At Home In The World (of books)

My parents are travelers. They have been to so many amazing places. And, starting when I was very young, they never had any qualms about bringing their children along. Some of the most memorable moments from my childhood are centered on the times when they took us somewhere new. We spent a summer driving up and down the California Coast, splashing in tide pools, visiting the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, and Disneyland.

We spent a summer in Australia and New Zealand. We snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef and climbed Franz Josef Glacier on the South Island of NZ all within a few weeks of each other (as a mom now, I cringe at the idea of packing for that difference in temperatures!). I remember being on a New Zealand train and learning how to knit with NZ wool from NZ sheep. I remember a volcano that exploded in Rotorua that left the cars, trees, and streets covered in Ash. I remember the Syndey Opera House and seeing those sweeping curves rise up from the water like a flock of birds.

We spent a summer in Europe, taking trains from London to Paris to Berlin to Rome to Florence to Milan. We took small boats from Venice to Murano and Burano to see the glass and lace factories that have been there for generations. We fed the pigeons in St. Mark’s Square. We ate fettuccini carbonara with a raw egg cracked on top of it at your table. We snacked on Brie and escargot, and still talk about our favorite Parisian waiter. We watched the changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and tried to make the Beefeater soldiers laugh.

My family also enabled or empowered me to strike out on my own. That meant two additional trips to Europe, one with my high school orchestra, where we traipsed around small towns in Germany (the cello was on the bus with me!),  and visited the Czech Republic to see the red roofs of Prague. I also spent six weeks in Spain studying abroad in the summer between when I finished my Bachelor’s degree and started my Master’s degree. They took care of my new husband while he studied at home and I drank Calimocho (wine and coke) with my young undergrad friends who called me abuela.

My husband and I traveled together as well, as soon as we got started on our journey of wedded bliss. We honeymooned in Jamaica, staffed a small clinic in Baja, Mexico, built houses with Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica, Paraguay, and Guatemala. We sailed on catamarans in Belize and St. Thomas.

And then we had some babies! We took our boys all over the place when they were tiny and free to fly and nursed to sleep on the plane. They went to Cancun and Puerto Vallarta and Puerto Penasco. We got stamps in our passports and theirs together, as a family.

 

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Cancun, MX

 

And then we stayed home for a while, and I turned to books for adventure. We were overwhelmed and exhausted by the idea of packing all the things, and flying somewhere and who would get sick, and who would misbehave. But when I open a book for the first time, I am so excited to discover a new world (or re-enter a favorite one, if this is the next in an already-loved series). I cannot wait to meet new characters, explore new landscapes, or feel new feelings. I am thrilled to fall in love for the first time (again!), run away from a killer, or experience the prejudices of racism. Maybe this time I’ll grow up in the south, see the world through the fingers of a blind man, or live in India. I might be part of these characters’ lives for a week or a year or three generations. Every single new book that I open reveals another facet of the world I love to explore.

As I jump from book to book, I am transported from space stations on Mars to springtime in Manhattan, from the battlefields of WWII to a dystopian future I could never imagine. Great fiction takes me there, for far less than the cost of a plane ticket, or time machine.

Non-fiction involves the same transportation, but always somewhere in this world. Perhaps I know myself better; perhaps I walk a hard road alongside the author, or perhaps I recognize the seedy underbelly of a society that I have never seen before. When non-fiction authors open my eyes, they force me, or maybe just help me to look further inward and outward than I have in the past. These authors open up new worlds that exist right here around me, instead of only in the pages of their books.

And that’s what today is about. Today, Tsh Oxenreider’s new book, At Home In The World, just showed up at my house. I got to read it already, so I can tell you it’s a beautiful reflection on travel and the love of adventure that my parents gave me from in my earliest memories – and that I hope to instill in my own children. It’s also an ode to the homebody, to the desire to put your roots down deep and have a favorite chair and a favorite restaurant and your own pillow. It’s a happy juxtaposition of wanderlust and belonging.

