Diverse Stacks, Diverse Lives Reading Challenge.

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Beth and I have done a lot of talking about the kinds of things that reading can do for a person. It really is a magical thing. It can transport you to different worlds. It can imagine new history. It can see potential futures. Studies have even shown that reading literary fiction can help you relate better to other people. So, with this in mind, we’ve put together our first reading challenge. Inspired by #weneedmorediversebooks, we’ve come up with a challenge to make us think about who we are reading and what we are reading about. Our challenge has three sub-challenges: one related to characters, one related to authors, and one related to books themselves. Each sub-challenge is only ten books long, so you can do any of the sub-challenges without changing how you read for the whole year. As a reader, you can tackle the whole challenge or one or more of the sub-challenges.

I will be maintaining a page here on this blog full of possible books to fulfill the challenge that I find in my reading travels. Of course, any suggestions will be helpfully added to the list. Part of what makes diversifying your reading difficult is that you don’t always know something is diverse going in. We are going to endeavor to make that easy by keeping a separate page of suggestions.

Since this challenge is only 30 books, we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of diversity in literature and in life, but we hope that this list and the books that are read because of it will create interesting and thoughtful discussions. We hope that you will consider taking the challenge and reading along with us in 2016!

This Month in Reality: New Year, New…Resolutions and Goals to Achieve!

Beth has started her series highlighting series that she’s enjoyed and that she feels have been neglected by the blogging community. After some discussion we’ve decided that my more or less regular series will be about non-fiction books. The world we live in is just so cool that I love to dip my toe into the realm of non-fiction (it’s a pretty huge realm) and learn all sorts of new things. No thing is safe from me reading!

For my first installment, I’m going to review/discuss a few self-help books. January is the time for resolutions and there are lots of things that you can read that will offer you advice on how to live better or healthier or smarter (whatever any of those things mean). In the past month, I’ve started two books meant to better inform me about how to be happy and healthy. In the past six months, I’ve read an additional book that I’ll be discussing on this list. In general I’m pretty skeptical about the usefulness of these volumes. It isn’t that they don’t offer interesting insight into theories and research about health and well-being. (Some of them do.) It’s more that there are no quick fixes to changing habits and your health. Regardless of the method you use, you still have to commit to a change and make that change work in your life. And, committing and working can be boring, slogging, grueling processes, not matter how exciting of novel your approach to them might be. But, I like the idea of taking stock of where you are and making a plan to move towards where you would like to be so I like the practice of making resolutions or goals. The first two books on this list are self-help designed to help you better manage your time and accomplish your goals. The first one focuses on your feelings and how you can get more desired feelings into your life and the second one focuses on time and how you can change how you think about time and the tasks you have to accomplish in order to get more done. The last book I’ll discuss is an overview of Chinese medicine and women’s health. At this point, I should probably say “spoilers ahead” (although, that’s probably a good thing since I’m panning at least one of these books.)

THE DESIRE MAP

I borrowed this book from a friend, so I feel pretty bad that I’m about to pan it.

This book was so poorly written. It was like reading someone’s notes or inferring a deeper meaning from a series of pinterest posts. The book is divided into two parts. The first is theory. And, after I got past her opening (it was painful) we got to the epiphany: how do you want to feel? how can you focus on how you feel and meeting the needs revealed those feelings and then use that to reach your goals? I have sympathy for this idea. I can be pretty goal-oriented and fall into patterns of thinking that have me so focused on end results that I miss not only how unhappy I am in the present but I fail to realize how unfulfilled I will feel upon completing the goal. And, I doubt I’m alone in this. So, focusing on my emotional needs and seeing how to meet them more directly so that I’m in a more comfortable place sounded great. It also sounds pretty realistic. Life is about the journey, right? Which brings me to my major problem of the book: I have heard this before. I’ve heard this before and some of the ideas she presents seem, well, appropriative (passing Buddhist philosophy off as a magical part of her system) and like they might be taken out of their context. When we take big ideas out of context like this they often lose some if not all of their depth and resolution. So, passing Buddhist philosophy off as magic made me uncomfortable. And, then failing to engage in a deep and critical discussion of the philosophy (or anything really) made me feel unfulfilled and annoyed. I’m not looking for magic. This is a self-help book! I was looking for a little help!

The rest of my beef with the book was formatting. Books are not power point slides. They are not flash animated videos on the internet. Do not have multiple fonts on the page. Just don’t. After awhile I imagined that this was done to distract from a lack of deep engagement and discussion of the subject matter. I was not fooled. Honestly, I skipped a hundred pages because I couldn’t deal with it and I knew if I kept on I wouldn’t get to the workbook part and I wanted to see if there were useful things there. The worksheets and activities were useful in the workbook portion of the book. But, again, there wasn’t anything novel about it. I’ve seen mindfulness exercises that had similar formats. So, this book could be useful. But, it was not great and it annoyed me way more than it helped me.

