Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Underrated Books I've Read in the Last Year

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! 

Well, we're officially over two weeks into the new year, and so far, things are pretty okay. I have successfully stuck to my no-buying-books promise, we've celebrated my Dad's birthday weekend, and I'm pretty sure I've spent more time at the gym than I did in all of last year in total.

Still, that doesn't mean I'm completely done with last year just yet. No matter the fact that I'm four titles into 2017, some of my fave reads of the past won't stop rattling around in my head. That's why I was so happy to see that today's "Top Ten Tuesday" theme, was about your favorite under-rated books of the past year!

PSA: Not all definitions of "under-rated" are the same. For some, it might represent books from indie publishers or forgotten releases from previous years; for others, it's just a casual list of books they'd like to see talked about more, regardless of how much they've been talked about already.

For me, under-rated reads strike a kind of middle ground: they're books that have been read by fewer than I think they deserve, books that don't have the kinds of fandoms that will readily supply them with a television show adaptation. Some are widely-advertised titles with niche audiences that I think more general readers should be willing to take a chance on, while others have target buyers that are so niche you might never even have heard of them!

Regardless, I invite you to take a chance on some of these under-rated titles. I think you might really like them!


1. Spinster, Katie Bolick
This book, at least to me, was originally marketed as some kind of rebellious, girl-power memoir of one woman's life in the singles lane while writing for various magazines in New York. But instead of a Sex in the City spinoff, this nonfiction read is more akin to a historical collection of some of the fearlessly independent females of the same profession, who the author saw as role models of sorts while making the attempt on her own. Those looking for cocktail hour exploits would probably leave disappointed, but fans of books like Rebecca Traister's All the Single Ladies would feel right at home.

2. The Darkest Part of the Forest, Holly Black
Being that the book was written by a bestselling author, whom I happen to already adore, this was an oddball choice for this list. But it perfectly hits so many of the selling points that I long for in YA - a fiercely independent and athletic heroine who loves her family and isn't afraid to kiss as many boys as she wants, LGBT representation, convincing interweaving of contemporary and fantasy elements - that I continue to be shocked when I don't see it on such lists of recommended reads for the genre. Not only is the book super fun, but it gets so little credit for the unique points that make it so strong.

3. Kate Beaton's Step Aside, Pops and Hark, a Vagrant! comic collections
Now, it's one thing to make a comics collection. It's quite another to originally print all of your comics online. But when you also factor in that those comics are based off of content as delightfully weird and varied as obscure historical figures, fictional heroes from works of classic literature, and take-downs of flawed anti-feminist ideology, it's a whole other thing on its own.


4. The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly
Once again, another fantasy read, but this one for the middle grade set... or is it? As a boy escaping a stifling family life in WWII era England makes his way through the terrifying and mysterious world of fairy tales, you question pretty quickly what age range this book is acceptable to read. Because of this, many youngsters may be cautioned not to read it, while the older sets might overlook it because of the intended audience. (My take? I read it once when I was 13, and another time when I was 22. I absolutely loved it both times.)

5. Down the Rabbit Hole, Holly Madison
Now if the gaudy pink cover didn't scare you off, the subject matter did: a former Playboy bunny reveals the far less glamorous life that really laid beyond the television screen. However, even if you're not a fan of the Girls Next Door, you'd be foolish to assume the realities of this reality star. Through her time at the mansion, not only did Holly earn herself producer roles and titles with both the show and the magazine, but she endured psychological abuse that left her swirling in the depths of depression for years. Her rise-and-fall-and-rise-again redemption tale was such a hit with my sister and I, that I even have its sequel memoir, The Vegas Diaries, on my shelf for this year.

6. One More Thing: Stories and Stories, B.J. Novak
Once again, a weird pick for an "under-rated" books list, especially because it was a New York Times bestseller when it was originally released. But here's the thing: almost no one I know has read this book (unless I was the one pushing it on them), and those who had even heard of it, passed it up for memoirs from Novak's compatriots, like Mindy Kaling's memoirs. Still, this collection of hilarious short stories does not get enough credit for revitalizing comedic writing in short form for print, at least for me.


