Reading in the time of Coronavirus

Reading in the time of Coronavirus

Currently I am 20 books behind schedule!

The last few years I have participated in Goodreads annual reading challenge, where you set a goal of number of books to read and Goodreads tracks your progress throughout the year, letting you know if you’re behind or ahead of schedule. It’s a great way to track what you read each year, and let’s be honest, an opportunity to show off to your friends what a prolific and profound reader you are. I’m joking but also I’m not.

A good average for me has been somewhere around 75, some years it’s been higher, others lower, so I set it there for 2020. I was doing okay until I finished “The Tattooist of Auschwitz, which I finished on March 2nd. Then suddenly, nothing. I didn’t read anything for over a month and a half, when I finished The Year of Magical Thinking, a book about grief by Joan Didion. If I recall the only thing I could handle reading about was someone who was sadder than I was. I know I was not (am not) alone in these feelings, and I know that the ramifications of this global virus are being experienced in devastating ways that I have been mostly spared from. Still, like everyone else, I watched a future I was so sure of crumble in front of my eyes and it has affected me in ways not previously imagined.

Reading is my passion, I believe in always having a book lying around so I am never caught without something to read, I believe that books can change your life (The Art of Racing in the Rain, which is narrated by a dog, gave me my personal life mantra “You go where your eyes go”), and they allow me to connect with others, as there is nothing I enjoy more than discussing a good story. This period of not being able to read, or at least not being interested in reading, has surprised and saddened me, but I’ve given myself grace about it. Slowly books have come back in my life and I’ve been able to hold my attention for more than a few minutes. I don’t think I’ll make it to 75 this year, but when I look back on my 2020 reading challenge, I can be proud of what I did accomplish, no matter what the number is. I’m reminded of a quote from another book that changed me The Book of Joy:

“Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreaks without being broken.” – Achbishop Desmond Tutu

I’m curious, have you experienced a reading slump during the pandemic?

Hope: A Library

Hope: A Library

We librarians often like to talk about the library as a place. A place for people to gather regardless of belief or opinion or whether you have pocket change; a place for people to learn. All are welcome.

When sharing this concept of the library as a place with friends, family, colleagues from other departments in past and generally get the same response. A friendly smile and nod of the head, essentially a mild agreement, a sort of “what a nice thought, now let’s move on.”

I manage my local community library, which means I have the privilege of seeing my actual neighbors everyday at work. I hear about what they are doing, what they are looking for, what their families are up to. I also serve strangers who are passing through, people whose printer broke that day, parents who didn’t use the library in their 20s but are now bringing their kids for story-time.

Of course all of this ended 4 weeks ago, since then we have been closed to the public, still offering online services, virtual reference, Facebook Live story-times, and curbside pick-up. I have to admit this has not been easy, and I realized recently that I’ve been grieving what has been lost during this pandemic. I’ve had to deliver bad news to people I care about, I’ve felt scared and tired and frustrated. I have kept going, because really what other choice is there?

And yet, I’ve found hope, specifically through my work. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told “Thank you for doing this”, but I would guess it’s more than 100 times. A group of local women bought staff cookies from the neighborhood coffee shop. Another patron was nearly in tears thanking me for teaching her over the phone how to access the library’s eBook collection. People are finding comfort and a sense of normalcy from the library services we are providing. We have seen this before, during a particularly bad hurricane 9 years ago most of the community lost power, some lost water. There were shelters, but instead people flocked to the library as a place to shelter, to re-charge, to gather. Now we are in another storm, and although we can’t physically be the place for people to be, we are finding that we are still a key source of emotional support for the people we serve. Through the hardest moments I am reminded of this quote from Lewis Carroll:

One of the deep secrets of life is that all that is really worth the doing is what we do for others.

This crisis will end, no telling how or when but it will eventually end and we will find ourselves on the other side of this. When it does, my hope is that the community will understand that we are better together, and that the library is a key component of what unites us. I see now even more than before that the library as a place is the core of what we do. The library represents the very best of a community can do when we work together, it is a place that provides knowledge, peace, and now, hope.

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Clear, James 2019.06
Jacket design by Pete Garceau; cover shown with permission from Penguin Random House

One of the fears I have is that I will get to the end of my life to find that I never reached my potential. I beat myself up because I tell myself I could do better in certain areas, but then I quit because I’m not improving or progress seems slow. Setting goals and then being discouraged when they are not reached is very common. We set goals, we fail to accomplish them, then we think something’s wrong with us, that we aren’t good enough, that people who succeed in reaching their goals are better in some way that is just out of our grasp.

