Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

The View from My Reading Chair – Jan 25

I am one tired puppy this morning! Last evening, my colleague, Richard Fountain, and I performed a recital of Piano Duo rep celebrating the sounds of America. It was a massive program — including Rhapsody in Blue as well as The Symphonic Dances from West Side Story — so I’m feeling pretty beat up today. My back aches. My eyes are very heavy. If this post doesn’t make a lot of sense today, I hope you will understand why!

In spite of the busy week leading up to last night’s recital, I was able to continue making progress in my personal reading. I finished Dear Evan Hansen which I totally adored! The rest of the week was mostly spent with The Yellow Birds. I use some pretty strong words — HATED IT! — to describe my feelings about this war novel that touted itself as a modern All’s Quiet on the Western Front. When I wasn’t working my way through those novels, I continued slowly working my way through the Brahms biography I’ve been reading for a few weeks.

I gathered my energy for a few minutes this morning to return this week’s two novels to the library and to pick up a couple of new ones. I know, I know…..I have a massive TBR stack after last weekend’s visit to the bookstore, but I am not quite ready to dive into any of those. I have some travel coming up soon and will probably carry my personal paperbacks on those trips. So what’s in store this week? I decided to continue working in YA literature and wanted to check out Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans. My local librarian told me it is the newest series that some of our students are beginning to work their way through. I have no idea what is in store for me here, but I thought I would give it a shot. I also picked up The Long War by Terry Pratchett that is a part of My Library Shelf project. It’s the second volume of the sci-fi series. I’m hoping that both of these will be rather light reading after the heavy topics covered in The Yellow Birds. I need some fluff in my life! I’m also hoping that a little lighter reading will encourage me to get back into Swafford’s biography of Johannes Brahms with a little more gusto this week.

Okay…time to hit the books and get reading again!

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#5: The Yellow Birds (Kevin Powers)

Things have been quite busy this week in preparation for a piano recital that I performed last night. So this book review is a couple of days late, but something that I definitely need to write. I actually finished reading the book earlier this week.

I HATED THIS BOOK! I don’t know that I have actually ever completed a worse piece of fiction in my entire reading life. Why did I push through to the end? The novel was part of My Library Shelf project and I wanted to give the author — and the shelf — the opportunity to redeem themselves. Sadly, it never happened.

The Yellow Birds is a war story set in Iraq and follows a pair of soldiers through the challenges of deployment, the trauma of so much killing, and the stress of dealing with death all around and the subsequent pressure to return to American society. In theory, the book sounded interesting. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a fan of military fiction. I tried — I really did — to allow the characters to speak to me. I found them to be two-dimensional and not people that I could empathize with. I really did not care about their story and was very happy to see the final page of the book come.

I’m waiting for the service man to arrive at my apartment this morning to hopefully restore my internet and cable service. Once he is done, I plan to return my books to the library….and return to my beloved library shelf. It has been a good source of wonderful stories for me so far. I won’t hold my poor experience with The Yellow Birds against it.

If I can keep my eyes open, I’m ready to dive into another book and continue my reading adventure. Who’s ready to join me?

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#4: Dear Evan Hansen (Val Emmich)

During my most recent library trip, I decided I was in the mood for some Young Adult fiction. I hadn’t done any advance research and didn’t have anything in mind. Unfortunately, scanning the shelves led to unsatisfactory finds. (I’m going to have to try again to see if the selection is really that poor!) As I was heading to the circulation desk, a book caught my eye on the bottom of the new selections display – Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich with Steven Levenson, Benjamin Pasek, and Justin Paul. I immediately recognized the last three names as the team behind the hit Broadway show of the same name. I had just found my next read!

Dear Evan Hansen is the story of a high school senior, Mark Evan Hansen, who often feels unnoticed and overlooked. He avoids crowds and shies away from the public eye. While visiting his therapist (just to make his mother happy!), Evan is instructed to write daily letters to himself. While they are meant to focus his attention on the positive aspects of life, Evan is also told to simply be truthful about how things are going.