7. Why We Write About Ourselves, edited by Meredith Maran
Probably one of the most fascinating quick reads I read this year, each chapter of this nonfiction collection of casual interviews chronicles the reading pasts and writing presents of prominent voices in the memoir genre, asking the simple question: Why do you write about yourself? What they answer gives far more clarity to a genre typically written off as self-indulgent in the best and narcissistic in the worst. Definitely worth an afternoon or two, and who knows? Maybe it will prompt you to jot down some memories of your own.

8. Beyond: the Queer Sci-Fi and Fantasy Comic Anthology, Sfe R. Monster
One of my last-minute books of last year, ended up being one of the first ones I thought of when compiling this list, not just because of how recently I had read it, but because of how desperate I am to talk about it with someone. This collection of brief comics involving characters of varying sexualities and genders - without a harmful binary in sight - really shows how much potential there is in a format that could still use a lot more diversity within it.

9. Shake the World, James Marshall Reilly
While checking job-hunting books out of the library after my third month of serious job hunting is starting to seem more like a self-punishing practice than a helpful one, this book was a diamond in the rough. While its cover and tagline - "It's not finding a job, it's building a life!" - were almost too cheesy to check out, the interviews and lessons contained within make it invaluable, especially for those of an artistic and entrepreneurial mindset. Through interviews with company founders to philanthropists, world travelers and homegrown heroes, this book pushes the idea that if you can't find your dream job, it's probably because you haven't created it yet. (While that still doesn't solve my college debt crisis, it's a nice thought.)

10. The Wicked and the Divine series, Kieron Gillen
Damn, what a weird way for my childhood infatuation with world cultures and religions to suddenly pay off. This series - about a pantheon of pop stars who personify ancient gods from across the world, granted power and vitality until they die after two years - was weird enough to make me a little skeptical at first, but after Volume 1, I was a true believer.

So, like I said, maybe some of these books don't qualify as "under-rated" to you. How do you decide if a book fits that kind of a profile, or whether it's just-the-right-amount-of-rated? Let me know, in the comments below!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Voracious: Review (+ a Recipe Review, too!)

In a world where everyone and their mom has a quirky Harry Potter or Game of Thrones inspired cookbook stashed in their kitchen pantry - no shade, my fave is Downton Abbey themed - it seems that whether it's from the screen or the page, we like to imagine fictional foods better, when we can see them on our plate.

The transformational aspect of transfiguring fictional foods into the real world is the subject of plenty of blogs and YouTube channels already - including one of my faves, Nerdy Nummies with Rosanna Pansino - but not many have ventured beyond the sort of pop fiction and fantasy genres. Barring Dinah Fried's photography book Fictitious Dishes, I don't think I can think of any that tackle the subject of general literature.

But with Voracious, from Cara Nicoletti - a pastry chef and professional butcher - the principle is elevated, by bringing forth the foods from her English major-oriented palate of preferred reading material. By opting for a buffet of titles ranging from Pride and Prejudice to Strega Nona to Gone Girl,  we get not just a treat for the taste buds, but callbacks to some of your favorite reads, from contemporary titles, to childhood classics.

All, of course, are delicious.

reading it as a book

The subject of Voracious was borne from Nicoletti's popular blog of the same nature: Yummy Books. Of course the topic would flourish in the online space: there are plenty of book blogs, and food blogs, right? Who wouldn't want to read about both at the same time?

Personally, I vividly remember elementary school classroom lessons, with treats as a prize for finishing the stories we would read after we came in from recess. Molasses and Turkish Delight are probably the most memorable of said desserts, as they were ultimately determined to be worth far less than what characters had been willing to trade for them.

Nicoletti's book descriptions originate from similar ranges of personal experience: her recipes are based as much on original stories and individual viewpoints as they are on the books that reference them directly. What results is a happy marriage of both her own life lessons and the products of our favorite tales.

Some were delightfully literal. While I don't think I'll ever possess an appetite that would make pig's head seem palatable, its important ties to the narrative of William Golding's Lord of the Flies cannot be overlooked. Others were extrapolated outwards, like "Hansel and Gretel" serving as inspiration for a tasty gingerbread cake. I was vindicated Pride and Prejudice was included for the "white soup," because I had just finished reading it, as well, and had been wondering the same thing. Missing was a roasted leg of lamb, a la Roald Dahl's "Lamb for the Slaughter."

