October was a much better reading month. My deliberate efforts to cut my time wasters, to choose reading instead as a rest activity, and to include reading in the morning and evening are paying off.
The pay off is not just that I finished twice the number of books, but also that my mind feels fed and full and I find it easier to have interesting conversation in various contexts rather than mere detail-swapping (which definitely has a place in relationship-building!).
Books I Finished
I finished 5 books in October – the most per month this year!
The first was an audio book. Audio books totally count. I listened to The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp on the recommendation of a friend. I listened to most of it while accompanying Hans on his initial practice drives. While he gained competency handling a vehicle in parking lots and on back roads, I staved off tedium and boredom (not really stress – he’s a natural driver) by having a light but interesting book in one earbud.
One take away from this book I made was settling on a start-up habit to my writing time. I’ve known that having a starting ritual is a time-honored and time-tested trick for writers, but I’ve never figured out a practice that worked for me. Tharp didn’t just share hers and others’ rituals, she dug into the principle behind the choice of routine and it clicked with me. I was able to land on my pre-writing warm up: Go into the office with my set-up and open up to full screen the draft I’m working on, chug 8-12 ounces of water, do 10 squats with a 20-pound kettlebell, sit down and write for 10-20 minutes without screen-switching. All of these practices are physical prep that clear my head and help me get grounded and focused. It’s not woo-woo; it’s just smart.
As a reward, I can select the words I wrote during my writing sprint and note my word count. I’m always surprised by it!
I also started and finished Eve in Exile by Rebekah Merkle this month. A good friend had read it and wanted to chat about it, so I prioritized its place in the stack – it was my main afternoon break book.
I enjoyed it! I particularly appreciated her fly-by history of feminism which was not dismissive and not reactionary. Reactionary anti-feminism was more the approach she was addressing in the book rather than feminism alone. The book is not written for feminists but rather for women who have taken an unthinking “if it’s the opposite of feminism then it’s good” mindset. As such, I commend it to any Christian woman who wants a sensible, practical, complementarian view that doesn’t marginalize or trivialize women’s role in the world.
William Zinsser’s Writing to Learn was another book I finished this month after having it on my reading stack for 3-4 months. It was a good one to take in chunks, because less a how-to manual and more a book of examples. I can see why AO assigns it in high school and I will recommend it to my teens, although I don’t think it is sufficient for helping a teen learn the art of writing. However, solid, clear nonfiction prose that is more than merely descriptive is a hard skill to learn, so the book of examples from a variety of fields and numerous people – each with their own clear style – then commented upon (but not picked apart or really analyzed) by Zinsser is a good place to start so students get a sense for what’s being asked of them in a paper.
I’d highly recommend it to anyone who wants to write to be understood and to synthesize their own knowledge, not because it will teach you how but because it will demonstrate that it’s possible and desirable.
Finally, I also finished volume 1 of 2000 Years of Christ’s Power by Nick Needham, the series my high schooler is reading as his history spine this year. It was more post-reading than pre-reading, but I am keeping up by the skin of my teeth.
I have made myself keep up by scheduling history luncheons on the third and sixth week of each term. Myself, my high schooler, my friend and her high schooler, and my husband meet for 30-40 minutes over lunch to discuss the last 3 weeks’ readings.
Commitments on the calendar with other people works wonders for accountability – and also for reading with attention and thought for all of us!
Books I Started
So in the Engage tab of my commonplace journal, where I keep my Mother Culture checklist, I made a sheet with my reading categories. The book titles are on sticky notes, and I have to finish one before I can add another – and what I add needs to belong in the same category. It’s working well so far.
When I finished The Creative Habit (an easy audio book), I started The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky, another easy audio book. I’m not thrilled with it so far – the writing is rather bloated and the thoughts not clever – but it works as a driving companion distraction still (at 2x). He makes broad claims, but all the evidence comes from looking at himself and looking around at his peers. To top it off, it’s about 3 times longer than it should be (if it should be in the first place) and bad language serves to add punch when he needs it. So, yeah, come to think of it, I am probably not going to finish this book at all.
I do have a more promising start, though: Atomic Habits by James Clear. I’ve been getting Clear’s twice weekly articles for 3 years at least – nearly since he started – and I always read them. Without Clear, there’d be no Humble Habits and Sweep & Smile would look a lot different. So of course I had to preorder his book when he announced it. I’m only about 5 pages in, but I’ve decided I have to apply what I read specifically as I go and not just whiz through it.
Ok, I also broke my only-replace-post-its rule this month, too. Because my pastor is preaching on hospitality, because I was helping with our Women’s Retreat on hospitality, and because it’s been sitting on my shelf for at least 3 years, I started Christine Pohl’s Making Room. It’s historic and philosophical rather than homemakery, but in the “moderate” category, not the “stiff” category. I’ve only dipped into specific areas in the book, but will start at the beginning and read through in November.
Books I Bought
Well, I ordered Atomic Habits a couple months ago but I was charged and it arrived in October, so I think it counts as October’s book purchase.
I also ordered a box of books after recording (or, quite honestly, while recording) with Martin Cothran and Brandy at the beginning of October, but I’m saving those for Christmas presents, so I can’t tell you what I bought.
I also ordered Jon Acuff’s Start and also Finish after, in the course of the same week, hearing him on the Amy Porterfield podcast, seeing Finish on my friend’s counter and getting her recommendation, and then hearing it was Brandy’s Scholé Everyday pick. Also, I ordered (but it still hasn’t arrived) Greg McKeown’s Essentialism because people keep recommending it and I need to get over my resistance.
I ordered Closer than a Sister by Christina Fox when I saw it on Redeemed Reader’s Instagram and when I thought I was going to speak on community at Paideia Northwest. But, I topic-shifted so this book is most likely destined to live on my shelf until I suddenly need it in another 3-5 years (if past experience is any indication).
Oh, and I bought Raffel’s translation of Beowulf because Brandy recommended it when we recorded earlier this month. Recording Scholé Sisters episodes pretty much guarantees a book order.
My Favorite Commonplace Entry
If you read my Saturday Weekly Review email, you’ve seen these already:
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Read All the Books!
So, then, here’s the scary list of all the books on my currently reading stack. My new rule is that I have to have read the book in October at least once to count it in this list.
Noticeably absent is Paideia: Ideals of Greek Culture by Werner Jaeger. I need to get back to that one and Brandy and I need to get another recording date on the calendar for it!