After a particularly trying day that included an encounter with the school recluse and bully, Connor, Evan heads to the computer lab to write his feelings. “Dear Evan Hansen,” he begins and lays his feelings of hopelessness and frustration with life on the line. As he prints the letter, he discovers that Conner is also in the lab. Before Evan can get to the letter, Connor has already retrieved it from the printer, read it, and leaves with the letter in his possession.

While Evan waits for his world to be destroyed by Connor sharing the personal letter with the public, Evan’s world takes a sharp turn. Connor has committed suicide and his parents found Evan’s letter. But they don’t think the letter was written by Evan! Instead, they assume that Connor was preparing to share his feelings with his best friend, Evan Hansen.

What can be done? Evan must decide between telling the truth and admitting to his own embarrassing circumstances or he can create a facade that will bring relief to Connor’s grieving parents while making Evan an overnight sensation and hero! Dear Evan Hansen beautifully examines the conflict between fact and fiction by those teens who feel they are not noticed by anyone and the guilt that comes with the lies.

Perhaps one of my favorite passages from the novel comes in the Epilogue. Since I am certain it will not spoil important plot points, I want to share it here to let you see the beauty of the narrative and to let you think about the quote’s important message.

It reminds me of that saying: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” I guess that means we’re just products of whoever made us and we don’t have much control. The thing is, when people use that phrase, they ignore the most critical part: the falling. Within the logic of that saying, the apple falls every single time. Not falling isn’t an option. So, if the apple has to fall, the most important question in my mind is what happens to it upon hitting the ground? Does it touch down with barely a scratch? Or does it smash on impact? Two vastly different fates. When you think about it, who cares about its proximity to the tree or what type of tree spawned it? What really makes all the difference, then, is how we land.

Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich, p. 334

Go to your local library or bookstore and pick up a copy of this book about love, loss, and the power of friendship. Most importantly, remember that none of us is truly alone!

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The View From My Reading Chair – Jan 18

It’s been a busy week here in Plainview, TX with final preparations for today’s piano competition taking much of my time. Still, I managed to keep up with my daily reading goal — and that makes me very happy!

This week I finished Pat Williams’ Read for Your Life and I continue to be moved and influenced by what I read. It is still amazing that you can return to a book that you read almost 10 years ago and the text continues to resonate and challenge.

I decided it was time for a little YA reading and picked up Dear Evan Hansen at the local library. I am aware of the score for this musical hit, but I didn’t know much about the plot — except for Evan Hansen’s arm cast. I’m a little over 200 pages in and completely mesmerized by the story. I should get it finished this weekend before diving into The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers as the next installment in My Library Shelf project.

Of course, I’m still working my way through the Brahms biography. Haven’t made much progress on this front this week. I just couldn’t think about investing mental energy into something so studious in this exhausting week. I’m planning to get back into the biography this week. I really want to make some more headway in that one.

I treated myself to a nice lunch in Amarillo this afternoon after the piano competition. Since I was so close, I simply had to step into Barnes and Noble to see if there was anything that I needed. My TBR pile is already huge, but I added three new titles to the stack today.

Some more light reading for when I’m ready to move out of fiction for a while. Of course, these will come after finishing the Brahms!

So, 2 1/2 weeks into 2020 and I have completed 3 books — only one of which was an audio book. I think I’ll have 2 or 3 more completed by the end of the month….assuming next week’s Piano Duo recital does not need massive amounts of work. It probably will, but I am still determined to do at least an hour of reading every day. I’m hoping for more than just 60 minutes. Any chance I can reframe my job to involve more reading time?

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#3: Read for Your Life (Pat Williams)

In November, 2008, I first read Read for Your Life: 11 Ways to Transform Your Life with Books. Nearly 12 years have passed and I decided to pick the book up again and read it with fresh eyes. My impression is the same — it is a simply written, challenging defense of the importance of reading for the sake of the individual, society, and future generations.

