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2018 book recap & 2019 reading challenge

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So this is it, welcome to the new year! Listening to this song by Motion City Soundtrack just after midnight is my annual tradition as I welcome the changing of the calendar. This year I was extra anxious, because I had nearly completed my 2018 book challenge, and everything else that I wanted to read next would fit the 2019 prompts that Dani and I had chosen.

Last year I managed to read 104 books, which is absolutely a record for me. (That many books, and I still managed to miss a few categories in the challenge. Grr.) I thought I’d revisit some of my favorite books as we gear up for the next challenge!

My Own Devices: Unsurprisingly, this was my book of the year. Dessa is one of my favorite musicians, favorite lyricists, and the writing in her first memoir is unsurprisingly lyrical. It examines the science of love, and if it’s possible to use science to fall out of it, and what to do when the person you’re in senseless love with is also part of your rap crew.

Marlena: This book was recommended to me by two friends, and I’m so glad they did. It’s the story of a woman looking back on her murdered best friend when they were growing up in rural Michigan, running amok and hanging out with the proverbial bad crowd. It’s told in alternating timelines – mostly in the past, with some modern day reflections, and I read it in about two days.

Broad Band: Did you know that the internet was built by women, and that women were the original computers? Even though I work in tech, I truly did not – I’d never really thought about the origin of the word “computer,” or how things were built. Claire Evans tells the stories of some of the most important and influential women in tech, and I haven’t stopped talking about this book ever since. (There were three people who got this for me at Christmas.)

Dark Matter: HOOOO BOY. I found this book while looking for books described as similar to Maybe In Another Life, which is my favorite book, and even though it’s a bit more sci-fi than I usually tend toward, it is incredible. It’s also set in Logan Square, where I spend a lot of time, so it was fun to picture the locations the characters would find themselves in. It made me think a lot about the ethics of things like the multiverse and cloning – you know, just casual topics.

Daisy Jones and the Six*: I’m a huge fan of Taylor Jenkins Reid, so when I heard that her next book was based in music journalism history, I was ecstatic. This novel is told as a narration – members of bands Daisy was affiliated with, as well as Daisy herself, tell a love story, a band biography, and paints the 1960’s rock landscape so perfectly you’ll think you were there.

Tell Me Lies: The cover of this book spoke to me, and I checked it out of the library without really even considering what it was about. Turns out it’s about a girl who continually tries to make a relationship with a man who clearly doesn’t care about her. Tina said that this book is for a particular audience, but that that audience would love it, and I agree.

Wintergirls: Clearly, I trend toward enjoying stories about self-destructive women. Laurie Halse Anderson is such a great writer, and the Wintergirls are two girls who bond over their eating disorders until one of them dies, and the other is forced to reckon with her feelings about her friend and her illness. I’d meant to read this for years, and I thought it was really well-written, and certainly didn’t glorify anorexia or bulimia at all.

Sharp Objects: This was actually my first Gillian Flynn book, and I really loved it. The writing feels dark, and the story certainly is – a journalist goes back to her hometown to look for connections in murder and missing girl cases. The protagonist is a cutter, drinks to medicate her depression, and I appreciated the familiarity in her coping mechanisms. I haven’t seen the Showtime series yet, but I aim to binge it soon!

For 2019’s challenge, we had brainstormed all year, noting prompt ideas and reading lists in our shared document. During roommate Christmas at Mindy’s Hot Chocolate (oh my gosh, so amazing, it’s a must visit in Chicago) we reviewed everything, cut out categories from last year that we hated (goodbye, Nordic noir!) and determined the 2019 challenge.

Do you do reading challenges? How do you force yourself to make it through books you hate?!

* I received an ARC of this book from the publisher for review. Thoughts and opinions are, as always, my own.
January 3, 2019
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october 2018 book club

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october book club

What a crazy month October was. My boyfriend and I are moving in together, so the majority of the free time was spent packing up and cleaning his apartment, then unpacking and settling into the new apartment. Moving is exhausting and it’s not over yet, because I’m not moving my things until December. Phew! That left little time for reading, and to be honest, my attention span for reading was getting a bit short anyway. I did manage to get through a few titles this month, though!

My boyfriend got me a Kindle last fall, and turns out that has been the key to unlocking voracious reading. Dani and I also created our own reading challenge this year to increase our reading: 51 categories to prompt us to pick up books we wouldn’t typically read (or books that have languished in TBR-land for too long.) Here’s what I read this month, including what you should pick up and what you should let lay!

Like reading on your computer or mobile device? Check out Scribd – thousands of eBooks, audiobooks, magazines and more on your device!