Atomic Habits, however, breaks down the ways that simple, small changes in your habits, over time can reveal remarkable results, and often it’s simply the difficulty of maintaining a small change over time, because it’s boring and doesn’t seem to be working, that really gets in the way of accomplishing our goals. Also, when we fail to make the mental shift of who we want to be to actually being that person, we are destined to fall back into the patterns that got us here in the first place. Clear’s directions can be broken down into two short, bullet-ed lists:

  1. Decide the type of person you want to be.
  2. Prove it to yourself with small wins.

And to accomplish these small wins follow the four laws of behavior change:

  1. How can I make it obvious?
  2. How can I make it attractive?
  3. How can I make it easy?
  4. How can I make it satisfying?

Each one of these laws is broken down with multiple, practical, bite-sized steps to create a new positive habit, as well as corresponding steps to take to break a bad habit. What made this book stand out to me was:

  • Research has shown that burn-out and boredom are the main nemeses of new habits, so Clear encourages his reader take small steps, ex. Want to do fifty push-ups a day? Start with one.
  • Straight-forward, clear steps such as “Habit stacking”, in which you stack a new habit with one you do naturally already. For me this has been “After my daughter goes to bed I will write for 20 minutes” (notice I said 20 minutes, not an hour, which would impede more on my personal life and make it undesirable. See Law of Behavior change #2)
  • This book really helped me understand that when I’ve failed to reach a goal, it’s not that the goal was impossible to reach, but that I didn’t set the proper systems for accomplishing it.

This diagram of “The Plateau of Latent Potential from page 22 felt like the real-life explanation of every healthy habit I’ve ever formed. Just when I think “I’ve been doing this for months and nothing’s happening!” Suddenly there are results, Everything takes time, even when we want instant results.Clear, James 2019.06 diagram

James Clear has been talking about habit building for years on his site, based on lessons he learned from having to re-build himself after a devastating baseball accident. This book is filled with tons of versatile insights that would be valuable to anyone looking for change or growth. There were so many different avenues for building habits I believe anyone could cobble together an individual plan that works for them. I read this as an audio-book, read by the author, and really enjoyed it, but there is a lot of helpful information in the physical book so I would recommend taking a look at that as well if you are truly serious about remarkable change.

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Published: October 16, 2018

I read this as: an audio-book from Overdrive and a hardback purchased from publisher

If you like this you may enjoy:

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Zevin, Gabrielle 2019.06You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, “What is your favorite book?”

Finally! A book for book-people! Just kidding, all books are for book-people, but you’ll forgive me for being especially fond of a novel whose subject is a quirky book-seller and in which each chapter begins with a review of a real book. Oh, and the story is wonderful as well.

Bookstore owner A.J. Fikry has achieved curmudgeon status before reaching the age of 40, mostly isolating himself from new people after the sudden and tragic death of his wife, Nic. Then, his world is upended with the arrival of baby Maya, who is left in his store with a note from Maya’s mother begging him to raise her child in a world surrounded by books. Slowly, Maya grows on him, and as his love expands, so does his ability and desire to connect with others. Forged together, A.J. and Maya’s circle of love begins to influence and change lives for the better, demonstrating that a life can be re-made, that lost love does not equal lost life. This is a heartwarming, fun, and charming read, here is one of my favorite quotes:

We aren’t the things we collect, acquire, read. We are, for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved. And I think these really do live on.

The emotion here is palpable, and attention to the power of love combined with the book’s sense of fun and whimsy are what makes it a great read. It is as if someone took The Rosie Project and A Man called Ove, smashed them together, and set it in a book-store. The perfect read for any book-lover or someone looking for an endearing, lovely, and moving story.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Published: April 1, 2014

I read this as: a library book

If you enjoy this you may also like:

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry   by Rachel Joyce

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simison

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

What I Read January 2019

What I Read January 2019

What I read in January 2019I finished off 10 books in January, some of them great, some of them meh-okay-ish. I also did not finish 3 books that I got a good bit into before deciding to give up because I just wasn’t that into them. I’m a big believer in not wasting time reading books that you’re not enjoying, to me it ruins the experience and puts me in an anti-reading rut, when reading is meant to be a pleasure! Here are the books I most enjoyed in January.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

This was by far the best book I read in January, and one of the most moving books I’ve read in awhile. Kalanithi was a young neurosurgeon when he was given a terminal cancer diagnosis, he decided to spend the time he had left reflecting on his ambitious life and the experience of dying, writing this beautiful memoir. (Non Fiction)

