Category Archives: First Monday Book Day

First Monday Book Day – All Unhappy Families

I started reading Anna Karenina.

I wasn't really planning on it, but Becca Rothfeld invited people to tackle a big long book and have a discussion group with her. Well, I find Rothfeld to be interesting and someone that has a different perspective. A big novel? A group of interesting thoughtful readers? Sign me up!

And then they chose Anna Karenina.

I read the first 10 pages in high school and never really had any inclination to go back to it, but I had recently read that George Saunders book about Russian short stories. And I had enjoyed The Master and Margarita and The Idiot in recent years, so maybe Russian literature could be my thing.

I'm not sure it's my thing.  I'm 550 pages in, I've got 250 to go, and it's a little bit of a slog for me.  The reading group is not quite as interesting of a group as I had hoped (there are some true literature snobs in there - George Saunders is not a serious enough writer for some in this group).  So now I will finish the book this month. There are parts of it that are really really good. I liked the observation someone made about how Tolstoy is pre-Freudian so he could not care less about anyone's backstory or childhood. That tickled me a bit.

Alright, what literature classics have you been accidentally roped into agreeing to read this month? Share it all below.

First Monday Book Day: Ghost Story

I actually had a long solo drive this past weekend for the first time in a long time. Took the opportunity to listen to the first 5 hours of the audio book of The Upstairs House by Julia Fine.

The narrator in the book has a new baby and an unfinished dissertation on children's literature. She is very ambivalent about both of those things. The result is that Margaret Wise Brown's ghost (author of Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny) has moved in upstairs.

There's just a touch of horror, and I'm not exactly sure where the story is going in the final third. I'm almost reminded of Victor LaValle's The Changeling, which is maybe my favorite horror fantasy novel, so that's a good sign.

March Books

I read A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders this month.  Saunders is a professor at Syracuse and he reflects on the stories that he enjoys teaching the most and then goes through seven examples by four Russian authors (Chekhov, Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Gogol).  It does read like a class on fiction writing at times, but it was also really fun to watch someone who is undeniably good at something pick apart how other people do that thing.  I also enjoy people writing and discussing teaching, so this was right up my alley. I heard about this book because Saunders appeared on the So Many Damn Books podcast and he sold me on it.

All of that aside, I did get a little bit tired of the perspective of seven stories all told by old Russian dudes. So if you are looking for a read that has diversity of perspective ... this ain't that.


As is required whenever I mention George Saunders, I have linked to my favorite of his performances below.

Book Day: Groundhog’s Eve

Well, the year is off and running. I'm still creating elaborate lists to figure out how to spend my bookstore gift cards that I got at the end of the year, but I did get a couple of books  in the mail this month:

Baseball's Leading Lady: Effa Manley and the Rise and Fall of the Negro Leagues by Andrea Williams

She's the only woman inducted into the baseball HOF, and I hadn't really ever heard of her until I came across this book. The little Ghost is pretty interested in the Negro Leagues, so we might dive into this one together.

Ellis Island by Georges Perec

The latest in the New Directions subscription that I got for Christmas and I'm excited to read another Perec book.  I loved "Life: A User's Manual" and I've committed myself to reading "A Void" at some point this year. Maybe I'll do that this month to pair with my new acquisition.

Some links to interesting things I read in January:

We Didn't Have a Chance to Say Goodbye - Sabrina Orah Mark - She's one of those authors that I read every time I see her name and I'm never disappointed.

My husband and I were on our honeymoon, and I thought I only wanted the plague doctor. I didn’t know I’d eventually need him, too. “You can’t be serious,” says my brother. “Who loses a plague doctor during a plague?” “I guess I do,” I say.

“We’ll find him,” says my husband. But we never do.

Corvid Vision - Barbara Tran - A poem from Conjunctions that I thought had a lot of interesting images in it.

When something is said to come full
circle does this mark completion or make
a new form

an O
through which another
could fly?

Reading with the Little Ghost:

The Girl and the Ghost turned out to be far too dark for our current situation.  Lots of bullying and jealousy and anger and it just wasn't the thing we wanted to read before bed. We switched after about 90 pages after the main character had a nightmare about eating curry with human body parts in it.

So, instead we are reading Pip Bartlett's Guide to Sea Monsters which is a series that G has enjoyed. This is the third book, and it's much more light-hearted entertainment.

He really liked Monstrous: The Lore, Gore and Science Behind Your Favorite Monsters. This was  a book where he would go quiet for a while and I'd go looking for him only to find him nose deep in a chart about how to tell if you are dead or undead.  Thanks, Pepper!

He also just finished The Atlas of Vanishing Places which was full of geography facts and just about perfect for the obsessions of this particular third grader.

Always Look a Gift Book in the Pages?

All right, all right, so I won't win any awards here for best post title. But it's a new year and we're going to have a first book Monday on the first Monday of the first month, gosh darn it!

So did you give books as holiday gifts? Did you get any books?

I got Braiding Sweetgrass, which I read last year and adored. So why get a book I already read? Because it was that good. And because there's a special new hardcover edition with a new introduction and--gasp!--deckled edges. *Swoon*

The other book I received couldn't be more different, though it's still a work of nonfiction: HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style by Elizabeth Holmes. I've followed Ms. Holmes's IG account for a while, and I'm a fan of the way she does close readings of the sartorial choices of the royals. I haven't started this one yet, but I feel like it'll be a nice distraction when I'm ready to dive in.

How bookish were your holidays?

First Monday Book Post On A Tuesday – Minnesota Authors

It just so happens that I am finishing my third consecutive book by a Minnesota author. It wasn't intentional, and one of them doesn't even really count, but it gave me the idea for this topic. Still, discuss whatever you want for books... this is largely just a place holder for the content that comes in the LTEs.

Briefly, my MN Books:

The Girl Who Drank The Moon - Kelly Barnhill - Young Adult fantasy literature. Newberry medal winner. It was good. Very lyrical in its language, which was quite enjoyable. That said, Aquinas read it and put his finger squarely on the problem: there isn't really a climax. The book is all build and rising tension, and then it reaches the climax, and it just sort of happens, without taking any real time or space or challenge. That aside, I highly recommend this one, because the build and rising tension and world building and lyrical writing is all fantastic.

Sharks In The Time Of Saviors - By Kawai Strong Washburn - I found this book because Kawai and I used to be in a writer's group together back in D.C. Apparently he started working on this novel shortly after leaving that group, so I never got to see any of the first work for it, but I read a lot of his other stuff, and it was really good writing. His descriptions are excellent, and really bring a world alive. He moved to MN a few years ago, after having lived in CA, and before that D.C., and Hawaii before that. This book is really a Hawaii book, not a Minnesota book, but I'm calling him a MN author now, because I can. Anyway, check this one out. It's a bit of magical realism, heavy on the realism, and about halfway through the book switches in a way I did not see coming, and that I resented a bit at first, but, ultimately came to peace with. Which, I think, was kind of the point. A very very worthy read.

The Master Butcher's Singing Club - Louis Erdrich - I've read a few Erdrich novels over the years, though I rarely know much about them before I pick them up. The strength of her reputation is enough to convince me to give them a chance. This was one I picked up for 25 cents at a library sale or something like that, and it sat on my nightstand for maybe a year before I decided to give it a go. I'm so glad I did. It's historical fiction (naturally), set in North Dakota post-WWI, and follows the lives of a German immigrant and another woman who was from the town where this is set. What strikes me is how much reading this book has been like getting to know real people. The characters are so fully human, so well-rounded, that as I'm writing this it is just now occurring to me that they are fictitious, because they occupy a space in my brain where they seem so real. I don't know that I've had that experience in reading for a while... too many science fiction/fantasy settings that prevent that, or authors who maybe aren't quite at the level that Erdrich is? Either way... wow.

Alright, other MN authors? What are you reading? What are you looking forward to? So on and so forth. Books, go now:

On Reading (or Not) and Book Awards

Once upon a time, I read books. Mostly, I read books during my bus commute. And when I had to stop commuting, I stopped reading. Sure I read for work and I read for my kids. But I haven't yet managed to find a time in the routine for reading whatever the heck I want.

However, one bit of good news for book lovers is that a pandemic isn't enough to stop book awards from being bestowed. I talked about the Minnesota Book awards here in 2014 and 2017, so now that another three years have passed, the time has come to once again bring up our fabulous literary community. There was, of course, no in-person gathering, but I was watching the livecast as it happened, and thanks to the accompanying chat, the event was surprisingly celebratory and truly did have a feeling of community and mutual support as authors cheered one another on. I even have it on good authority that the brother of a certain WGOM citizen was even in (virtual) attendance. (I kind of loved that cocktail attire was still recommended despite the fact that we were all in our homes.)

You can check out the livecast here if you'd like. And the full list of winners is here.

And, well, there's just one other little thing. I have a rather special connection with one of this year's winning books. And seeing it win may have been a little bit exciting. This particular book meant a lot to all of us involved with it. If you're curious, you can check out the story behind the book.

So what are you reading? Or wishing you had time to read?

Keeping Track

Toward the end of last year, a colleague was asking us to vote on favorite books in different categories--e.g. favorite graphic novel, favorite poetry collection, etc. After trying to recall exactly what I'd read in those categories, I suddenly became very grateful for the partial record of books I'd read within the First Monday Book Day posts.

This year, I'm using a bullet journal for the first time (because an author recommended it!), so I've got a few pages set aside at the back for jotting down book titles (and authors and illustrators). It's no spreadsheet, but at least at the end of 2020, I will have a good accounting of what I've read.

Do you keep track of the books you read? If so, how?

First Monday Book Day: Discoverability

I love a good book review. I read far more reviews of adult books* than I read actual books, though I do occasionally request books from the library based on a particularly intriguing review. Sure, I hear about books in other ways, but I like to browse through review in the New York Times over lunch, and a review is most consistently what gets me interested in a book.

However, my final read of 2019 was a book I came across by accident. I was searching the library website for Japan travel guides, and an intriguing book called The Sakura Obsession by Naoko Abe turned up. I read the description and put it on hold, and it came in just before my end-of-year time off started.

Translated from the Japanese by the author, who is from Japan and now lives in the UK, the book explores the significance of the cherry tree (sakura) in Japan and how an eccentric British guy named Collingwood Ingram came to be a proponent of the cherry tree (and lived to the age of 100). Particularly interesting to me was information about how the cherry tree was used in WWII propaganda within Japan to link the idea of blossoms falling with the idea of dying gloriously for the emperor. For a little more detail about the book, check out a review here.

Throughout the year, I read a lot of books that I feel like I "need" to read for various reasons and that's not to say I don't generally enjoy them, but it was wonderful to read a book just because I'd stumbled across it and became curious.

So how do you find out about books to read? And what have you been reading lately?

*books for grown-ups rather than children, thank you very much

First Monday-ish Book Day – Good Intentions

I didn't feel like hassling our normal stable of Book Day authors, so here's a halfassed post:

I put this book on hold at the library after hearing an interview with the author while in traffic. Sounded interesting to me. My turn came, I picked it up, placed it on the table, racked up about $3 in late fines (and we have low per day rates), and then brought it back unread because that's just kinda what I do.

Anything you managed to crack the cover on?