THE NOW HABIT

This book was so very helpful. The Now Habit was mostly about time management and how to be more mindful of your time. It had you think about where you lose time in your day (where you go off the rails and end up watching TV or facebooking or reading that novel on your phone) and what you’re avoiding (and why). Then, it had you make a calendar and schedule where you were going to be places, when you would be traveling, when you’d be eating or cooking. This created a really nice visual of how much extra time I didn’t which made time-wasting not all that appealing. The author had you include recreational time in your week so that you weren’t all-work-all-the-time and that also was a nice feature. Putting things like knitting and reading on my schedule was like giving myself permission to relax and do those things. There was also an element of mindfulness in this approach but it wasn’t sold as magic but rather practice that can help you achieve your goals. I’ve incorporated a number of elements of this book into my life and it has been working pretty great.

ANCIENT HEALING FOR MODERN WOMEN

I picked this up at a Half Price Books in its clearance section for two bucks. I think it was two bucks well spent. This book is a very general introduction to Chinese medicine focusing specifically on women’s health written by a doctor trained in both Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). After the opening chapter that discussed the Traditional Chinese system, each chapter takes a look at specific time-frames in a woman’s life. It begins with menarche and goes through menopause. I really liked all of the discussion on prevention. One of the things I learned from this book was that TCM is big on balance and preventative medicine. And, thinking of the body as a whole system where problems in one area can spill over into another area made a lot of sense to me. I also enjoyed the focus on how “healing” isn’t the same as “curing”. The author spent a lot of time highlighting how modern western medicine treats systems and doesn’t support patients. And, I’m sympathetic to that idea. If you’re not meeting your emotional and spiritual needs the physical can go way, way wrong. Striving for balance is a worthwhile goal. There were parts of the book that made me feel like I was being sold snake oil. She told some stories of women treated with Western Medicine who then found healing with TCM throughout the book. Some of these seemed a little over the top but the overall message of balance and trying your best to take care of all of your needs was good. I would have liked a more in-depth discussion of Traditional Chinese Medicine and all of working parts.

Have you read any Self-Help books in a lead up to Goal Setting for the New Year? What do you like (or hate!) about the genre? What are your goals for 2015?

Let’s Do Some Reading: Goals for 2015

So today Kate and I will discuss our reading goals for 2015.  It’s hard to believe that this year is almost over.  Like, Seriously!  Where did the year go?

I hit my apex in 2012 when I read 94 books.  My goal that year was 90. So yeah, me, I made it! but it left me with little time to really enjoy the books I was reading.  It meant that I had to immediately start a new book as soon I finished one.  I also had to rush through books when I started to fall behind in my goal.  I think there were a lot of books I read that year that I would have enjoyed more if I had given the time to really let them sink in as I read.  Let’s just say, it was stressful.  I promised myself that I would never set a goal that high again.  Last year, my goal started at 65.  Totally doable but half way though the year, I lowered my goal to 50.  I know cheating! but it was taking me forever to get through the first 3 books of Game of Thrones.  I guess when you reading 300-400 page teen novels the pace of GoT was a snail’s pace.  It turns out I didn’t need to worry since I ended up reading 74 books this.

I’m going to set my goal again for 65. Why? Obviously, I know I can read that many books in a year since I’ve read more than 65 in the last four years running.  I’m purposefully setting a low goal because I don’t want to be rushed and also there are a lot of books that I want to reread.  Books that you have already read don’t count in your total book count.  (So really, I read more then 74 books this year, if you count my rereading of The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves before Blue Lily Lily Blue came out, also my yearly read of Wuthering Heights, etc.)

I know I should say something, like my goal is also to whittle down on my to-read stack and I will but maybe I’ve come to the realization that my to-read is really never going to shrink.  There are far too many new books going to come out this year that I can’t wait to read.  There are so many books and authors that I have yet to discover and who knows what ARCs publishers are going to send out.  So, I’m going to do my best and read as many books I already own as I can but I will refuse to feel bad if the stacks pile up.  At least I know I will always have something to read.

Oh, one more goal for 2015. To finally buy more bookcases!

So Kate, whats your goal?

Thanks, Beth! I think it is wise to accept that one’s to-read list will
never really shrink. I get really excited thinking about the new year and what the next year is going to be like. (I get really excited about the same thing at my birthday, too.) What will the next 365 days bring? Will there be adventure? Romance? Sadness? Bravery? Victory? Travel? The answer to these questions is always yes because no matter what else will be in the next year there will always be books. In the past I’ve put together lists of things to read in the next year and while that has been fun this year I’m giving that a pass. I am setting myself a number and some guidelines and then I’m just going to let myself go.

In 2014 I read 53 books (I just finished Junot Diaz’s Drown); this means I surpassed my goodreads goal by 13 books. This year, I am setting the number to 50. It is a nice round number. It will be a challenge because I do a lot of reading for my day job. In fact, I should probably do more reading for my day job. That’s a post for a different day. And, now the restrictions: the books have to come from my endless stacks, the library or be ebooks. I am not to buy physical copies. That’s going to be the real challenge.