The Art Of Reading

Not everyone is a natural born reader. You know something? That’s ok.

But I know people struggle to read for a variety of reasons and want to offer some tips from my own experience.

It seems that I was born with a book in my hand. Reading is an escape, it’s entertaining, and it’s an amazing way to learn about anything under the sun. However, reading is something that I sometimes struggle with too.

It’s usually because I can’t quiet my mind or sometimes because I’m too tired to focus. I literally have lived years of my life traveling too much and unable to focus on a book. Any book.

Sometimes it’s because what I’m attempting to read doesn’t interest me or because I hate a character.

Back in January, I set out to read more books in 2020. Little did I know that the lofty goal of reading 100 books this year would become a vital part of staying sane during months of pandemic and seclusion.

Anyway, earlier this year, I listened to a podcast on reading and reviewed a few articles to develop strategies that would help me read more and better. Here are a some that helped.

Know That It Takes Effort. We live in a busy world that is brimming with distractions. You have to make an effort to turn off the tv, set aside your work, stop worrying about the bills, and focus on the words in front of you. This is super hard when there are so many distractions competing for your mental energy.

Respect Limitations. Reading is not the easiest thing to do for most people but it’s a thousand times harder if you have vision problems, trouble concentrating, dyslexia or some other learning disability. I’m not a doctor but would recommend seeking help with these issues regardless of your age.

Make Books Accessible. Some experts recommend reading multiple books at one time. The theory usually is that you should have a book at your fingertips wherever you go. The podcast that I listened to recommended having a book in the car, one in the living room, one on your nightstand, one at work for lunch time…. you get the gist. I have done this and have found it counterproductive because it takes forever to finish anything and it’s hard to stay engaged with a book when you’re reading just a few pages a day. I tend to read one book at a time and carry it everywhere I go. It’s much easier to become immersed in the action, remember characters and to feel some ownership of what you’re reading.

Play Mind Games. If you’re just getting started and feel intimidated, there are some things to remember. One is that you don’t have to read a 200 page book today. The other is that you can set mini goals for yourself. When you start a chapter, look at its length. If it’s ten pages tell yourself you are just going to read a chapter. If it’s fifty pages, say you’re just going to read the first ten.

If you’re struggling to focus, it is mentally healthy to have some goals. You can look at why your phone dinged after you reach your goal. You may find that you forget your phone even dinged and keep going.

Read What Interests You. I have a friend who only reads mysteries. I know others who focus on bestsellers like John Grisham. Some people like the classics or biographies or books about cars. Reading a book will do you no good if it doesn’t engage you in some meaningful way. I’m fortunate to enjoy many different genres. My reading list includes almost everything under the sun but it’s ok to focus on one thing.

Just remember, you don’t have to read Moby Dock to call yourself a reader. You just have to read.

Take A Break. If I read a book that’s challenging or that’s emotionally trying, I tend to follow up with something light. It’s like a palate cleanser for the mind!

Make It Part Of Your Routine. Personally, I like to go to bed early with a book. It’s a nice way to wind down after a long day and this is just part of my daily ritual. I read at other times as well but bedtime reading is my favorite. Maybe you would prefer starting your day with coffee and a book. Maybe you sneak in a chapter in your car at lunchtime. Just find a time each day that is reserved for reading, even if for just a little while.

Slow Down. Reading is not a competitive sport. Slow down and enjoy the story. Sometimes if I’m struggling to focus, I read aloud to my cat. Yes. You read that correctly. I read to Scout and he seems to enjoy it. Your eye can’t skip around if you’re saying the words out loud.

I know readers who shame people for what they read. Please don’t let others be a jerk about your book choices and in return, don’t do that to someone else. It’s not cool.

Sometimes I’m hesitant to give you my monthly book reviews because I hate people who brag about their reading. I have been giving my short reviews hoping to inspire others to read and to support authors and bookstores through buying or libraries through borrowing.

Hopefully you’ll find something in my mixed up reading list that sounds interesting and will encourage you to try reading for entertainment and learning!

Do you have tips for reading more or questions on this topic? I would love to hear from you!

May Reading Round Up

My May reading list erred on the side of “things you shouldn’t read during a pandemic or other depressing time in your life.” One selection was so troubling that I didn’t even want to read anymore but I’m glad I trudged through and finished it.