There is a moment, a cusp, when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment. – Paul Kalanithi

I Liked My Life by Abby Fabiaschi

Maddy is a devoted wife and loving mother, who seems to have everything she could want, when she suddenly kills herself, jumping off the roof of a nearby library. Her husband Brady and daughter Eve are devastated and struggle to understand; even Maddy chimes in from the afterlife trying to help them make sense of her suicide and its aftermath. This is a beautiful book on being a wife and mother, as well as mother-daughter relationships, I couldn’t put it down, trying to find out where it all went wrong and how Brady and Eve survived their very painful loss. (Fiction)

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

The title says it all: this book is all about two sisters, Koreda the narrator, and Ayoola, a beautiful young woman who just cannot stop murdering the men she dates. Koreda is trapped between protecting her sister and trying to prevent more men from meeting their end at the tip of Ayoola’s sharp blade. Darkly humorous, this book is very complex and was a fairly quick read, I couldn’t wait to find out who came up okay in the end!

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

After all of my raving last year over Center’s How to Walk Away, the moment I was able to get my hands on an ARC of Things You Save in a Fire (to be published August 2019) I finished it in just over 24 hours. This book is just my style of sappy, heartwarming, and fun: firefighter Cassie is tough as leather after experiencing a lifetime of disappointments and abandonment, but is suddenly forced to move across the country to care for her sick, estranged mother. She is only able to find a job in a station where she is the first female firefighter among a group of mostly misogynistic males, and must constantly prove herself. Center’s books tend to have a life-lesson (you know I love life-lessons!), this one’s being: “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find, you get what you need.” (Fiction)

Happy Fancy Friday! I’m onto my February 2019 reads!

Four books that helped me grow in 2018

Four books that helped me grow in 2018

the book of joyThe Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu

This is an absolutely beautiful book by two of the greatest spiritual leaders of our time, and, so charming: they are close, loving friends! The book is a conversation that took place over several days between the two on how Christianity and Buddhism handle the stress and strain of daily living. Many of the principles of the two beliefs are essentially the same, and it helped me to realign religion with the spiritual tenants that I hold to be personally to be true for me. Also, these men, who have endured and seen more than many could imagine, have retained a strong sense of faith and joy, it is impossible to not be inspired by them:

“Discovering more joy does not, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreaks without being broken.” -Desmond Tutu

Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott

As I wrote in my post on Bird by Bird, I haven’t always been an Anne Lamott fan, however this book converted me. I believe that Grace is the core of spirituality, that we are forgiven and loved regardless of who we are or what we have done, and that we owe that same forgiveness to each other, is the bedrock of everything else. So when I spotted this title available on my Libby App, I decided to give Lamott’s writing another try, which I can only say was a moment of pure serendipity. Her chapters detail some of the hardest moments of her life: the death of her best friend, her strained relationship with her parents, extreme highs and lows of her spiritual journey, and above all, seeing the humor in it all. Anne Lamott writes with nothing to hide, and this book made me want to be braver, more resilient, and more at peace with the beautiful and heartbreaking experience that it is to be human.


Duckworth, Angela 05.2018
Cover image shown with permission by Scribner from Simon & Schuster

Grit by Angela Duckworth

I read (and wrote) about this book last spring and found it really encouraging as it gave examples on the values of hard work over natural talent. Duckworth’s argument is that not only is hard, consistent work vastly more important than being talented, but also that the experience of overcoming hardship is one of the greatest determinants of potential success. It also reminded me that if I really want something, I need to work at it, and making mistakes along the way is part of the process of becoming great.

“Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another. Angela Duckworth


Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright

Mindfulness is an essential principle of Buddhist philosophy, and this book is an excellent discourse on the science and psychology of mindfulness and how it helps the human mind fight issues such as depression, anger and greed. Robert Wright is not a Buddhist and the book doesn’t focus on the more spiritual tenants of Buddhism such as Nirvana or reincarnation, but really on the values of meditation practice and examining ones thoughts, emotions and actions without judgement. This book encouraged me to focus more on my meditation practice, which has helped me to maintain better control over my emotions, the words I choose, and how I react in stressful moments. It’s always a work in progress, but I believe I have grown, maybe just a little, through meditation and mindfulness. At the very least it’s been an extremely refreshing and empowering journey.

These books were all so special to me, what are some books that have really impacted your life recently?

Have a Fancy Friday and a wonderful weekend!


Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

owens 01.19
Cover image shown with permission from Putnam

At the age of six Kya Clark is abandoned by her mother and slowly her older brothers and sisters follow out, unable to share space with an abusive and alcoholic father. As time goes on Kya must learn to fend for herself in the wetlands of North Carolina as she traverses life completely alone. Set in the 1950s-60s, her only friends are Jumpin’ and Mabel, a black couple who take pity on her and embrace her as one of their own in the segregated area called Colored Town. The rest of neighboring town Barkley Cove rejects her, and the young, abandoned child who only wants the love of a family is cast aside and simply known as the wild “Marsh Girl.”

When the beloved local quarterback is found dead in the marsh, detectives begin to stack evidence, mostly unsubstantiated, against Kya, slowly building suspense as your concern for Kya’s well-being grows. Alternating scenes of the investigation and Kya’s life growing up paints a striking portrait of the biases and bigotry endured by those who deemed to be separate or other. Owens, a skilled non-fiction writer who until this book has only written about her experience as a wildlife scientist, deftly creates a story set in the natural world that also understands what it means to be human and loved. The novel is as wild and as rich as its setting and builds to a climax that left me absolutely floored.

Delia Owens
Delia Owens © Dawn Marie Tucker

I couldn’t put this book down and ultimately read it in one day, staying up way past my bedtime to come to the end. However, I also found some parts very hard to read, the scenes of Kya being ostracized clipping my heart a little too close.  This is ultimately a story of survival, and Kya manages not only to survive but to thrive, finding her own way and learning to trust over fear of abandonment. Beautifully written, filled with lyrical poetry and striking prose, Where the Crawdads Sing is a remarkable story with an unforgettable ending, I would recommend it for those looking for stories of justice, wildlife survival, and the perfect read for a book-club (it’s best read with a friend, you will have a lot to discuss!)


Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Published: August 14, 2018

I read this as: A hardback gifted by a friend

If you like this you might like

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

lamott, anne 2019.01
Cover image provided with permission by Random House

I think this might be the most perfect book I have read on the subject of writing, it actually might be the most perfect book I have read, period. I have fallen in love with Anne Lamott’s writing style recently: crisp, funny, sad, and honest, she has come to me at a point in my life when I have fallen and gotten back up enough times to realize there is humor and grace in our darkest moments. In understanding this have I found freedom in sharing and saying “Hey! Yes, life can be terrible, but it also can be beautiful and you have to take the messy parts to experience the miraculous joy that is there too.”

I haven’t always been here, a few years ago while pregnant with my daughter, a friend recommended Lamott’s “Operating Instructions”, a book she wrote on raising her son as a single mother. It’s dark, she swears a lot, she’s a recovering alcoholic, and it made me feel uncomfortable. I wanted to project myself as a beautiful, clean, perfect mother, and I did not approve of swearing in front of my child(!). I returned the book after a few chapters, I didn’t think I was anything like this woman, I was completely confident in my worldview, I did not need to hear about her spiritual journey and bouts of depression. I was judgemental pretty out of touch, honestly.

A few years later of wonderful highs, along with some real lows and moments of grace, Lamott feels like a friend, sometimes she feels like me, and her depiction of the writing process is very real and very human. I love that she cares about her readers, she does not try to instill some kind of magical idea that one will become successful beyond all expectations if they just try hard enough: we are not all going to be Kristin Hannah. She writes so eloquently about the ups, but mostly downs of the writing process: the jealousy of watching others succeed, the stress of waiting for your writing to be reviewed, the pain of a bad review, and that getting published is not all it’s cracked up to be. Writing is important because of what is learned through the process, not because of its potential for success or notoriety. Here is my most favorite quote from the book (and I had many favorite quotes):

“I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good enough at it, and I don’t think you have time to waste on someone who does not respond to you with kindness and respect. You don’t want to spend your time around people who make you hold your breath. You can’t fill up when you’re holding your breath. And writing is about filling up, filling up, when you are empty, letting images and ideas and smells run down like water…”

While this book is mainly on writing, Lamott experiences writing as part of life, so it also has a lot of great insights on the human experience and spirituality as well (Lamott is a Christian- a very liberal Christian). I would recommend this book to writers (and a writer is one who writes, not just someone who gets paid to do some), those looking for spiritual insights, and anyone who has fallen on their face enough to know it’s the getting up part that really matters.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Published: September 1, 1995

I read this as: a library book

If you enjoy this book you may like:

