My (baby) year in books.

Out of the 11 or so words my daughter says, “book” is probably my favorite.  She pronounces it “bok”, and will announce when she is ready to read one by saying it over and over again, very seriously.  I suppose she likes to read because we started so early:

Now she likes to read on her own, sometimes making up her own words, and other times just silently flipping the pages of her board books.  It is pretty much the only thing we can get her to do by herself in her crib while we try to get ready in the morning.

She loves to read so much that I always pack 2 books, wherever we go: one for her, and one for me, just in case she falls asleep and I get to sit on a bench or on a bus seat and read a few pages.  Here she is overjoyed to be handed a book on a recent park visit:

The reason it overjoys me so much that she loves to read at such an early age is that books have been the one constant love of my life, from the time that I taught myself to read at the age of 3 1/2.  When I got to kindergarten, able to read full picture books, the astonished teachers had me read to the class which I 100% hated, and sent me to all kinds of gifted tests while other kids went to recess, another source of resentment.  In general, school seemed ridiculous to me.  Why was I sitting there in class learning something I could find in a book?  The ladies at the library all knew me by name, and set aside books for me, so I could go in after school and sit for hours in the stacks, those musty-smelling pages like my own personal heaven.  In fact, for many years I thought Heaven literally would be a huge library.  I figured I’d get there, and God would take me to a big book in which I would find all the questions I ever had.  Then the internet was invented, and I drastically revised my idea of Heaven.  Having all the information of the world at your fingertips is not always heavenly.

Anyway, despite the teachers making me feel like some kind of freak for reading at such an advanced level so early, no one could take away the world I had found for myself in books.  In the midst of a tense household I could always escape to a book to take me to a place that only existed in my mind.  I started a habit of reading aloud to slow down my brain, as I read at such a quick clip that I found myself not enjoying it as much.  This habit has been the bane of many a roommate’s quiet evening.  I’ve got it down to a little whisper — a recent roommate came in to get milk from the kitchen, and, not knowing I was on the couch reading close by, became quite worried that someone was casting spells from a hiding place!

I keep track of what I read on, and recently a fellow parent asked me, “Do you really read all the books you post on Goodreads?  I feel like every week there are several updates from you!”  And the answer is, yes, I really do.  I saw online a supposedly humorous post from someone about how they mean to be reading all these classics but instead they are on social networking sites all the time so they never read.  I was baffled — I am on social networking sites several times a day, and I still read about 2 books per week.  What on earth are these people doing with their time?  “Television, Rhea,” my husband answered.  But I don’t know, I watch my fair share of reality dance TV and snarky sitcoms.  Not to be a total bomah, I’m literally confused.   In the words of Sassy Gay Friend, “What what WHAT are you doing!?”… if you’re not reading books?

I thought becoming a parent would give me less time to read, but that has not been the case.  Olive started off nursing for an hour at a time, so for the first 6 months I had a LOT of time to balance huge tomes on my breastfeeding pillow.  Now that she nurses quickly, I only have short moments, but I grab whatever I can.  A friend posted on Facebook all the books she has read this year so far, with her reviews of them.  I had the idea to do the same, but to do the whole year from this day, as I am curious to see how many books I really have read since becoming a mom, seeing as Olive’s one-year birthday is coming up.  So, hopefully you will enjoy this little reading list, and share with me your notes on these books or on ones you think I should check out next!

Here’s my rating system:

***** = an instant classic, one I will recommend to anyone who will listen, a sure re-read.

**** = a solid excellent book, well written and enjoyable.

*** = fun, but not life-changing.

** = either the equivalent of an US magazine — frivolous and poorly written, or inherently problematic for one reason or another.

* = drivel.

1. Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr  Read on: 8/31/10 ****  This book is brilliant, and really helped me stay in the present moment and make space for my shadow side.  It may be the only book my husband read last year (I kid) because he literally read it over and over.

2. A Circle of Quiet (Crosswicks Journal #1) by Madeleine L’Engle 9/4/10 *****  Madeleine L’Engle is a personal hero of mine, and this book just blew me away with her beautiful reflections.  It deepened my spirituality in a way that I really needed, as I waited for Miss Olive to arrive.

3. Upside Down, Inside Out by Monica McInerney 9/6/10 ***  While I was pregnant, I went through this period in which my usual Dark-Side-Loving self was totally unable to handle disturbing fare.  It led me to explore  here-to-fore uncharted waters: chick lit.  Unable to drink, stay up past midnight or do anything brain-numbing meant I needed a little light escape.  So I found this Australian-Irish writer and read a ton of her fluffy novels about women bumbling around in the world.  I’ll never re-read them, but they were fun at the time!

