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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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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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may book club 2018

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I’ve been reading more than ever the past few months. My boyfriend got me a Kindle last fall, and turns out that has been the key to unlocking voracious reading. This month was even more excessive than normal – a flight to California allowed for some dedicated reading time, and (finally) having really nice weather and setting up the patio office meant I just wanted to camp out with coffee and a book at all times!

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!

My Own Devices*: My queen Dessa wrote a memoir. And what an amazing story it is. I’m going to do a full review post on this eventually, but I’ll just say that if you’ve ever struggled in moving on from a breakup, this is a really fascinating read. It is absolutely the best book I’ll read this year.

The Pisces*: When I first read the summary of this book aloud to Dani, I thought there was no way I’d ever read it, but the book buzz got to me and I picked it up on Netgalley. This book was sexy, but I hated the main character. Which was possibly the point, but there was nothing redeemable or likable – maybe it’s because I felt too close to it, having someone similar to Lucy in my own life. Wouldn’t really recommend this one.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost): This was a random pick from boyfriend’s Audible account, but I ended up liking it a lot! It was really interesting to hear her backstory – I don’t know very much about Felicia Day, but I loved hearing about her weird upbringing, being in college and loving both math and music, and then how she turned her video game love into a TV show on her own terms. This would be a good one to read or listen to when you’re feeling like you’ll never reach your goals.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?: Yep, finally. I was super behind on this train, despite borrowing it from a friend a few years ago. I listened to the audiobook of this, primarily on the plane to and walking around LA, and there were parts that were just fall-down funny. On the off chance that there’s anyone who hasn’t yet picked this up, Mindy narrates the audiobook with some special guest appearances, and it’s a really good palate cleanser.

Dark Matter: Another one I’m a few years behind on, but HOLY COW WHAT A BOOK. I could barely put it down, and then shouted extensively for my boyfriend to read it and he finally acquiesced. I don’t read a lot of science fiction, which I think this technically is, and it’s a little bit in line with my Maybe in Another Life obsession. If you haven’t read this yet, put it on your list and read it next.

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

We Were Liars: I liked the slow reveal of this book, but something about it didn’t hit for me. It’s a YA, which I love, and I’ve never read a mystery in that genre. In We Were Liars, you don’t really realize that it’s a mystery until the character starts to have some memory restored from her amnesia. I used this for our unreliable narrator prompt.

The Wife Between Us: I can’t think of another book this year that had as much buzz as this one, so when my library hold came through, I dove in full speed. It was… not a book I would recommend. About 60% through the book when it starts to be clear what’s happening, I was having a lot of thoughts about trust and control and emotional manipulation in relationships – this is something I think about a lot anyway lately, so maybe I’m just more in tune to it. If you’re a person with baggage around that, maybe skip this book until you’re a good many years of therapy removed. I think the epilogue unraveled the rest of the story. I wish the beginning had been a little more clear and obvious what the viewpoints were. I did like how everything wrapped up and connected but absolutely thought that final twist was unnecessary and really hurt my opinion of the book as a whole.

Pivot Point: Another book I read mostly in LA, this was less of a casual pool book. Pivot Point is YA, and a little bit more in the fantasy realm than I typically delve, but it was suggested for fans of Maybe in Another Life, so you know I was on it. I really liked it a lot, though I think it could have had better character development for some of the secondary characters. It’s a double timeline, and really easy to read.

Split Second: The sequel to Pivot Point. I didn’t like it quite as much, but I liked spending more time with those characters.

The Myth of the Nice Girl*: I loved this book, and am going to do a full review post on it. Being nice is something that I struggle with often, especially in a male-driven tech environment. This book helped me work on my communication skills so that I can still be assertive while still making connections with my co-workers. I’ve always been very empathic, and The Myth of the Nice Girl helped me see that in business, this can be an asset rather than a downfall.

The French Girl: Earlier this year I’d been hearing about this everywhere in the book blogopshere, so I was excited when my hold finally came through. I really liked this. It wasn’t the typical over the top thriller or mystery, and I liked that as you read, there were a lot of plausible culprits for the crime. I also liked that there was a happy ending for everyone that deserved it, unlike many other books in this genre.

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

You Are a Badass at Making Money: This had been on my TBR for awhile, so I grabbed it before my Scribd trial ran out. I really like Jen Sincero’s woo woo, and working on my money mindset is something I’ve needed to focus on. The book definitely helped, and I want to read the physical book as well to reinforce the lessons.

