Friends, I feel like I left you hanging! Though I knew it would take me a bit to get part two ready for you (here’s part one – don’t miss the comments, they’re so wonderful!), I didn’t expect it to take quite this long – but alas, the flu struck our house last week and took me down with it. I tested positive on Monday and was completely down for the count as I haven’t been for YEARS for two days, and have been struggling back since then. Please take it from this gal who gets a flu shot every year but just hadn’t found time to make an appointment yet – get yours this weekend!! It’s nasty out there, friends. (June’s class had ELEVEN kids home sick one day this week! Out of 17!!)
So though I haven’t had the upright hours and presence of mind to finish the next part of our conversation on working part-time, I do have a round-up of the past year of Articles Club to share with you today! If you’re newer here, Articles Club is a great love of my life. A dear friend and I started it seven years ago (think: a book club, but with three themed articles, discussed over a potluck dinner each month) and it has been meeting and snowballing in delight ever since. Here is a bit more about how the group has grown closer over time, and here is a bit more about why it’s so special.
I know you are all kindred spirits who also enjoy reading interesting thoughts and having thoughtful discussions, so each year I post several of our monthly article groupings so you can enjoy them yourselves or take them back to your people! I’ve done that below.
In honor of our anniversary and in lieu of articles, this month we each prepared “pro tips” to share around the table a la this Cup of Jo post with a truly epic comment section. What’s a pro tip, you ask? It’s a fuzzy combination of life hack, life motto, insider knowledge, and received wisdom. The ones shared by our group ranged from the mundane and practical to the emotional and hard-won, and I thought it might be fun to share a few of mine to finish out this post:
— Organize your grocery list by the layout of the store. This might save you years over a lifetime of shopping. — Lower your expectations, all the time, in all things (okay, most things). It leaves more room to be delighted. — Reflect, celebrate, and look ahead at the end of each year with someone you love. — If you’re going to take one sip of water, take five. — Use the Oxford comma. Weirdly controversial, but it shouldn’t be. — Everything seems worse at night. Do not try to solve problems at 11pm, just go to bed. Also, walks solve most problems. — A common trade-off is time for money. If you want to be a parent, as far as possible, save the money and spend the time before you have your children so you have the money to use after they arrive and time is more precious. — Chick-fil-a cookies are always handed over warm and are absolute magic. Chocolatey, oaty, chewy, crispy, soft, how do they do it?! Related: if someone you love is having a bad day and needs a cookie, you can send them money in the app to facilitate a purchase.
Of course I would love to hear: what are a few of your pro tips? Silly, serious, prosaic, or inspired, please share below!
For the last two years, I’ve pre-planned 24 books to read throughout the year – one fiction and one non-fiction each month – for my own personal book club. It’s a plan I’ve held loosely (I read 17 of my 24 picks in both 2020 and 2021), but one that’s been a bright spot. There are just so many incredible books to read (!!), and it’s nice to be thoughtful about how I’ll meander through my TBR list – carving out time for both new authors, subjects, and modes as well as old favorites.
Here’s what I have planned for 2022. I’m excited to read each one of these books, and if you’d like me to join me for any of them, I’d love to have you!
January: The Last Story of Mina Lee | Recommended by my friend Sam, this is the story of a Korean immigrant mother and her daughter, switching between their two perspectives decades apart, and the far-reaching impacts of the secrets they keep. The Power of Fun | This book is brand new – it came out in December 2021! – and I’m reading it along with Janssen’s book club. For a naturally serious person who also places a high value on creating memorable and fun experiences for the people I love, reading a book about having fun sounds just about right :)
February: The Evening and the Morning | This is the prequel to Ken Follett’s epic, beloved Kingsbridge series. The books are fat and engrossing, and I’ve savored them by reading one per year over the last few years. This installment begins in 997 CE, the beginning of the Middle Ages (fascinating!), and is supposed to be just as good as the others. Gentle and Lowly | I’ve never really read a book focusing just on who Jesus is, but The Book of Longings, which imagines his earlier life, made me want to learn even more about him. This one, which promises to “reflect on his words, diving deep into Bible passages that speak of his affections for sinners and encouraging believers as they journey, weary and faltering, toward heaven,” comes highly recommended.
March: Cloud Cuckoo Land | This was my friend Steph’s top pick of 2021, so it was an automatic add to this list! I loved All the Light We Cannot See by the same author and am intrigued by the premise: “Set in Constantinople in the fifteenth century, in a small town in present-day Idaho, and on an interstellar ship decades from now, Anthony Doerr’s gorgeous third novel is a triumph of imagination and compassion.” The Weekday Vegetarians | I snagged this book late last year and though technically a cookbook, it’s packed with anecdotes, advice, and Jenny’s warm, funny writing I love so much. Looking forward to having dedicated time to page through it!
April: Sisters in Arms | Yet another 2021 release! I’ll be reading this untold true story of the only all-black battalion of the Women’s Army Corps in World War II with Janssen. I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet | I’ve never met a Shauna Niequist book I haven’t loved. This one comes out in April and I’ve preordered it.
May: The Great Circle | My literary agent/author brother-in-law and I were chatting about this list I was compiling over the Christmas holiday, and he mentioned The Great Circle as a book he read last year he thought I’d love. Also a 2021 release, this expansive story centers on Marian, whose dream is to circumnavigate the globe by flying over the North and South Poles, and Hadley, the actress cast to play her in a movie a century later. (Looking back at this post, I realized reader Abigail recommended it, too! Yay!) Hunt, Gather, Parent | It’s not a good year of reading if I don’t intake several parenting books (I just can’t quit them!), and this one sounds right up my alley. It’s also the May pick for Janssen’s book club, which moved it to the top of my queue.
June: Between Two Kingdoms | This memoir was the one non-economics book Emily Oster mentioned in her newsletter last year (with effusive praise), and I was intrigued enough to add it to my list. “A searing, deeply moving memoir of illness and recovery that traces one young woman’s journey from diagnosis to remission to re-entry into ‘normal’ life—from the author of the Life, Interrupted column in The New York Times.” The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion | If you’re reading this blog, I assume you’re aware of my love for The Coddling of the American Mind (I push it on anyone I can at every opportunity). This book, by one of the authors, feels ever more relevant.
July: Crossing to Safety | This list skews heavily new (I don’t know if I’ve ever read so many recent releases!), so it’s fun to add one from the archives. This one was recommended by a friend and from the description sounds a bit like The Dearly Beloved, which I loved from last year’s list! Foundations: 12 Biblical Truths to Shape a Family | I’ve enjoyed listening to Ruth and her husband on several podcasts recently and am excited to read their first combined book effort. Reading this one with my bud Nancy.
August: Piranesi | Heather raved about Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel and Piranesi on this post, and Susanna Clarke has popped up several times since then as a rec! Plus, she has a fabulous name :) Take Back Your Family | This book has my name written all over it. I will admit I am a little ambivalent on Jeff Bethke as a podcast host/guest (he talks so fast!!) but I think his ideas are solid and so I’m willing to give him a chance on the page.
September: A Long Petal of the Sea | Another Steph favorite! “One of the most richly imagined portrayals of the Spanish Civil War to date,” says the NY Times Book Review, “and one of the strongest and most affecting works in Isabel Allende’s long career.” The Blessing of a Skinned Knee | Shauna Niequist highly recommended this parenting book on her episode of the Coffee & Crumbs podcast, and I always think it’s interesting to read what’s influenced the people influencing you.
October: The Rose Code | I’m currently number 659 on the holds list for this at my local library, so maybe it will be available by the time October rolls around? A Testament of Hope | At 736 pages, this compendium of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches, writings, interviews, and reflections will be a feat to finish, but I’m up for the challenge. Dr. King seems to be a person that every agenda likes to twist to fit their own narrative, and so I’m looking forward to diving into his actual words!
November: The Snow Child | Based on the description, I’m not really sure what to expect from this Pulitzer Prize finalist, but it sounds appropriate to read as the weather gets colder. The Art of Gathering | A final read with Janssen’s book club!
December: The Four Winds | Though I’ve loved Kristin Hannah’s other books (The Great Alone, The Nightingale), and despite it being the best-selling hardcover novel the year it released, I didn’t rush to read The Four Winds because I’d heard mixed reviews (mainly that it was depressing?). When Nancy put it on her list, though, it seemed like the time to jump in. Four Thousand Weeks | Based on the premise that the average human life span is about four thousand weeks (or 80 years), this book – “time management for mortals” – this book “introduces readers to tools for constructing a meaningful life by embracing finitude, showing how many of the unhelpful ways we’ve come to think about time aren’t inescapable, unchanging truths, but choices we’ve made as individuals and as a society―and that we could do things differently.” I mean, yes. Sounds like the perfect read for the season of reflecting on the passing of another year.
I’d love to hear: Have you read any of these books? Would you like to read any alongside me in 2022? Let’s chat!
Last year, for the first time, I pre-planned 24 books to read throughout the year – one fiction and one non-fiction each month – for my own personal book club. I was very skeptical about the whole idea (would I hate being constrained? would I lose interest a few months in?), but I agreed – with myself – to hold the plan with loose hands.
Turns out, I loved everything about this project – turns out, it was one of my favorite things about 2020! I did, indeed, hold the plan loosely, especially when libraries closed for several months, and ended up reading 17 of my planned 24 books. Because of it, I was much more thoughtful about the mix of books I read – dipping into a wider variety of authors, subjects, depths, and modes than I would have had I just been at the whim of my library requested-books queue.
That’s what most excites me for my 2021 list. I have spent much time (kind of an embarrassing amount of time, actually) finalizing it. In the process, I referenced trusted friends (many of whom you’ll see sprinkled throughout this post), considered the events of my year, and mined my own extensive TBR iPhone note. I’m excited to read each one of these books, and if you’d like me to join me for any of them, I’d love to have you! Like last year, I’m planning to share a few brief thoughts on Instagram along the way, as well as in my monthly goal posts.
Many of these picks line up with my 2021 goals, which I’ve finalized and am planning to share later this week! Without further ado…
January: Such a Fun Age | This is by far the number one recommended book that I have not yet read, so I thought I’d give the people what they want and start the year off with it :) Essentialism | Will be reading with my work gals! I’ve learned that before bed (my usual reading time) is not the best for a work-related book, since it turns my thoughts to work things and makes it hard to fall asleep, so I’m excited to dip into this one while I eat lunch, perhaps? “Essentialism isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done.”
February: Crazy Rich Asians | We watched and loved the movie, and I’ve heard the book that inspired it is even better! A love story seemed appropriate for the month of love :) Upstairs at the White House | Considering it’s both an inauguration year and February is when we celebrate Presidents Day, this book about family life at the White House, told by the chief usher from FDR’s presidency through the first few weeks of Nixon’s, seemed appropriate! I’ll be reading along with Janssen’s book club.
March: Homegoing | This one has been on my radar since Jen wrote about it in 2019, and then of course it exploded in popularity midway through 2020. Excited to experience it for myself! I’ll be reading along with Stephanie Shaul’s book club, for which I faithfully read the email communication each month but have never actually attended, ha! Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds | “How can we, as Christian women, keep our focus and sustain our passion when reading the Bible? This book will equip you to engage God’s word in a way that trains your mind and transforms your heart.” As someone who missed out on learning practical tools to engage in my faith when younger, I read this description and yelped, “sign me up!”
April: Olive Kitteridge | I’m intrigued and a bit nervous about this Pulitzer Prize winner. Jo says it’s her favorite book, but the reviews are decidedly mixed, with some readers saying it’s boring and depressing. We shall see :) Atomic Habits | I mean, can you even work for a company that helps women set goals and NOT have read this book?! Excited to see what all the fuss is about. I’ll be reading with Nancy’s book club!
May: The Vanishing Half| Maybe the most popular book of 2020, according to social media. Tracing the paths of two sisters as it does, I’m intrigued to compare it to Homegoing! Being Mortal | This one has been on my TBR list for years, and when it popped up on Janssen’s plan, I knew it was time to get it on my nightstand. As Christians, we are reminded to number our days, and this sounds like a book that can help me do that.
June: Dear Edward | One 12-year-old survives a plane crash that kills the other 183 passengers – and sets off a “multidimensional portrait of an unforgettable cast of characters.” Self Portrait in Black and White | Fun fact about John: you know how we talked about patrons awhile ago? One way he shows his patronage of voices he appreciates is by buying their books. However, he *very* rarely actually reads them – more often, I pick them up after they’ve gathered dust for a few months on his bedside table, and then read choice passages out loud to him before bed, haha. Such is the story of this month’s pick :)
July: American Royals | A lighthearted romantic comedy that would surely cause the Founding Fathers to roll in their graves. Cheekily reading this in the month of our nation’s birth. The Gospel Comes with a House Key | Reading with Nancy’s book club! Loved this from the jacket: “Such hospitality sees our homes as not our own, but as God’s tools for the furtherance of his kingdom as we welcome those who look, think, believe, and act differently from us into our everyday, sometimes messy lives―helping them see what true Christian faith really looks like.”
August: A Column of Fire | The next book in the Kingsbridge series, which I dearly love! The Self-Driven Child | Just read the description of this book and you’ll immediately see why I am very excited about it. I love the idea of diving into a book about parenting in the month we’ll be sending our oldest to kindergarten!
September: Nobody Will Tell You This But Me | This one’s for my friend Pressley, whose recommendations always perk up my ears. Also, four generations of family stories sound right up my alley. Awaking Wonder | Continuing with the previous month’s theme, this is Sally Clarkson’s take on education in its most holistic form. As I love The Lifegiving Home, I’m excited to learn from her once again.
October: The Dutch House | Even though I already own a copy of this, it’s the only book I’m considering listening to – I’ve heard the Tom Hanks narration is perfection! Beautiful Resistance | Jon Tyson speaks right to my heart, soul, and mind whenever he delivers a message on living within (but not of) today’s culture. This one has been sitting on John’s bedside table, too, ha!
November: The Dearly Beloved | If it’s one of Stephanie’s top 5 books of the year, it’s going on my list! The plot, which weaves together two marriages, across several decades, tied together by the church they steward, promises to be rich and satisfying. Funny in Farsi | This memoir about an Iranian immigrant family sounds delightful and, well, funny. And it has Janssen’s seal of approval!
December: The Book of Longings | I am skeptical about this book, but several friends have raved about it and reading The Invention of Wings last year reminded me how much I love Sue Monk Kidd’s writing – so here we are! Digital Minimalism | The only book I didn’t read from my 2020 list that’s making it onto this year’s list. Helps that I already own it :)
I’d love to hear: have you read any of these books? Would you like to read any alongside me in 2021? Let’s chat!
I’ve never done a yearly books review! But, considering I was more systematic about the books I read this year, it felt appropriate to recap them in a more ordered way, too.
In 2020, I read 32 books, which is significantly more than I read in 2019 (20). This could be due to the pandemic and a slightly-less-busy schedule, it could be due to having slightly older children… but I like to think it’s mostly due to choosing books to read in advance. Having a plan for each month kept me moving in the best way!
Of the 32, 17 were from my personal reading club (marked with an asterisk), most were excellent, a few were duds, and 1 or 2 were life-changing. All were read via physical copies, mostly from the library and mostly before bed. In the order I read them…
1.Long Bright River* | A thriller with heart. The writing was beautiful and it kept me up too late many nights :) It gets bonus points because the author is my literary agent brother-in-law’s client! From the jacket: “In a Philadelphia neighborhood rocked by the opioid crisis, two once-inseparable sisters find themselves at odds. One, Kacey, lives on the streets in the vise of addiction. The other, Mickey, walks those same blocks on her police beat. Alternating its present-day mystery with the story of the sisters’ childhood and adolescence, Long Bright River is at once heart-pounding and heart-wrenching: a gripping suspense novel that is also a moving story of sisters, addiction, and the formidable ties that persist between place, family, and fate.” NYT bestseller, all that good stuff!