If anything, I wish that there was greater context given to the actual fictional material, instead of forcing me to Google things I was unfamiliar with.

reading it as a cookbook

But we can't just evaluate Voracious strictly as a memoir... a third of its pages are solely dedicated to detailing the recipes of the foods! So, in the pursuit of fairness, I only thought it was right to review it as a cookbook - a subject with which I am very familiar - as well.

In terms of quality of the foods themselves, we're talking high caliber cooking, which makes sense, because our author was both a butcher and a pastry chef, professionally. Both of those occupations denote specialized skill sets, which, in turn, also require specialty ingredients and more involved production schedules.  The lack of elements of recipes familiar elsewhere - such as, given substitutions for perhaps ingredients that were a little too special - surely indicates the intention that the readers would already know what might serve as suitable substitutions. Unfortunately, I wasn't so well-versed. (You'll hear about that later.)

Additionally, the book is exclusively print-oriented, with little affordances made for visual cues, save the adorable illustrations scattered throughout. Unfortunately, that means the recipes come with zero photography to speak of, so you don't really know what your food is supposed to turn out like when you're done. As many are unfamiliar with both baking and butchery, pictures could only serve to help in this aspect.

(However, I also think that more pictures would definitely tilt the book as a whole more towards cookbook than memoir, and it would definitely avert more of the words from their intended focus. Still, since pictures play a factor on her blog, it would have made sense to include them here, as well!)

Being that part of evaluating a cookbook partially relies on your ability to actually use it to construct something edible, I took on a good-looking recipe for a favorite read of mine: currant buns, in honor of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden

To any and all seasoned bakers who might be reading this, feel free to laugh at my expense.

I had most of the ingredients in my pantry, but found a couple to be at a higher cooking level than I was used to baking with: bread flour, and dried currants. My quest for such specialty ingredients lead me to make a couple of really, really dumb decisions, but at the time, I left the grocery store in high spirits, believing myself all the more capable - because only adults purchase flours with dedicated uses - and that chopping up dried tart cherries might be a suitable stand-in for the still-elusive dried currants.

I realized somewhat belatedly that chopping up dried cranberries would have made a lot more sense  than cherries, but that's still only the second stupid thing I managed to do. After gazing at my
dough in utter wonder as to why it looked more like choux pastry, then waiting with bated breath for it to rise not once, but twice, which it only seemed to do in spreading outwards considerably, I turned back to my ingredients to investigate as to what was the matter with it.

In my excitement over buying bread flour, I had somehow managed to overlook the words "gluten free" stamped neatly above it. Idiot.

The result: undeniably, a sub-standard product, which occurred by no one's fault, really, other than my own. Dry, unsweetened, and English-scone-like in texture and appearance, I quickly attempted to resuscitate my failed recipe into something edible, and finally, by topping each with a thick glaze and crust of sugar, they kind of pass for morning scones, which still would have probably have tasted better with cranberries in them.

The book, however, was wonderful. 

Would you ever read a book like this one? What's your worst cookbook screw-up? Anyone care for a scone? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Resolution 2017 : Why I'm Taking Another Year Off from Buying Books

The above picture, which I posted on my Instagram - my second of 2017, hot on the trails of this year's new Day Designer purchase! - recently made a bit of a ruckus among my family and friends. You see, the stacks and stacks of books depicted in the photo, are the result of a 2016 left unchecked: this special collection is comprised of over 80+ titles, that I had purchased over the past year, and had not yet got around to reading.

Even better? The picture was actually more than a few days old. In the period between Christmas and New Year's, my mom and I crashed through a wall of boxes, bags, and hangers that represented the material history of my high school and collegiate years, in an attempt to cut out clutter (and ship the remainder off to our newly-purchased storage unit). Naturally, a significant offshoot of that was my bookshelf, which had started to bow under the pressure of double- and triple-stacked shelving, as well as the several dangerous mounds of books that had been collecting around its base.

After Marie Kondo-ing the daylights out of my entire living space, my darling IKEA bookshelf's status had been severely depleted, but only because it's stock had extended onto almost the entirety of the shelving next to it, as well as a completely separate bookshelf on the other side of the room. That third shelf, as fate would have it, is now the home of all of the books in that infamous Instagram picture... plus the several that I managed to purchase in the meantime, before the clock struck midnight!