4. Graceling (The Seven Kingdoms #1) by Kristin Cashore 9/10/10 ****  Technically a Young Adult book, this is the debut novel from Kristin Cashore, and I felt so lucky to have found her.  The protagonist was likeable, the world she created was fascinating, and I loved entering it.

5. The Doll’s House (Sandman #2) 9/12/10 by Neil Gaiman ***  I love a good graphic novel, and Gaiman is the master, but it was really too dark for me at this time in my life.

6. The Alphabet Sisters by Monica McInerney 9/28/10 *** Another fluffy read from McInerney, to pass the wee small hours that I was up with my newborn.  Yes, I was crazy enough to read when I woke up every 2 hours to feed my baby.

7. Early Work: 1970-1979 by Patti Smith 9/28/10 ***  I needed more after reading Patti’s incredible memoir, Just Kids.  I missed her, so I sought out her poems and hoped to find her voice there again.  But it wasn’t the same.  I need more Patti prose!  I wrote her a poem and tried to get a friend to give it to her at a concert she played in SF.  Now I can’t find my copy, but I hope to get it to Patti herself one day.

8. What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff 9/28/10 **** Very practical, straight-forward pregnancy and childbirth advice.  Not very spiritual or special, but it tells you what you need to know!  I liked the month-by-month guides.

9. The Summer of the Great Grandmother (Crosswicks Journal #2) by Madeliene L’Engle 9/28/10 **  Too dark for me at that time.  It was about her mother’s death, and it was really sad and angry.  I couldn’t go there with her.

10. Fire (The Seven Kingdoms #2) by Kristin Cashore 10/3/10 *****  I liked this one even more than Graceling!  Set in the same world with different characters, I found myself so caught up in the story that I mourned it when it was over.

11. Devotional Classics by Richard Foster 8/5/10 *****  I have been re-reading this book since I was first introduced to it in college.  It has excellent blurbs from spiritual classics, with a bit of commentary after each one.  I can’t recommend it enough, for someone wanting a primer into classical christian spirituality.

12. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Millennium #3) by Steig Larsson 10/7/10 **  My least favorite of the Millennium trilogy.  Actually sort of (dare I say it?) boring.

13. The Glass Lake by Maeve Binchy 10/11/10 *  DRIVEL.  My old housemate whom I adore loved to read Ms. Binchy but I cannot follow her down that road.  No, no I cannot.

14. Knit Two by Kate Jacobs 10/14/10 *** This is embarrassing.  Not only is this chick lit, it’s a chick lit SEQUEL.  And I enjoyed it!

15. From the Hips: A Comprehensive, Open-Minded, Uncensored, Totally Honest Guide to Pregnancy, Birth, and Becoming A Parent by Rebecca Odes and Ceridwen Morris  10/17/10 ****  This is an interesting book, which I enjoyed much more postpartum then while pregnant.  Useful for gals who don’t want to be told to just eat hella broccoli and think about your baby’s toes.

16. The Faraday Girls by Monica McInerney 10/26/10 **  This is when I finally realized I was fully over my chick-lit phase.  Wow, this went on for a while!

17. Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team and A Dream by H.G. Bissinger 11/1/10 ** Everyone has seen all 5 season of Friday Night Lights on Netflix streaming, right?  No?  Leave this blog right now, go do that, then come back in about a week.  Texas Forever, y’all.  The book, unfortunately, was not as interesting as the TV show.  It was actually about football!  What a disappointment.

18. A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love and Faith in Stages by Kristin Chenoweth 11/4/10 ***  Okay, so I left the chick-lit behind and I took up… celebrity memoirs.  Not really much of a trade-up!  Chenoweth’s was like her: slight, sweet, sassy.

19. The Pox Party (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, #1) by M.T. Anderson 11/8/10 ****  Fascinating historical fiction about pre-Colonial War times… with an awesome twist.

20. Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama 11/15/10 *** It was fascinating to read such a heartfelt, internal process of a book from the person who grew to be our President. However, what he says in the forward to the 2004 edition is true — it is a bit too long. It needed a good edit, but I really enjoyed it just the same. As I raise a biracial child myself, I found the questions he asked himself about identity very helpful and enlightening.

