watched an adult Sylvia testify before the Civil Rights Commission. It was quite moving. It also confirmed that this book was quite accurate in the depiction of the Mendez case and Sylvia’s experience. I wanted to read this book to my students, but we ran out of time as we do in all classes that have strong conversation sparked. I’m so happy I found this book, and even though I had to return it because it was a borrowed book, it’s on my son’s wishlist. After all, I can learn to share. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Race to Incarcerate: A Graphic Retelling

In the fall I attended a weekend-long workshop in Philadelphia, and the Airbnb we used was across the street from the Eastern State Penitentiary, the first major prison in the United States. Thankfully my mom is a big ol' nerd like myself and was stoked to tour it. It was absolutely fascinating, and I picked up Race to Incarcerate: A Graphic Retelling by Sabrina Jones and Marc Mauer in the gift shop. I like supporting cultural institutions, and since I haven't yet read Mauer's original book, I thought this would be a good addition to my bookshelf.

I wasn’t aware that this was a graphic retelling of Marc Mauer’s Race to Incarcerate, which in full disclosure I haven’t read but need to purchase and dig into, so I was quite pleasantly surprised to find this was quite literally a retelling. From start to finish this retelling was clear, concise, and easy to read. I was able to follow the history from the dawn of prisons and the modern penitentiary to our current day obsession with incarceration. I am thankful that my mom was so interested in visiting Eastern State when we went, because I learned a great deal that, when combined with this retelling, opened my eyes to a new angle in understanding incarceration in the United States. 

What we know of present-day prisons began in earnest in the 1970’s. Our prison population as grown exponentially in the past four decades to the point where the population is equivaent to a small state. While this book doesn’t go into detail regarding financial statistics, this costs a great deal of money. If you have been paying any attention at all lately to the concerns regarding the privatization of prisons, you know that you have cause for concern. Prisons are big business, and we have our obsession with punishment to blame beginning with everyone’s favorite conservative icon, President Reagan. Not a single political leader in the upper echelon of our government has sought radical prison reform. 

One thing that I have been meditating on that came up in this book is the role of prisons. Obviously this book is connected with The New Jim Crow — Michelle Alexander even wrote the introduction — and so these thoughts are nothing new to me. However, I’ve come to a conclusion about prison. You have one of two beliefs about the role of imprisonment: you either believe that it serves to punish or that it serves to support penitence. You might be able to tell from this where I stand.

(Side note: I do believe that there will be incarcerated persons who will never be interested in repentance as it were. That is why things like life sentences exist for what are supposed to be the most egregious crimes. At that point, I do see that punishment becomes the only option. However, shouldn’t punishment be a consequence of a lack of repentance rather than never having the option to become a productive member of society?)

You can see what people believe in the ramifications of post-prison life, including the lack of standardized services helping newly released men and women get on their feet, the box that one must check stating they’ve been convicted of a felony, and disenfranchisement of formerly incarcerated persons, to name just a few. We get to make a decision as the generation in power regarding what we want to do with the humanity we’ve been given. There’s much more on this subject than this little blog post — seek it out, dive into it, and think about the information that may not match what you think you know and believe. 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive

I picked up Stephanie Land's Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive at BookExpo last year as it was touted at the Adult Book Buzz panel as one of the hottest releases of the year

Stephanie is like many in America, but in ways that you might be uncomfortable speaking about. She grew up in poverty, and in early adulthood, she was working service jobs when she meets Jamie, who will become the father of her child. They agreed that their romance would be a fling — Stephanie had dreams of college in Missoula. When she becomes pregnant, she wants to give Jamie the chance to be a father, but instead she finds herself in a domestic violence situation with nowhere to turn. When she finally gets away, she finds herself dependent upon government assistance for everything from rent and electric to childcare — this while working long hours doing manual labor. Even while keeping her head up and trying to stay afloat, she deals with people remarking, “You’re welcome,” to her while she checks out in the grocery store with her EBT card. Her story is one that is repeated all across America — an entire swath of our population lives on less than $2 a day. 

Land is a profound writer who hits the shapest notes of strength and pride while still baring her soul for her readers. This book is no pity party; rather, it’s the story of a woman of tremendous strength who wants her reader to understand that when you live in poverty, there is never any getting ahead. The moment you do, you find yourself knocked down again — something as simple as a car not starting wreaks havoc for months on the loves of those living on an hourly minimum wage. Savings is a pipe dream. Land weaved her tale for us in a tight knit that made me empathize with her plight and angry at her circumstances. While you may feel there’s not much you can do, this is inaccurate. 

