Monday, September 21, 2020

Project Read the World: August Update

Just like the past couple of months, I read a lot of books in August. However, I'm still reading more books by American authors than by authors from around the world. I thought that I might have 4 books to add to my progress in my project to read a book from each country in the world, but once again, I ended up only finishing 3 books.

August books for Project RW: 3

Total books: 8/195

The Books

Zambia - The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell

I don't remember how I found out about this book, but I seem to keep choosing books that follow several generations of a family living in a particular country. In this case, the book follows three different families whose lives overlap in Zambia. It was sometimes difficult to keep all the characters and family lines clear in my mind, but the stories were entertaining.

Genre-wise, this story seems to be magical-realism (despite majoring in English, I haven't read much magical-realism, but I think that's what The Old Drift would be). The book has elements of historical fiction as well as science fiction. 

Plot-wise, the book has basically everything. There's love, politics, family, technology, and pretty much anything that could happen does happen.

Even at over 600 pages, you don't realize how long the book is because the author keeps the pace of the novel moving quickly. Once you start to see the families becoming connected, you want to read even faster to find out what happens next as their plot-lines began to converge.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. But, I feel like I probably missed out on the significance of some parts of the story. I just don't have any background knowledge about Zambia, so I felt lost at times while reading.

France - Rebel Chef: In Search of What Matters by Dominique Crenn

When I started this project, I said that I rarely read books published in countries where English isn't the official language. However, I have actually read a good amount of French literature (in French) thanks to my degree and my time living there. I considered reading a novel in French for this portion of the challenge, but when I saw that this book was being released over the summer, I had to read it.

One of my favorite things about France is the food. It's a cliche thing to say, but it's also true.

I first found out about Dominique Crenn while watching Chef's Table on Netflix. Crenn is from France but moved to the US in her 20s. She felt that the chef culture in France was too rigid for her to ever hope of becoming the head of a restaurant there. She became working at a restaurant in San Francisco in the 80s. As she made her way to other restaurants, she moved up, becoming head chef and executive chef before opening her own place, Atelier Crenn.

It was fascinating to learn about Crenn's life in France as well as her experiences as a chef. Although I know a little bit about food culture in France, I liked hearing the perspective of someone who is French and who chose to go somewhere else to pursue her culinary aspirations.

It also helps that Crenn is such an impressive person. She has worked to be as conscious of the atmosphere inside the kitchen as she is about the food produced there. She makes a point to treat her staff well. That probably shouldn't be remarkable, but in the restaurant industry, it is.

Even if you aren't trying to read a book from every country, you would probably enjoy reading Rebel Chef. At the very least, everyone should watch her episode on Season 2 of Chef's Table.

Saudi Arabia - Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea

Let me just start off by saying that I accidentally stayed up until 2 am while reading this book. It was unintentional. I was already up a little late because I was having trouble reading. I decided to read before trying to go back to sleep, and I kept needing to read just one more chapter over and over before I stopped.

The book is narrated by an anonymous woman who sends out an email each week to a list of Saudi readers. Each chapter is one email that tells part of the story of four upper-class girls from Saudi Arabia. All of the girls are old enough to begin getting married and are attempting to navigate love in a culture that is strict about the ways that men and women interact.

Relationships are difficult enough as is, but the added constraints that these girls face makes their search for love even more difficult. Marriages are arranged, engagements are announced and canceled, and lovers both find and desert each other as the girls try to figure out their roles in society.

Even though the lives of the girls in the novel differ so much from the lives of girls in the US, there were still familiar themes of heartbreak and love. The book was an emotional journey, and as I mentioned earlier, I couldn't stop reading.

Highly recommended!

What's Next

Umm, since it's somehow 2/3rds of the way through September, and I'm just now posting my August update, I've already started reading more books for the project. Instead of sharing the books now, I'm just going to wait 10 days and plan to get the September update completed in a timely manner. Maybe.

I am planning to try to finish reading all of the books that I currently have checked out of the library plus three books that I already own before putting any more books on hold from the library. I don't know how much that's going to affect this project. I have three books checked out to read for Project Read the World, but if I don't put more books on hold for it, that could potentially slow down my progress because I'd have to wait longer to get more. I absolutely have to make a dent in reading the books I already have though.

We'll see what happens.