No Wonder My Parents Drank: Tales from a Stand-Up Dad
21. No Wonder My Parents Drank: Tales from a Stand-Up Dad by Jay Mohr 11/16/10 **** He’s not a great writer, but I laughed so hard I scared my baby.  And why do some of these reviews have little book pictures now, and some do not?  The world may never know.  Also, the spacing changes.  I’m not a very skilled layout artist.  Bear with me.  All I do is read, I can’t figure out a computer, too!
The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories
22. The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Suzanna Clarke 12/11/10 *** Eerie Faerie Tales!  Enjoyable, but what I really wanted was another Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, so I was ultimately unsatisfied.
23. Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla Kabat-Zinn 12/14/10 **** This book was a really helpful reminder to return to my breath in the midst of parenting. It helped me tap more in to the spiritual aspect of parenting my baby. It is a good read for ANYone working with or raising children. Don’t feel pressured to do everything their way (there’s no way I’ll still be breastfeeding when Olive is 2 1/2) but it is a good basis for decision-making — to always be intentional and mindful when you are with the kids. I loved all the poetry & quotes they included as well. I read it aloud to Olive, and it even seemed to calm her down!
24. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler 12/18/10 *  Unlikable protagonist, weird cult overtones — not my favorite read by any stretch.
25. The Blue Jay’s Dance: A Birth Year by Louise Erdrich 12/19/10 ***  This book was sweet but you have to be a nature-lover to truly enjoy it. I don’t get metaphors about woodpeckers.
26. Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan 12/25/10 **** Excellent book. A modern-day fairy tale — creepy and full of great syntax.  And I read it while my mother-in-law was visiting, which was very apt.
27. The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1) by Suzanne Collins 12/29/10 **** Yup, I am one of many who read The Hunger Games Trilogy this year, and loved it.
28. Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2) by Suzanne Collins 1/1/11 ****  I got them for Christmas in a box set, and devoured them one by one.
29. Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3) by Suzanne Collins 1/4/11 **** This one was brutal, my least favorite of the series.  A fitting end, but no one leaves unscathed, especially not the reader.
30. Gunn’s Golden Rules: Life’s Little Lessons for Making It Work by Tim Gunn 1/8/11 ***  That’s right, a celebrity memoir from a reality TV fashion consultant.  Tim Gunn is actually sort of weird dude.  I mean, admitting publicly to a non-monastic celebite way of life?  Not tres chic.
By Nightfall
31. By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham 1/15/11 *  Cunningham’s newest novel was full of over-privileged folks who don’t know what to do with themselves so they fuck up their lives.  I could not relate.
32. Palo Alto: Stories by James Franco 1/22/11 **  Up until the Oscars, I found Franco’s choices really inspired and interesting.  Now I am over-Francofied, for sure.  These stories didn’t help.  They are just a bit too raw, like slightly cold bloody steak when you ordered well done.
Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles, #1)
33. Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles, #1) by Suzanne Collins 1/22/11 ***  I wanted to see if the Hunger Games author had any more chops.  This book was okay, but too young for my tastes.
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010
34. The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010 by Dave Eggers 1/28/11 ****  I love these anthologies.
35. Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade by Patrick Dennis 2/1/11 ****  This was a remarkably fun book.  If you haven’t read it, check it out for sure.
36. D. V. by Diana Vreeland 2/7/11 ***  A natural progression from the last book, as Diana Vreeland basically IS Auntie Mame.  She was also such an eccentric that I fell a little in love with her.  Not the greatest memoir ever written, but a fun read for sure.
Cutting for Stone
37. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese 2/26/11 ***  A truly beautiful book, if a little hard to finish.  I will carry certain images from this book, like ShivaMarion putting their heads together and feeling whole, in my heart forever.
38. Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People by Amy Sedaris 3/8/11 *** Good ol’ Amy.  Innappropriately hilarious to the last drop.  The photos alone are enough to pick this one up, and read aloud to your friends over a bottle of wine.
39. It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita by Heather B. Armstrong 3/11/11 **  Moving on to “momoirs”, I started with the Queen of the Mommy Bloggers, the creator of  I have no idea why people like this woman so much.  I found her pretty irritating.
40. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks 3/15/11 ***  An interesting novel but ultimately not a life-changer.
I Know I Am, But What Are You?
41. I Know I Am, But What Are You? by Samantha Bee 3/20/11 **  Not as funny as I wanted it to be.
The History of Love
42. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss  3/27/11 ***** Every once in awhile you come across a novel so indescribably perfect that you want to live inside it.  I want to read it again as soon as possible!