You can’t hate social programs and then say we can’t, as one of the wealthiest countries in the world, gauantee a living minimum wage for workers in every sector. Welfare is dead, and it has been for years. If you are paying attention, you know this to be true. Land goes into tedious detail explaining what life is like when you are on assistance — it’s almost a full-time job just to get what you need to be able to work. It’s a different application for everything (occasionally you get lucky and some applications double up), and each visit to each office takes hours on end. This is assuming that you never get sick and don’t need to take off work to go to a doctor. These minor inconveniences to people with salaried jobs are major catastrophies for people — mostly women, mostly single mothers — who fear losing what difficult-to-find work they had in the first place. 

That’s if you are lucky enough to have a regular work schedule, which Land finds when she begins working for a cleaning company. My heart broke for her when she entered into a relationship destined to fail — when it finally ended I was hopeful that she could make it on her own. I was angry when the doctors called her a bad mother for her living conditions — we are all trying to do our best with the circumstances we have. I  rode for her when her car went out of commission, the circumstances of which you will need to read for yourself. Land is an outstanding writer, and she brings us along on the journey that starts when her daughter takes her first steps in a homeless shelter. 

I’m always amazed when I listen to how some people speak of those on government assistance, and the coded language they use to describe those they feel are below them. Little do they know that the summer I lost my job, I sought out SNAP to help ease my financial burden. I qualified, but the process of obtaining them was so time consuming that I wouldn’t have been able to work what jobs I could find babysitting. It was an eye-opening moment for me, as was my visit to the unemployment office for a mandated job-training course. We were all treated like absolute morons. It was sobering to be sure. 

This isn’t a plea for empathy so much as it is a call to give Land’s book an open-minded read. Live in her world for a few hours, and imagine yourself in her shoes. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Act Natural: A Cultural History of Misadventures in Parenting

You know I love a good parenting book, so when I read the blurb about Jennifer Traig's Act Natural: A Cultural History of Misadventures in Parenting I was completely sold. 

One peice of advice you get as a new parent — and arguably one of the most well-intentioned yet completely useless — is to trust your instincts. After all, parenting is natural. Everyone knows how to do it! Except...

You should be a little more familiar with history. It turns out, there is nothing even remotely natural about parenting. Humans have spent centuries making absolutely stupid decisions about their children. There is a reason people have been horrible forever — it’s because they are products of their environment and child-rearing. As I like to tell everyone, when we know better, we do better. However, it’s also fair to point out that since the late ‘70’s, the Western world has taken the very new concept of “parenting” and run with it. The pendulum has swung in the opposite direction and humans still generally suck. 

But don’t worry! Just trust your instincts. It’s natural

I loved this book as a cultural history of parenting. I’ve railed in previous posts about how parenting has become a verb and it’s done some damage to adults’ self-worth and beliefs about themselves. Here, Traig has selected a few big topics and has given us a concise yet very full history of parenting advice from as far back as it was written. Some of it is horrifying, some of it is funny, and some of it is absurd. Occasionally you will find advice that is on-point. She takes  us through birth to feeding and toddlerhood to adolescence. You would be surprised at some of the recommendations that you should maybe still think about today. 

However, humans have been offering unsolicited and stupid advice for generations upon generations. Traig pulls it out in this book and presents it to you as-is with a side of self-depricating humor. She’s not interested in giving you parenting advice; she’s just telling you about the absurdity that lies in the history of men telling women how to parent. Because if we are really going to get down to brass tacks, that’s the history of child-reading advice. (The best is when the men either didn’t have children of their own or gave them away to be raised somewhere else.)

It took me a hot second to adjust to Traig’s asides in her writing, but once I did I thoroughly appreciated her jabs at history and her willingness to own her parenting choices. This is not a holier-than-thou retelling, and she’s strait forward in making sure you know that she’s just trying to get by. However, she knows that you are too even if you present yourself as a perfect family on social media. (I’m also calling out you all who like to throw in a “what a crazy day!” post every once in a while. We know you. We see you. We know you are full of shit.) It turns out parenting has been hard across history for different reasons, and at the end of the day, this book just celebrates us all getting by in whatever way we can. 