Here’s the rundown:

A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purcell was time consuming. I was excited to start it but lost my zeal to read about halfway through. This is nonfiction about an American socialite turned spy during World War II. She was a hero of the French Resistance who spent years evading and sabotaging the Nazis.

The author did a good job drawing the reader into this confusing and terrifying world.

The Nazis were notoriously cruel but especially ruthless toward women so capture was unthinkable. Sadly, the story became almost too much to absorb. However, she was an incredible woman and I’m glad I know about her. I’m equally glad to be done with it.

Tony’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani was another good story in a long line of books by an author that I adore. This one is set during the Big Band era and World War II. There are a few flaws to the story including the mention of transistor radios years before they existed but the plot is fun and I enjoyed the break after the horrors of the French Resistance.

No Dream Is Too High by Buzz Aldrin tells an important tale from American and space history. He seems like a likable guy but I didn’t especially enjoy the book. Don’t ask because I don’t know why. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood for it but it seemed to me like there were too many technical details to speak to a general audience but probably not enough for the space fans in the audience. However, it is inspiring to think about all he accomplished and I’m glad this American hero chose to record his own account of his life.

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens is a page turning thriller and an all around good ride. It’s a timely reminder that where humans are concerned there often is more. than meets the eye. This novel tells the story of a college student who investigates a decades old murder, uncovering the truth about a man wrongly convicted of that murder. I know how it ends but would read it again.

Infamy by Richard Reeves is the one that really made me hate reading, if only for just a little while. However, I’m glad I read the book despite the mental anguish inflicted by this meticulously researched and presented book.

This is the most emotionally exhausting book I’ve read in a while. It details how over 120,000 Japanese Americans and aliens were legally and forcefully removed from their homes and relocated to American government run internment camps.

It also talks about the honorable service to the American military given by young Japanese Americans. Many died in the war, others came home with a chest full of medals only to be refused services, threatened, and run out of their own homes.

It’s a timely, disturbing reminder of what happens when we allow mass hysteria and racism to be disguised as patriotism.

Dimestore by Lee Smith was the best thing I read all month. You may be familiar with southerner Lee Smith’s fiction writing but this is a collection of essays that tell the story of her upbringing in rural Virginia. Her dad owned the dimestore in town and her perspective as a child in this hamlet reminds me a lot of the character Scout in Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

She also gives some insight into the world of writing, making me want to sit down and start writing a book.

However, I fear whatever I might write will appear in a callous blogger’s round up of books someday so I may just stick to the reading side of things!

What books are you reading?

Brandi’s Life Of Quarantine Book Club

As you can see from the stack, I’m still at home and still reading. These are the selections from Brandi’s Life of Quarantine Book Club in April. Membership consists of just me and there’s no rhyme or reason to the selections.

This was a good news/bad news kind of month. The good news is that I finally finished the Richard Paul Evans Road trilogy. I’m not a huge fan but he is typically feel good and uplifting. Something that I find necessary right now.

The bad news is that I discovered the annoying world of self published books on Amazon. Some are great. Some aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. This particular book was about the Zoot Suit Riots but was basically just a patchwork of quotes from news articles.

There were some standouts too.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is a beautiful book. This bestseller has received a lot of hype, causing me to put off reading it because the hyped-up books often don’t appeal to me.

The author is actually a zoologist by trade and this was her first novel so I didn’t know what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect the reclusive main character to be so real and relatable. Known to the community as Marsh Girl, she lives apart from society, her life shaped by her childhood and her future determined by a community that judged her from afar.

It reminds me of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, my favorite book of all time.

Quiet by Susan Cain was a real treat. It’s well researched and smartly written, providing insight into the differences between introverts and extroverts. It thoroughly explains why introverts are so easily dismissed.

Between a third and half of the workforce is introverted so I believe this should be required reading for anyone who manages people or plans work spaces. Many famous introverts changed the world including Rosa Parks and Steve Wozniak. There would be no Alice in Wonderland if not for an introvert.

It turns a bit dry at times but is still an excellent use of your time. There’s even advice for parents of introverted children and teachers who need to find a way to work with different learning styles.

The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon is a page turner. She has mastered the art of suspense and the craft of intertwining multiple stories into one. While one story begins during the golden age of travel at a roadside motel, another picks up the story years later when the interstate system has left the hotel rundown and closed. But there’s a secret, monsters and lots of intrigue. Well worth your time.