2. The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry* | So good I wrote a whole blog post about it! My copy has been underlined, dog-eared, read aloud to John, discussed with friends, applied to my life, and recommended many times over. It’s sub-titled “how to stay emotionally healthy and spiritually alive in the chaos of the modern world” and is divided into three sections — the problem, the solution, and four practices for unhurrying your life (silence and solitude, Sabbath, simplicity, and slowing). The last section was by my favorite – it was practical, challenging, and gave me lots of good ideas to try in my day-to-day.
3. Ashlords | Our good friend’s newest YA fantasy novel! It was surreal to read since I remember him describing the plot the very first evening we met up for a walk in our neighborhood.
4. Late Migrations | This was a gift from my Mom, and an excellent one at that because it sounds exactly like a book I would love. Unfortunately, though some of the writing was really beautiful, it didn’t sing for me (and the through-line of death just felt heavy).
5. The Sound of Gravel*| A fascinating memoir in the vein of Educated (the author grew up the 39th of her father’s 42 children in a polygamist community in Mexico). Raw and heartbreaking and uplifting.
7. How to Raise a Wild Child* | When reading books like this (manifestos on topics I’m already passionate about), I usually consider them fuel in my tank – encouragement to stay the course! This book, though, combined the passion of a manifesto with some really practical ideas for getting my family outside and facilitating my kids’ connection to nature.
8. The Dream Manager* | Centered around the idea that “a company can only become the best version of itself to the extent that its employees are becoming better versions of themselves,” this book “explores the connection between the dreams we are chasing personally and the way we all engage at work.” Worth picking up if you have a hand in the culture of your workplace!
9. The Golden Hour | My Mom left this book at our house after a last visit before quarantine descended, and since pickings were slim with closed libraries, I picked it up. It’s enjoyable and engrossing, switching between a woman in early-1900s Germany and one in mid-1940s Bahamas. A summer beach read feel!
10. The Tattooist of Auschwitz* | Beloved for good reason! This true story was hard to read at times, as any Holocaust story is, but it was a page-turner that ultimately ended with hope (and love!). A really important reminder of some of the worst and best of humanity.
11. The Invention of Wings | WOW this was so good. I hadn’t read anything by Sue Monk Kidd since The Secret Lives of Bees over a decade ago, and I forgot how elegant of a writer she is. This book is set over several decades in the 1800’s and follows two entwined stories loosely based on real figures: a white girl who grows up to be a Quaker Abolitionist, and the black girl she is given ownership of on her 11th birthday. I think fiction is one of the most beautiful and effective ways to grow empathy for people who are different than us, and on that basis alone I would highly recommend this one.
12. Unshakeable | A memoir written by Cultivate’s summer intern (!). Besides the fact that it’s wildly impressive for a college student to have self-published a book, I appreciated how she handled her rough transition to college, given my own. It was also another eyeopening and frightening look at how insidious anxiety can be for so many people today.
13. The Secrets of Happy Families* | I gave this book an enthusiastic thumbs up on Instagram when I was a few chapters in, and though I still very much recommend it, the first section turned out to be my favorite. The later chapters felt a little more surface to me, and not quite as original.
14. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn | I have been talking about this classic with Lisa for years, and I’m so glad to have finally experienced it! As she joked, it’s a book where nothing really happens — and yet, you grow so attached to the characters. A very approachable classic!
15. World Without End* | The massive, sweeping sequel to my favorite fiction read of 2019. It did not disappoint. Though many people who’ve read both told me they prefer this one, I think I enjoyed them equally! The plague is a major plot element, which made for interesting reading in this season. Highly recommended!
16. Just Mercy* | So, so, so good. If, like me, you have grown weary of the hot takes, gleeful shaming, and educational oneupmanship that has accompanied this year’s racial justice movement on social media, you might find it equally refreshing to be educated by such a wise, compassionate expert in long-form. The way Bryan weaves together facts, stories, and his experiences is masterful and incredibly impactful.