And if you’re like me, or if you’re not, and you love the places of this world but maybe can’t afford plane tickets for everyone right now, or can’t handle the headache that might come with the travel, be sure to grab a copy of Tsh’s memoir. It will take you around the world while you sit in your favorite chair. It costs less than as a fast food meal for the family, but she will share with you the flavors of four continents and 20 countries.

So, what’s next for me? Well, I’m gonna keep reading my books and seeing the world that way, but we’ve also put two new family trips on the calendar for this summer because I read this book. Tsh prompted me to remind my husband of our early adventures and ask him if we are instilling that love of adventure in our kiddos. The answer was to book flights, and make hotel reservations, and go exploring. Because I want to be at home and rested and comfortable, but I want to remember how small I am as well, and see its sights and feel its climates and revel in its wonders.

*disclosure: I was provided with an advance copy of this book by the publisher, but I also bought my own copy, with my own money because I love it that much. Links used are affiliate links: no cost to you but a little kickback to me*
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How the Heck Do You Read So Much?

I’ve got three kiddos! They are 6 years, 3 years, and ALMOST 6 months old. And I homeschool! But I read 123 books last year, and 19 last month. So, the question I get more often than any other, ever, is “how are you reading that much?”

No, we don’t live in a sty. No, we don’t eat boxed dinners every night. No, my children are not neglected. But I am always trying to fit a book in somewhere. Here are my favorite tips for getting more reading in to your life.

How I Read: The Methods

 

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My reading methods: paper, Kindle, and audio.

First tip: diversify your reading styles. This will make it easier to find time to read. I am almost always reading three TYPES of books at once. One actual, paper, printed book. One ebook on my Kindle Paperwhite (the absolute best for dedicated reading, because you can read in the dark or in the sunshine, and you can read without getting interrupted by text, phone, social media notifications!). And one audiobook in my ears. By diversifying my actual input methods, I always have something to read, and I can read or listen in almost any situation.

 

When I Read: Finding The Time

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My friend Erin sent me this picture so we could celebrate together that she found the TIME and space to read!

Second tip: finding the time to read is easier than you think! Since I have multiple books going at once, I find that each reading method lends itself to distinct situations. When I am cooking, I use either my Kindle or my Bluetooth headphones (like this, but these were great also) to read or listen. That way, the pages of my paper book don’t get messy from oil splatters. When I am doing dishes, folding laundry, or cleaning, I am listening to an audiobook, so my hands are free to get messy or be busy. While I drive, I keep one headphone in on one side so I can hear my kiddos and the traffic noise around me, but they listen to their music while I listen to my book. And when we are eating breakfast or hubby is watching a show after the kiddos go to bed, I am usually reading my paper book. Along with those specific times, I also try to squeeze in reading wherever I can. Kiddos are done with school and ready to watch a show? Mama gets a break to sit on the couch and read as well. I have to wait in line at a store or wait for a doctor/dentist/kid appointment? Grab a book to pass the time! Nursing the baby? Might as well read while you’re just sitting there! For further ideas on how to identify these pockets of time in your life,  I cannot recommend The Fringe Hours by Jessica Turner ENOUGH! This book will help you find margin in your day and harness it for the activities that give you life. Guess what the majority of Jessica’s survey respondents said they wanted more time for? Reading!