Feel free to follow along on Instagram or on Goodreads for more frequent updates. If I start to get overwhelmed with updating here, I'm more likely to still keep updating on those two sites.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Project Read the World: July Update

In July, I borrowed a ton of books from the library. Although I read most of them, the majority of those books were written by American authors. I enjoyed all of the books. Now that I'm updating my progress on my project to read a book from each country in the world, I'm kind of wishing that I had been more focused on reading international books.

July books for Project RW: 3

Total books: 5/195

The pie chart is not looking much more impressive than it did last month.

The Books

Egypt - Palace Walk by Naguib Mafhouz

I chose this book because the author won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988. As I mentioned in my last update, this book is very much out of my comfort zone. Palace Walk is the first book in a trilogy that follows a Muslim Arab family in Cairo. 

I liked that each chapter follows a different member of the family so that the reader is able to get an idea of what life is like for different people in society. I also appreciated that the book moved quickly. The book has about 500 pages, but since each chapter is short, it's easy to read a chapter or two and then come back to the story later.

Palace Walk's rating on Goodreads is quite high, so most people who have read the book seemed to have liked it. This is definitely not a book that I would have picked up on my own, but I am glad that I've read it. Even though the book only tells the story of a single family's life in Egypt in the 1900s, the book has made Egypt feel more real to me. The only association that I had about Egypt before is the history of ancient Egypt. While pharaohs and pyramids are cool, I have very little knowledge of anything more recent in Egyptian history, as in within the last 2000 years. Even though Palace Walk was written during the 1950s, that's still much more recent.

Looking back at how quickly I expected to fly through books for this project, I didn't take into account the kinds of books that I would be reading. It's easy to finish a YA novel or a fantasy story in a day or two, but books like Palace Walk take more time. I have no intention of reading the rest of the trilogy, but I'm glad that I read this book.

Turkey - Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak

I debated between reading Three Daughters of Eve and The Forty Rules of Love, but finally settled on the former. The book tells the story of a wealthy Turkish woman whose purse is stolen on her way to a dinner party. As the woman gets her things back, an old photograph falls out. The photograph is one of herself, two other women, and a university professor from the woman's time at Oxford University.

Throughout the dinner party, the readers get flashbacks of exactly what happened during her time at university. As the dinner party progresses, terrorist attacks begin occurring throughout the city as well. 

I found this particular book much easier to stay interested in than Palace Walk. Given that this book came out in 2017 and features a female protagonist, it makes sense that it would be easier for me to read. 

However, the themes in this book were still very heavy. Even though I was able to read the book over just a few days, there was still a lot to process mentally and emotionally.

I know that Elif Shafak has several other books. I have a feeling that now that I know who the author is that I'll begin seeing more mentions of her. I will probably consider reading one of her other novels in the future.

Dominica - Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

After two heavy novels, I decided to wade right into this one. I'm going to be honest, Jane Eyre is not my favorite classic novel. I have lots of issues with Mr. Rochester, the main one being that he is married, but doesn't feel that it is important than Jane know this. That's definitely a red flag.

However, I thought that it would be interesting to read Rhys take on this "madwoman in the attic." Rhys gives the backstory of Antoinette, who Rochester marries first, as she grows up in Jamaica. We find out more about what goes on from the point of view of Antoinette, Rochester, and Grace Poole before Jane Eyre begins.

For some reason, I did not expect for this book to make me so sad. Which makes no sense. I clearly know what state Rochester's first wife is in during Charlotte Bronte's novel, so what exactly did I think was going to happen? Obviously, there was not going to be a happy ending for Antoinette.

I appreciate that Rhys shows that Antoinette's "madness" is forced on her by society, but it was difficult to watch that happen. 

This book reminded me somewhat of Kate Chopin's The Awakening. I can understand the point that the author is trying to convey, but I would prefer for there to be a happier ending.

Basically, what I am saying is that I would like all books to have a happy ending, and so far this whole reading books from around the world is not delivering in that department.

What's Next

There are still 190 books left to read. Even though I set my goal as 2 books for this project per month. I really thought that I would be reading at least 4 each month, especially right now while we are still staying home so much. 

One of my initial fears for trying this project was that I wouldn't enjoy the books that I was reading. While I wouldn't necessarily say that I didn't enjoy the books that I read this month, I will say that I found it difficult to keep returning to books that ranged from slightly to mostly depressing.