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Joy Enough: A Memoir

I picked up Sarah McColl's memoir Joy Enough at Book Expo last year on a whim, and it was the perfect size book to read on my way home to Atlanta and then give to mother. 

Sarah McColl has always loved her mother and depended on her for more than she realized. When her mother becomes ill, she must care for her while her marriage is crumbling and her heart is breaking in more ways than one. Can anyone ever find joy when their world is falling to prices around them, or do you just find joy enough in the wake of the destruction? 

I was quite blown away by this slim memoir. McColl is a hell of a prose writer, drawing me in with her raw wet concrete of words, smoothing it out all over the page, and allowing me to read it while it dries. That’s what her prose felt like; a soothing process making her grief permanent so that everyone else can walk on it and experience it. She felt completely exposed in this work, and she allowed me into her world and, even deeper, into her heart, laying near her worst moments so that I could just tangentially feel her grief over the two things she wanted most: her mother and her marriage. 

These books can be difficult for me, because the understanding that I will one day lose my parents breaks me. I recognize how fortunate I am to have them in my life and to have the support and love that they offer. As an adult these relationships are different than they are when we are younger, as it feels as though there is a timer that will one day go off. McColl distantly captures what it feels like when you hear the seconds on that timer counting down. I as the reader wanted to sit down with her so that I could hold her in her grief and figure out for her how to get through it. 

This book is well worth a read from any perspective — McColl’s expression of a time in her life that has shaped her is an incredible read, and I imagine that each person who reads it will get something different from it. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Illegal: One Boy's Epic Journey of Hope and Survival

I absolutely had to pick up Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin's Illegal: One Boy's Epic Journey of Hope and Survival for our family bookshelf. 

When I first brought this home, my husband raised his eyebrows at the title. I explained to him that it was supposed to be provacative in its exploration of what it means to be “legal” or not. Colfer and Donkin have put together a powerful story of a boy, Ebo, the youngest in his family, who alights off to join his older brother as he leaves their home in Africa to seek out both their sister and a better life than they grew up with. Ebo and his brother find themselves at the mercy of their handlers, handing off every dime they gave in search of Italy, where they plan to end up. Things go off the rails when they have to hop on a dinghy as quickly as possible with a dozen other migrants. The vessel is only slated to hold 8, and the engine dies, leaving they boys and men stranded in the sea. They are not sure who, if anyone, will make it to those golden shores of hope. 

I’m still processing my emotions after finishing this graphic novel, as it was both stunning and devastating. I used to question the role of graphic novels since I love the written word so much, but as I’ve gotten deeper into them I have found that the pictorial representation along with carefully selected text can punch me in the gut harder than a longer passage of the most beautiful prose. This was the perfect medium for this story, and it had me sniffling in the living room while my son watched TV. Ebo’s story is one of a boy who is audacious in his hope and his belief that he is making the right decision for himself and his family. What’s heart-wrenching about it from the point of view of my safe and warm home in adulthood is that it is so split-second, so without thought that I wanted to reach into the book, grab that boy by the ear, and drag him back home. 

However, he is an impulsive young boy who made the decision he did, so we choose to continue following him along on his journey. I will leave the rest of the narrative here so that nothing will be spoiled when you pick up the book. The story itself is heart-wrenching, but I do think it’s an important one to read and to understand. This book has so many talking points with young people — why Ebo made the decision that he did, what the conditions of his life were that would lead to his leaving so suddenly, why going to Europe was such a dream for so many, what would happen when they got there, etc. A piece of me wants to shield my son from the kind of pain contained in this book, but that’s realistic and it takes away the possibility of hope. Ultimately, I feel that’s what the book left us with, even if it did break my heart. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir

Carrie Brownstein's Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is one of those books I picked up forever and a day ago. I’m not quite sure what took me so long to get to it, other than that I am simply a book hoarder.    

I was just a little too young for the riot grrrl movement, so I was not especially a fan of the band. However, I wasn’t not a fan of the band either, and I am always interested in a little history, be it musical or otherwise. 

Carrie‘s memoir tells of her coming of age as a girl in the Pacific Northwest and her introduction into the music scene at a time when the whole area was ripe with musical energy. I found her trajectory as a musician to be particularly interesting – she needed a means of expression and found it through music rather than finding music and then using it as a means of self-expression. It’s fascinating and respectful, and her history goes hand-in-hand with that of Sleater-Kinney.  I am so thankful I grew to learn more about this point in time situated in a particular location. 

