Life By Kristen

Go, and embrace your liberty. And see what wonderful things come of it. – Little Women

Archive for the tag “reading”

Reading Goals

A few years ago, probably when I became a member of Goodreads, I tried to set reading goals for myself. They were often twofold: one, to read so many books each year, and the other has often been related to the types of books or certain titles I wanted to finally read.

Last year, my goal was to read 50 books in the year, which I accomplished, plus a few more. This year, I thought I’d try to push myself to read 55, since last year I came close at 52. With only a few weeks left to the year, I’ll fall short of that goal, but like this Book Riot essay talks about, it doesn’t entirely bother me. As of today, I’m at 49 books and I’ll finish 2 more ( one audio nonfiction, one hardcover fiction) probably in the next few days, bringing me to 51. They are both library books so I feel that pressure to read and return. I may knock out 2 more that I’ve been slowly reading by the end of the year since we don’t have a lot of holiday plans, but if I don’t, I’m not going to stress about.

Reading is one of the greatest joys in my life and has been since an early age. But it’s not just books that I love reading- it’s blogs, newspapers, magazines, and even random brochures that come in the mail. I even like reading product descriptions in all the catalogs that end up in my mailbox this time of year. A love for the written word often has me reading lots of things at the same time, all with the quest to feed my curious mind and desire to learn something everyday.

So while I may not hit my 55 books,  I know I’ve challenged myself a bit in the book reading I have done. There were a few titles that had been on to-read shelf ( both the digital and physical shelves!) for a while that I was able to knock out. I did read or listen to a few of the classics that I never was assigned in my school days, so feel accomplished about that.

In the end, I want to read what I want to read, not something defined by a desire to win a challenge or knock off things on a list just to say I did. That might change in the future, but for now, the reading is what I want it to be.

Did you meet any reading goals this year? How do you feel about these book challenges?

Library & Little Man

My love of books, reading, and learning come from my mother. My father was a curious person, but he wasn’t a sit down and read a book kind of guy. My mother, on the other hand, reads everything– every advertisement in the newspaper, random magazines/brochures you find in hotel rooms, and this blog of course ( Hi Mom!). From a very early age, she instill in me the love of the written word– our trips to the library are some of my favorite childhood memories, in fact.

So as an adult as I’ve started to think about a family of my own, I wished that one day I would be able to pass along this love of books and reading to a little person in my own life. I give more books as new baby gifts than rompers and try to push the merits of the library to anyone I meet who is looking for a new good read. So of course, when Little Man entered into my life I hoped that I would be able to instill a love of reading to him like my mother did for me.

We read to Little Man each night he is with us and are slowly building a library for him at our house. But imagine my absolute glee when, on a Saturday running errands as a family, he asked to come into the library with me. The library is almost always a stop on our weekends together, but often I’m just dropping something in the outside bin, or if I do go inside, often the boys stay in the car for interest of time. But this particular Saturday, Little Man asked to come inside.

We explored the kid area, picked out a movie to watch that night, and Little Man picked out his own book, a chapter book from the Magic Tree House series. He was so happy to hand over my library card to get his book and DVD. After we ate lunch at home, the three of us were playing Legos in the sunroom, on the first warm, sunny day in so long– it was wonderful just to be in there again after it being so cold for so long. As if the day couldn’t get any better, Little Man asked if I could sit with him and help him read his book– even as I write this, my heart bursts with how excited I was– it was one of the first times he asked me specifically to do something with him, and to have it be reading was just the icing on the cake.

We’ve gone back to the library a few more times since then, each time he picks out a book or two for himself and gets a sticker when he checks out the books. It truly is one of the biggest highlights of life for me– to see him learning to read and wanting to read more makes me endlessly happy and even if I play only a small role in this little boy’s life, I couldn’t be more overjoyed that I’m helping him learn to love reading.


Books of My Childhood

My mother instilled a love of reading from an early age. My dad did too, but he didn’t read for pleasure like my mother did. I have great memories of going to the library with my mom to get books every week; when there was a fire at the library when I was probably seven or so, I cried because I had left my library card there the week before and I was devastated at the idea of not being able to take out books anymore. Thankfully, it was not ruined in the fire and my book privileges were intact!