Devil in the White City: Incredibly, it took me until now to pick up this book. I was expecting it to be about H.H. Holmes and his murders, but instead I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be more of a study of Chicago and the World’s Fair. Living in Chicago, I found it more interesting than ever, and it made me appreciate architecture in this beautiful city even more. Even if you aren’t an avid true crime aficionado, I recommend this book (but definitely read the print version, because the audiobook narrator felt s l o w.)

The Evidence of the Affair: This short story by Taylor Jenkins Reid, told in exchanged letters, was a nice dramatic read. Like many of her books, it doesn’t end up where you think it will, either. It’s free for Amazon Prime members, and a nice way to whet your appetite before Daisy Jones and the Six next spring!

Wondering how I read so much? My libraries use Libby – see if your library has a partnership, and check out the mobile app!

Everything Everything: I think I’ve had Dani’s copy of this book on my shelf for over a year and never gotten around to it. One night, I was in desperate need of some comfort food, and nothing else I was in the middle of felt good, so I picked this up. I read it in one sitting and absolutely loved it. Another book that left me flabbergasted at the ending, I just didn’t see the twist coming at all. Great reading for a cozy night in when you need to disengage from your brain for awhile.

Interpreter of Maladies: This is a book my boyfriend suggested to fill a challenge prompt last winter, and it took a long time to get around to it. It’s amazing – and easy to see why it’s a Pulitzer winner. Though I really enjoyed it, it did feel like it took a lot of effort to get through. Despite that, I absolutely recommend it – the worlds Lahiri creates are rich, vibrant, and each story’s ending feels organic and real.

What about you? Did you read anything spooky this month?

October 31, 2018
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september 2018 book club

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Like last month, September was a slower month of reading. I didn’t read as many books, but I think the page length evened out as I read some longer books this month. It also featured a re-read, which maybe shouldn’t even count! As the year starts to end, I’m assessing the holes in the reading challenge I still need to fill, while also keeping up with my library requests which are coming in fast and furious now.

My boyfriend got me a Kindle last fall, and turns out that has been the key to unlocking voracious reading. Dani and I also created our own reading challenge this year to increase our reading: 51 categories to prompt us to pick up books we wouldn’t typically read (or books that have languished in TBR-land for too long.) Here’s what I read this month, including what you should pick up and what you should let lay!

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry: Neil deGrasse Tyson is such a gift. He narrates the audiobook (which I listened to in one sitting on the way to and wandering around Riot Fest) and presents these huge concepts in really relatable, digestable bites. It’s also short enough that anyone could read (or listen to) really quickly, so it’s definitely worth picking up!

Broad Band: The Untold Story of Women Who Made the InternetThis book was amazing. I can’t say enough how highly I recommend it. I’ve heard Grace Hopper’s name, but I never knew she was essentially responsible for modern programming. I didn’t know that “computers” were actually a job at first, all computations done manually, and usually by women. I had never heard of the ENIAC 6, or about so many other things in this book, and so many women who kind of blazed a path and a place for women on the internet, in computer science, and technology.

Like reading on your computer or mobile device? Check out Scribd – thousands of eBooks, audiobooks, magazines and more on your device!

Night Moves: Hoooo boy, did I have feelings about this book. I really wanted to like it. I wanted to let go of some of my recent opinions about Jessica Hopper. Some backstory: I was a really big fan of hers in college, and basically up until last year. And then during a run of shows I attended by my favorite band, she wrote some not-so-nice tweets about girls in the front row of those shows (saying she wanted to write a “fanzine” about us, and insinuating we were victims of the patriarchy and brought to these shows by men rather than attending on our own volition.) So I really wanted to put all that aside and go back to liking her and her writing again… but I just couldn’t. That band is featured in this book (really the only one that is name dropped at all, which feels out of place) including incorrect facts about what band member plays what instrument. We get it, you know the band. No one is impressed. Ugh. There was also a real absence of women, and I get that it’s supposed to be a journal based around that time in her life and that maybe she only had one friend of a friend who was a girl, but it felt lacking to me. Maybe someone else would like it, but it didn’t work for me.

I do agree with her on one thing, though – Chicago truly is the city that doesn’t give a shit.

The Year of Less: I put off reading this for a long time. It’s written by Cait Flanders, a PF blogger I used to follow religiously (she was formerly Blonde on a Budget, then later rebranded to her own name once she was no longer writing anonymously.) This is another book I was skeptical of, and I’lll totally cop to why – I was jealous of her. I’ve been jealous of a long time. Her blog was wildly successful, she was able to become a super successful freelance writer, and she’s a minimalism dream. So I didn’t want to read the book because I didn’t want my nose to feel “rubbed” in it. I listened to the audiobook on Hoopla (Cait narrates it) and ended up loving it. She likens consumerism to other kinds of addictions, talks about skeptical family members, and even the emotional connection to stuff and things. I really enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to my own six-month non-essential shopping ban starting next year.