She lays her self bare in her memoir, and it makes her absolutely endearing. She is someone whom I would like to go grab a beer with, and ask her questions about life, her work, and everything in between. Even after doing some poking around online and listening to Sleater-Kinney, I can say that it’s not really my style of music, but I appreciate who they are and what they’ve done. The in-depth history of their albums and the process of writing and recording them has given me a lot to contemplate, and I’m going to give their music another go ‘round this weekend with this book in mind. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Dreamers: A Novel

Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles is a book that hit me like a ton of bricks and has stayed with me for years (since 2012!); when I saw that her newest book, The Dreamers, was available for request on Netgalley I jumped on it. 

A mysterious virus is snaking it’s way through Santa Lora, a sleepy college town deep in California. It’s starts with one student, makes its way to get another, and soon the entire town is blanketed in sleep, dreaming but not waking. Very few will be left awake, and the town is under full quarantine. Who will survive and who will not? What is happening deep down at the cellular level to cause this disease — and what are the dreamers dreaming? 

I wish that my blurb on this book could be a fraction as eloquent as Walker is in her prose. She is one of the most languid and beautiful novelists of our day. She writes with such a deep understanding of her characters yet provides us this knowledge at a remove; it’s as if she’s our higher power telling us the story of our ancient civilization. It’s a folklore that will be come to know by all who dwell here. It’s incredible, her ability to move me as a reader while still feeling like a universal storyteller. 

Walker focuses on Mei, a young woman who feels like an outcast in her college dorm. Her roommate is the first to experience infection and pass away. Walker has written Mei to be the most empathetic of characters, one that is easy to relate to even though in the surface it seems we have nothing in common. Mei, who is asked to endorse more than any 19 year-old does. She is in the eye of the hurricane and when it fans out, she is the moral compass in the storm. She, along with Sarah and Libby, the two young daughters of janitor at the college, anchored this story for me more than any other characters. The couple with the baby felt too close to home for me, as it made my gut ache. Walker has a way of doing that. The story is important, but the characters’ journeys are the lifeblood. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Boys: An Illustrated Field Guide

Boys: An Illustrated Field Guide by Heather Ross was a gift to us from a friend who attended Comic Con last year, and it was just a positively lovely read.

This love letter to girls* (and boys!) everywhere, this book reviews all of the boys they may come across in their life, the ones they may fall in love with and ultimately have to leave behind. Each of these boys is a type, and in order to love them, there may be things you have to alter about yourself. The message is that it doesn't matter which type of boy you choose -- you must know yourself and be true to yourself first. (You may have to go through a few boys to learn this.)

I was quite taken by this book -- from the writing, to the message, and all the way through the illustrations. I read it to my little boy and he, too, was captivated by it. I loved the message that it's important to hold on to who you are, because being in love with a boy can easily take your sense of self and make you into something that you are not. I have known so many girls -- some women, even -- who have not had a personality of their own, and I have watched them morph from relationship to relationship, even into their 30's, without knowing who they genuinely were deep down. It's heartbreaking, so this book really spoke to me.

I feel like I have so many stories to count that I can't even being to separate them all. I watched one in particular spend her early 20's talking about how a college education was a waste of money and being an avowed atheist who never wanted children, and just a few years later be a devout church-going, college-attending, mother of three. The difference? You guessed it -- a new man. I didn't care who exactly she wanted to be -- that's her business and her life -- but it was sad watching her be a chameleon. (Before you say, "Maybe she changed!" I realize this is an option, but I know her better than you do. It was the man.) I have many stories like this, and I feel that they could have used the small push that this illustrated field guide gives just a little earlier in life.

I would pass this book down to so many young girls in my life so that they know there are so many boys you will come across -- smart boys, dangerous boys, adventurous boys, sweet boys -- and they are recognizable. It is important that you, too, be recognizable, albeit in a different way. Be you, be strong, and be yourself, whatever that looks like.

*I recognize here that I am referring to cisgendered heterosexual females. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

I had a Great on Kindle credit and didn't want for much, but at the moment Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing was on sale and caught my eye. My mom and several friends swore by it, so I gave it a go. 