Tell Me Three Things: This was a cute book. It was basically what I had wanted Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda to be. In this book, a new kid starts getting emails and IMs from a mystery student – they connect, and it helps her adjust to her new school. I liked this one a lot more than Simon – the main character was charming, you understood why she was struggling, and I wasn’t sick of her voice and stupid decisions by the end.

Belly Up*: Short story collections are hit or miss for me, and this one ended up being a little more challenging than I thought. The description sounded right up my alley – mediums, ghosts, and psychics! – but it fell flat for me. Some of the stories were hard to read because of their structure, but some of them I did really like (the ones that were actually about mediums and ghosts, go figure.) If you’re a fan of short stories and unique voices, pick this one up.

PBS’ Great American Read just started, and there are a few books on that list I’ve been meaning to pick up, so I’ll read along in June, and continue to make a dent in my Netgalley backlog!

What did you read this month? Anything you’re looking forward to coming out this summer?

May 31, 2018
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doing Chicago: cheap and free music festivals

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free festivals in chicago

Chicago in the summer is the best place in the world. (I haven’t been everywhere, but I’ve been enough places to be pretty convinced.) One of the best things is our seemingly unlimited supply of free street festivals – there’s something going on every weekend, and even during the week. Music festivals are super popular and run all summer, from Do Division the first weekend in June through the end of October, so check out these cheap and free Chicago music festivals!

Bookmark this post and come back all summer to find activities to check out!

Weekly Events

Navy Pier Beer Garden: The Miller Lite Beer Garden at the end of the Pier features performances almost every day of the week. Beer here is also super reasonably priced, and the gorgeous views of the city as the sun sets is totally worth the schlep out to the shore from whatever neighborhood you’re in. Check out their calendar for music events, plus other great free things to do while you’re in Chicago.

Haymarket Brewery: On Thursdays, Haymarket Brewery has an Americana music series featuring a lot of my faves and friends from Nashville. This is actually a year-round series happening every week, so pop over for some great brews and tunes, even in the dead of winter!

Grant Park Music Festival: Grant Park is home to the largest outdoor classical music festival, which is pretty cool. Events here feature the option to purchase tickets, otherwise, GA seating is always free on the back of the great lawn. Special guest conductors and performers and performances of classical greats is an excellent way to add some culture to your Chicago trip, without adding a big price tag.

Annual Events

June

do division

Photo via Do Division Facebook

Do Division Fest: Do Division is sort of the symbolic start of summer for me. It’s the first weekend after Memorial Day on one of the coolest stretches of West Town. This year’s headliners include Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Deerhoof, and Bear Vs. Shark – not bad for a free street fest! In addition to eight(ish) hours of music at two stages per day, there’s also a sidewalk sale with local artists and vendors, a family fun festival with activities for the kiddos, the shops on Division set up their sales outside, and restaurants expand their patio seating.

Andersonville Midsommarfest: Andersonville on the north side is a really fun and diverse area, and from June 8-10, they present a great street festival. A $10 donation goes to the neighborhood chamber, and you can take part in yoga, check out music, shop the vendors and sidewalk sales, and eat until you can’t eat anymore. Andersonville has a heavily Swedish heritage, so partake in some traditions like dancing around the Maypole and eating Swedish food (it’s more than just meatballs.)

Chicago Blues Festival: This free festival in Millennium Park is also June 8-10, so if you’d like to stay closer to downtown, stop in for a set here. I love picnicking at Millennium Park, and there’s a Mariano’s nearby – pick up some snacks and a bottle of wine for a cheap, romantic date downtown. The incomparable Mavis Staples caps this year’s festival on Sunday night at the Pritzker!

Taste of Randolph: Three stages in the West Loop along Restaurant Row? Sign me up, please! This festival is pretty long-running, and this year will take over Randolph Street from June 15-17. The lineup is insane – I can’t wait to see Mayer Hawthorne and the amazing MONAKR again – for a $10 entry donation. Taste of Randolph is definitely a can’t-miss event for your weekend in Chicago!

Logan Square Arts Festival: This is a small music, arts, and family festival in Logan Square. One of my favorite bands, Priests, is playing this year, and I’m excited to pick up some enamel pins from local seller Jini & Tonic!