@dessa is as always funny, smart, charming, inspiring, and a lot of other superlatives, idk. #MyOwnDevices is such a good book, go get it and read it and post about it and buy it for everyone you know so she can write me another one.
and also so she can buy me a bobby pin to replace the one I let her borrow in LA.

My Own Devices: This is a re-read, and I normally wouldn’t include that here, but this book came out recently so I wanted to hype it again. Dessa’s creative non-fiction book of essays is well-written, touching, and thought-provoking. She strings one story thread throughout the book – through different essays and sections, the story of her long-term relationship and how she finally used science to get over him. She gave a talk here a few weeks ago and I got to ask her some questions. If you’re anywhere near the book tour, I definitely recommend going – Dessa is super intelligent and I felt so inspired throughout. (And if you check out the next Chicago event, you’ll see me there!)

The Book of Essie: This YA book has been getting a lot of buzz and was a Book of the Month club pick, so I was pretty excited about it. The family in it seems to be based loosely on the Duggars, and it’s a story about their baby girl who gets pregnant and appears to not have a say in the choice that’s made for it. It’s an interesting perspective, and I liked how the manipulation in it wasn’t necessarily negative.

Wondering how I read so much? My libraries use Libby – see if your library has a partnership, and check out the mobile app!

Bitch Planet Vol. 1: Evan suggested this to me months ago, but I just got around to it. I’ve never read comics before (except the Archie comics when I was younger) so it was a little hard for me to adjust to. It took awhile to get into the flow of not only reading it, but piecing out how the story started. I did really love it though, and definitely recommend!

An American Marriage: I read this to fill our prompt for “An Oprah book club pick” and because there’s just been so much buzz about it being the book of the year. I found it to be… just okay. The story itself is of course infuriating – a black man accused by a white woman, then prosecuted without evidence – but I found one of the main narrators so unlikeable for the start that I almost quit reading. I powered through and I did like the ending, but it was a challenge to get there since I disliked one of them so much.

What else should I read next?

October 1, 2018
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7 companies hiring remote employees this month: August 2018

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Customer Service Representative at Tumblebooks: Tumblebooks is a new app to me, but I’m super excited about it. Similar to Hoopla or Libby, they provide children’s and middle grade books to libraries for lending on mobile devices. I popped it on my iPad the other day and set it up with my library card, and there’s a really deep variety of books there. They’re looking for a CSR to field support inquiries by email and phone and help set up new member accounts. This would be an amazing entry to a growing company for anyone who loves books!

Taco Unicorn at HeyTaco!: HeyTaco is a Slack integration for teams to build each other up and motivate them, which I think is such a great idea. Especially in remote companies, often teams might not know what great work other parts of the company are up to. HeyTaco helps recognize company-wide, so the whole team can heap kudos (aka “tacos”) on each other. Since it’s a growing company, they’re looking for someone in customer service to set their own job description. This could be a great part-time remote job for establishing your niche.

Looking for an empowering community of women in technology? Check out Tech Ladies for networking opportunities, exclusive job openings, and fun local events!

Senior Event Operations Coordinator at InVision: InVision is a graphic design app, and they’re expanding their event services team. This person will serve as a concierge for event attendees as well as the rest of the traveling marketing staff. InVision is a fully distributed company, but being on a traveling marketing team is one of the best ways to interface often with fellow staff members!

Social Media Engagement Coordinator at MeetEdgar: MeetEdgar is one of the dream remote companies to work for – they offer a housekeeping reimbursement to their teams! This part-time role is ideal for someone looking to transition to remote work, or even for a college student. You’ll be creating and sharing social content, and sticking to a collaborative content calendar!

Community Manager at Thinkful: Thinkful is a pretty cool new-ish company in the education sector. The Community Manager will help the marketing team raise brand awareness, organize free coding classes and events, and schedule and coordinate staff. Benefits include free tuition for Thinkful, so if you’re in marketing or event operations and looking to pivot to more hands-on code, this is an awesome opportunity.

Associate Product Manager at USA Today/Gannett: If you’re a technical writer, this job sounds awesome (and sounds especially exciting to me.) You’ll be user testing, writing a high volume of content, working with and finding brand partners, and consistently review and evaluate performance. This would be a great starter remote job for a blogger – it involves a lot of things we do anyway, and if you add those things to your resume, it can help you get ins with positions like this.

Freelance Writer at LitCharts: This would be a great side gig for an English or lit major. If you know classic literature really well and want to help others understand it better, check out this opportunity for LitChats. It’s flexible, so you can write as much or as little as you want, on their approval!

If you work remotely, do you tend to work from home, from a coffee shop or co-working space, or do you travel often?