43. March by Geraldine Brooks 4/15/11 *  An amazing premise but ultimately not a very interesting book.
44. Bossypants by Tina Fey 4/25/11 *****  Absolutely right-on.
45. Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century by Sam Kashner 4/25/11 **  They lived fabulous, decadent lives, but had such an immature relationship that it was hard to follow as a book.
46. First Meals by Annabel Karmel 5/9/10 ***  A good primer for starting to cook baby food.  We’ve made all of Olive’s food at home, so these recipes were a simple, good first start.
47. Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer *****  This, THIS is what memoirs should be, my friends!  She took a theme, expanded on it with stories from her life, and did it all with such SOUL that I missed her for weeks afterwards.  And I took up yoga again, however briefly!
A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)
48. A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1) by George R. R. Martin 5/22/11 **  This book pissed me off.  Everyone seems to love it, but I found it tedious and mysoginistic.  If you have the opportunity to CREATE a new world, why would you bother creating one as inherently patriarchal as our own?  Obnoxious.
49. A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg 5/30/11 ****  A very sweet book, part memoir, part cookbook.  It turns out my best friend Amanda knows her, which was a fun twist.  I really related to a lot of her story, and had a very fun time trying out her french toast, banana bread, double chocolate cookies, and cherry goat cheese spinach salad.  Now I subscribe to her blog, and will definitely read her next book.
50. Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron 6/4/11 ***  A totally comprehensive yet wildly idealistic guide to feeding your child.
51. The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages by Joan D. Chittester 6/4/11 ***  I love Joan Chittester.  This was not my favorite of hers, but quite fascinating none-the-less.
52. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency#1) by Alexander McCall Smith 6/4/11 ****  What a charming book!  It gave me hope that I’d found a new series to engross myself in.
It's Always Something
53.  It’s Always Something by Gilda Radner 6/14/11 ****  I put off reading this book for a long time.  I knew it was about cancer, and I fear the C-word with the horror of a child suddenly left alone in a haunted house.  But Gilda, GILDA!  She is pure gold.  Her title could be seen as kvetching “It’s ALWAYS something!”   But in reality her message is, there’s always SOMEthing you can do.  You can always live, even in the midst of a horrible disease.  You can still be fully yourself.  I cried so hard when it ended, knowing that she died!  Then I watched her brilliance immoralized on some old SNLs.  What a gal!
54. Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live 6/14/11 ***  Such a gossip-fest!
55. Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton 6/26/11 ***  I really enjoyed her straightforward style, and laughed out loud at the part about the pan flute player in the subway, and the description of the Farmer’s Market. I resonated with her experiences in grad school, as well. She’s incredibly brave and this was an excellent book. The only thing that kept me from giving it 4 stars was the lack of even 1 recipe. I know it’s not necessary, since it was a memoir, but it would have been a really special touch.  Okay.  I also really want someone who understands more about queer theory to read this book and then talk to me about it.  Her marriage is baffling to me.
56. Tears of the Giraffe (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, #2) by Alexander McCall Smith 6/27/11 **  Well, I was hoping for a long happy relationship with this series, but the second book really fell flat.  Wat-wahhhhh.
57. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See 7/2/11 ***  A sweet story about friendship, but a bit forgettable.
Tales of the City (Tales of the City, #1)
58. Tales of the City (Tales of the City, #1) by Armistead Maupin 7/18/11 ****  A colleague shamed me for living in The City so long and not having read these madcap SF tales.  She was right, I waited too long.  The first is probably the best — it does not disappoint.
More Tales of the City (Tales of the City, # 2)59. More Tales of the City (Tales of the City, # 2) by Armistead Maupin  7/23/11 ***  Still fun, but not as good of a story as the first.  Episcopal carnivores?  C’est bizarre!
60. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak 7/27/11 ****  Oh, such a sweet and sad novel.  Dark, tragic, and lovely.
61. If You Ask Me by Betty White  7/29/11 **  After a Halocaust novel I needed a little levity.  I read this in a single setting, and it was the equivalent of a whipped cream binge.
Called to Question: A Spiritual Memoir
62. Called to Question: A Spiritual Memoir by Joan D. Chittester  7/29/11 ****  A great book about doubt, women in the church, faith, and struggle.
The Magicians
63. The Magicians by Lev Grossman 8/2/11 *****  Other than The History of Love, my favorite novel of the year.  Harry Potter meets Less Than Zero.
My Life in France
64. My Life in France by Julia Child 8/8/11 ****  I read this for a church book club and I was so inspired by Julia’s life.  A) She loved the shit out of her husband. B) They lived stylishly on a shoestring budget.  C) She didn’t find her calling (or learn to cook, natch) until she was 36!  There’s hope for me yet!