Yankee Doodle Gals: Women Pilots of World War II was written for a younger audience but is an excellent read for anyone – especially those interested in World War II history, aviation and women’s rights.

It uses a lot of great photos and thoughtful text to tell the story of how women flew 77 kinds of military aircraft during the war, doing work with planes that some male pilots were afraid to fly. They trained as Army but, despite promises they would soon be part of the Army, it never happened and they were dismissed with just a letter of thanks. It took decades for them to be recognized for the heroic work they did for the American war effort. You can get a gently used copy from a small bookseller on Alibris.com for under $3 plus $3.99 shipping and it is worth your money to do so. Also, it’s not just for girls! Have your boys read it too!

Honorable Mention goes to Jeffrey Archer’s Only Time Will Tell. I truly enjoyed this story. It’s the first in a series and I have ordered the next two books from small booksellers on Alibris. We will see if Archer maintains my attention!

What have you been reading?

March Reading Roundup

Books have been my lifeline these last few months. I set a goal for myself to read a hundred books this year and I’m already on my fortieth. Granted some have been short and some have been books about photographers which usually are very picture heavy.

The photo above shows the pile of March books – it’s a mix of photography, history and novels of all kinds. My favorite among these was The Jerrie Mock Story which I wrote about last month. Please go read her story if you haven’t already. She deserves to be remembered.

Here are a few other notables:

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson A fictional account inspired by fact, this book is a real gem in my estimation. It’s a good story but there are two things at play that really captured my imagination. The main character is a woman named Bluet who worked as a traveling librarian in Kentucky during the Depression. This government program brought reading materials to the hills and hollers of an area where life was grueling and entertainment scarce. Many patrons were illiterate and relied on a family member or neighbor to read to them. The librarians traveled this rugged countryside by horse with materials packed in saddle bags.

The other piece of the story is that Bluet is believed to be the last Blue Fugate of Kentucky. This family had a rare genetic disorder that caused their skin to be blue. If you do nothing else, Google the Blue Fugates of Kentucky but I recommend reading the novel as well.

Helmets and Lipstick by Ruth G. Haskell This is the first hand account of an Army nurse serving in North Africa during Operation Torch. It starts with her deployment and journey to North Africa via Scotland. Parts are witty and light while others are dark and frightening.

Published in 1944, it was part memoir and part call to action as the Army badly needed combat nurses during the war. It offers insight into the war from a female perspective and a more human narrative than you’ll find in any history book.

Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani I’m still working my way through the Adriana Trigiani catalog and have found that you can’t go wrong with her writing. This particular book cost $2 at Dollar General, proof that you should never judge a book by its placement in the bargain bin.

This one tells the story of a young woman in nineteen fifties New York and offers insight into a slice of life I didn’t quite realize existed.

Vivian Meier Street Photographer Edited by Joan Maloof Vivian Meier was a prolific street photographer of the mid 20th century. She worked as a nanny, spending her free time quietly slipping through the world and documenting anything that caught her eye. She mostly did this unnoticed and she died without ever publishing a single photo.

No one knew her name until a box of her negatives was found at an auction. Her photographs are insightful and moving, sometimes humorous, and always a delight to study.

** What are you reading right now? **

The Jerrie Mock Story

On this day in 1964 an Ohio woman set out to make history. Her name was Jerrie Mock and her goal was to be the first woman to fly solo around the world.

You likely think this record was set by Amelia Earhart but you would be wrong. It was an Ohioan, a housewife who wanted to do something important who set this record.

She departed Columbus in a single engine Cessna 180 that she christened the “Spirit of Columbus.” It took 29 days to cover the nearly than 23,000 miles, besting a California woman who was simultaneously attempting the same feat.

I had heard Jerrie’s story before but recently read a book about her. In fact, it’s the only book about her in print today. The only other book I know of is something Jerrie wrote about the journey that has been out of print for decades.

This particular book is a biography for young readers and it’s well done but it’s a biography for young readers, for crying out loud.

There have been shelves of books written about male aviators. The only female aviator to get much attention at all is Amelia Earhart and most of what is written is centered on her disappearance and the conspiracy theories surrounding what happens.

Even Bessie Coleman who I told you about earlier this year has just a few volumes despite her trailblazing life and career.