For those of you who missed the craze, Kondo built the KonMari method. You hold an object in your hands and ask yourself if it brings you joy. If it does, you keep it. If it doesn’t, you toss it. That’s the long and short of it although there is definitely more to it in the fine details. Kondo hates organization tools; she feels it creates a false sense of tidyiness rather than actual tidyness. She has a point there. While some stuff I could get behind, others made me cock my head in wonder. 

Here is an Instagram post I put up a couple of months ago, toward the end of 2018. 

I came to the KonMari method late — both in book time (this book came out a few years ago) and in cleaning time (see the above post). I read it after my big year-long purge, so it was interesting to read the book and compare methods. (Disclaimer: my way was in no way a method. I just have a small child who gets into everything and I don’t have the luxury of doing my whole house in a week anyway.) There were some things that I preemptively followed to the letter — I didn’t lose a lot of sleep about getting rid of things, and I didn’t keep things that didn’t bring me joy — and there were some things that made me curious. I don’t openly thank objects myself; maybe it’s my American puritanical upbringing, but I have a hard time thanking objects. (Although, now that I think about it, I’ve definitely said goodbye to objects.) 

One other things that was important to me in my great purge that Kondo doesn’t address is that it was, and still is, very important to me to get rid of things “ethically.” I can’t just throw things away — in case you haven’t heard, the world has a trash problem — and just dropping things off at a Goodwill means they will likely end up in the trash. So I have a nice amount of things still waiting to leave my apartment for a clothing swap in February and another in June, and a bag of shoes to go with it. 

I appreciated that Kondo doesn’t preach about buying less so much as only keeping what makes you happy. She actually recognizes that you will buy more things, but the hope in the tidying process is that you will recognize what brings you joy. One point of note she makes about clothes is that most of her clients it rid of pieces that others gave her. I’ve noticed that too. I got rid of a lot of beautiful pieces that just don’t fit my postpartum body, but I also got rid of pieces that just weren’t me. Interestingly enough, many of those were gifts.   

There are things I’ve taken from this book. With what’s left over, specifically around my own clothes, I’m evaluating piece by piece which I want to keep. I wear work clothes to work and when I look in the mirror, if I don’t feel 100% confident in how I look, I put the piece in the clothing swap pile as soon as I get home. I commented to my husband just yesterday how much more empty our closet feels — I’ve never had so many empty hangers. I’m also much more picky about what I buy. I subscribed to a clothing rental service (Gwynnie Bee), and I’m super happy with it. It’s rentals, but if you like you can buy. I get to wear something once or twice and see how it wears. I’ve bought a lot of basics through this — black pants and dresses, a top I LOVE — and I’ve been able to change up my wardrobe through new dresses weekly. 

I still have more to do. I haven’t tackled my office in full yet, although I did start yesterday. I feel as though I spend less time picking up on a daily basis now that I’ve gotten rid of things. I also took advantage of Kondo’s suggestion of small box organizers in my drawers and it’s made a world of difference in my calmness while food prepping. All in all, the book was worth the read even if I didn’t, and wouldn’t, follow everything to the letter. Let’s all try to live tidier lives. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

I'm Thinking of Ending Things

I read a Book Riot post on the best thrillers with unpredictable endings, and Iain Reid's I'm Thinking of Ending Things was on the list. I requested it from the library and boy howdy, was it a hell of a ride. 

Our protagonist who is never named has a wonderful boyfriend, Jake, with whom things are going well — in fact, they are driving out to meet his parents when the story starts. However, she’s thinking of ending things. She waffles back and forth, and it isn’t until they are on the drive home that she decides, definitely, that’s she’s thinking of ending things. The night takes a turn, though, when Jake pulls off on a desolate country road to a huge school that is clearly abandoned in the late night snow storm. As things go from bad to worse, she finds herself running for her life, and with her life, in this school that is so strange yet so familiar. 

I was absolutely intrigued by this story for the majority of it. I was completely creeped out by Jake’s family and his demeanor at dinner. Reid sets up this gothic thriller so well; we are on our way to dinner with his family, anticipating a nice night with early relationship jitters, and by the end all we want to do is get the hell out of dodge. But do you stay or do you go? Jake’s father offers for them to stay the night. They opt to go. But would things have happened differently if they had stayed? 