65. The Magician King by Lev Grossman 8/18/11 ****  A worthy sequel.  I always felt like the Harry Potter story was tied up too neatly in the end.  I mean, everyone gets married, lives quiet magical lives, has kids, and ships them off to Hogwarts.  Way too easy.  Ron was headed for a life as an alkie, don’t you think?  This book really takes it there — it tears down Narnia.  My only critique is that it goes really deep into theology and I’m not sure Lev Grossman knows what he truly believes, and that shows.  The reason Tolkien & Lewis are able to go there is because they were deeply rooted in their own tradition.
66. Further Tales of the City (Tales of the City, # 3) by Armistead Maupin 8/20/11 **  This one was really a stretch.  I think he’s getting obsessed with cults.
The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two (Revised and Updated Edition)
67. The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two by William Sears 8/25/11  THE book on attachment parenting.  A great reference book for any parent.
What to Expect the First Year
68. What to Expect the First Year by Heidi Murkoff 8/28/11 Very mainstream, but fun for the month-by-month breakdowns.
Godly Play: How To Lead Godly Play Lessons (The Complete Guide to Godly Play Series)
69. Godly Play: How To Lead Godly Play Lessons by Jerome W. Berryman 8/29/11  Do you all know about Godly Play?  It’s this awesome, Montessori-inspired way of structured worship for Children, based in play theory and storytelling.  There’s this whole period “wondering”, and then aesthetic art responses!  It’s fascinating, and I’m so excited to be coordinating it now at Holy Innocents.
Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
70. Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue  8/31/11 I feel so blessed to have found this book.  I took it out from the library, but I NEED to buy a copy, as soon as possible.  I will underline something on every page.  It is a gift.
71. Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris. 5/11/11  ** Ugh.  I read the True Blood books because the TV show is not enough but My Lord she’s a terrible writer.  Sookie spends most of this book… cleaning.  I can’t even tell you how many domestic tasks I had to read through to get to the cool fairy-warfare shit.  And I’m not going to get into what Sookie refers to as her “yahoo palace”… you’ll have to read it to find out.
Currently Reading:
The House in France: A Memoir by Gully Wells (started in August 2011)  I don’t know about this one, guys.  She had a jet-set life, but she writes without any SOUL.  I might actually (gasp!) not finish it.
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner (started this evening) I loved Angle of Repose and I adore books on friendship, so let’s give this a whirl!  Someone stopped me on BART today to tell me how much they loved the book, so that is exciting.  I jumped about a mile because after 7 years out here I’m still not used to strangers talking to me.
So, there you go.  70+ books in one year.  I don’t even think this list is comprehensive, as I don’t always post my quicker reads to Goodreads.  I also read 2 magazines a month, and have memorized several of Olive’s favorite baby books from sheer repetition.  But you don’t win any awards for prolific reading.  If you work out a lot, you get really strong, and people think, “Dang, she takes care of herself!”  If you spend a lot of time playing music, perhaps you have an album to show for it.  But if you read like a whirling dervish, all you really get is internal change.  So, please forgive me the self-indulgent attempt to externalize what I read this year.  The real list is within.
Being fabulously well-read does make you a sparkling dinner companion, though.  So please.  Invite me to dinner.  I don’t know how to cook, I just read about people who do.  And you can’t eat books.  I’ve tried.

11 thoughts on “My (baby) year in books.

  1. Enjoyed your reviews. Gave me some ideas for my own reading while nursing time. I am borrowing an ereader which is quite helpful for one-handed reading. Have you read Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernier? I think they made some horrible movie version but I really enjoyed the book.

    • Yeah the horrible Nicholas Cage hair always deterred me, but good to know that the book is good! I will put it on my to-read list. As for e-readers, I got a Nook Color for my birthday, and it has been invaluable for breastfeeding and also when “parenting down” my gal. I have to hold her until she’s in a deep sleep or she just wakes up again! Thanks for the feedback, Erin!

  2. My book club read both the Geraldine Brooks books you mention, but our favorite work of hers was “The Year of Wonder.” I’m actually still very angry with her pastor for the way he treated his wife. Well, that was not the main part. Plague out of its era is the central problem of the little town, its people, and how they learned to deal with the problem. I thought it was a tremendously good read, but
    wondered how realistic the characters were. You’ve already read two of hers, why not try this one?

  3. Hey Rhea,
    I love your posts! Will dig into some of these.
    I think you would dig The Secret Life of Bees and Hullabaloo.

    Give ’em a whirl.


  4. Pingback: 2nd Annual Book Review Bonanza « thirty threadbare mercies

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