July

craig finn at west fest

West Fest: Another festival that shuts down along a stretch of great restaurant options, West Fest is July 6-7 this year. The first time I met Craig Finn was at this festival, so it holds a dear place in my heart. It’s on the smaller scale, so if you get overwhelmed by the big crowds at Grant Park or Taste of Randolph, this is a great one to head over to. A small kids area is far away from the stage to protect their hearing, food trucks park at the end of the street, and vendors line the road. (My suggestion? Grab dinner at Roots Pizza. Soooo good.)

dessa at square roots festival

Dessa at Square Roots Festival 2016

Square Roots Festival: This festival in Lincoln Square gets some pretty heavy hitters every year – the first year I went, it was my first solo Dessa show, and I was just delighted. (I heard her sound check start, thought I was running late to the show, and ran in on crutches… only to realize it hadn’t yet started.) This year Square Roots is from July 13-15, featuring Nashville favorite Pokey LaFarge and Chicago locals Get Up With the Get Downs among (many) others. A $10 donation gets you through the gates for the full weekend (and benefits the Old Town School of Folk Music), and like many other festivals, there are lots of vendors and family-friendly activities. I remember this festival as one of the best food spots – it felt like the food and beer options went on for miles!

doomtree at wicker park fest

Wicker Park Fest: Wicker Park/Bucktown is still my favorite part of Chicago, and Wicker Park Fest is July 29 and 30 this year. It’s a $10 suggested donation for admission, but they shut down part of Milwaukee Ave., put up three stages for music, and fill the street with vendors and Goose Island beer. There’s also a kids festival here. Headliners should be announced in a few weeks, and after Doomtree and Guided By Voices last summer, I’m not sure how they can top it this year!

August

Big Evanston Block Party: I’m really excited for this first-year block party. SPACE in Evanston is one of my favorite venues here, and from August 25-26, they’re celebrating ten years of concerts. Two of my favorites are headliing – The Old 97’s and Guided by Voices – so I can’t wait! It’s a free festival with options to purchase VIP upgrades, but it looks like early registration is required, so grab your August 25 and August 26 tickets early.

September

Chicago Jazz Festival: This festival is where I lost my keys last year, but I’ll try not to hold that against them. Sitting on the lawn here, sipping bottles of wine picked up at Mariano’s nearby, and watching the sun set over the city skyline is such a nice, relaxing way to say goodbye to summer.

goose island 312 block party

312 Block Party: This Goose Island party represents the end of summer to me. 2018 dates haven’t been posted yet, but it’s typically the third weekend in September. Last year, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists headlined, and in 2016, Beach Slang was my favorite set. Word on the street is that this year, the Empty Bottle is bringing in the best lineup yet, and another bonus (besides the beers and excellent brews?) Grab Hot Doug’s from the food area here, which is a Chicago classic.

Did I miss any other free Chicago music festivals? Let me know what your can’t-miss picks are!

May 23, 2018
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winter favorites 2018

Posted in Living by

If you’re a regular reader here, you know that I’ve been reading a whole lot lately. The best book I’ve read so far is Julie Buntin’s Marlena, and it’s hard to imagine anything that will top it. Set in mid-90’s Michigan, it’s the story of a girl who tries to figure out what really happened to her friend. A bit of a trope lately, but the story really stuck with me, and Buntin’s writing is incredible.

Another book discovery, the Libby app is my new favorite thing. Similar to Scribd and Hoopla, Libby is affiliated with libraries, and I find it easier to navigate than Overdrive. You can check out audiobooks or eBooks, and send books to your Kindle or read them in the app (so even if you don’t own an eReader, you can still check out eBooks from the library.) Another way to save tons of money while shoveling through the never-ending TBR list!

This is definitely a different… subject than I typically share here, but I try to be pretty sex-positive, and over the holidays I discovered Unbound. They’re a sex toy eCommerce site that’s super tech- and femme-focused, and they have a quarterly box subscription. In addition to sexual health and wellness products and toys, they also have really fun feminist t-shirts, tote bags, and more.

DESSA’S NEW RECORD IS OUT!! Writer, rapper, and general badass, Chime is my album of the year and my favorite of hers to date. It explores feminism and gender, and even her experience in neuroscience experiments in trying to force herself out of love. (That part is worth exploring on its own.)

I’m a little bit late to podcasts, honestly. I liked My Favorite Murder for awhile, I like And That’s Why We Drink a lot, but I never got around to listening to My Brother, My Brother and Me until boyfriend showed me the TV show. The McElroy brothers are super funny, and two of them host my new favorite YouTube discovery, Monster Factory.

What are you into this chilly winter?

March 6, 2018
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