 

What I’m Not Doing: Ditch the Distractions

social-mediaThird tip: ruthlessly cull time-sucking apps. If you want to read more, but can’t find any time to do so, my question is this: do you use Netflix, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter? All the time? I’ll be honest; I’m a social media junkie. There, I said it. That mindless scrolling will suck me in for hours if I let it. So, I took a few preventative steps: I uninstalled Facebook from my phone, AND cleared cookies on my browser so that I can’t log back in that way (2-step verification: recommended, but a total pain if you need to log in somewhere new!). That makes it easier to avoid the scroll. I ditched the Pinterest app and I never had the Twitter app. I kept FB messenger and groups as well as Instagram, to keep in touch with the parts of that platform that actually give me life, but only check in to the actual site once or twice a day from my PC instead of spending all day wasting time. I don’t have a show (or shows) that I watch on Netflix, but every once in a while hubby and I will pick one to watch together. That means most nights I’m reading for at least an hour or two after the kiddos are in bed. Which automatically gives me 360+ hours of reading per year. Installing an app called Rescue Time on both my phone and my PC really helped me clue in to where I was spending my online time. Being aware of it made me more likely to moderate it.

Deadlines and Money: Borrowing Books

 

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I’m especially lucky because my library is less than a half mile away and it’s BEAUTIFUL!

Fourth tip: utilize your library. Whether you’re saying “but I could never afford 123 books a year!” or you just need an extra push, I recommend checking out books from the library. This will give you two important advantages. First, library books and membership are FREE!!! Most libraries also have ways for you to borrow audiobooks and kindle books for free online, so you can utilize the “multiple methods” tip from above. Second: libraries have deadlines! If you know that someone else is waiting for that book, or you’ll have to pay a fine if you return it late, you may be more likely to make time to read it so you can get it back on time. Or, as in the case of audiobooks and kindle books, if you know it will disappear at a certain time. Using the library can be a great way to move reading up on your priority list!

 

Reading BIG: Setting Goals

 

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My personal 2017 challenge

Fifth  tip: make a goal for yourself, or get thee to a reading challenge! My next tip works great for me since I am an Obliger in Gretchen Rubin’s Habits framework (go here if you want to find out more about what that means and take the quiz yourself!). I need accountability and external goals to reach! When I make a goal for the year, and share it publicly, I am more likely to grab a book than do almost anything else. If I have any free time at all, I want to spend it reading, so these goals are imperative to me. I use an excel spreadsheet as well as Goodreads to track my reading and motivate myself even further. I love checking off books as finished!

 

Bonus Tip: Crank Up The Speed

speedometer-148960_960_720For those of you that are audiobook lovers but feel like they take longer to listen to, I recommend slowly increasing the speed as you listen to your books. When you start listening to audiobooks, try moving the speed slider up just a bit to 1.1x. It won’t feel like anything has changed. A week or so later, move it up again by a little bit. Keep doing this until you get it to a faster speed that you can still understand, but before it sounds like Minnie Mouse is reading to you. I find it’s pretty easy to get to 1.5x pretty quickly. If you want to devour books even faster, keep going until you get to 2.0x (that’s where I listen) or more. Then, even when you pick up a long book, you can mentally cut that time in half and finish books in just a few days!

I truly hope one or all of these tips helps YOU to reach your reading goals this year!

Happy reading, my friends.

Amp Up Your Reading in 2017

Have you ever done a reading challenge? Do you try to read a certain number of books each year? Do you just pick stuff up at random or do you need a guide to keep you moving? If so, check out the following reading challenges! A reading challenge is a great way to guide your reading through the year, or get you going again if you feel “stuck” after a book and don’t know what to read next.

I’m challenging myself for the following year based on last year’s statistics. I want to read more books, more books from the library, more books by people of color, and some short stories. With that in mind, I’m trying to fulfill the following categories for my reading next year:notes-on-bookmarks This is how these categories stacked up for me this past year:

  • Read 140 books – this year I read 123, but my reading didn’t REALLY ramp up until May, so I think this is doable
  • Read at least 50% books that are borrowed – yikes… this year only 35% of my books came from the library, friends, and galley copies, which means I spent a lot of money on books!
  • Read at least 20 books by people who aren’t white – this year I read 19
  • Read a short story collection – I have NEVER done this!
  • Read a book that was translated from its original language – Fredrik Backman gave me 3 in this category this year
  • Read 30 non-fiction – I read 26 this year
  • Read a book by an author that died before I was born – This year I read 3 from authors that passed before I was born, but two were children’s chapter books
  • Read a book under 100 pages – if I count read-alouds with the kids, this is easy, but making this happen with an “adult” book is more difficult!
  • Read a book over 500 pages – my longest this year was 11/22/63 at 849 pages
  • Read a book set in New Mexico – I didn’t pull this off this year, but did read some NM authors!
  • Read a book from an LGBTQ author – I read only two of these this year
  • Read a literary award-winner – I read a few of these this year!

If you’d like to create your own challenge, feel free to use any of these categories! If you’d like one ready-made for you, take a look at the ones below!

modern-mrs-darcyModern Mrs. Darcy: Choose Your Own Adventure Reading Challenge – You can choose to read for fun (12 books) or read for growth (12 books) or read for both (all 24 categories!)

 

momadviceMomAdvice Reading Challenge – I’m a huge fan of Amy Allen Clark and her MomAdvice book club. She came up with this fun reading challenge printable for the year. If you click through to her site, you can even see the books she has chosen for all 52 of these categories!

popsugarThe PopSugar Reading Challenge – 40 categories ranging from “a book about career advice” to “a book with a cat on the cover” and another 12 ADVANCED categories if you want to try for a book a week!

bookriotBook Riot’s Read Harder – 24 tasks and/or reading categories to “explore topics or formats or genres that you wouldn’t normally try”

challiesChallies Christian Reading Challenge This one has 4 levels: Light –> Avid –> Committed –> Obsessed. You choose how many you want to try to attempt, of course! Light includes only 13 books (one every 4 weeks), then 26 for Avid, 52 for Committed, and 104 for Obsessed readers!

better-worldBetter World Books 24 categories including “a book that’s been adapted into a movie” and a movie-watching bonus!

You can also find a master list of many other options on Girl XOXO‘s roundup of 2017 reading challenges! She has over 100 compiled!

My Favorite Books of 2016

top-2016-booksBy the end of this year, I will have read 126 books, and so many were absolutely wonderful! It was really difficult to narrow them down to my top 10 fiction and top 5 non-fiction picks. I could make a top 40 fiction and still feel like I left out some gems. But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do! So, here we have my top 15 books from 2016, fiction first and then non-fiction.

Fiction

coverEveryone Brave is Forgiven – Chris Cleave

This beautifully-written novel is about a couple in London during World War II. It is witty and fun, and unforgettable. Cleave weaves a masterful story. His characters and setting are phenomenal and transport the reader directly to WWII. I loved this story through and through.

Be sure to check out my interview with Chris Cleave after you’ve read it. He’s such a wonderful writer and person!

02-small-great-thingsSmall Great Things – Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult has long been a favorite author of mine, but I’ve always considered her more of a guilty-pleasure-read. This novel changes that for the better. Small Great Things tackles black/white relations in this country in Picoult’s signature style (court case and personal drama). I devoured this one.

11-homegoingHomegoing –Yaa Gyasi

Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel follows two branches of a single family from Africa through the colonial period, slave trade, and post-segregation America. She includes one story from each generation, and it doesn’t seem like it should work, but it does! And it’s so revealing and thought-provoking. I couldn’t put it down.

underground-railroadUnderground Railroad – Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead reimagines the underground railroad of America as an ACTUAL railroad, just like we all did as children. His novel is hard, but so necessary. Main character Cora will stick with you long after this one has ended.

 

09-lilac-girlsLilac Girls – Martha Hall Kelly

This stunning debut novel introduces us to the “Rabbits of Ravenbruck”, healthy young women who were experimented on medically by the Nazis during WWII. I listened to it on audio, and that’s definitely the way to go. The three narrators of the audio version really bring the story to life in such a unique way.

Be sure to check out my interview with Martha Hall Kelly after you’ve read it!

18774964A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman

This sweet story is about Ove, a curmudgeonly old man reeling after the death of his wife. He is forced to interact (begrudgingly) with his neighbors throughout this book, and it produces some sweet moments filled with hope and joy and laughter. Backman is only 35 years old, and this book was originally written in Swedish. I feel like knowing those two things makes the entire story that much more amazing.

8 - 11-22-6311/22/63 – Stephen King

This isn’t a new book, but it was new to me this year. It’s the first 30+ hour book that I devoured on audio, and that should say something about its plot. It’s un-putdownable. None of the horror that made Stephen King famous, but all of the plot and character development that he has perfected over his decades of writing best-sellers.

news-of-the-worldNews of the World – Paulette Jiles

This is a story about an older man (Captain Kidd) that reads newspapers throughout Texas who ends up taking care of a young girl who needs to be returned to her parents after four years of being held captive by the Kiowa tribe. The road they travel is dangerous and long, and they have only each other to make it through. Beautifully-written, and absolutely wonderful plotline.

this-is-how-it-always-isThis Is How It Always Is – Laurie Frankel

This one comes out early next year, but I couldn’t not put it on this list. Laurie Frankel gives us a family of boys, the youngest of which is diagnosed with gender dysphoria. He is a girl. This family drama deftly illustrates the love of forever that comes with family as well as the trial and heartbreak of having a child that you don’t know how to parent.

two-family-houseTwo-Family House – Lynda Cohen Loigman

Loigman’s story about Mort and Abe, two brothers (and their wives Rose and Helen, and their numerous children) who live in a single home spans a full generation. It will make you laugh and cry and sigh with affection for her characters. You’ll be sucked in by family secrets and wonder if it’s a thriller or a drama.

Honorable mentions: What She Knew, Behind Closed Doors, Woman in Cabin 10, The One-In-A-Million Boy, I Let You Go, and Ready Player One.

Non fiction

11-love-warriorLove Warrior – Glennon Doyle Melton

I love Glennon’s writing in every form, but I think this one might be my favorite. The shattering of her (and my) naive notions about marriage, love, acceptance, beginning, and pain is just fantastically written. She does such a wonderful job of redefining the landscape, for women especially, in relation to God and the church as well. I found myself nodding, crying, and amen-ing throughout this book and I know it will become a regular recommendation for others, just like Carry On Warrior has done!

born-a-crimeBorn a Crime – Trevor Noah

I was so grateful for this freebie from Audible! Trevor Noah brings his trademark humor to some really tough stories about growing up during and after the fall of apartheid in South Africa. Read by the author, these stories are full of wit and fun and a bit of horror. just like the daily show, just like life.

5893865Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys – Steven James and David Thomas

Thomas and James dissect boyhood perfectly into ages and stages and needs and wants and desires. I kept nodding my head and wanting to tattoo parts of this book on my arms. I broke out the highlighter and read pages aloud to my husband. Cannot wait to pass it along to fellow boy moms (as long as I get it back!)

05-when-breath-becomes-airWhen Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

In this memoir, neurosurgery resident Dr. Paul Kalanithi is diagnosed with brain and spine cancer. Not a spoiler: it’s about his journey toward death. Paul’s writing is beautiful and poignant. He so faithfully captures both the doctor and patient sides of care. As with everyone else who reviewed this gem, the afterword by his wife left me weeping on the floor.

11 Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming – Jaqueline Woodson

I loved this memoir in verse novel format. I listened to it as an audiobook, read by the author. I highly recommend it in that format, especially. Like most verse novels, this isn’t a lengthy read. Due to our current national/political/social climate, this one seems especially important. Woodson has much to tell us, even in the short format. Make sure you stay tuned for the author’s note and “thankful for”s at the end.

Honorable mentions: The Fringe Hours, This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage, Big Magic, and Hillbilly Elegy.

If you’d like to see my entire year as a reader, you can click over to Goodreads, where they’ve created this fun Kaytee’s year in books graphic!