Some documentaries about the women’s air races of the twenties and work done about the WASPs of World War II have shown a fresh light on womens’ contributions to aviation but it seems like we can do better.

Jerrie Mock sounds like a real character and like my kind of gal. She struggled mentally to keep her schedule because she wanted to sightsee in the exotic places where she stopped!

I would be the same way, likely deciding halfway through to sacrifice the record for cultural enrichment and photo ops.

She set several records during her aviation career and received countless honors but her accomplishments have very much been lost to time. Instead of being a household name like Amelia Earhart or Charles Lindbergh, she’s a novelty. A trivia question.

And that’s a darn shame.

If you’re interested, her plane is on display in the National Air and Space Museum in Virginia. If you can’t make it there, I hope you’ll at least read the book and tell her story to others as a way to honor this woman.

February Reading

The last couple of months have been an extremely productive reading time for me. Adventure season will be underway soon and reading time will be more scarce but for now I’m focusing on a few simple rules – always carry a book, turn off the tv, and choose reading over mindless activities.

It’s worked well so far although many were quite easy this month as my brain has been on overload. Here’s the February pile.

You don’t want to read a review of them all but I will point out a few even though I loved every single one.

Dear Photograph by Taylor Jones

This is a delightful book based around a simple concept. Hold up a photo from the past in the place where it was originally taken. Then write a sentence about what that photo means to you. It’s an easy read but thought provoking at times. It’s also fun to pull off the shelf when you just need something a little different.

Hannah’s Suitcase by Karen Levine

This title was written for a young audience so it was an easy read but one of the most moving books I’ve read in a long time. It tells the story of how the director of a Holocaust museum in Japan tracked down the fate of a little girl who was sent to Auschwitz. The museum had received the girl’s suitcase which had her name printed on the side. That’s all the director had to work with – the girl’s name – to unravel the story of what happened to her and her family.

This is difficult subject matter but the story is told respectfully and I am grateful that I stumbled into this book.

Survivor’s Club by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

CBS This Morning featured a moving segment about the Holocaust last month. It talked about how this horrific event is being forgotten by younger generations and about the increase in people who believe that it didn’t happen at all.

They interviewed MichaeL Bornstein whose photograph was taken in 1945 when he was carried out of Auschwitz in his grandmother’s arms. He was just four that day and had known only loss and misery in his short life. The fact he survived the camp is nothing short of a miracle as the Nazis killed most children on the day they arrived.

The reason he told his story is that he saw his likeness – the picture he uses on the book cover – on a website that denies the Holocaust. He knew then that it was time to educate people and to combat the deniers.

This is a family memoir and incredibly personal but it is exceptionally told. It is heartbreaking and uplifting. Read it.

The Melody Lingers On by Mary Higgins Clark

This author recently died after a prolific decades long career which resulted in dozens of books I’ve never read. When a suspense addicted friend learned of this oversight I was strongly encouraged to put my nose in one of her books immediately, if not sooner. This book is fast paced with a great story line and a twist. I enjoyed it and would certainly read more of her work.

A Fools’s Errand by Lonnie Bunch III

Lonnie Bunch is the Founding Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I read this memoir after seeing some interviews with him when the museum opened. He is a fascinating man and an engaging conversationalist (at least in interviews) and I would love to have a museum tour with him. The book tells a fascinating story but it was written by an academic and can be dry at times. Hang in there though.

There are some beautiful stories within these chapters – humorous, sad and enraging at times. He began this museum with nothing. No staff, no money, not even a desk to call his own or a phone extension to reach him. He persevered, engaging celebrities, politicians and common people to find the money, artifacts and willpower to keep going.

The museum isn’t meant to attract just African Americans. It tells the story of America and the important place of African Americans within that story. One of my favorite stories was of the shoe shine man who refused payment because he wanted Lonnie to put the $8 toward the museum. When Lonnie insisted on paying, the elderly African American man said “Don’t be rude. I am not sure what is in a museum, but it may be the only place where my grandchildren will learn what life did to me, and what I did with my life.”

I’m officially dying to go explore.

* * *

I started reading David McCullough’s “The Pioneers” but set it aside for a while. I will be captivated by this book someday but my head wasn’t in the game and needed something a little easier!

What’s the best book you’ve read lately?