As a reader, I dreaded them pulling off the deserted highway in a snowstorm to an evermore desolate side road. Add on the abandoned school and I would have walked so fast back to town and risked frostbite. That combined with the narrator’s stalker in the back of my mind and her dead cell phone, I was a big ol’ NOPE. I desperately wanted her out of that situation immediately. 

Here’s the thing, though. I’m not sure I’m smart enough to get the ending. Once the final 20 pages took hold, I had to reread them, and I still do not h defat and the ending. I even looked it up online and not a single person will explain it. On one hand, that’s amazing for the author who’s work is outstanding and deserves to stand in its own. But on the other, I’m not sure I will get what the ending meant. I can’t say more without giving it away, so if you have read it, or you are killing to — help a girl out please! 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Wonder Weeks

This book was given to us by a friend of my husband's, and she touted it as lifesaving to her. I was sold because both authors are academics, and you know I dislike anything that isn't evidenced-based. Apparently The Wonder Weeks by Hetty van de Rijt and Frans Plooij is quite the hit among the mommy set, of which I am not one of their traditional members. 

Becoming a new parent is one of the strangest experiences, and I tell people all the time that no one was more prepared to be a parent than I was. A sample of my credentials included approximately 25 years of child care varrying in ages from newborn to high school, approximately 14 years of teaching ages toddler to graduate level, two Master’s degrees and a doctoral candidacy in Educational Psychology in which one of my foci was human development. I know my stuff. 

So when I tell you that becoming the parent of what basically amounts to a potted plant was one of the strangest and difficult things I’ve ever done, I can’t imagine how bad it must be for people who have never even held an infant. When we checked out of the hospital, the discharge nurse was talking to me about diapers when I cut her off and said that I have decades worth of childcare experience and I can change a diaper. I need guidance on how to turn a baby into a bigger human without losing my mind. She didn’t have an answer to that but was clearly happy that I knew how to fasten a Pamper. 

All of this to say that at first I relied on this book like it was the Bible. I mean, not entirely, but I did use it and appreciated its presence in my life to create a bit of predictability and stability in an otherwise chaotic and unpredictable moment in our lives. Those first few leaps that the authors discuss were not just important but were also markers that we were surviving and watching our boy grow. I didn’t follow their advice for games and activities and such because it just wasn’t necessary for me, but I was thankful to see them in there for parents who genuinely have no idea what to do with their babies. These leaps happened fast and furiously for the first nine months or so, so having this guide was vital for our sanity. 

As my son has gotten older and the leaps have gotten longer and farther between, we haven’t really needed the guidance as much. Once he hit six months or so he enetered my wheelhouse of knowledge and I was able
To better understand where he was and where he was going. But man, were those first few months something. I’m grateful that we had this on hand to serve as a guidebook for an otherwise confusing and fraught experience that comes with absolutely no instructions. And even when you find some, most are crap. Not this though. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

My New Year Resolution: 2019

Today isn’t a book review, because my new year resolution this year has to do with reading. What better place to announce it then on my blog?

I have too many books.

This statement won’t surprise anybody, but the breakdown migh intrigue you. It’s not that I have too many books just sitting around that I’ve read and refuse to give up. I am very good at passing books on – my TBR (to be read) pile is approximately five times the size of the shelves of books that I have decided to keep. My general guidelines for keeping books include autographed books that I have a memory around (not just autographed books for the sake of having a signed copy); books that have moved me, either by surprise or not; and books that I would like for my son to read in the future. I have specific displays for these, and once they are full, I make myself go through and decide once again which ones to keep and which ones to get away. 

So now we come down to my TBR pile. Or, more specifically, shelves. As you can see in the photo below, I have some books to read. That’s four shelves of books — the top is TBR trade books, and the second from the top consists mostly of books I’ve read and want to keep. 

The next two shelves are full of TBR books, And the bottom shelf that you see has books double stacked. Oh wait – I’m not done. You will also notice another picture below, which consists of a stack of books in my closet. 

So in 2019, my goal is to read enough books that my TBR shelves are knocked down to two - the top, with trade paperbacks, and the third from the top shelf, which are other books. One of my resolutions for 2018 was to get rid of more books that I brought in, which I achieved at 72 bucks in and 79 books out. One thing that will help is not attending book expo this year. While I’m sad about it, I just can’t afford to go to Los Angeles for it this year. 

Happy reading everyone!