Books

Reading Better | January 2021.

Still playing around with how I’m going to share what I’m reading this year. (and honestly, based on how that photo above came together, I expect it might be a several months-long work in progress.)

I added ten books to my Read shelf last month. That top shelf shows my three (3!!!) 5-star books – and the next two shelves show the remaining seven books, all 4-stars.

In terms of the reading intentions I set for this year, I had slightly more mixed results:

Connection – 7
Growth – 4
Diversity – 4
Delight – 10

Most of the books ticked multiple boxes. On Such a Full Sea, Sula, and Apeirogon ticked all four. A few of the book “only” ticked Delight (Hamnet, Addie LaRue, Cher Ami); I hope every book I finish this year ticks that one!

I didn’t set any goals around format or source, but I’m tracking both just because I’m curious. Half the books were paper and half were ones I already owned. I only borrowed one (Cher Ami).

Based on all this – I’d like to see a few more borrowed books in February (so far that seems likely), and more growth & diversity (ditto).

Since I’m late to the game on all those top-shelf books, I going to highlight one from the bottom row – Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies. J.B. West was Usher, then Head Usher at the White House from 1941 – 1969. The narrative was extremely engaging and informative without being partisan or gossipy – which is probably exactly what the Head Usher should be.

West says that the job of First Lady is “the most demanding volunteer job in America” and based on the five he knew well (Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, Jackie Kennedy, and Lady Bird Johnson – he retired just six weeks after Pat Nixon arrived), I’m sure he’s right! He shared these words near the end of the book:

“All the First Ladies I’ve known have been exceptionally strong in spirit. They came in that way because they’d been able to share their husband’s grueling political road to the White House. They’d all learned to be on display, and at the same time to find some way to guard their private moments. They’d learned organization, discipline, self-control, composure … all their tools before they got to the White House.”

and the stories he shared about those five women most definitely supported that conclusion.

Fun Facts:

  • Eleanor Roosevelt was a knitter!
  • “…but mainly, as a family, they talked to each other” about the Trumans. (emphasis mine. I wish this wasn’t something we had to point out about our First families.)
  • Eisenhower’s second campaign launched on September 12 – less than TWO months before the election. sigh. happy times!
  • Jackie was “an actress constantly playing a role.”
  • The Johnson china (I wasn’t able to find any wonderful google images to share … so I’m imagining it) dessert plates feature the state flowers of all states (one flower per plate).
  • Nixon removed the swimming pool to make room for the Press room. It’s hard to imagine the White House without the Press room. and hard to imagine a nearly-naked President Kennedy heading upstairs after his mid-day swim 🙂

I listened to this … the narration was excellent.

Early days still, but I am really enjoying my paper journal. I love putting pen to paper to document each book. and – so far anyway – even copying/pasting/printing/cutting/glueing the tiny book covers brings me joy!

Did you learn anything about your reading in January that you’d like to share? I’d love to know!

8 Comments

  • Karen

    I was happy to see that you gave Aperigon five stars. I loved it, but most of those I know who’ve started it have abandoned it. It was the best fiction of last year for me. I don’t know your other five start books, but I’m off to check them off. I read half as many books as your did in January, three of them were five star books, one four star, and one only three stars. Often I abandon books that would end up with only three stars, but this was my pick for The Unread Shelf Project, so I soldiered on. My favorite was Obama’s A Promised Land.

  • Carolyn

    Such treasures here! Hamnet and Apeirogon, both 5-stars for me last month—and I’ve finally added Cerulean Sea to my list, b/c the rave reviews just don’t stop! To answer your question, what I’ve learned so far this year: 1) I love tracking on paper vs digital, and 2) I’m in deep need of diversifying my reading more than ever—by which I mean adding titles for purpose of escape! I tend strongly toward growth & learning & literary fiction….which is important. And so is purely pleasurable escape! So I started a thriller last night 🙂

  • Alexa

    Those are wonderful qualities to develop: organization, discipline, self-control, composure – wouldn’t the word be a better place if we all had these (along with a deep respect for each other and the enviroment)! I read a lot of non-fiction, and find it hard to ‘get into’ fiction – I probably need to focus on that this year.

  • Sarah

    What a way to start off another year of reading! I really love your approach to what you’re choosing to read. I can’t say I’ve been that strategic in the past, but this year I’m definitely trying to stretch myself a bit in the books I read — read more books outside my comfort zone and/or written by underrepresented voices and continue to read books that contribute to my anti-racist education.

  • Karen

    so glad you like the paper journal and it is filling your needs. I bet it’s nice to have a visual right there in a notebook~ You don’t need internet for that 🙂

  • Bonny

    I think I learned that my reading ebbs and flows depending upon what else is going on in my life. I read a lot in January, but I had plenty of good digital books queued and ready. I’m not sure what February will bring, but it’s off to a much slower start, in reading anyway. I’ve discovered some books that I’m anxious to read but don’t have any libraries open for real books , long wait lists at the library for digital copies, and I don’t want to buy too many. We’ll see!

  • Carole

    I agree with your 5 star books although I read Sula a long time ago. I learned that reading isn’t always the escape I want it to be. For the first time in my life I couldn’t disappear into a book whenever things felt too stressful.