(In between finishing up my last read of 2016 and ringing in the new year, I made time for one last library trip, a bookstore excursion, and even a few last Amazon orders before 2017 fully hit.)

So, you remember back in 2015, when I made the killer resolution to Stop Buying Books for the entirety of the year? It kicked my butt, but more importantly, it forced me to reconsider how much money my favorite habit cost me every year, and reevaluate how important it was for me to continually be procuring more reading material, when I already had so much to choose from.

Now that I'm graduated from college, looking for the perfect job, and trying to streamline my life into something that is a lot more manageable and worthy of the title of "functioning adult," obviously the whole compulsive book-purchasing thing was not going to fly anymore. One of the big words I chose to focus my 2017 around at the beginning of the year, was "curate," and buying this many titles indiscriminately, was definitely not the way to a happy and put-together book collection.

Additionally, I had begun noticing a disturbing pattern in my book-buying in the later months of the year: when going into book stores, I was having a more difficult time finding material that I actually wanted to read, that I hadn't purchased already. I would get so flustered that I'd either leave completely disheartened, without buying anything, or even worse, I'd scramble to find any titles that would rouse the slightest amount of interest, and end up buying books I wasn't entirely sure I'd be totally thrilled to own!

So, welcome back, 2015 Resolution! You have henceforth been repackaged, because, let's be real, everyone loves a good remake. I'm looking for concision and clarity, so we're taking it super minimalist: I henceforth pledge not to purchase any books for the duration of 2017!

However, true to my resolution style, I gave myself a couple of outs for procuring at least a few new titles in the coming year; for instance, like in 2015, I'll be allowing myself to purchase a few new books in celebration of my Bloggoversary when it comes up again in late July.

Still, in total, adding in the titles that are stockpiled in my Kindle, plus the ones I made as last-minute purchases on New Year's Eve, I have over 100 books currently at my disposal that I haven't been able to open the first page of yet. That's a lot to get through, so I probably shouldn't start thinking about my Bloggoversary right now.

And, of course, this Bookish Resolution isn't by any means the only one I set... it's not even the most important one, either! I lowered my Goodreads book count for 2017, in the hopes that putting less pressure on myself to rack up high numbers will invite me to explore different kinds of books, particularly pre-1900s and nonfiction titles. I'm also trying to allow for the diversification of my reading content, like newspapers, magazines, and even cookbooks, and I want to find more joy in a regular, daily reading habit, than by sinking into a series of binges and slumps that dominates my book consumption practices.

Clearly, there are plenty of reasons to believe that 2017 will be a notable year for me. As I told you already, I just finished deep-cleaning my room. I started on a new planner, and a new journal. I'm going to the gym, and trying my hand at meditation. Plus, my sister Delaney is Panhellenic President at UW, my younger siblings come home with plenty of high school drama to hash out every day, and someone is bound to give me a job sometime! There are so many things to think about even beyond books - if such a concept exists - that keeping myself from snatching up anything new shouldn't be too tricky.

At the end of the day, I want to go to sleep knowing that I filled my day with people and things that matter. I'd like to treat my bookshelves the same way! 

See any books in my stacks that you think I should get around to first? Would you ever attempt a Resolution like mine? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Beyond the Challenge: 3 Ways to Measure Bookish "Success" in 2017

At 11:30pm on New Year's Eve, only a half an hour before countdowns and fireworks and kicking 2016's butt out the door, I was huddled up in my bed. Not because I was sick, or didn't want to take part in the festivities... but because I only had a couple more pages to go before I finished up Trenton Lee Stewart's The Mysterious Benedict Society, and I wanted to hit the magic number I'd been striving for the whole year: 77 titles on my Goodreads goal.

I love the Goodreads Challenge as much as the next person... it's something I put a lot of thought into every year, and an effort I applaud myself for once I've finished! However, after so many years of taking part, and giving myself bigger and better goals to meet every year, I can't help but think it might not be the best thing for my actual reading habits.

My concerns?

  • I compare my reading to other people, and feel like I come out short. (How on earth do people manage to read over 100 books a year?) 
  • I feel like the books I'm reading aren't good enough, or that I should be reading books of a higher caliber, like other people might manage to do. 
  • I don't have time to commit to things I really want to read, because I'm so crunched for time when trying to keep up with Goodreads, that bigger or more intense books get swept aside in favor of shorter books. 
  • I feel like my love of comic books and graphic novels just pads the number, and that it's not an accurate reflection of the things I could be reading from a more traditional standpoint.
  • It doesn't include other reading material, like magazines, online articles, and more, that I also spend time on, and which give me just as much - if not more! - pertinent reading information. 

It's probably that last factor that causes me the greatest amount of irritation. For instance, I did an entire Capstone project earlier this year as a senior year requirement for the University of Washington, which involved weeks of intense database research, where I read over a decade's worth of magazines from the 1920's... but that didn't factor into my reading total for Goodreads at all! Same with any of the substantial amount of  articles I was reading from the New York Times or Washington Post during Election season, which are fairly lengthy in their own right. How many "book" spots would those have taken up in my Challenge?

So, I've started brainstorming a list of ways I'm going to be altering my reading habits in the coming year, in an effort to strive for bookish achievement that isn't just a number logged into my Goodreads account.

(Don't get me wrong, I'll still be taking part! I'm just adjusting my number to account for other aspects of my habits than necessarily just judging quantity, over quality.)

size  and intensity of books you're reading

The last true monster I've read was Tolstoy's Anna Karenina back in 2012, before I started my 2-year stint as a fashion blogger for College Fashion. Because of things like Goodreads Challenges, I feel like I read more short, condensed books, because I need the numbers. I haven't read any true behemoths in a long time, despite the fact that I've been piling up plenty on my bookshelves in the interim. I've lately been having a craving to reread Homer's Odyssey and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, and I've attempted to stick Flaubert's Madame Bovary into my TBR several times, but they've never really stood the test. I want to bring more classics into my life, but I don't know how.

Instead of tackling titles in one brave moment, try setting smaller, individual goals to read a certain number of classics, or books over a certain size, over the course of the year. For instance, the idea of picking up a 600 page book, or a book written before the 1800s, might seem a little daunting, especially if you're out of practice taking your time with that kind of material. Don't let yourself get overwhelmed: break your goals down into more manageable chunks, like "read 6 classics in 2017" or "read 10 books over 500 pages." Then, take it day by day, with even smaller goals, like reading 50 pages at a time, or reading for a half an hour straight. Chisel those boulders into smaller rocks, 'til all you've got is a pile of totally manageable bookish pebbles!

diversity of books and authors you're reading

Last year, Tacoma superstar Erik Hanberg spent his year focusing on female authors, after discovering - through Goodreads - that they made up only about 25% of his reading habits. It's a distinction you don't necessarily think about, until you try reading exclusively from that author set, and one he was intrigued enough by to see through for a whole year!

Let's be real: we all have the tendency to stick to familiar authors and genres, which, for me, are a whole lot of fantasy. If I branched out the subjects of books I read - especially within the realm of nonfiction, instead of regular fiction - I'd probably be prompted to put a lot more mindfulness behind my book selections. This heightened appreciation for your reading material, plus the new kinds of information you'd be gaining through reading them, would definitely have an impact on your personal reading growth over the course 2017.

So, try setting a challenge to read outside of your comfort zone. Pledge to read a book a month from a certain genre or author set - for instance, books with LGBT characters, or nonfiction involving areas of scientific study that interest you - that you wouldn't normally experience. Explore new mindsets and learn new things, by reading 12 new books a year!

the fact that you're reading a little bit every day

While I'm always able to meet my Goodreads goals, that doesn't necessarily mean it's the result of a great habit: I tend to go through periods of binges and slumps that leave me feeling a little, well, unhappy with my reading practices. While there's nothing better than curling up in bed and powering through a couple of shorter reads in one sitting, it doesn't exactly make me feel like I'm consuming important material... nor does it tend to stick with me.

I'd much rather set up a system with myself where I read as much as I can every single day, in a more dedicated time period, maybe even in a dedicated place (there's this great reading chair next to my bed that I almost never use!). Whether it was for half an hour, or two hours straight, I'd no doubt end up reading more intentionally, and probably preserve the ideas and story of what I'm actually taking in even more.

Like I said, I love Goodreads Challenges, but there are other ways to grade your own reading accomplishments than by striving to reach a high number every year. I'm combining my Challenge for 2017 with a set of more personal challenges for myself, in an effort to make reading a more conscious and enjoyable practice, rather than something that makes me overthink what has always been my favorite way to relax.

Therefore, my total number of books I'd like to read this year is totally doable - only 50 books, instead of the 75+ of the past couple of years - with the direct intention of intensifying my reading habits in other notable ways, as well.

And, let's face it, I think Cait over at Paper Fury said it best on Twitter:

I can't be the only person who thinks this way, right? Do you take part in the Goodreads Challenges? Let me know, in the comments below!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016, At a Glance : My Year in Reading

Well, here we are, on the other side of 2016 - slightly worse the wear, but still kicking!

This post is a long time coming... mainly in that I meant to get it tackled a couple of days ago, but didn't manage to finish up my Goodreads Challenge until literally 11:30pm last night.  So, my "2016, By the Numbers" was a happy surprise to me, too, when I finally clocked out all of my page counts!

This year was a strange reading one, for me. Due to a couple of changing trends in the ways I read, my goal was reached, but left my total page count lagging a little over 6,000 behind last year's.

This difference in total reading quantity didn't have much of an effect on my rating tendencies, however: whereas last year, I rated an average of a 3.9, this year, I rated an average of a 4.2! Maybe it was the fact that I grade certain kinds of books, like comic books, on a different scale than others, or maybe it was the fact that there was a dramatic uptick in my tendencies to trade books with other people this year - Hi, Callie! - which made me more likely to rate them highly.

It really was the year of the comic book, too. Thanks to a couple of my favorite vloggers, as well as a few of my really good friends - Hi, Bernie! - I finally started giving in to the aesthetic loveliness of some of the industry's best and most popular graphic novels of 2016. A fascination with Rat Queens ran alongside a growing obsession with D&D, while Hark, a Vagrant! comic collections helped lend comedic shadow to those last few university study projects I had to finish up. In total, I read 15 comic books, graphic novels, or comic collections, and I know that the trend will continue into this year for me, as well.

One of the other big trends for this year was, unfortunately, the idea of the slump, and the quick catchup afterwards. You've already heard my woes of sinking behind in my challenge goals to the end of the year, but that's only one example of lagging behind. Some of the slumps had concrete reasoning behind them - think constructing my Capstone project this past Spring, or scrambling to complete a NaNo assignment in half the allotted time - but other had no reasoning at all, other than the fact that I simply didn't have the patience or attention span at that time. Hopefully this is a trend that remedies itself for me in the coming year.

And, of course, these slumps, trend differences, and existence of other forms of reading in my life - primarily news articles and magazines - have really caused me to rethink my Goodreads Challenge for 2017. 2016 has actually been one of my heaviest reading-oriented years yet.... my Capstone project prompted me to consume over a decade's worth of The Smart Set magazines, while my NaNo novel required constant research and revision. The election had me scouring the front pages of my favorite news websites every time I had wifi, while plenty of fun international mags at Bulldog News kept me tethered to publications like Frankie and UK Glamour. However, none of this is reflected in my reading goals... which leaves me feeling a little like I've failed.

2017 will be a year of fresh starts, old favorites, and plenty of new growth and leaves to turn over... and it's definitely going to include more changes to the ways I read, especially in how they're measured. So, happy new year, happy new reads, and may all of us find bookish success in 2017! 

How have your reading habits changed in the past year? Let me know, in the comments below!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

'Tis the Season! Some of My Favorite Christmas Stories

Back last Halloween, I brought up something pretty unique to the way my family celebrates the holiday season: a fat stack of children's books that takes up residence on our living room table for the duration of October. This means of spreading a happy Halloween was borne from having four children in the house, alongside plenty of their friends, every year... and it's no surprise that we maintain an even more gigantic stack of such reading material for Christmas, as well!

Last time I counted, we were up to 50-odd books, which made the jump from spreading out across the table to making their home on the fireplace somewhere around the 40 mark. This veritable cornucopia of all things Christmas is my favorite part of decorating every year, and contains a collection of every kind of kid's book imaginable, from silly sing alongs - like Alan Katz's Where Did They Hide My Presents? - to reason-for-the-season Christian stories, like Max Lucado's The Crippled Lamb. 

(And, of course, how much does my family love both Christmas and this holiday season? Enough to have two separate books, both titled A Pirate's Night Before Christmas!) 

Despite the fact that there hasn't exactly been an appropriately-aged readership for these kinds of books in this house for a while now - my youngest brother is 15! - this pile continues to grow year after year. And despite my own age, one of my favorite holiday traditions is still flipping on the tree lights, and basking in the glow of our blinged-out, bird-filled Christmas tree with books I've enjoyed before I was even old enough to read.

Image result for the night before christmas carousel bookThe Night Before Christmas, Clement Clarke Moore

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house... no other Christmas classic could start the season off in such an iconic way.

We've had a pop-up version of this story displayed, carousel-style, on our living room table every year since I was a kid. The beautiful, multi-layered illustrations have provided a visually engaging counterpoint to the density of the original language, and I've spent plenty of my life on the floor, twirling it around in my hands.

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Image result for a christmas carol book goodreadsNo one ever warned this Muppet-loving twelve-year-old that this was a ghost story, until I was already fifty pages in and nowhere near ready to turn out the lights just yet. Dickens has the distinction of having authored one of the best Christmas stories and one of the best ghost stories of all time... and I'm talking about the same book!

As the old miserly Scrooge has his life changed in the course of one night, after he is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, so, too, was my life changed, when the decision was made to have our whole family act in a local community theater musical version of this story. We did so for three consecutive years, and still quote the lines from the show to each other at appropriate moments during the holidays. No other time in my life have the six of us been able to take the stage together, and every year, I'm reminded not only of the importance of holiday cheer and good will towards men, but of how happy I am to spend time with my family!

Image result for the littlest angel book
The Littlest Angel, Charles Tazewell

So, my mom has been a Sunday School teacher for over a decade, and I've been her assistant enough years to feel like I know the Christmas Nativity material front, back, and sideways by now. But one viewpoint I had never stopped to consider, was that of the angels watching the whole thing play out from the clouds.

This story - of a little angel who picks the perfect present for the newborn child, built up of the things he loved most during his own short time on Earth - never fails to make me cry!

Image result for how the grinch stole christmas

How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss
There's no going wrong with this one: it's just a classic! From the original Seussian standby, to the animated take, to the riotous Jim Carrey-helmed live action movie, this tale of the grumpy Mount-Crumpit dwelling Grinch is beloved by all, no matter the iteration.

Besides, its animated installment has a special place in the hearts of Sigma Kappas everywhere, as Ted Geisel's wife was a member of Sigma Kappa Sorority  - he himself was a Sig Ep at Dartmouth - and there are several nods to some of our secrets sprinkled throughout its animated film counterpart!

27776515 My New Favorite:

Dear Santa: Children's Christmas Letters and Wishlists, 1870-1920, edited by Mary Harrel-Sesniak, with commentary by J. Harmon Flagstone

Unsurprisingly, one of my most recent holiday reads was added to the pile by the fireside by yours truly, and it's not exactly the same as the rest of the children's books that lay stacked there. This one is a little more thickly bound, a little more intended for adult audiences, and it's even nonfiction!

This curated collection of real-life letters to Santa from the golden age of its practice, features not only the heart-warming requests of children around the globe, but also highlight reels of the historical events taking place at the same time. The more the world changes around them, the more the wishes of its children stay the same. Even almost a hundred years after the final letter was written, that same sense of childlike wonder that surrounds the Christmas season reminds me to take things a little less seriously!

What are your favorite holiday reads, especially for children? Maybe I'll have to pick up a copy or two!  Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Leaving Under My Tree (and a Few that Will Already Be There!)

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!

Well, we're within a week left of sugarplum-dream-filled sleeps 'til Christmas, and I've finally finished picking out the perfect presents for friends and family.

However, while I'm busy trying to figure out what I can get away with sticking in a gift bag, and what deserves the full wrap-and-bow treatment, I'm stuck pining after the books that await me under the tree come Christmas morning (Get it? Pining...).

This week's "Top Ten Tuesday" topic celebrates that forward-thinking mindset, and lets us all share a couple of the cool and exciting titles we're hoping to find nestled 'neath the branches.

Peeking at my Presents - Things I Bought Myself and Know I'm Getting

Okay, okay, so there's that age old adage: "If you want something done right, do it yourself!" So when Black Friday deals rolled around after Thanksgiving, I sat myself down at my computer, and got right to it. Then, of course, when they arrived, I handed them off to my lovely parents to give me right back. I get the books I want, and they have presents already pre-selected by yours truly... everybody wins! 

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Three Novels of New York (The House of Mirth, The Custom of the Country, The Age of Innocence), Edith Wharton
The purchase of this collection of classic novels had very little to do with a sudden craving for American social commentary, and everything to do with the vibrant lilac of the cover, and delicately poised illustrations on its front and back. I'm not only excited to read it, but also to see how pretty it looks on my bedside table!

The Invasion of the Tearling, Erika Johansen
I had read the first installment of this series in the fall of last year, and despite my interest, had kind of forgotten about it until I lent it out to a friend - Callie! - this past summer, too. After rave reviews from her - and even more from mass media about the series' conclusion, which is out now - I knew I needed to finally pick up a copy.

In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs, Grace Bonney
As a recent college graduate, I'm in a constantly struggle to avoid crumpling up under the weight of self-inflicted expectations for what my life is supposed to look like. One of the things that have helped curb off the hollow feeling of missed potential, is by reading about the struggles and survival stories of successful people I admire... like in this book! It's thick, it's quick, and it's absolutely gorgeous to flip through. Plus, right now, I need all the help I can get.

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, Deb Perelman
After following the Smitten Kitchen blog for years and years, I was overjoyed to see her come out with a cookbook compendium of some of my favorites among her pantheon of recipes. Then, of course, I waited a good couple of years - checking it out of the library in the interim - until it was on sale enough for me to grab it for myself!

Stuck On the Sleigh - I Mean, It's Not Like My Parents Read My Blog or Anything... 

But, I mean, there's no such thing as getting TOO many books for Christmas, amirite? Just in case there's an odd number of gifts that need to be balanced between me and my three siblings this year, here are a few quick picks that, in a sheerly hypothetical sense, someone would be able to pick up at a local Barnes and Noble real quick for a last minute wrap session. (Just kidding. Hi, Dad!)

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The Romanovs: 1613 - 1918, Simon Sebag Montefiore
Maybe it's the fact that this is one of the most beautiful covers I've seen all 2016, or maybe it's the fact that the Anastasia musical is set to hit Broadway in the coming year, but this book has been consistently grabbing my attention every time I see it in someone's perfectly-styled #bookstagram. It's too pretty to pass up!

Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud, Elizabeth Greenwood
Whether it's the fact that I read about the other side of the crematorium business recently, or it's that my first-ever NaNoWriMo project had to do with fake obituaries, but this topic slapped me right in the face as soon as I read it off the cover. I just want to read about more death, guys!

Romeo And/Or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure, Ryan North
Oh, come on. Not only is the idea behind this project too cute to say no to, but a quick peek at the illustration-laced pages inside assures you that there's plenty of fun to be had for more straight-laced fans of the Bard, as well. Plus, it just gained a companion, with it's newest installment, To Be Or Not To Be! 

Miss Don't Touch Me, Hubert
I'm trading a space on my Christmas list typically reserved for the next installments of some of my favorite comics series for this sturdy study, about a young woman in Paris working undercover in a house for call girls, in order to track down the man who murdered her sister. Don't lie, you just got a little intrigued, too!

Dark Matter, Blake Crouch
Placing on - if not topping - almost every major list of the year for science fiction, I've been entranced by the hype surrounding this title. A real mind-bender, perfect for rounding out a totally surreal year!

The Girl with All the Gifts, M. R. Carey
As someone who is not at all a fan of a certain kind of monster story - one you've certainly began to associate the book with, if you've watched the moving previews of its film adaptation - this book keeps on catching my eye, despite the amount of times I've tried to tell myself I wouldn't like it. Even though that kind of uncertainty would usually relegate a book to the "library" pile for me, I think it would be a good idea to buy anyways, just because my sister and Dad would probably want to read it afterwards. Before we go see the movie, of course!

SO, I think that's my Top Ten. Of course, there are still plenty of non-bookish presents I'd like to see under the tree come Christmas morning, too... so how about that puppy, Dad? I've been a great kid all year!

What's in your Top Ten? Let me know, in the comments below!