Do You Believe In Resolutions?

What’s your stance on New Year’s Resolutions?

Studies show that about sixty percent of us make resolutions but only about eight percent of us follow through on them.

I’m a planner and a goal setter so I usually have two or three of varying size.

One of my 2020 resolutions was to read 100 books. Check!

Another was to travel as much as possible with a couple of big trips in mind along with some weekend getaways. That clearly didn’t work out.

And there were some smaller ones that fell to the wayside but others came to light as the year progressed. For example, I log the miles that I hike and intentionally walk every day and am very close to reaching 500 miles.

Planning is in my nature and one of my stronger skills. I’m good at breaking down a large project into small pieces that can be completed in phases. Sadly, 2020 sort of beat the desire to plan right out of me.

And yet, here I am, contemplating goals for the new year. It isn’t productive to wait for the flip of a calendar page to start but a new year feels like a fresh start and an irresistible opportunity to take a run at planning again.

The picture above is from a Denver sidewalk. Most of us will never make it to the moon. But what’s the phrase? Shoot for the moon and even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

Reading, walking and traveling may not get me to the moon or the stars but these things will give me opportunity to improve myself and that’s pretty good too.

You Can’t Buy Happiness

You can’t buy happiness but you can buy books and that’s kind of the same thing.

That’s especially true when there is a favorite author’s new book and a free afternoon at hand.

Fannie Flagg has been threatening to retire for some time, saying that each of her novels will be the last. In fact, I still haven’t read the book she released a few years ago because once I read it I will no longer have a Fannie Flagg book to anticipate reading.

How nuts is that?

In case you aren’t familiar, she is the author of the novel “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” which was turned into a hit movie starring Jessica Tandy and Kathy Bates in 1991.

She has written many other wonderful books and she tells the rest of the Fried Green Tomatoes story in a new novel called “The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop.”

When I bought the book, I swore that I would read slowly, cherishing each word and really savor the experience.

These were lies. All lies.

I tore through this book in a marathon reading session Saturday.

It was wonderful. The book leaps through time ranging from the 1930s when Whistle Stop was still a bustling railroad community through present day. You meet new characters and catch up with some old ones, learning some of the story behind the story.

It was delightful.

The book isn’t without faults but it was nothing that can’t be overlooked.

Plus, it was exactly what I needed to take my mind off the madness of the world around me.

How are you relaxing these days? Have any authors to recommend? I am always on the prowl for a new read so don’t hold back!

The June List

This month’s reading list had a theme even though I didn’t intend for that to happen. It’s just a natural result of my curiosity about current events.

Almost everything this month was notable save for the Mary Higgins Clark. I solved the mystery when the character was first introduced. Sigh.

The Night The Lights Went Out by Karen White is also a mystery that I figured out kind of quick. I never did decide if that was an intentional decision by the author to influence the reader’s opinion of the main character or if it was just poor planning on her part. It doesn’t matter because I enjoyed the story and many of the characters. It was a good palette cleanser between some other books that were less easy to stomach.

White Fragility by Robin Diangelo is a New York Times bestseller that I sincerely believe every American, regardless of race, should read. The title is likely off-putting to some but this is a frank discussion of race that is written by a white woman with years of experience in the field. One thing I really appreciate about this book is how she talks about several ways that white people tend to be racist, even when we think we’re not. More than that, she discusses why it’s important. She doesn’t villainize so much as she challenges the reader to take a hard look at their own beliefs, reactions and interactions with others. If you read nothing else from this list, choose this one.

Tuskegee’s Heroes is a beautiful little volume of art and photos that tells stories of some of the famed Tuskegee Airmen. This history and aviation buff was enthralled by the meaningful impact that this group of men had on the war and in race relations on the homefront.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee sticks with the theme of racism in America. If you haven’t read this classic, put it on your list because every American should read this one too. Much has been written about this book and I can’t do it justice in a paragraph but just know that it tackles issues of prejudice through a child’s eyes. The town of Maycomb where it is set reminds me a lot of my own hometown and the issues tackled here sound awfully familiar sixty years later.

And just so you know, I named my cat after the main character Scout, not after the car as some people have suggested.

Spencer’s Mountain by Earl Hamner Jr. was the basis for the classic television show The Waltons. For a short time, I hoped to visit Earl Hamner Jr’s home place on my July vacation and reread the book to help me prepare. I hate to say it but I like the characters and stories of the tv show better but this book is still a classic good read and a throwback to a simpler time. It was a much needed break from protests, Covid and politics.

The John Muir book at the top of the pile is a selection of writings by Muir. Short, sweet and the type of book you might pick up and read a chapter from whenever you need a little connection to nature.

In all, it was a good reading month that consisted of some things to make me think as well as a few escapism pieces. I will say it once more for everyone in the cheap seats. If you have any interest in what all the protesting is about, pick up White Fragility. Your local library should have it but a paperback copy costs about ten bucks. I’m guessing you will learn something about yourself and your world that you had never even thought about.

What are you reading these days?

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?

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?