I have an older  brother and so when he started reading chapter books, I didn’t want to be left behind with my kiddie books so I tackled reading as something to be the best at. The first chapter book I read ( with my mother’s help) was Charlotte’s Web, which came in a special three book gift set along with Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan ( which I have not a lot of memories of, though I know I read it). I quickly moved on to Nancy Drew books which I had a hand-me-down set of hardcover books from my aunt. I loved The Boxcar Children series and anything by Beverly Cleary or Judy Blume ( Freckle Juice and Dear Mr. Henshaw were favorites). I had almost every Babysitter’s Club book; devoured the American Girl books, and just about anything else I could get my hands on.I was frequently found reading the encyclopedias at both mine and my grandparents’ house.

It’s hard to describe the feverish excitement I felt each month when the Scholastic Book Club booklets came in with their think paper and endless amounts of reading material and activity workbooks. I would spend hours reading every description and narrowing down my choices for my mother’s approval. Once a year the elementary and junior high school PTO would sponsor a book fair, which was third only to Christmas and my birthday in my mind.

As I grew up, my tastes changed and as I began liking history more, I read a lot of YA books that had historic events attached to it, like the Wild Rose Inn series ( Ann of the Wild Rose Inn remains my favorite). I had a particular obsession with Lurlene McDaniel books– which someone in my family ( mom? aunt?) called “those sick books” because they dealt with teenagers with terminal illnesses or organ transplants. Some of these were made in to Lifetime movies so that probably is an indicator of their level of drama. And of course, there was the Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul phase I went through, as well as every other applicable book I read from that series. In my junior high years, I had a thing for Mary Higgins Clark suspense books.

It’s funny how, after all these years, even though the books have become more complex and the tastes have changed, I still feel that childlike enthusiasm every time I open a new book or walk into a bookstore or library. It’s a big part of who I am- sometimes I daydream about retirement and how many books I’ll be able to read then!

I’d love to know some of the books/series/authors you all loved as children and teens!



5 on Friday: Recent Books

Thanks to my newfound love of audiobooks, I’ve been pushing through my reading list fairly fast lately. Here are 5 fairly recent books that I recommend:

1. I Was Told There’d Be Cake– Sloan Crosley. This collection of essays was great in audiobook format- it was read by the author and her various essay topics were witty, sarcastic, and thoughtful. I especially enjoyed her musings on weddings and being a bridesmaid.

2. Living History– Hillary Rodham Clinton. This massive book ( something like 590 pages) has been on my book list for almost as long as the book has been out. I’ve picked it up at the local library more than a few times, but was either never quite in the mood to read it or just couldn’t get through it. It was perfect as an audio book for this reason ( though I think there were like 22 discs or something). I didn’t particularly enjoy the reader ( there is a version with Hillary herself reading, but it was out and I wasn’t in the mood to wait), but I learned a lot about Clinton’s life I didn’t know ( that she participated in the federal Watergate investigations as a law student, for example) and I very much appreciated her honesty and candidness regarding the various activities of her husband and the strains on their marriage.

3. The Language of Flowers– Vanessa Diffenbaugh. HIGHLY recommend this book for a number of reasons- great characters, short chapters, and the kind of story that just leaves you wanting more. This was a recommendation from a former teacher of mine ( one of my favorites- see tomorrow’s post) on facebook & I got lucky to find it on the new arrivals shelf at the library. The parts about the language/meaning of flowers was interesting enough to me, but really I was just captivated by the life of the main character, Victoria.

4. The Knitting Circle– Ann Hood. Back in high school I read a few books by Hood after she spoke at my high school honor society’s induction ceremony. She’s a local writer and many of her titles have been on my reading list throughout the years. This book is her fictionalized telling of the the time in her real life after her daughter dies. Even though I didn’t care for the knitting parts, the book has really rich characters and it was a quick read, even though the subject deals a lot with sadness and loss.

5. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie– Ayana Mathis. This book was on my reading list, but not something I thought I’d be reading any time soon. It was an Oprah’s book pick recently, and while I like Oprah and am a subscriber to her magazine, I haven’t always loved the books she recommends. What I liked about this was the historical fiction aspect and the span of characters throughout time, but overall, it left me feeling a little meh and leaving me with more questions about characters and circumstances than I like at the ending of a book.

Five on Friday- Books

I’m only 3 books behind in my quest to reach 50 new book reads by the end of the year, which is a much better pace than last year. I’ve (re)discovered the awesomeness of audio books for my commute.

Here’s five recent reads that I highly recommend ( in random order):

1. I like to alternate reading fiction and nonfiction and in recent years have come to love memoirs. The End of Your Life Bookclub was a selection of Twookclub a few months ago that I wasn’t quite in the mood to read, but enough other people told me about this book that I picked it up from the library. It was a really sweet and touching read that was nowhere near as sad/tragic as I thought it was going to be. I thought it was a really great book about mother/son relationship and a lifelong long of reading/books.

2. I cannot recommend Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder enough. Ever since my mother thrust Bel Canto into my hands a few years ago, I’ve made my way through Patchett’s titles ( definitely read it if you haven’t). I ‘read’ State of Wonder as an audio book ad was so captivated by the story that several times I found myself sitting in the driveway or parking lot at work waiting for the chapter to be done. It is definitely one of the better things I’ve read this year.

3. The Night Circus is something that I would not have picked up on my own without the recommendations from friends and a few good reviews. The circus is something that interests me and I’ve read a few great fiction and nonfiction books with life under the big top as a central theme ( also as an aside there was a PBS mini documentary series called Circus a few years ago that I highly recommend). In any case, while this book has a lot more fantasy elements than I cared for, I overall enjoyed the level of intrigue and mystery to the book, even if the whole time my brain kept thinking “this could never happen!” I wouldn’t highly recommend it, but it was a fairly quick read and if you aren’t into reading fantasy but want something a bit whimsical that will still make you think, this is a good choice.

4. In my fiction selections, I love books that fall more into the genre of historical fiction or follow a group of characters over a large period of time so you can change, development, etc. J. Courtney Sullivan with her 2 previous titles ( Commencement and Maine) has quickly made her way onto to the list of authors I will always read and her newest title, The Engagementsdid not disappoint. The story is pretty much about how the diamond ring became such a huge part of marriage culture in the United States, and follows different story lines related to this. I loved the format and the various storylines, especially the way how it is revealed each character vignette relates to the others.

5. Curtis Sittenfeld is another favorite author and in the few years since American Wife came out, I’ve been clamoring for another novel from her. There are a good handful of authors who I feel this way about so when I read that Sittenfeld had a new book out in June, I was #5 on the huge waitlist at the library. Sisterland was a quick read with great character development. I wasn’t too happy with some of the developments towards the end of the book, but I would recommend it.

A Bookworm in Need!

The other day I was saying I’ve had blog growing pains. Lately, it seems I’ve been having a rough run of reading woes too. I’m a bookworm in need!

At the beginning of this year, I set out to read 50 books for 2013. It was the same goal I made in 2012 that I fell short on. The nice thing about this sort of goal is even in not achieving the final number of read books I wanted, it’s still a win because I’m knocking items off my reading list and (mostly) enjoying the books I read.

According to my goodreads reading challenge counter, I’m 7 books behind in reaching my goal. But lately, I haven’t had a good run of book choices. I read Where’d You Go Bernadette, and really enjoyed it a lot. Same with Tina Fey’s BossypantsI took Chris Cleave’s Little Bee on vacation to Amsterdam with me, but I didn’t love it and found it really tough to get into. Currently, I’m trying to get through Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence and also reading Julia Child’s letters to Avis DeVoto.