My next two reads aren't any lighter. I've started reading The Old Drift by Nanwali Serpell for Zambia. I am happy to say that the stories and characters are extremely interesting. However, so far, none of the characters seem likely to get the happy endings that I want for them.

If you follow my Instagram, you might already know that I had planned to start Yeonmi Park's In Order to Live after finishing Wide Sargasso Sea. I'm still trying to convince myself to read it. I just don't know whether I'm up for reading the story of a girl escaping from North Korea, but I also don't think that I'll find that many other books written by someone from North Korea.

There is a children's book from Finland that I'd like to read, so I'll definitely be reading it this month because I need something to keep me from getting too bogged down in this project.

If you know of any happy books written by authors from countries that I haven't read yet, please let me know!

Feel free to follow along on Instagram or on Goodreads for more frequent updates. If I start to get overwhelmed with updating here, I'm more likely to still keep updating on those two sites.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Project Read the World: June Update

Several weeks ago, I decided that I wanted to read a book from each country in the world. I laid out all of the vague details for my plan and got started reading. I said that I would do a monthly update on the books I've read for Project Read the World.

This is that update.

June Books: 2
Total Books: 2/195

I made a pie chart. I regret that decision at the moment.

The Books

Australia - Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

I chose this book to begin my project for a few reasons.

  1. I thought that it would be easier to start off with a book already written in English so that I wouldn't have to worry about whether or not I could find a translation. Only about 3% of books published in the U.S. each year are translations. I didn't want my project to begin with a struggle to find a book.
  2. I have read surprisingly few books written by Australian authors. Even though those books are published in English, I have read significantly fewer works by Australian authors than by American, Canadian, or British authors. In fact, the only book that I remember reading by an Australian author in the past 5 years is Cocaine Blues which I only read because I enjoyed watching Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries.
  3. This book is a YA dystopia. I generally tend to enjoy YA, so I thought it would make sense to start with a genre I would like. I found out after reading that Tomorrow When the War Began is one of the most popular series for teens in Austalia, so clearly I made a good choice.
  4. My library had a copy of this book. Just being real. Luckily, I have access to a large library system so this project will be easier than it would have been before I moved to Nashville.
I am so glad that I started off my project with this book. One stumbling block that has kept me from beginning this project in the past is that I am afraid that I won't be able to understand or enjoy the books that I read. I realize that's a weird fear to have for someone who was both an English major and an international studies major, but it is something that has worried me.

Those fears did not come true while reading Tomorrow, When the War Began. In the book, a group of teenagers goes on a camping trip in the Australian bush. When they return home, all of their families are gone. The teens slowly begin to realize that their country has been invaded. the group has to decide what to do next without guidance from anyone else.

For a YA dystopian novel, this story felt much more realistic than others I had read. I love the Hunger Games and The Selection, but both of those take place at some unspecified point in the future. In Tomorrow, When the War Began, the story takes place in the present day. The conflict is an event that could conceivably happen.

I loved the way the author portrayed the characters' reactions to their circumstances. The characters are so introspective about the actions that they decide to take. Without giving too much detail, the teenagers feel grief over the loss of life that occurs when they try to save themselves from the invaders. The protagonists question what steps are justifiable to take in order to defend themselves and their families. They even tried to understand the conflict through the invaders' perspective.

The author managed to touch on all of these topics while still keeping the scenes full of action. At the end of every chapter, I was ready to find out what was going to happen next.

The ending of the book was satisfying. After finishing, I did find out that Tomorrow, When the War Began is the first book in a series. I've added the next book to my list to potentially read. I am trying to be careful about filling up my TBR list because I have a ton of books to read to finish their project. The end is so far away that I don't want to overwhelm myself by adding six more books to my must-read pile.

Even though I thought that reading a book from Australia would have a "familiar" feeling to what I normally read, I could still tell differences. I thought that I knew a good amount about the world, but apparently, I don't know that much about Australia. I had no references for several things that the characters mentioned.

I was also very thrown when reading the word "chook" and realizing that was a chicken. I guess I've never talked to anyone from Australia about chickens. Possibly because I don't know anyone from Australia. Or maybe because I don't talk about chickens often enough.

Mexico - Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

This was book #2 for my project. I'm going to continue explaining why I chose this book. This is the first update, so I'm still figuring out the format that I want to use.

  1. Like Water for Chocolate was basically on every single list that I read about reading international authors. It also happens to be a title that I've heard about for years. Possibly because the movie version was the highest-grossing foreign film released in the U.S. in the early 90s.
  2. I recently finished reading another magical realism novel. The other book was not enjoyable for me, but I've heard so much about this genre in Latin American literature that I wanted to give the genre another try.
  3. The entire title is Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies. That subtitle is too intriguing to pass up.

Like Water for Chocolate turned out to be another good read for June. As you might imagine from the title, there is no shortage of romance involved in the story. Tita falls in love with Pedro, but she cannot marry because she is the youngest daughter and must remain single to be her mother's caretaker according to family tradition. Whenever Tita cooks her emotions transfer into the food which then has magical effects on those who eat the food. Because Pedro cannot marry Tita, he marries her older sister in order to remain near Tita. Naturally, drama ensues.

Story-wise, the plot and characters were all interesting. I felt all of the anger that Tita felt at the injustice of her situation. The descriptions of food made the story even better. There's just something about reading about food in books that is nice.

However, I was not a fan of Pedro, Tita's love interest. I know why he married Tita's sister, but that was just not a good decision on his part. I felt like there could have been enough drama from the lovers being separated without this happening.

I was nervous about reading more magical realism, but it made more sense in this book. I might consider reading more of the genre as I continue reading works by other authors.

The most eye-opening part for me was realizing how little I know about Mexico. The story is set during the early 20th century so the period is only about 100 years ago. I could tell you about the 1910s and 1920s in a few places around the world thanks to shows on PBS, but I really don't know that much about the period in Mexico. In fact, I don't know much about any period in Mexico. Even broad areas like celebrations and traditions were new to me.

I don't expect the books that I pick to give me an all-encompassing understanding of another country. That's asking too much from one book. However, Like Water for Chocolate gave me a small glimpse into family life, the Revolution, and race in Mexico.

I expected to see family life in the story based on the subject of the book. I'm embarrassed to share that I know almost knowing about the Mexican Revolution. A few of the names involved sounded familiar after I looked it up, but that's it. You'd think I would know more about that given that Mexico is right next to the U.S. I did take French rather than Spanish, so maybe that's why I didn't have classes that focused on Mexico. I didn't expect to run into gaps in my knowledge so soon into Project Read the World.

Unlike Australia, I actually do know people from Mexico, so I really should know more about the country. I am going to continue moving on to the next books that I have, but I will be on the lookout for more books either by Mexican authors or about Mexico.

I feel like an alternate title for this post could be "The One Where Elizabeth Realizes that She Doesn't Know All that Much about the World." Maybe that is the point of this project. Even when I finally finish all 195 books, I'll only have learned enough to understand just how much I don't know. I think I'll like that outcome better than never trying in the first place.

What's Next

I've completed 2 of 195 books. That number does not exactly inspire confidence yet. Some things that are worth doing take time.

I currently have 3 books checked out from the library to read next. I've just started reading Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz. This is the first book that has been out of my comfort zone so far. Reading about a Muslim family living in Egypt makes it hard to stay focused on the plot when I don't relate to any of the characters. Also, I'm not far enough in to understand what the plot is yet.

But, this is part of the project. Naguib Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize for Literature. It's important to me to at least give his writing a chance. Some of the books I read need to be out of my comfort zone.

After this, I'm planning to read either The Forty Rules of Love or Three Daughters of Eve as my book for Turkey. Both books are by Elif Shafak. I haven't decided which one seems more interesting to me.

This post has become longer than I expected especially since I only read two books. I love watching super chatty book reviews on youtube though, so I'll consider this the written equivalent.

If you have recommendations for future books I should read for this project, please comment. I currently have a few ideas for my next reads, but I am constantly updating my list.

Feel free to follow along on Instagram or on Goodreads for more frequent updates. If I start to get overwhelmed with updating here, I'm more likely to still keep updating on those two sites.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Project Read the World

For the past few years, I've been thinking about the idea of trying to read a book from every country. This idea isn't original at all. I stumbled across Ann Morgan's blog, A Year of Reading the World, which is what brought up the idea for me. In 2012, Ann Morgan set out to read a book from 196 countries. With a lot of time, effort, and help from others, she was successful in reading a book from every country in the world within one year's time.

I thought about trying to do something similar several years ago after watching Morgan's TED talk. I got a few e-books to read, and then proceeded to stop shortly after I started because I got busy with other things.

Now, however, feels like a good time to try again.

1. There's more unstructured time in life than normal, and I anticipate that this will be the case for a while.

2. According to Goodreads, I'm already 6 books ahead in my 100 books challenge. Since I feel fairly confident that I'm going to reach that goal for the first time ever this year, why not add something else?

3. Traveling to other countries is probably going to be on hold for a while. Reading books from different countries is going to be the closest that I can get to international travel at the moment.

Here's the plan.

In what I'm calling Project Read the World (Project RW), I'm going to attempt to read one book by an author from each country in the world. Ann Morgan chose to read a book from all 193 countries recognized by the United Nations plus Palestine and Taiwan. She also chose to read one book from an extra territory that her blog readers voted on which gave her a total of 196 countries. I'm going to stick to 195 countries (UN-recognized plus Palestine and Taiwan.)

As I was typing up the list, I realized that there are a lot of countries that I have zero knowledge about. I feel embarrassed that there are some names that I didn't even recognize. For a moment, I considered also trying to read a book about each country in addition to a book from each country just so I'd have some background knowledge, but I feel like that is too much to take on. I am all for ambitious goals, but planning to read nearly 400 books would make this less fun for me.

This might take a while.

The original project took one year to complete. I could potentially read 195 books in a year, but for me, that doesn't fit in with the way that I read. I want to enjoy the project, not feel pressured to rush through books.

Plus, I don't plan on just reading for Project RW the entire time. There are entirely too many other books that I am interested in reading right now. I've just started a new fantasy series that has 14 books, and I do not plan on reading 195 other books before I get to read the next book in the series. I cannot wait that long.

And, I have other books on my list that I need to read. I made the mistake of skimming through Nashville Public Library's Blog one day when I was bored, and my reading list is now longer than ever. I need to read books like The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: the Amazing Story of How America Lost Its Mind Over a Plush Toy--and the Eccentric Genius Behind It. I feel like that subtitle explains why this kind of reading is clearly a priority.

My minimum goal is going to be to read at least 2 books a month for Project RW. If that's all I read, it will take me a little over 8 years to read one book from each country. However, I anticipate that I will be reading more for the project each month. I'll still be reading other books in between, but I have a feeling that I'll get excited and read significantly more. There may be some months when things get busy and I'm only able to manage 2 books, but I hope that doesn't happen too often.

I'm not going to set a deadline for finishing this project. It will happen when it happens.

Buying all the books.

Actually, I plan on using the library as much as possible. Budget-wise and space-wise, I do not need to be buying quite that many books. I'm going to begin with books that I can get from the library first. I've looked and several that I'm interested in seem to be available. When I run into countries that are harder to find books for. I'll try my local bookstores, Thriftbooks, or Amazon depending on availability and my budget that month. I'm also not opposed to borrowing books from friends if that becomes a possibility.

Deciding what to read.

I don't have a well-developed plan for what I'm going to read for each country. I am going to look at the list from A Year of Reading the World for suggestions to get started. Besides this list, I bookmarked this one, this one, this one, and this one. I have a small list of books that I think I might like to try as my first few reads. I'd love to have every single book planned out ahead of time because I like to plan things. But, if I waited until I found all 195 books, then I'd keep putting off reading and give up before even getting started.

I'm creating a basic spreadsheet where I can keep track of books that sound interesting so that I'll be able to keep track of the options that I find. I started with index cards, but I managed to misplace those already. So, I'm going digital.

As far as the type of book, I'm going to try to read books that appeal to me whenever possible. This sounds like a weird requirement, but I'll explain. First of all, I know that there are certain genres that I absolutely am not going to read. For example, I never read horror, so I'm not going to try reading horror for this project.

Second, I do realize that there are many different literary styles that are popular around the world. I'm used to books that are paced for an American audience, and while there is some variation in that style and pacing, it's fairly consistent among booked that get published.

I do want to try books that aren't written to appeal just to that audience. This means that I will be out of my reading comfort zone sometimes. I'm excited to get to learn about literature and literary traditions from other places. I don't want all of the books that I read to be just like the books that I'm already reading. That would completely defeat the purpose of this project. Hopefully, that makes sense.

That being said, if I see something I'm interested in, I'm not going to skip reading it just because it isn't "literary" enough. I don't expect the books that I read to completely reveal all the aspects of culture in that country. That's asking too much of a book. I'm totally up for reading random fantasy novels from some countries if I see some that look good to me.

Sometimes, I may not have too much choice on what to read. If I'm on a country that doesn't have many works translated into English, I may just have to read whatever I can get. I am aware that will happen.

Getting Started.

I kind of already started Project RW. Before diving in, I decided to dip a toe into the water. I started with looking at this list of classic books read by students in different countries around the world. One of my favorite things as a teacher is reading books in the classroom, so I felt like this was a good way for me to start.

I picked the book Tomorrow, When the War Began to read for Australia. I thought that picking a book that didn't have to be translated was probably a good way to ease myself into this project. I also thought that picking a dystopia for teens would feel familiar. I know that the Hunger Games came out a long time ago, but I'm still into YA dystopia over here.

What I didn't realize is that, according to Goodreads, the book that I picked is "the most popular book series for young adults ever written in Australia." I cannot believe that I have never heard of this book before. Because it was amazing. It was such a good beginning to this project.

I'll go more in-depth with my thoughts about this book in my monthly wrap-up (in which, I'll obviously wrap-up my reading for the project each month). I will just say that I'm so glad that I started out with this particular book.

I've gone ahead and checked out four more books from the library to read next.

Mexico - Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Egypt - Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz
Turkey - The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak (and Three Daughters of Eve by the same author because I was indecisive and both were available)

After checking my library what my library has available, I do have several more books that I might check out next.

What could go wrong?

My biggest fear is that I'm going to end up reading a lot of books that I don't enjoy. I know that sounds silly, but I'm nervous that despite my best intentions, I just won't like the books that I pick.

First, I'm afraid that I won't understand them. A few weeks ago before I had decided that I wanted to try this project, I read One Hundred Years of Solitude. It is a classic. People love it. And, I am not one of those people. It was not for me at all, and I am still highly confused as to what I read.

Or I'm afraid that I'll end up reading books that are depressing. Like when we read Of Mice and Men in high school (actually like quite a lot of the books we read in high school). I realize that those stories reveal truths about humanity, but I don't necessarily want to repeatedly be reminded of depressing truths about humanity.

Another concern is that I might not be able to get a book from every country. I'm trying not to let that worry me too much and just take it book by book.

The last worry is that I will just lose motivation and stop before I've made my way through the entire list of countries. I've decided that I'm not going to let that bother me. Even if I only manage to read a few books, that's still better than not trying this at all. If nothing else, I'm already glad that I read Tomorrow, When the World Began. Right now seems like a good time to focus on positives. Here's to trying something new and seeing what happens next.

If you have any suggestions for what I should read, please let me know! I'm both excited and nervous!

Feel free to follow along on Instagram or on Goodreads for more frequent updates. If I start to get overwhelmed with updating here, I'm more likely to still keep updating on those two sites.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Book Review: Leave Only Footprints by Conor Knighton

There's a kind of magic to America's National Parks. These areas are set aside for the good of everyone--humans, animals, and plants. And, unlike most of the U.S., these areas are shared for all people.

Even though I've only been to two National Parks, the idea of visiting more has always been in the back of my mind. Naturally, when I found out that Leave Only Footprints was about a man's journey to visit all of the National Parks in a year, I pushed aside other books in my TBR to read it.

The author concocts the idea for his journey after a breakup. The narrative ends up being a perfect mix of personal growth, informational guide, and social commentary. Knighton hooks you at the beginning by making you wonder how he's going to recover from his romantic heartbreak and whether he's going to be able to convince the CBS Morning Show to run with the idea of showcasing the National Parks for the 100th anniversary of the parks system. (I feel a little bit like Leslie Knope whenever I type "parks system.")

Along the way, Knighton provides facts about each of the 56 parks that he visits. Unlike an actual guidebook, the facts he shares come to life. It's more fun to meet Cupcake, Party, Pinata, Happy, and Hundo, the puppies that will later become sled dogs at Denali than to simply learn that Denali is the only National Park to use sled dogs.

The social commentary ranges more than just focusing on the ecological effects of the National Parks. Knighton explores what the parks mean to the U.S. population and how the parks may adapt to meet the needs of citizens in the future.

After reading this book, I've already added additional parks to my future travel list. I will probably never visit all of the parks. I don't think I'd enjoy having to be flown to a remote area or having to learn to scuba dive in order to visit one, but I will be doing more research about the parks that are close and accessible to me.

If any part of this book sounds intriguing to you, I'd encourage you to pick it up. The only complaint that I had about the book is that I wish it were longer. I could have happily read for another 300 pages.

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Days for Books and Baking

Just like for everyone else, life has changed dramatically here too. There are days when I feel like I do a good job of keeping a schedule and being productive, and there are other days when I don't seem to do much at all despite my best intentions.

I thought that I would feel motivated to learn new things, but instead, I've found myself drawn to activities that I've always loved.


Let me start off by saying that for the first few days that we were home I did not read anything. After grabbing a stack of books that I'd been meaning to read forever, I couldn't manage to find any books that held my interest. It took finding a sequel of a book that I had read and loved earlier in the year to get me back to reading.

Right now, books are what is helping me to handle being at home. I've been avoiding heavy books and gravitating towards stories that wrap me up in another time or place.

Here are a few of my favorites in the past few weeks.

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh - The main character is on her way to the imperial palace to marry the emperor's son. Her convoy is attacked by bandits, but she manages to escape. She disguises herself as a boy and attempts to join in bandits in order to learn who wants her dead. The plot moves quickly, and the characters are fascinating. There are only two books in this series, but I wish there were more.

My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton - This is the book that got me back into reading. While it is technically a sequel, the two books don't have any of the same characters. This book is what you'd get if you mixed Jane Eyre, The Princess Bride, and Ghostbusters. It is absolutely ridiculous and wonderful.

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie - I've read a couple of Agatha Christie books in the past and loved them. Seeing that a friend had read a couple recently inspired me to pick them up again. I have yet to be disappointed by any of Agatha Christie's mystery novels. At this point, I'm just reading whichever ones are available as ebooks through my library because a lot of her work has a long wait-list to read online. I will be so glad when I can physically go to the library again!


Besides reading, I've been doing more baking than I usually get to. This has probably been the best part of the past few weeks. I love baking, but I haven't spent much time on it in years unless you count watching The Great British Bake-Off.

My husband gave me a KitchenAid mixer for Christmas, so it's been getting the use that it deserves lately. I've been baking both old and new recipes. While it's fun to try new things, I appreciate being able to make things that I've made before. When I'm making something that I feel comfortable with, I'm able to get into a flow. When I'm done, I feel relaxed and I've got something sweet to eat. So, it's a win all around.

Naturally, most of my recipes come from Pinterest. Here are the ones that I've made and recommend trying.

White Cake - This one was super easy to make. It's the first one that I tried to get me back into baking, and I had no issues.

Funfetti cake - I used the same cake recipe from above except I threw in a tone of sprinkles to make it a funfetti cake. I also used a different buttercream icing and put sprinkles all over the top. It wasn't as pretty as I had hoped, but it tasted fine.

Peanut butter chocolate banana bread - A few years ago, I went through a phase where I made this every other week. I have no idea why I stopped. It's so easy and it tastes so good.

Caramel and chocolate bark candy - This recipe is so easy it's almost like cheating. All you do is make caramel and stick everything in the oven for about 5 minutes. Except for the crackers on the bottom, it's all sugar, so it's probably best not to make it too often, but I love it.

We're currently in the process of moving to a house (that we bought!). We've basically had to completely take the kitchen apart, so I won't be able to bake for a few weeks after this Friday. I already have recipes lined up for when I can get back in the kitchen though.

I'd love to know what you've been reading or what you've been baking lately. Are there any hobbies that you've had more time for recently?

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Encouraging Children to Enjoy Reading a Home (A Reading Bingo Printable)

Normally, at this time in the year I would send home a reading bingo challenge for students to try over spring break. To me, it is a way to encourage kids to read a little during the week. I want kids to think of reading as something fun that they get to do rather than just something that they are made to do while at school.

I wanted to share the resource that I created with other teachers and with parents who are currently doing their best at homeschooling right now.

Things are more than a little crazy right now, but encouraging a love of reading is just as important now as it is the rest of the time.

Click here for a link to the google doc that you can download and print.

If you are looking for more printables, visit my Etsy shop to see the ones that I have available there.