17. Eligible | I picked this up while we were in Maine and it was an ideal vacation read! Funny, well-paced, and with very short chapters that made it perfect for picking up and putting back down :) The story is based on Pride & Prejudice, but because it’s been years since I read P&P, it had to stand on its own for me, and it did.
18. Bet on Talent* | This work-related pick was a good read, but nothing Earth-shattering. I’m always willing to learn from the masters at CFA about team culture, though!
19. The Giver of Stars* | Controversial opinion! I thought this universally-beloved book was good, not great. The characters felt a little two-dimensional all the way through, and Alice’s husband and father-in-law were so awful that the first half of the book was kind of hard to read for me.
20. The Paris Wife | This novel was enjoyable, but knowing only a little about Hemingway and his first wife, I felt a general sense of dread hanging over me the whole time I was reading, knowing that I didn’t know what was going to happen but that things wouldn’t end well. If I had known Hadley’s life turns out in the end, I think I would have perked up a little :) Also, I assume the more Hemingway you’ve read, the more interesting you’d find this book! (I’ve read very little.)
21. Adopted for Life* | I enjoyed the Biblical depth he offered for the underpinnings of adoption, but I think I was hoping for something more practical.
23. 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You* | I have read many books on our digital lives at this point, and I think this one is middle of the pack. Similar to Adopted for Life, he’s less focused on the practical and more on the big picture… and I guess I like the nitty gritty :) The “change” that has stuck with me the most, though, has really stuck with me: “we ignore our flesh and blood.” I think about it every time I’m tempted to pick up my phone while driving.
24. Lilac Girls | I don’t believe I’ve ever read fiction told from the perspective of a Nazi, which made this novel set in World War II an interesting addition to the genre. If you enjoy stories from this era (The Nightingale, anyone?) you’ll eat up this weaving together of three distinct, yet entwined, narratives.
25. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry | Highly recommended by a dear friend, this novel felt jangly, chaotic, and a little too self-aware at first, but I ended up loving it (though I did find the idea of classmates writing such horrible notes to a fellow 7-year-old – and no grown-up stepping in – hard to stomach). The way it weaves together and unveils the house residents and Miamas kingdoms is magic!
26. Save Me the Plums* | A delightful read. Ruth’s writing is simple but rich, and as a former magazine editor, it was so fun to get the behind-the-scenes details of her time at Gourmet.
27. God and Money* | This was a thought-provoking read, and has already stimulated conversation between John and me. The authors focus a lot on wealth and consumption “finish lines,” ideas I both chafe against and want to embrace.
28. The Handmaid and the Carpenter | A short little book bringing Mary and Joseph’s story to life. Elizabeth Berg is a favorite author of mine and it’s a treat to hear her take on this famous story!
29. The Great Alone* | One of my favorites from the year! Though there is tragedy and darkness woven throughout, it’s an epic, engrossing tale that ends on a bright note. Love, love, love.
30. Time to Parent* | I’m going to file this one under “good for her, not for me.” I agreed with most of her ideas about organizing our time and actions as parents, and there were some gems tucked in, but I’d say this book was a 101 level, and time organization is probably one of the things I’m better at in life. If you’re struggling to find time for all of your priorities as a parent, I think this would be a great read!
31. HRH: So Many Thoughts About Royal Style | A very sweet gift from my work Secret Santa, this has been the perfect read for lazy post-Christmas days (and has also totally gotten us back into The Crown!). I find her writing a little chatty (Can you imagine? Don’t you think?) but it’s a fun read.
32. Make Something Good Today* | I had the joy of reading Erin’s daily blog that inspired this book long before HGTV found her and Ben. Her writing was something special back then, and it shines here, too. I don’t think you need to care at all about their show to enjoy this book, though, of course, if you do, you’ll probably like it even more!
Whew! I hope you found something here to add to your TBR pile, or just to generally inspire a year of reading ahead! I’d love to hear a favorite book you read this year, if you’d like to share! Back with my 2021 list next week :)