Pat Williams’ resounding challenge throughout Read for Your Life cannot be mistaken. Devote an hour of every day to the activity of reading. He takes things a step farther, eliminating magazines, newspapers, and romance novels from the list of qualifying materials. A minimum of one hour devoted daily to real texts — the latest novel, classic literature, or non-fiction of all kinds. Williams’ statement throughout is clear. He doesn’t care what you read (well…that’s sort of true….), he just wants to see you read.

Once the challenge is made in the early pages of the book, the remaining pages examine the impact of reading and how to make reading a part of your life. The reasons are what you would expect. Reading exercises your brain and helps you age better mentally. Reading allows the reader to further their own education. Reading models important behavior for the young. It informs us of the past while examining the present and preparing for the future. Reading is a way of conversing with many of the greatest minds our world has ever known. Reading changes us.

The tips are simple and rather obvious, but they are presented in such a way that you want to buy into the principle. Get up earlier in the morning. Use reading as a way to wind down at the end of the day. Rotate through several different tomes to avoid getting bored. Read books that interest or challenge you. Break your reading sessions up throughout the day. Never go anywhere without having a book nearby. Always have a new book on hand — the anticipation of the new book helps to encourage you to finish the one that you are currently in. Williams goes so far as to suggest reading in the car while sitting at a stop light. I’m not so sure about that recommendation, but I get the idea.

Before reading Read for Your Life again, I had decided to change my yearly reading goal. Instead of challenging myself to read a certain number of books (although I do have a goal of 40 since that seemed achievable), I decided to focus on reading daily. My goal was 30 minutes every day in 2020 and I’m sticking with that. So far — as of today, January 15 — I’m on a 15 day streak. What has been shocking to me is how easy it has been to actually permit myself to read for 30 minutes each day. Most days, I’m hitting 60 minutes without a struggle. I have several books in play at the same time (currently I’m reading 3 books), but I still find myself devoting most of my time to one book at a time. If I can maintain this pace, I’m excited to see just how many works I can complete in 12 months. The regularity of reading may be the key that I’ve been missing as I have sought to develop a well-read life.

Read for Your Life was published in 2007. Some of the statements about ebooks and the use of tablets are clearly outdated. The descriptions of bookstores and libraries are from a day gone by. Despite the aspects of the book that don’t hold up a decade after publication, the book’s message is still clear. Williams’ love for books permeates every page and is infectious. I challenge you to pick up a copy and have a read for yourself. I have a sneaky feeling that you might just find yourself accepting the challenge of daily reading yourself. Let’s see just how it changes our lives together — one book at a time.

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The View From My Reading Chair – Jan 11

Life has returned back to normal this week. I made my return to Texas and have been busy ever since! With that said, my reading life has been rather healthy this week.

I have completed my first two books of 2020 while back in Texas.  You can find my reviews of Karamo and At the Wolf’s Table here on the blog. One audio book and one novel there…..not too bad if I do say so!

I am continuing my reading adventure with three additional books at the moment.

  1. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (Lori Gottlieb) – I’m reading the audio book, so I anticipate this will progress rather slowly. Now that I’m back in Plainview, there isn’t a lot of driving to be done and I don’t really enjoy listening to books when I’m in a place where reading from the page is possible. It’s an interesting book so far, but I’m consuming it in small chunks.
  2. Johannes Brahms: A Biography (Jan Swafford) – With opera camp on my plate this week, I’ve not really wanted to do much musical reading at all. I have progressed in the story to the point where Brahms first meets the Schumanns. I have enjoyed the analysis of the early piano works and hope to have a chance to do some listening to them this week.
  3. Read for Your Life (Pat Williams) – This book first began my journey toward increasing my personal reading habits years ago. Although some of the data is a little dated, I think Williams makes powerful arguments about the importance of reading in our personal lives. I just started reading it last night and I’m not very far into it…..but I don’t think this one is going to require much time.

You notice that a novel is not currently occupying a place on my shelf. I started a work of fiction this week and did something that I rarely do — I put the book away and decided not to read it now. I was especially shocked since it was I Am the Clay by Chaim Potok, the very author that I praised in last week’s update. Oh well…..I think I was just too tired when I tried to start reading the book. I’ll find another novel to add to the mix in the next day or so.

