January 27, 2020

favorite book party and what I’ve been reading

At the end of November, my friend and I threw a favorite book party. It was a gathering of many of the women who come to our monthly book club and a few others who were able to come just for this night, but all women who I deeply love and admire and am grateful for their wisdom as I’ve gotten to know them and gotten to discuss books and life with.

We kept the evening simple. We set out a few snacks and treats. We asked everyone to bring an unwrapped favorite book. We each drew a name and gave our favorite book to the person whose name we drew after we told everyone a brief summery of the book and why it was a personal favorite. Then for 5 min we passed around two sets of dice. When you rolled doubles, 7, or 11 then you got to swap books with anyone that you chose (or you could keep the one you have). At the end of the time, that is the book you went home with (unless you had your own private swap with someone on the side...).

We ended up with a good variety of favorite books. Some I’ve never had the chance to read so it was great to gather some new suggestions.

At the beginning of 2019, I set a personal goal to read 52 books during the year. And I did it!!!

I’ve written down gems from most of the books I have read here and here and here.

Here are a few more of the books I read and my thoughts.

Here We All Are by Tomie dePaola:

I read this short children’s chapter book years ago and I pulled it out as a reread. When I was reading it, kyler commented that this book is probably the book on our bookshelf that he has read the most times and his favorite childhood book (partly because it is a short read haha). Tomie dePaola is a masterful storyteller and I do love this chapter book as much or more than his wonderful picture books. I need to get the other books in the 26 Fairmount Avenue book series! They are true stories based on his childhood and perfect for young readers or as read alouds.

The Twits and The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl

Outside of James and the Giant Peach, this was my first attempt to read books by Roald Dahl. I see why some kids enjoy him as an author, but these are still probably not books I would choose. My favorite quote from the Twits was this:

If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until it gets so ugly you can hardly bear to look at it.

A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely. 

The Hundred Penny Box by Sharon Bell Mathis

A beautiful story. I'm not sure my memory is good enough even as a 35 year old to remember one thing that has happened every year since I was born! But a lovely story about memories and keepsakes and love and family.

"How do you get to be a hundred years old," Michael asked....
"First you have to have a hundred penny box, " his great great aunt finally said.
"Where you get it from?" Michael asked.
"Somebody special got to give it to you," Aunt Dew said. "And soon as they give it to you, you got to be careful less it disappear."

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

I really, really love books written in poetry form. This is one of those. Since it's a basketball story my teenage boys love it, too.

In this game of life
your family is the court
and the ball is your heart.
No matter how good you are,
no matter how down you get,
always leave
your heart
on the court.

"...And Ladies of the Club" by Helen Hooven Santmyer

This is a huge book. 1176 pages of small print. It was a pick for book club. Only one of us had actually finished reading the book when we met for book club. I read about 200 pages and lost interest. At one point, I thought I would keep plugging away, but I moved on to other reads.

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

I'm still a huge Gretchen Rubin fan. Much of what was in this book were things I have already learned by listening to her podcast. But I find the topic of habits and change fascinating and important so this is a worthwhile read. She teaches that there is not one magical solution for habit change, but that we need to know and understand ourselves and what works for us and then use strategies for habit change accordingly.

Some important keys to habit change are self-knowledge, monitoring, foundation, scheduling, accountability, first steps, clean slate, lightening bolt, abstaining, convenience, inconvenience, pairing, safeguards, distraction, clarity, etc.

When we change our habits, we change our lives. We can use decision making to choose the habits we want to form, we can use willpower to get the habit started; then--and this is the best part--we can allow the extraordinary power of habit to take over. We take our hands off of the wheel of decision, our foot off the gas of willpower, and rely on the cruise control of habits.

The reward for a good habit is the habit itself.

Some more children's lit...

How to Train Your Dragon Books 2 by Cressida Cowell

Kyler told me this series was great when you are a 9 year old boy. Seeing as I'm not.... I'll just take his word. I may still continue on with the series though.

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

A perfect classic. I loved reading with Layla.

Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

cute enough, but not a favorite kid lit.

A few religious books...

Answers to Gospel Questions Vol 1 by Joseph Fielding Smith

Written so long ago. Interesting to read his answers and the questions asked. I did a lot of skimming.