Usually I’m a reading fiend, often with 2 or 3 titles going at the same time, but for some reason– lack of interest? Too much else going on?– I can’t seem to get into the reading swing like I used to. I am also finding that I tend to devour a book far quicker when it’s from the library than one from my personal bookshelf, so I’m sure that says something about me needing a 2 week deadline to read in than anything else. Mostly, I think it’s not just because the titles I’ve been picking haven’t wowed me, but also that my interests and energies have been elsewhere in life, mostly with house projects and social life, as well as a new obsession with watching every amazing BBC/PBS show ever made ( PS why didn’t anyone tell me how awesome Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch was? I’m LOVING it).

So all that being said, I’m looking for some GREAT reads for the summer time. My reading list is miles long, but I’ve been thinking about deleting it entirely and just going on recommendations from friends, family, colleagues, and not so much on the random reviews I read online or in magazines. I want a book that captivates me, something that I don’t want to put down and can read in a weekend or a few weeknights. Fiction or nonfiction welcome and if you sell it well enough, I may even read things outside my normal interest area like fantasy or vampires!

Give me your best book recommendations!


Happiness is a Room Full of Books

Today is the 60th anniversary of the publication of Charlotte’s Web. On my morning commute, I heard the best story about E.B. White on NPR and his experience writing and recording the audio version of the book. Hearing that on a grouchy Monday morning instantly changed my mood.

Charlotte’s Web was my first chapter book that I read and it ignited a verocious reading habit. I devoured books as a kid, often reading faster than my parents could bring me to the library. I read just about anything I could get my hands on, frequently spending an entire weekend reading two or three books. I had the entire Babysitter’s Club  series ( including the special double books!), Nancy Drew, and loved the Boxcar Children series which I took out of the library on a frequent basis. When I was in my tween years, I read  A LOT of books by Lurlene McDaniel books, which my mother called “the sick books” because their teen characters always had some degree of chronic or terminal illness. I read a lot of the ‘classics’ early like Little Women, a book I return to over and over again as an adult. As I matured, I began reading a lot of Mary Higgins Clark suspense books in junior high. When mandatory novel reading became a big part of high school and college English classes, I looked forward to school vacations to read from own growing reading list.

In college, my reading world was expanded exponentially as various professors introduced me to amazing authors like Toni Morrison and Sarah Orne Jewett. I found my interests changed quickly in my pleasure reading- I became much more interested in novels with complex characters, creative writing, and beautiful prose. While I still read an occasional fun, quick read ( Jennifer Weiner’s wit gets me in every book), I was also looking to tackle the great pieces of the literary canon.

For me, reading is such an exciting and entertaining thing- far more than watching television. I love books that follow a character throughout time to see the development and evolution of the person, something that I don’t think is achieved in even an hour long TV drama ( Jennifer Haigh is my favorite at the moment for this skill). As a lover of history, the historical fiction genre has become a favorite, as have biographies. In the past few years I have been reading a lot of memoirs too.  With suspense novels, sometimes I can barely read and turn the pages fast enough to find out what is going to happen. I am definitely one of those readers who feels disappointed sometimes when a book is over; I have frequently wondered how a random person is doing to only realize that it was a book character and not an in-real-life person that I actually know.

Some books to me are like a warm hug or that comfortable spot on the couch- safe places to return to on a cold, rainy day or when things are a bit down in life. Some books I have on my shelf I kept after reading because I loved them so much and wanted to keep them in my life, others I keep because I want to re-read them again ( though with only a few exceptions, this almost never happens). There are numerous books from college and grad school which I only read portions of for class or research that I hope to return to again. There are some books- like Eat Pray Love that I have not opened again on purpose; I enjoyed the book immensely, but during the tough times of my divorce, the emotions were still too raw to be able to handle it.

I often joke around that I only bought my house because of its abundance of built-in bookcases. Since cancelling cable last year, I’ve read a lot of books and magazines, spending hours of a work night enthralled in a great novel. My Amazon wish list serves as my reading list and it currently stands in the 500s, growing more each week. I am at my library at least once a week getting  books- it is one of my favorite times of the week. When buying a new purse, it has to pass the ‘book test’ because I am  never without a paperback in my bag ( yes I’m still an old-school physical book reader). As the saying goes- “Happiness is a room full of books!”

Currently reading: Personal History by Katharine Graham and The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

What was your first book memory? Any great recommendations for my list? 

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