There you have it……I’ll have more updates for you next Saturday (if I don’t return sooner with a book review).  Until then, just keep reading…..


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#2: At the Wolf’s Table (Rosella Postorino)

Some books catch your eye because of their cover and you immediately think, “I don’t think I want to read that one.” That was the case with At the Wolf’s Table from the very beginning. It was on My Library Shelf at Unger Library though. Now I had a choice. I decided to put aside my initial impressions and follow through with my challenge and began to read the novel.

What was it about the cover? Really, the problem was on the spine. A small, but prominent swastika — the symbol of the Nazi party. I have always had a fascination with World War II and enjoy reading historical fiction from that era. At the Wolf’s Table was going to be different. It was going to take place deep within the Third Reich. Did I really want to read something that portrayed evil? I wasn’t sure.

Postorino’ s novel tells the story of a small group of women who find themselves as a gog in the wheel that was Hitler’s Wolfsschanze — the Wolf’s Lair. The central character is Rosa, a young Berliner who returns to the remote area of eastern Germany while her husband serves in the war. She moves in with her in-laws, but is quickly selected to work as a food taster for the dictator. Rosa is given a seat At the Wolf’s Table to make sure that food prepared for Hitler has not been poisoned.

Throughout the novel, Rosa shows the danger and challenges wrought on the Germany people under Hitler’s regime. She watches helplessly as those she loves struggle with hunger. Loved ones lose their lives in bombing campaigns. One of her favorite collegiate teachers is dragged away before her eyes because he is a Jew. While acknowledging her on hatred of the Third Reich, Rosa also deals with her growing love (or is it just lust?) for a young SS Officer who supervises her activity in the dining hall.

At the Wolf’s Table was a powerful read that I am very glad I picked up despite my initial hesitation. The final part of the novel seemed poorly written in contrast to the earlier sections. While I appreciate Postorino’s desire to bring Rosa’s story to a close, I found the ending to be pedantic and unsatisfying. Truthfully, if the story had simply ended with Rosa’s train ride back to the Berlin after Hitler’s demise, I would have been a very satisfied reader.

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#1: Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing and Hope (Karamo Brown)

Here it is….the first review of 2020! Not surprisingly, the first book that I completed this year was an audio book.

Karamo: My Story is the memoir of Karamo Brown, life coach on Netflix’s reboot of Queer Eye. For those of us who grew up with MTV’s The Real World, we first met Karamo there. Things have definitely changed since our first encounter with the author all those years ago.

As I listened to the book, I was immediately struck by Karamo’s honesty and openness. He shares details about his childhood, his early relationship with organized religion, and his struggles with addiction that are startling in their frankness. Yet, it quickly becomes clear that Karamo is sharing these stories in order to help others learn from his experiences. I especially found his discussion of the intersection between faith and his sexuality to be thought-provoking and timely. Quite simply, Karamo sums up his feelings on the subject with three words: “God is Love.” Whether you are interested in the rest of this memoir, this single chapter is worth reading. (I think it was chapter 3…)

As Karamo speaks of his sons and his husband, it is easy to hear his love for them. The level of commitment that he expresses for his marriage is one that many couples in traditional marriages could benefit from. I don’t care what you think about this hot-button topic, Karamo’s proposal story will make anyone believe in romance.

I first began listening to this audiobook simply out of curiosity. Did this man that I watched on television many years ago have anything substantial to say? What I found was a gracious man who is passionate about life and helping others to live theirs in the most honest, fulfilling way possible.

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The View From My Reading Chair – Jan 4, 2020

Happy New Year! I hope that each of you have gotten your personal reading journey off to a good start with the beginning of 2020. As promised in my New Year’s Day post, I will offer brief weekly updates on Saturdays throughout the year as an accountability on my own reading in addition to the regular posted reviews.

I’m working my way through 3 books right now.