Calypso by David Sedaris

Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott

It’s been a minute

It’s been a minute

flat lay photography of calendar

I started writing earlier this year with high hopes. I was going to read three books a week, blog once a week, and become the book influencer I have always imagined in my heart I could be. Here is what happened instead:

  1. I blogged a few times a month up until June when I completely stopped (whoops!)
  2. I have read 72 books so far this year, which if I do the math equals almost 1.5 books a week. Honestly that’s pretty good I’m going to pat myself on the back for that one.
  3. Managing my neighborhood library has always been a dream of mine so when the opportunity to transfer to my local branch came up, I took it. This meant leaving the library where I’ve spent most of my career with co-workers and customers that I love; it was a decision that was made with a lot of tears. A few months in I’m starting to get my groove back and really enjoying my new staff and customers, but this was definitely a big shift in my life.
  4. I was given the opportunity to review books for Booklist, a librarian book magazine from ALA. So while I can’t say I’ve become a book influencer, I can almost call myself a book professional, which maybe sounds better(?)
  5. I made new friends, which was my secret goal for this year. Since I moved to RVA 8 years ago I was really focused on my career, then I was really focused on my daughter, and all the sudden I realized I had kind of dug myself into a lonely little hole of my own creation. To me, making new friends after 30 is as terrifying as dating, and I have felt the paralyzing fear of gearing myself up to ask for someone’s number. However through yoga, church, my neighborhood, and just trying to ignore the fear of rejection, I’ve been able to reach out and build a small network of people in the area.
  6. I’ve grown my yoga, meditation, and spiritual practice, I’m able to manage my emotions and stress better, and I’m more aware of what my body and spirit are experiencing.

There have been some down moments as well this year, but overall it’s been a period of growth for me. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished even if I didn’t get done everything that was on my list, and I’ve missed another year of becoming an internet celebrity (shoot!). My hope for next year is to continue to write, I don’t know in what capacity, but stringing words together is where I feel most creative, and I definitely want more creativity in my life.

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

Center, Katherine 06.2018
Cover image shown with permission from St. Martin’s Press

I was recently reading some comments by the Dalai Lama (and stay with me here because I realize I’m here to write about Katherine Center’s latest novel, I promise this has relevance) about his experience being forced to flee his home country of Tibet, and to live most of his life in exile. What he said about this experience that was so painful to him, was also all the joy that had come out of the life that was forced upon him. Instead of being bitter about the unfairness of it all and focusing on the pain the separation had caused him, he spoke about the relationships and the positive outcomes that he would not have had if he had been able to live the life that he had originally imagined. How many of us could have the same outlook?

Margaret (what a great name for a protagonist!) Jacobsen has her life planned out: she is about to start a dream job in Austin, Texas after years of hard work, she is adored by her family (except for a mysteriously estranged sister), and has a successful, handsome boyfriend, who loves her dearly, and who looks like he is about to propose(!) On top of all this, Margaret seems like a really kind, hard-working person, who deserves all the success and happiness that is coming her way. Unfortunately, as in real life, bad things happen to good people.

After a terrible accident changes everything, Margaret’s world begins falling apart, forcing her to rely on people she cannot stand (see: return of estranged sister), and watching pieces of her life that were supposed to be so strong crumble around her. She has to make choices, really hard ones that make you wonder what you would do in her shoes, and cause the reader to think about people who live with disabilities every day, and what their experiences must be like. I have to admit, I was humbled when she spoke about hating the looks of pity people gave her, when she just wanted to be viewed as a normal person. I am definitely guilty of giving those looks.

I felt this story was very honest and compelling, while also upbeat considering the seriousness of the subject. Another thing I’ve learned from the Dalai Lama is the value of laughter and not taking yourself too seriously, so I found this tone to be realistic and empowering. There are lots of interesting family dynamics/drama, and yes, a love story, so as far as I’m concerned this book has it allincluding amazing inspirational quotes such as “When you don’t know what to do for yourself, do something for somebody else.” and

“You have to live the life you have. You have to find inspiration in the struggle, and pull the joy out of hardship… Because that’s all we can do: carry the sorrow when we have to, and absolutely savor the joy when we can.
Life is always, always both.”

Overall I would recommend this story to anyone, but definitely for someone who enjoys an engaging plot that’s realistic but upbeat, with a thoughtful and strong female narrator, and interesting and complex relationships and family dynamics.

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

Published: May 15, 2018

I read this as: an ARC I received at the PLA conference 2018

If you like this you may like:

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes