Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Books Read in 2020 #MyYearInBooks

Perhaps you'll recall that last year, I had a challenge from a young friend.  To be honest, I thought we weren't competing this year! And then some time this fall, her mom texted me: "O wants to know how many books you've read." Game on! In these past few weeks, though, we both set our cap on 125, and I believe that she will hit her goal tomorrow! Hooray! 

Some people had a hard time reading during the whole quarantine thing. I had the opposite problem - I couldn't stop reading! To be honest, the year started out a little meh with my first choice, but luckily things picked right up and there were a lot of really good choices this year. Although I chose some favorites, I really liked a lot of these books. 

This year I also took on the project of writing monthly short reviews of what I'd read. Links to each month's post are at the bottom - if you want to hear more about any of these, click over and read what I said right after I finished reading!

As usual, a lot of mishmash amongst my choices. I really do like middle grade and YA fiction, and of course, I read a lot of Jewish-themed books. You'll see almost all of the Am Shalom 5781 book discussion books in this list as well. (And some that were in consideration but didn't make the cut!) I read way more romance novels than ever before, and I came to appreciate their familiar rhythms. I think I'm over the fauxmance storyline, though. 

Anyway, here's the list....

    1. The First Mrs. Rothschild by Sara Aharoni
    2. Shouting at the Rain by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
    3. Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
    4. One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus
    5. Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
    6. Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner
    7. Talking to Strangers by Malcom Gladwell
    8. American Royals by Katharine McGee
    9. The Forgotten Room by Karen White
    10. Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
    11. Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
    12. Here All Along by Sarah Hurwitz
    13. by Nathan Englander
    14. Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly
    15. The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali
    16. Ban This Book by Alan Gratz
    17. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
    18. The Unbreakables by Lisa Barr
    19. What To Say Next by Julie Buxbaum
    20. The Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen
    21. I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day
    22. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
    23. The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater
    24. The Cactus by Sarah Haywood
    25. Wunderald by Jennifer Cody Epstein
    26. The House of the Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea
    27. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
    28. Switch by Chip Heath
    29. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
    30. Once We Were Brothers by Ron Balson
    31. The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum
    32. On Division by Goldie Goldbloom
    33. Untamed by Glennon Doyle
    34. An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler
    35. 4321 by Paul Auster
    36. Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth
    37. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
    38. A Bend in the Stars by Rachel Barenbaum
    39. Saving Sophie by Ron Balson
    40. The Imperfects by Amy Meyerson
    41. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
    42. Karolina's Twins by Ron Balson
    43. How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones
    44. Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner
    45. Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Jennifer Weiner
    46. Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein
    47. All Adults Here by Emma Straub
    48. An Unorthodox Match by Naomi Ragen
    49. Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
    50. The Trust by Ron Balson
    51. Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
    52. Stamped by Jason Reynolds
    53. I'm Still Here by Austin Channing Brown
    54. The Book of V by Anna Solomon
    55. In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
    56. Invisible as Air by Zoe Fishman
    57. Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah
    58. Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
    59. The Betrothed by Kiera Cass
    60. A Room Away from the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma
    61. Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg
    62. The Girl from Berlin by Ron Balson
    63. The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Dare
    64. Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing by Allison Winn Scotch
    65. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
    66. The Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner
    67. The Order by Daniel Silva
    68. The Royal We by Heather Cocks
    69. Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid
    70. Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland
    71. Boyfriend Materials by Alexis Hall
    72. House on Endless Waters by Emuna Elon
    73. Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan
    74. The Braid by Laetittia Colombani
    75. The Nesting Dolls by Alina Adams
    76. The Darwin Affair by Tim Mason
    77. Good Talk by Mira Jacob
    78. 36 Righteous Men by Steven Pressfield
    79. The Grace Year by Kim Liggett
    80. The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel
    81. The Life and Opinions of Amy Finawitz by Laura Toffler-Corrie
    82. This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
    83. Gone by Michael Grant
    84. The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward
    85. The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
    86. Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi
    87. Need to Know by Karen Cleveland
    88. The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline
    89. Heating Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly
    90. The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
    91. American War by Omar El Akkad
    92. Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn
    93. The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
    94. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
    95. Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory
    96. Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory
    97. Followers by Megan Angelo
    98. Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
    99. Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey by Kathleen Rooney
    100. The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory
    101. Reverie by Ryan LaSala
    102. Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
    103. Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Baryon
    104. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
    105. The Duke and I by Julia Quinn
    106. The New Queer Conscience by Adam Eli
    107. Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline
    108. Fish Out of Water by Joanne Levy
    109. The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
    110. Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder
    111. Becoming Brianna by Terri Libenson
    112. Color Me In by Natasha Diaz
    113. Sidetracked by Diana Harmon Asher
    114. Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynne Solomon
    115. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    116. If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane
    117. A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan
    118. Not Your All American Girl by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg
    119. Girl Serpent Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
    120. The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn
    121. Offer from a Gentleman by Julia Quinn
    122. The Midnight Library by Matthew Haig
    123. King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callendar
    124. Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
    125. Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb

    It's always really hard to choose favorites, but here are some of mine from the list above:

    • This Tender Land
    • American Royals
    • Invisible as Air
    • Such A Fun Age
    • Florence Adler Swims Forever
    • Dear Edward
    • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

    Here are the monthly review posts:

    I'm looking forward to starting new lists for 2021...I keep track of my books on Goodreads - follow me there. What do you think I should read in 2021? What are you going to read? What was the best book you read in 2020?

    Previous years' book lists are here:

    December 2020 Books #MyLifeInBooks

    The Duke and I by Julia Quinn - I've never been a huge romance reader, but these books have come up several times and now there's a new Netflix series coming out...I only planned to read the first one but now I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of the series. Fun and silly and delightful.

    And then....The Viscount Who Loved MeOffer from a GentlemanRomancing Mr Bridgerton all by Julia Quinn - not much to say except that these are just as much fun as the new Netflix adaptation. I had planned only to read the first one (see above) in preparation for the series, but now I'm hooked. 

    Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline - I really loved the first book - I thought it was mind-bendy and cool, with some great pop culture references. We've been recommending this one to nerds for years. The second book was...fine. It felt mostly unnecessary and a little bit pale in comparison to the first. I'm pretty sure we don't need a Ready Player Three.

    The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates - this was so hard to read because of the painful story; beautifully written, a little odd on the storyline, and overall a worthy read. The magical elements didn't really work for me, and I think that the story could have almost worked without them...

    If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane - I definitely saw this one coming but that didn't stop me from enjoying it. A little showmance followed by falling in love...what could be bad?

    Girl Serpent Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust - Re-imagined fairy tales are one of my favorites, and this one was pretty good. 

    The Midnight Library by Matthew Haig - What might your life have been like if you'd taken another path? An extended version of Sliding Doors....a little preachy but definitely worth reading (and probably sermon material...)

    King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender - sweet and sad, so many different Big Ideas addressed here, but in a fairly safe way. It's middle-grade fiction, so it all gets wrapped up in a lovely way - but I can imagine that this book, in the right young hands, could have an immense impact. And the descriptions of grief are so well done.

    Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb - wonderfully told memoir of a relationship of a granddaughter and her grandmother. I loved the conversations that Bess created with the woman who clearly had a major impact on who she became.

    Marjorie Ingall wrote a piece for Tablet Magazine listing the top Jewish kids' books for 2020, and this list below is basically what happens when I decide to read my way through a whole list. (A couple of exceptions but similiarly genre'd so I put them on this part of the list too)

    The New Queer Conscience by Adam Eli - this very brief volume was a wonderful essay drawing on the Jewish concept that "every Jew is responsible for all others" - and bringing this concept to the Queer community. Thought-provoking and worth reading.

    Fish Out of Water by Joanne Levy - I really liked this sweet story about a boy who just wants to do his own thing. His mom signs him up for water polo, when he really wants to dance. And he's told that knitting is for girls. You can imagine how this one goes, and it's well done.

    Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder - I'm a new fan of the graphic novel memoir and this one tells about a young woman as her mother dies of cancer. Sweet and humorous, and very comforting. 

    Becoming Brianna by Terri Libenson - I liked this, because I'm always looking for well-told Bat Mitzvah stories. I'm always a little annoyed by stories of B'nai Mitzvah who are only marginally connected to Judaism...and then they feel put-upon in to learn, etc. But I liked how, in the end, it really was all about the learning and growth, so that's good, right? 

    Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon - I loved this one, even though I saw it all coming. Of course it's a haters-to-lovers story. But it's well-told and the Jewish elements just made me happy. The characters had some depth and overall, just a fun read. 

    Color Me In by Natasha Diaz - Reading through the list above reminded me that I've been wanting to read this one for a while, so it fit the list! A wonderful story about a young woman wrestling with two parts of her identity - her Black Baptist mom and her white Jewish dad are getting divorced and she's trying to figure out how she fits in. Aside from my typical irritation with a few mishaps in the Jewish telling, this was very timely and a good read.

    Sidetracked by Diana Harmon Asher - while reading all the other books, I was also cleaning house and found this PJ Our Way selection on a kid's shelf. A really good look at what it's like to be inside a socially challenged kid's mind as he navigates middle school and learning some new things about himself. I liked it!

    A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan - I really enjoyed this one. Two sixth grade girls become friends, bonding over their immigrant parents and their love of food. I like these stories of cultural representation and finding your own path even when you feel a little torn between different parts of your identity.

    Not Your All American Girl by by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg - Honestly, I think that A Place at the Table did this story a little better, but still enjoyed this one. I was a tad confused by the timing (it's set in 1984 and they see Sixteen Candles in the theater) and to be honest, I think a middle grade reader might actually find all of that a little confusing. Still, I think this was a well-told story of personal identity and how to balance different elements of who you are. 

    The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui - While reading all of the other graphic novels above, I mentioned to David what I was doing...and he handed me this book, which he read in one of his college classes this past semester. I never like to turn down a book handed to me by one of my kids! This was a really remarkable and beautiful book - I think the graphic memoir genre is really cool, and I loved reading about a culture that is so very different from my own. 

    Full Year's List Here

    Monday, November 30, 2020

    November Books #MyLifeInBooks

     Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey by Kathleen Rooney - I loved this author's previous book, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. Highly recommend that one! This one....I did not like as much. Half of the book was told from the perspective of a messenger pigeon named Cher Ami, and right from the start, that didn't really work for me. But I did try to stop in the middle and I felt compelled to contine and so I did finish! I haven't read a lot of novels about the first World War, and I really didn't know anything about how pigeons were used as messengers by both sides. Also, at the end I discovered how much of the story was actually true, and I do appreciate a good history lesson. But....I don't really recommend this book. 

    The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory - finally, I reached the end of these books! I was excited to read this one because I already knew most of the characters and it was delightful albeit totally predictable. (I'm now starting a new romance series for these interludes between some of the more difficult books!)

    Reverie by Ryan La Sala - This was the "Big Library Read" in November and it was interesting. I liked the idea of personal daydreams becoming real, and it seemed like a really good concept. I was a little confused by the characters but overall an enjoyable read.

    Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam - This book was creepy in a verrry subtle way. I will admit that I couldn't put it down because I was waiting for the reveal...which unravelled in a slow and eerie way. After I finished the book, I read several reviews, and now I like and appreciate the book even more. In many ways, the book is the perfect book for 2020 - it's uncertain, uncomfortable, and confounding. What really happens? Does it really matter? Who are we when we don't have all the answers??? (P.S. One reviewer called this "the most lowkey and vague thriller" and I thought that was an excellent description)

    Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron - I loved this re-telling of Cinderella and its breaking down of the tropes of traditional fairy tales. I am a big fan of re-told fairy tales, and this one did not disappoint! 

    The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab - Wow. I loved this book and I couldn't put it down. What happens when no one remembers you? How can you make an impact on the world without making your own imprint? What does it mean to inspire others? Loved this story about how we find our way in the world...

    Saturday, October 31, 2020

    October 2020 Books #MyLifeInBooks

    American War by Omar El Akkad - This book broke me. Seriously. It was about a second American Civil War and a terrible plague. Published in 2017, it felt waaay too close to home to read right now. I kept going because I was hoping for a happy ending...but honestly, it haunted me. Beautifully written, a good read, but maybe not the right book to read in October of 2020. 

    Because American War broke'll notice that the next FOUR books are all RomComs. Yep. Just a whole bunch of delicious, sweet, wonderful romantic comedies. Not my usual thing but took all of these to get over the dystopian-all-too-real book.

    Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn - adorable and sweet romance. Also, if you like hand-lettering and/or fonts, a fun theme.

    The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
    Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory
    Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory
    If you have a great formula, stick with it (Law and Order, anyone?)! Jasmine Guillory has a great one. Each book is sooo similar but totally delightful. I want to pal around with all of her heroines and I want to eat with them too (they always have the best food). These are like the perfect candy - not too sweet, a little salty, with a deliciously predictable crunch. I'm not sad about reading these at all!!! (And there's one more to be found.) 

    The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Adhieh - a good but not great re-telling of Sheherezad and the 1001 Arabian Nights. I wanted to be transported by the retelling but I didn't feel like it added much, however the ending seemed to pick up a little and while I'm unlikely to read any sequels, I am a little curious as to what happens next. 

    Followers by Megan Angelo - It started out slowly, but once I realized the connection between the two stories, I was fascinated and couldn't put it down. A really interesting and unique look at how our social media-influencer-culture is so very challenging right now...and yet, there was this tiny bit in the back of my mind wondering how the pandemic would have made this story different....good and frightening and very compelling.

    Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano - ah, I felt like I was back to reading again. This was a powerful book that handled grief and disaster in a way that felt a little removed from my own reality (unlike that American War book) but in a way that let me sink into it, feel the pain, and live the journey with Edward as he grows up with this weight on his shoulders. I felt like this book hinged on the question "what makes a meaningful life?" and therefore felt its resonance deeply. 

    Tuesday, September 29, 2020

    September 2020 Book #mylifeinbooks

    This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger - This was an extraordinary and beautiful book, heartbreaking and haunting. I honestly didn't want this story to end. I think I will certainly put this one into the top five books I've read this year. 

    Gone by Michael Grant - this is the first in a very popular dystopian YA series. All the grownups disappear, and kids start developing super powers...and....I found it very dark and a little convoluted. I'm not compelled to read any more of the series, but mostly because I have a very long to-read pile! (It also could be that I read it right after This Tender Land, and so it just didn't quite hold up to that standard.)

    The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory - a delightful sudsy a delicious bag of candy that I enjoyed and didn't even mind that there wasn't any real nutritional value! Also, a lot of nicely represented diverse characters....

    Love, Loss, and What we Ate by Padma Lakshmi - I loved the Hulu series on food in America, but I have never watched Top Chef, so I felt like she was a total unknown to me! I had no idea that Ms. Lakshmi had such an interesting and fascinating story. I found the book to be a little bit long, but I was really curious. She seemed very honest, a little self-centered (it was a memoir, though, so you've gotta give her some credit there), and I liked the focus on food (it made me hungry)!

    Need to Know by Karen Cleveland - A fun spy novel (think: The Americans) even though I was slightly disappointed by how clueless the main character seemed to be...

    The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline - This was a powerful and moving novel about women, convicted of fairly crimes, sent from England to Australia as punishment. I was somewhat unfamiliar with this particular episode of history (I knew that Australia was a convict colony, but I didn't realize that whole boatloads of women were sent there!) and I found the story to be well-told, compelling, and heartbreaking. 

    Heating Cooling: 52 Micro Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly - delightful and fun bite-sized bits of memoir. I liked how it made me think about minimalist writing - what's the shortest way to say something? I'm a fan of the 6 word memoir and the short-short story, so I'm not surprised that I enjoyed micro memoirs too! I'd like to think about writing some of my own!

    The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd - I wanted to like this book but I was very frustrated by it. I am sure she did a lot of research, but there were many things that just felt frustratingly wrong, including most of the Hebrew dates and how the calendar works. It's a book about Ana, the fictional wife of Jesus. It felt like Ana was a little too "woke" for her time...I just found it mostly uninteresting. 

    Monday, August 31, 2020

    August 2020 #mylifeinbooks

    Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall - Predictable and boring. I actually put it down a couple of times and then went back to it. 

    House on Endless Waters by Emuna Elon - beautiful, moving. An incredible back-and-forth story of finding one's identity in a story that was really haunting. (Looking forward to discussing this one later this year!)

    Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan - I really enjoyed the Crazy Rich Asians series, but this one was disappointing. It felt like it wound around for a long time to an inevitable ending that didn't feel worth the wait.

    The Braid by Laetitia Colombani - My dad recommended this one and I really enjoyed the intertwining stories of three different women. It took a little while to see how they all would come together, but I really liked how it didn't really beat you over the head with it. Subtle and lovely.

    The Nesting Dolls by Alina Adams - I really enjoyed this one! A generational story that was a good read. I liked the insight into the different aspects of Russian history and how generational trauma carries through. And I loved the end.

    The Darwin Affair by Tim Mason - A fun, historical crime drama about attempts to silence Charles Darwin. Aside from the interesting period nature of the piece, I thought it was a good reminder that there have often been people who have tried to silence science....

    Good Talk by Mira Jacob - WOW. I loved this graphic-novel-memoir about who we are, how we define ourselves, and how society defines us. With gratitude to the friend who shared it with me!

    36 Righteous Men by Steven Pressfield - This was interesting. Someone described it as a fantasy-thriller, another called it apocalyptic-murder-mystery. It's set in the future, has an unusual writing format, and there's a Jewish theme too. I think it worked, but I'll be curious to hear how my discussion group likes this one later this year. Also - there's a huge climate change element in this story, and I read it as two hurricanes were bearing down on the Gulf Coast and fires rage in California, so there was that too. 

    The Grace Year by Kim Liggett - This book was like a cross between The Handmaid's Tale and the Hunger Games....and I couldn't put it down. Teen girls spend one year banished to live in the wilderness. There's a Lord of the Flies element here too, and a whole bunch about female empowerment inside of a patriarchy. It's not for everyone, but it was really good.

    The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel - Good, readable story about a French-Jewish woman who ends up working in the Resistance in France during the war. I'll fully admit that a back-and-forth story between past and present does take away some of the suspense in the story, but I still found it compelling and interesting. 

    The Life and Opinions of Amy Finawitz by Laura Toffler-Corrie - this was a PJ Our Way book that came into our house and I like to read them to see what's going on over there. This one was cute and funny but not my favorite. 

    Wednesday, August 26, 2020

    Prayer for the Start of a (Pandemic) School Year

    In 2011, I wrote a prayer for the start of school.
    (It's odd, since the child who started Pre-K that year is starting 8th grade this one.)

    A friend recently asked if I'd updated this prayer for a new year, and I thought it was an excellent idea. More than ever, we need a little encouragement as we start this new school year, so fraught with uncertainty and strain. So many of us are worried and waiting, wondering and wishing. What will tomorrow bring? We don't know. So we put one foot in front of the other, act with patience, and pray that the new year brings promise.

    A Prayer for the Start of our Pandemic School Year (hopefully never to be used again)

    May it be a year of learning and growth, a year of new experiences and understanding. 
    May they outgrow their shoes and may they not lose their masks. 
    May the hand sanitizer be plentiful so their hands are clean, but may they have clean hearts too.
    May each day bring something new and may routine guide their steps.
    May they be flexible and resilient, with a strength far beyond their years.
    May their pencils be sharp and their minds even sharper.
    May the internet be strong, and the links be true.
    May they revel in the joy of each new fact learned, each right answer, each small accomplishment.
    May the erasers on their pencils get as much use as the tips, and may their chatroom comments be kind.
    May they learn that wrong answers can be just as important as right ones.
    May they ask questions, lots and lots of questions, and may their teachers be patient. Very patient.
    May their teachers encourage their growth of spirit and may they see deeply into their eyes, even through the pixels of the screen.
    May they make friends and build relationships, and may they make lifelong connections.
    May they appreciate the little moments of connection and learn to find joy in their own company as well.
    May they be kind and polite and each one a mensch of the highest order. 
    May this year be a stepping stone, a moment in time, and may we take its lessons to heart as we find blessings along the way.

    From delivering David to his freshman year at UIUC

    Friday, August 21, 2020

    #blogelul 1: prepare


    Are we ever fully ready?
    Each year, I notice that we're all

    and we can't quite wrap our heads around the idea of

    It's ominous.
    They loom
    over us.

    But perhaps
    we give to ourselves.

    When I take the time to
    prepare myself
    for the High Holy Days,
    I know that
    I am better.
    The holidays are better.

    I feel the words.
    I breathe the music.
    I do the work.

    Preparation is a gift.

    In Elul
    (Reposted from 2016)

    The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. It offers a chance for spiritual preparation for the Days of Awe. It is traditional to begin one’s preparation for the High Holy Days during this month with prayers of forgiveness, but I like to think of it as a whole-person preparation activity. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I'll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation... I will be blogging here, and sharing #Elulgram photos on the same themes at and on Instagram @imabima. Follow me on twitter @imabima for all the #BlogElul posts, not only mine but others' as well! Read more about #BlogElul here.

    Tuesday, August 18, 2020

    How to Fold A Fitted Sheet: A Parenting Lesson

    It started with the fitted sheet (XL twin, to be exact).

    The whole room was tossed with bags and clothes and towels and miscellaneous pre-college stuff that clearly has to fit into the blue Ikea bags in order to get squeezed into the fun-size dorm room.

    And there were two fitted sheets (one to use, one to wash, of course). 

    "How do I fold this thing?"

    And so we started - each of us with a sheet in hand, as I tried to walk him through the process of folding a fitted sheet. I could see his frustration growing. I could feel my own frustration growing too.

    And then he started to panic. "I can't do it!" 

    And then I started to panic: If he can't fold a fitted sheet, what else doesn't he know? What else isn't he ready for? If I haven't taught him to fold a fitted sheet, have I also failed to teach him all the Important Skills that he will need for his life? Is this evidence of a Disaster of Parenting? What other things doesn't he know? The thoughts tumbled, pell-mell, as I felt the tears rising. I tried, unsuccessfully, to teach him again. Tempers rose...

    And then I took a breath.

    Wait, I thought. Wait. This isn't the Everything. This is One Thing. Just ONE THING.

    I took the sheet from him. I said, "don't worry - it's just a sheet." I could see the relief in his eyes. Perhaps his thoughts had taken the same path as mine? I folded the sheet. I'm his mom -- I can still do things for him. He watched intently and then took the sheet and shoved it unceremoniously into the already-full duffel bag. 

    We've taught him to be brave and kind. We've taught him to be thoughtful and inquisitive. We've taught him to be careful and daring. We've taught him to have fun and to laugh. We've taught him how to cook and how to do (most) laundry. We've taught him how to make phone calls and how to fill out forms. He knows so much. And he knows how to ask for help when he needs it.

    I may not feel ready to send him away in these uncertain times. But it's not because HE isn't ready. It's not because he hasn't learned so many important lessons. And when I remember that, when I look at the good human that he is, I know that he is ready...and so am I. 

    Perhaps someday he'll even learn how to fold a fitted sheet.

    Wednesday, August 5, 2020

    #BlogElul #ElulGram 2020

    Is blogging still a thing? I’m sure it is!

    #BlogElul is a project that I started in 2010, although it wasn't until 2012 that I created the list of topics. Since then, I haven't always completed the whole month of blogging, although I know that many of you have. I also know that the online world has changed so much since 2010, when blogging was one of the only ways to publish your online content easily. 

    Now we have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, and other many ways in which to express ourselves and dive deeply into the themes of the High Holy Days. And so here we are….I've added #ElulGram to the #BlogElul family and the borders of this project are so wide that they reallly don't exist at all. This project is really whatever YOU want - however YOU want to spend your time preparing yourself for the holiest season in the Jewish calendar. 

    Elul -- that wonderful and terrifying month that precedes the High Holy Days. A month of introspection and considering, a month of personal reflection and preparation.

    Who can participate? ANYONE. It's yours. I gift it to you. Elul is for anyone and everyone. 

    How could one do it? You don't have a blog… No worries. Maybe you have Facebook or Twitter? Maybe you're a big fan of Instagram? Be creative and find your own path! Maybe you don't want to do it daily. Maybe you just want to dip your toe into the experience, or just read (and share?) what others write. It's totally up to you. I always love to see the creative things that the #BlogElul community comes up with.

    There are no rules. I provide the topics (see graphic or below for text) for each of the days of the month. Use the hashtag to share your post (I like to put it in my titles) and share other people's posts as well. This could be a way to revitalize your blog, kickstart a new project, or even just get yourself ready for the holidays! I know that lots of people use #BlogElul as a spiritual exercise each year, and I'm so proud to be a part of their yearly journey through Elul.

    And what about #ElulGram? This one is even more interpretive. Photos, art, illustrations, quotes -- what kinds of images can you put together to explore and interpret these High Holy Day themes? You don't have to limit your picture-sharing to Instagram (even though I totally appropriated the name), you can use any image-sharing site you'd like, such as Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. Whatever you do, tag it with #ElulGram so we can call share and follow.

    These themes and ideas are broad and open, and again -- remember, there are NO RULES except the ones you make for yourself!

    And yes, I know that the dates include Shabbat. I personally don't blog/tweet/Facebook on Shabbat, but I will post before and after Shabbat. You can do whatever you like!

    Are you going to play along? Let me know! Leave me a comment here, send me a tweet, or send up a signal fire.... Feel free to grab my pretty badge to announce to the whole world that you're part of BlogElul. It is amazing to all share in the Elul journey together through the vastness of the internet.

    I'm looking forward to sharing this journey with you. Elul begins on Friday, August 21 (it's always on time), so I wanted to give you a head start if you're going to pre-write some of your posts. 

    I hope that our shared preparation for 5780 brings meaning and hope, inspiration and enlightenment for all of us. 

    Elul 1: Prepare

    Elul 2: Act

    Elul 3: Search

    Elul 4: Understand

    Elul 5: Accept

    Elul 6: Know

    Elul 7: Be

    Elul 8: Hear

    Elul 9: See

    Elul 10: Count

    Elul 11: Trust

    Elul 12: Forgive

    Elul 13: Remember

    Elul 14: Learn

    Elul 15: Change

    Elul 16: Pray

    Elul 17: Awaken

    Elul 18: Ask

    Elul 19: Judge

    Elul 20: Dare

    Elul 21: Love

    Elul 22: End

    Elul 23: Begin

    Elul 24: Hope

    Elul 25: Intend

    Elul 26: Create

    Elul 27: Bless

    Elul 28: Give

    Elul 29: Return

    Friday, July 31, 2020

    July 2020 Books #mylifeinbooks

    The Girl from Berlin by Ronald Balson - okay, I've done it! I've read all the books so-far in this series. A tiny bit formualaic but I am not complaining. I loved it. Twisty and turny historical mystery.

    The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare - what a gorgeous book. A young Nigerian girl finds her "voice" and the writing just pulled me along....I definitely highly recommend this one!

    Cleo Macdougal Regrets Nothing by Alison Winn Scotch - This one was enjoyable and quick. It was almost like the fully-fictionalized version of Rodham!

    The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett - this book deserves all the buzz it's getting. It was really good, and I continue to think about it.

    The Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner - I read a lot of Holocaust literature, and I often take a big deep breath before I start...this one had a little too much sweetness in it, but it was really beautiful and well-done.

    The Order by Daniel Silva - What can I say? My favorite reading day of the year is when the newest Gabriel Allon book comes out and I was definitely not disappointed this year. I love the whole thing. More history of the Catholic Church than usual but well-researched and interesting! A perfect summer ritual.

    The Royal We by Heather Cox - Hmm. I did not like this book. In fact, I gave it up once and then went back to it mostly because I really did want to find out what happened. I just thought the characters were pretty flat and the romance was not believable. Meh. I will not be reading the sequel....

    Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid - So good! Deserving of all the buzz it's getting too. Plus, so many issues that are really relevant in my own neighborhood. I couldn't put this one down.

    Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland - Really enjoyed this story of a period of American history that was so interesting. A few elements almsot wanted whole books of their own - the land bust in Florida, the incubator babies display in Atlantic City, the swimming of the English Channel, and yet there was enough to keep me reading and enjoying the snippets of each story. A really good read.

    June's List
    May's List
    April's List

    Tuesday, June 30, 2020

    June 2020 Book #mylifeinbooks's June's books. I'm halfway through the year and WOW have there been a lot of great things to read so far this year. What are you reading? 

    The Trust by Ronald Balson - perhaps you've noticed that I'm working my way through his books. I liked this one since it was a little different from the other books that feature Liam and Catherine. Set in Northern Ireland, it dives quite a bit into the conflicts there and the long lasting effects of those battles. I only have one of his books left to read before I've caught up to all of them!

    Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes - wow, this one was hard and sad and beautiful all at once. Reading in the wake of the current protests, thinking about George Flody and so many others killed by police, and bringing the Emmet Till story into the was really well-done. This is intended to be a middle-grade novel, but I'm not sure I would hand it to a kid without really having some hard conversations alongside it.

    Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi - I've read Ibram Kendi's book "How to be an Anti Racist" and several others, but I liked this "not-history" book, as the author puts it, because it was less of a prescription and far more of a how-did-we-get-here kind of book. It's the YA version of "Stamped from the Beginning" (which I haven't read) and I highly recommend it. So much history here that I just didn't know - so much about how the concept of race was constructed to keep, hold, and maintain power structures. So much to think about and to re-learn.

    The Book of V by Anna Solomon - Anyone looking for a straightforward historical fiction re-telling of the Vashti/Esther narrarive will not find it here, but it was a really interesting back-and-forth look at how women have dealt with their powerlessness in different ways through history. It felt a little unfinished, a little unsatisfying, but still readable - the writing was great but I kept waiting for a real plot to develop...

    I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown - After listening to Austin speak on Brene Brown's podcast (highly recommend), I wanted to read her book and I was not disappointed. It was a highly personal memoir that really laid bare the exhaustion that Black people feel in America today. I think I want to re-read this one, and I've been recommending it all over (and above some of the other books on the anti-racism reading lists that are going around) because I found it so compelling and readable. So much to think about and to re-learn...I continue the work every day.

    In Five Years by Rebecca Searle - hmm. I liked this book, ultimately, but I wasn't sure I liked it while I was reading it. I couldn't tell where it was going to go, but I think I appreciated where it ended up. This is a good summer read (even though it's a bit of tear-jerker too).

    Invisible as Air by Zoe Fishman - A quick read but I think this one will stick with me. Each character's perspective on a massive family grief experience cut through me. I kept thinking - that could have easily been our family.... Addiction of multiple kinds, death of a child, and a Bar Mitzvah - this one was a tough read but I recommend it.

    Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah - this reminded me of Room, and it was sweet and sad but also totally predictable in a comfortable-sweater type of way. I read this in one Shabbat mostly in my hammock, and that should tell you everything you need to know about this book!

    Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld - At first, I was a little put-off by the author choosing to write this book in the first person, since it was obviously not penned by the real person. But as the book progressed, I'm not sure I could have had it any other way. I was riveted by the what-might-have-been, but also by the way that women have to act in order to get to the top of their game. I thought it was a powerful statement about how hard it will actually be to get our country to elect the first woman president, and it faced, head on, some of those issues.

    The Betrothed by Kiera Cass - preditctable, silly, and felt like a weird opposite-land to Rodham. I probably won't read any more of the books in this series (I can always find people to whom that is anathema) but I passed a lovely Shabbat afternoon in this book. So who's complaining?

    A Room Away from the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma - totally did not understand this book. I kept reading, hoping to understand and figure out the plot. But I just didn't get it. If you've read it, please help me. Also, I feel better now that I've read several other readers' reviews that say they didn't get it either. It had a really cool feel to the writing and the storytelling, I just didn't really follow it all!

    Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg - I usually read on a Kindle, and this may have been easier on a real book - I had a bit of a hard time keeping track of the different voices, but once I figured out their different styles/tones, I really enjoyed this one. A tough story about a mother and daughter told in an incredibly interesting style of a catalogue of a photography exhibit. Really great! (I almost burned dinner because I was distracted by reading...)

    May's List
    April's List
    March's List
    February's List
    January's list

    Sunday, May 31, 2020

    May 2020 Books #MyLifeInBooks

    The Plot Against America by Philip Roth - how is it that I have never read this one before? Perhaps I'm not the biggest Philip Roth fan. But anyway. I read this one while watching the HBO miniseries, and they really did a nice job of complementing each other. I'm not sure I would have fully understood all the nuances of the TV show without the book, and I enjoyed having the visuals to go along with it as I read. I think the book did a better job of tying up the ending (maybe a little too neatly) but the TV show updated the message a little - reminding us that democracy is messy and unpredictable. Definitely worth the read!

    Saving Sophie by Ron Balson - the second book in the Liam-and-Catherine series, and I liked it a lot. Perhaps things got a little too easily sewn up but it was still a great read, and I enjoy the characters and the writing. (Looking forward to reading the next one. I do like a series that already has a bunch of books waiting for me!)

    The Imperfects by Amy Meyerson - this book reminded me a little of the Immortalists in the family dynamic sense of it, with a twist of historical mystery thrown in. Very readable and enjoyable. I found myself drawn to the historical mystery a little more than the family drama, but I liked both storylines and it kept my attention for the whole read! (Plus, I liked the ending.)

    Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo - I can't believe I've never read this before. Our school's whole third grade is reading it and Solly has declared it his "favorite book EVER that isn't Harry Potter" so I knew I had to read it. Delightful, of course, and thankfully, I can now discuss it in VERY detailed detail with him. Whew. (P.S. The movie is available on Disney+ right now and it's also good. And if you'd like Solly to give you a blow-by-blow account of the ways that the book differs from the movie, feel free to give him a call.)

    Karolina's Twins by Ron Balson - okay, so remember how I said I like a series that has a bunch of books waiting for me? Still true. Also true: I am a sucker for a good procedural, and these are just non-formulaic enough to keep me reading and guessing. The third book in the Liam-and-Catherine show did not disappoint, and in fact, kept me up very late one night to find out what happened at the end!

    How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones - what an incredible memoir. The writing was superb and the personal story was painful to read but also beautiful to know that the writer got to this point, to crafting this work. It is his personal story of growing up in Texas while gay and black. A double whammy, as he makes clear through his telling. This one feels like a gift to the world. (But it is not G or even PG-rated....)

    Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner - a fun read that didn't really have a lot of depth to it. Sometimes that is soooo good. I liked the social media aspect and the body-consciousness that came with it.

    Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins - this is a pre-quel to the Hunger Games series, and I liked the way that it laid out how the Hunger Games as we know them came to be...It suffered, as prequels do, from any real uncertainty about the future of our main character, since we know who they turn out to be. But still, I liked returning to Panem (even though I hate Panem) and it was definitely a fun read!

    Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein - I received a review copy of this one and I really enjoyed reading it. The main character is a 7th grader who lives in Wisconsin. The story was sweet and touching, with a lot of self-awareness about how we find compassion for our friends, for others, and for ourselves. As a Wisconsin Jew myself, I was a tiny bit surprised by how many Jews lived in this small town, but I can suspend my disbelief for that! Overall a good read - I'm looking forward to convincing Yael to read it so I can hear the opinion of a 7th grader!

    All Adults Here by Emma Straub - this was another slightly-dysfunctional-family-story but an engaging one. Much of this story was about the difference between privacy and secrecy - the author even spells that lesson out at one point - and I thought that was meaningful and powerful. It's a huge and important distinction that is hard to learn. This was a good one to add to your summer reading lists.

    An Unorthodox Match by Naomi Ragen - I used to love her books and then I got turned off by her politics and some of her stridency. This one felt a little preachy but pretty compelling, even though you pretty much knew how it was going to end. I appreciated the "lifting of the veil" on mental illness in the Jewish community, since that is a fairly important issue. Very readable, even if the characters felt a little bit caricatured (especially the mom).

    Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley - jumping on the bandwagon of books-about-bookshops and teen-romances-in-anonymous-letters, this one was a sweet and sad love story. I enjoyed it as an easy summer hammock read...

    April's List
    March's List
    February's List
    January's list