Born to Change the World by Brad Wilcox

Our bishop had Kyler read this before he received his patriarchal blessing. A good read to go back to sometimes.

Making It Through the Middle by Emily Freeman

Do not question too much, dear friend,
For the God who ordained the beginning
Can safely be trusted with the end,
As well as with all that lies between.
~Myrtle Reed

My top five favorite books in this batch of books I read...

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

beautifully written. like absolutely beautifully done. and magical. the most beautiful pieces are too long to be written here.

The finest of pleasures are always the unexpected ones.

Why haven't you asked me how I do my tricks?...I prefer to remain unenlightened, to better appreciate the dark.

It is difficult to see a situation for what it is when you are in the midst of it...It is too familiar. Too comfortable.

By the time he reaches the farm, he is sure that the Bailey he is now is closer to the Bailey he is supposed to be than the Bailey he had been the day before.

It would be so simple to let go.
It would be so much easier to let go.
So much less painful.
She fights against the temptation, against the pain and the chaos. Struggling for control with herself and her surroundings.
She picks a location to focus on, the most familiar place she can think of.
And slowly, agonizingly slowly, she pulls herself safely together.

You're not destined or chosen, I wish I could tell you that you were if that would make it easier, but it's not true. You're in the right place at the right time, and you care enough to do what needs to be done. Sometimes that's enough.

'Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsong souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There's magic in that. It's in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and whoknows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift. Your sister may be able to see the future, but you yourself can shape it, boy. Do not forget that.' He takes another sip of wine, 'There are many kinds of magic, after all.' 

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

a fun, light reread. I love how Flavia sees the world.

...within moments it had taught me that the word iodine comes from a word meaning "violet," and that the name bromine was derived from a Gree word meaning "a stench." These were the sorts of things I needed to know!  

There were times when Harriet was not gone; she was everywhere.

I was about to retort..but then I remembered that silence can sometimes do more damage than words. I bit my tongue.

Simple pleasures are best.

Everything is always a muddle just before it settles in.

Wrapped up in the music, I threw myself into an overstuffed chair and let my legs dangle over the arm, the position in which Nature intended music to be listened to, and for the first time in days I felt the muscles in my neck relaxing.

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Unique. Grief. Loss. Change. Belonging. This struck a deep chord for me.

I'm asking you to pay attention in a new way and view it all as being Alive.
With a capital A.

To know me is to know my garden.

It has been my experience that rewarding and heartbreaking often go hand in hand.

The shadows get longer.
I sit on the front steps.
The tears will not stop.
And I almost never cry.
But I'm not myself.
I will forever be someone else now.

Because the women is so strong, you'd think her hug would choke me.
But instead, it's the first time I can get a full breath into my lungs since I heard what happened.

Everyone, I now realize, lives in a world of pain.

He was going to have to learn to be a better observer of all things.
But most especially of his own life.

The Old Me would have read every word of that paperwork. The New Me couldn't care less.

For someone grieving, moving forward is the challenge.

I spend most of  my day with Pattie.
She's there for me.
And just being there is ninety-nine percent of what matters when your world falls apart.

He had made a mistake by ever getting involved with the genius kid.
Because it was a lot easier to do his job and not care about anything.
And now he cared about everything.

And while they complain in lower voices, about one another, they are joined by blood and circumstance and shared experience.

...almost everything that I pursue is for my own understanding or amusement.
I believe having an audience naturally corrupts the performance.

I'm not good with change right now. I can't even yet make a variation in my mile running course.

Dell Duke is not a bad person. He is just bad at being a person.

One thing leads to another.
Often in unexpected ways.

When you care about other people, it takes the spotlight off of your own drama.

If there is anything I've figure out in the last months it's that you can find labels to organize living things, but you can't put people in any kind of group or order.
It just doesn't work that way.

I'm not brave; it's just that all other choices have been thrown out the window.

I think that at every stage of living, there are 7 people who matter in your world.
They are people who are inside you.
They are people you rely on.
They are people who daily change your life...
I decide that wehn my head begins to pound from now on, I will shut my eyes and count to 7, instead of by 7s.
I see each one of these people like the colors of the rainbow.
They are vivid and distinct.
And they hold a permanent place in my heart.

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

I highly recommend this novel about and Indian Muslim's family. Individual stories of past and present are beautifully woven together.