1) At the Wolf’s Table (Rosella Postorino). This novel is the latest installment in My Library Shelf project. For any new readers, I was challenged to read my way through a shelf of my local library that was chosen at random (with a few stipulations, of course). The shelf had to include at least one classic novel, a minimum of 10 unique authors, and no author could be represented more than 7 times. Unger Memorial Library in Plainview has a limited selection, so I had to bend the rules a tiny bit….one author (Terry Pratchett) has 12 books on my current shelf. Still, I’ll be exploring works by 13 authors in the process.

At the Wolf’s Table is the story of a group of women who find themselves commanded to serve as food tasters for Hitler in Nazi Germany. The women eat the glorious food prepared for the dictator and are then observed for an hour to see if they are the victims of poisoning. If they show no ill effects, the meal is taken to Hitler’s lair. I have about 100 pages remaining in the novel and will share my thoughts in an upcoming post this week.

2) Johannes Brahms: A Biography (Jan Swafford). Is it really surprising that I would begin the year with a biography of one of my favorite composers of the 19th century? I actually started reading this work several years ago when I discovered that my copy was defective and was missing over 150 pages! I finally got around to replacing the book earlier in the Fall semester and just began to re-read it while in Arkansas for Christmas break.

The Brahms biography will be one of my biggest reads for a little while – clocking in at just over 600 pages. I’m reading rather slowly and making notes along the way, so this one will probably remain a fixture in my weekly updates for a while. I’ve made my way through the first 75 pages of this fascinating examination of the composer’s life and work.

3) Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing and Hope (Karamo Brown). Audio books have long been part of my reading routine. I especially enjoy “reading” memoirs in this format when the author reads his own words. I first encountered Karamo as a cast member of MTV’s The Real World. Now better known as a member of The Fab Five of Queer Eye, his story is one of struggle, addiction, and triumph. I’ve got about 2 hours of listening left and should have it done early on my drive back to Texas on Monday.

So….I anticipate two reviews coming up in the days ahead that will give a little more detail about the books and my responses to them. Until then, continue to enjoy your own reading journey.


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Welcome 2020!

Happy New Year, my reading friends! My reading life (and thus, my writing here) was very sporadic during 2019. I’m ashamed to admit that I only read 21 books last year. My goal was 35. Obviously I fell short. That’s never a good feeling.

Recently, I viewed Brandon Vogt’s online seminar about how to double your reading next year over on Brandon has some really neat ideas to share and I found the seminar worth the $1 that I had to pay for a trial subscription. (I promptly cancelled because none of the other videos seemed that relevant to my personal faith journey, but I do think it is worth a look. The videos seem to be done at a very high caliber.) After considering Brandon’s statements, I decided to take the challenge and set a goal to double last year’s reading. That means I’m setting a goal of reading 40 books in the next 12 months. What can I say? I like round numbers and just couldn’t bring myself to looking at the number 42 all year long. LOL

What will that mean? It means some changes in mindset for me first of all. Rather than trying to read a book every week, I’m simply committing to reading at least 30 minutes every day. I’ll have several books going at the same time so my reading can go wherever my interest leads me. “Reading” will also include audio books….so my time in the car can also be used toward my reading goal. I really don’t know how this is going to go for me. Having so many books going at the same time might be a total disaster. I just don’t know. Currently, I’m working my way through 3 books: 1) a novel from My Library Shelf project, 2) a massive biography of the composer Johannes Brahms, and 3) an audiobook.

I plan to use this blog as an accountability tool. The brief book reviews you have come to know (and hopefully love) will continue as I read through the year. In addition, I am going to post each Saturday with an update of how the reading has gone for the week. I’ll admit when I haven’t done much reading and share the challenges I’m facing. I’ll also share glimpses into some of the reading that I am really enjoying and what is sitting in the pile waiting for my attention next.

I hope you will join me for the journey. As always, I love to hear from you and to get your responses to the books. Now it’s time to put the iPad away and transport myself back to the story of a few women who have found themselves in the undesirable position of being food tasters for Hitler during the war….but I’ll tell you more about that one in the days ahead.

Happy reading!


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