August 22, 2018
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best audiobooks ever

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best audiobooks

June is National Audiobook Month, which is great – I love audiobooks. Podcasts can be a fun way to pass time at work or on a commute, but audiobooks are just as great and educational. A few years ago when I was driving from Nashville back to my hometown in Michigan, I popped on Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid on Scribd, and it started two love affairs: one with audiobooks, the other with TJR. They can also be meditative – when I’m doing really repetitive tasks, or cleaning the house, it can be nice to have a narrative rather than back-and-forth gossip of a podcast or music. To celebrate this month, I’m sharing some of my favorite audiobooks!

Like reading on your computer or mobile device? Check out Scribd – thousands of eBooks, audiobooks, magazines and more on your device!

Non-Fiction

For audiobooks, I tend toward non-fiction, especially memoirs. It’s a fun way to hear someone’s story in their own voice, in a way that’s a little different than just text on a page. Here are some faves:

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling: I listened to this last week in one workday and totally loved it. It’s Mindy’s second book, and in it, she dispenses lots of advice – from dating, self-confidence, the pressure on women to be thin, and the value of working hard. “Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse TysonWhat is the nature of space and time? How do we fit within the universe? How does the universe fit within us? Neil deGrasse Tyson wrote (and narrates!) this book with quick answers to broad, big topics. It’s clever, it’s easy to understand, and it’s easy to turn on and off – he presents a lot of the information in easily digestible bites to fit into any schedule. I really liked this a lot, and it made me think a lot about the world and the universe.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler: Another memoir by a female comedian, this audiobook is awesome. Amy invites Seth Meyers to read a chapter, as well as Carol Burnett, and both are exceedingly funny. Plus, my friendo Craig Finn gets a shoutout – they went to college together in Boston. Small world. She dispenses a lot of advice about what it’s like to be a powerful woman, especially in male-dominated fields, and how she overcame the stigma of being too assertive.

Good Clean Fun by Nick Offerman: Seeing a pattern of specific non-fiction books I like? This was a random pick for work one day – I don’t have a particular interest in woodworking or construction, outside four years of high school theatre – it just seemed like a good workday listen. His voice is almost meditative – very calm, soothing, and would be a really great bedtime story, or even to pop on to calm anxiety.

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore: I learned about “the radium girls” a few years ago from a Buzzfeed long read. In the 1910’s, many women in New Jersey took great jobs painting on watch faces – without any knowledge that they were being poisoned by radium, not knowing what consequences they would all eventually face. This book chronicles their story as well as the worker’s rights and labor laws their experience changed.

Wondering how I read so much? My libraries use Libby and Hoopla– see if your library has a partnership, and check out the mobile app!

Fiction

When listening to fiction, I look for books with multiple actors – it really helps me picture the action, and helps keep things straight! Plus, it’s more like listening to a fiction podcast, which is something I’m exploring more and more lately.

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink & Jeffery Cranor: I’ve wanted to get into the Welcome to Night Vale podcast for quite awhile, but was never sure where to start – when I saw their first book on Libby, it seemed like a great way to jump in. It’s a really unique story, and I loved the way it built and resolved. The narrator is excellent – he also hosts the podcast – and it’s plenty long, if that’s something you’re looking for!

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: To be fair, I haven’t actually finished this one yet. But I absolutely love the large and varied cast of voice actors, including Nick Offerman, Carrie Brownstein, Ben Stiller, Rainn Wilson, Kat Dennings, and even more – it makes it feel almost like an old-time radio show, with each character having their own voice. This was also the 2017 Audie winner, and it’s easy to understand why! Historical fiction is a very difficult genre for me to get into, and the way this audiobook is done, even I am enjoying it.

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus: This is a bit of a long listen, which could be a good thing if you really want to get invested in the characters. The story of a high school murder mystery, someone dies during after-school detention, and the search to reveal who was really behind the death. This book also features multiple voice actors, so it’s easy to keep the characters straight – important for listeners who might otherwise get confused by dialog in fiction audiobooks.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: Admittedly, this book hasn’t come through my library holds yet, but I can’t wait to listen. Another nominee for the 2017 Audie Awards, the preview sounds great, and the book has widely gotten great reviews. Queue this one up on your phone for poolside listening and skip squinting at a book or eReader!

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid: I can’t finish the list off without a nod to what made this such a compelling listen for me. Voiced by actress Julia Whelan, the story is wonderful, but Whelan’s performance adds a lot to the story. It’s told in a dual timeline, from the point of view of Hannah Martin. Whelan changes her voice for each timeline to accurately reflect the person Hannah is, and what she’s going through, in each. If this book doesn’t sound up your alley, keep your eye out for anything narrated by her – she’s really wonderful and narrates the best audiobooks!

What do you think are the best audiobooks? What ones are your favorites? I’m always looking for new things to listen to during work or on the road!

June 11, 2018
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