...we don't have to see past the fog to know there are stars.

We did this. We created this. ...What is the use of all of this living if we don't stop once in a while to notice what is actually happening?

She likes thinking of her ancestors as people who had done something with their lives, that her grandfather had been brave to study in England and that her father had been brave to move here, each of them doing what they could so that she and her siblings could now be brave in their lives.

They didn't care how she was affected. Maybe children could never imagine their mother as being anyone other than their mother.

And Layla swelled with love for him, her love born from gratitude.

And nothing compares to the promise of stepping into a classroom knowing she will step out a different person. That she could learn something that would change the way she saw the whole world, and her place in it.

Mumma tried to make the stories about morals but to Amar they were just about what people were willing to do for one another.

Living is interesting enough. Don't make the mistake of confusing a sad state with an interesting life.

She thinks of how they are told that God wants to help His creations, how He says: take one step toward me and I will take ten steps toward you. She is only human, but still, if her brother would only speak to her, be honset with her, she would step a hundred times toward him.

How were they to know the moments that would define them?

Her heart had swelled. How her son was good in a way that she wasn't, in a way that could instruct her. Layla had begun to think lately that there was no real way to quantify the goodness of a person--that religion gave templates and guidelines but there were ways it missed the mark entirely. And everything a momin should be in his heart, Amar was.

He had been cheated out of knowing the best of his father; his father had reserved his kindness for others.

Intentions shrank next to actions.

What if we are meant to look closer?

It was my own self I had to overcome.

It was not that we thought our way was better. It was that we did not know another way. 

On and on he thinks in opposite extremes, until he is not sure who he is or what he wants.

It is as though we live until we become other people entirely, keeping only that same need for hope, for comfort. And how miraculous it is to me that we receive in this world the very things we need from it, how tonight it is another stranger who has stepped forward to play that same part, help me get through this night until morning.

Like Layla, chopping up the apples for the horses. If we, just humans and entirely limited in our thinking, could think to break resources into smaller pieces so our children could feel the joy of scattering slices a little longer, then what generosity was our creator not capable of?

I told myself that there was nothing the human heart could not grow to endure, that the miracle of the human heart is that it expands in its capacity to accept, to love.

Once, Imam Ali had been with his companions when a drunk man staggered by, and a companion had pointed to him and said, look there he goes, the town drukard. But Imam Ali said two things: first, that we must imagine for one another seventy excuses before landing on a single judgement, and also, on that night, he told his companions to refrain from condemning a man, even as he staggered by showing proof of his sin, because they could not know if he would repent when alone, or fathom what existed in his heart.

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E Frankl

This is one of those great books that can change your life. Frankl says, "We are indebted to the second world war for enriching our knowledge of the 'psychopathology of the masses'...for the war gave us the war of nerves and the concentration camp." And so I think what better way to honor those who experienced such horrific events than to hear their stories and give meaning to their suffering by learning from them and, with gratitude and humility, altering our own lives and our view and attitude towards life for the better?

Fankl talks about surprises on how much we as humans can endure. We think we "could not sleep without this or ... live without that or the other." 
Yes, a man can get used to anything, but do not ask us how.

...it is not the physical pain that hurts the most...; it is the mental agony caused by the injustice, the unreasonableness of it all.

How beautiful the world could be!

Love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire.

The salvation of man is through love and in love.

The intensification of inner life helped the prisoner find a refuge from the emptiness...as the inner life of the prisoner tended to become more intense, he also experienced the beauty of art and nature as never before.

The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living. Yet it is still possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent. To draw an analogy: a man's suffering is similar to the behavior of gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the "size" of human suffering is absolutely relative. It also follows that a very trifling thing can cause the greatest of joys.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

But there is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely in man's attitude to his existence...not only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful. If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.

The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, give him ample opportunity--even under the most difficult circumstance--to add a deeper meaning to his life.

Man's inner strength can raise him above his outward fate.

Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.

'He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.' (Nietzsche)

It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.

Tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.

What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you.

Step for step I progressed, until I again became a human being.

Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.

Yet one of the main features of human existence is the capacity to rise above such conditions, to grow beyond them. Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary.

We watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.

Frankl wondered whether 'there may be such a thing as autobibliotherapy--healing through reading.'