Monday, November 23, 2020

It's Monday 11/23! What Are You Reading?

It was a week of ups and downs for me. I had a big victory last week when I managed to go shopping at Target and Trader Joe's (they are both about 30 min from us) for the first time in many months! I stocked up since we hadn't been in ages ... though I was surprised to find empty shelves in the paper towel/toilet paper aisle. Really? We're doing this again? Looks like people learned nothing this spring! Luckily, we already had paper towels at home, and I prefer the toilet paper at Trader Joe's (and they had plenty). I also manage a bit of weeding two days last week, which is desperately needed here! Our yard is like a jungle.

Unfortunately, I "crashed" after that big shopping trip and also after each weeding attempt, which tells me I am still not quite back to my normal baseline (I have a chronic illness and relapsed this spring), and my stamina is still lower than normal. So, the weekend wasn't nearly as productive as I'd hoped, but I did manage a short hike with my husband at our local nature center. we were glad to take advantage of the unusually warm day! 

A nice warm day at our local nature center

We also enjoyed an outdoor visit with my father-in-law and a lovely Sunday drive to a farmer's market about 30 min away to get some decorative gourds (having so much trouble finding them this year!) and their fabulous freshly-made cider donuts. I had to settle for a few mini pumpkins and some edible squashes from our fridge in our cornucopia, but I think it looks OK! I still need to get the rest of our Thanksgiving decorations up. Like I said, not as productive as I'd like. We are preparing for our two sons and their girlfriends to be here for Thanksgiving (one of our sons just moved out a few weeks ago), so trying to plan to keep things safe! We'll be seating each couple at a separate table, wearing masks, having the windows open (I told them to bundle up!), etc. We finally decided against trying to have my FIL here, too, and he agreed it was too risky. We were hoping to do an outdoor dinner at lunchtime, but it looks like it will be raining.

Thanksgiving cornucopia

Meanwhile, of course we are all enjoying our books, too, even in this busy season! Here's what we've all been reading this past week:

My next choice for #NonfictionNovember (though I didn't officially sign up for the challenge!) is a memoir that my husband gave me several years ago, H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. Reading challenges always help with my packed To-Be-Read bookcase! It's an unusual memoir about how she dealt with her father's sudden death by getting and training a goshawk, known to be one of the more difficult hawks to train. Helen was already an experienced falconer, but training a goshawk was a different experience for her. The memoir follows the parallel paths of her grief over the loss of her father and her training of Mabel, her new goshawk. It also weaves in all kinds of history of hawks and falconry, including the experiences and writings of T.H. White, author of The Once and Future King, and other acclaimed books, who also trained a goshawk--and wrote a book about it--while dealing with personal emotional pain. It's a slow read for me so far (or maybe I've just been too tired at night and at naptime to read very much!), but it's very interesting. I know nothing at all about hawks, so I'm learning a lot, but, like Helen, I did lose my father about five years ago, so I can relate to that.

I finished the nonfiction graphic "novel" for middle-graders called The Roanoke Colony: America's First Mystery. It is part of the History Comics series. As usual with books about history, I learned so much! Why didn't they teach any of this in school?? It tells the story of not only the colony itself (which was established 100 years before the pilgrims arrived) but also the background of what was happening in Europe and why Queen Elizabeth I sent people to the New World to start the Roanoke Colony--believe it or not, the purpose of the colony was to provide a base of operations for privateers (i.e. pirates) to raid Spanish ships! The narrators are two young Native American men who went back to England with the first scouts to learn English and share knowledge and then returned with the ill-fated colonists. It is fascinating and filled with interesting historical details about history, lifestyles, and culture on both sides. I loved it and can't wait to read the next book in the History Comics series, which I have here waiting!

On audio, I finished listening to The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois, a historical and literary classic written in 1903. Du Bois was an African-American who graduated form Harvard in 1895 (a feat in itself at that time) and was a renowned historian and sociologist. This famous tome reviews a portion of U.S. history with respect to African-Americans. Coincidentally, at the same time I was reading White Trash, I was also listening to Du Bois' narrative about the same periods of history--for instance, the post-Civil War era--from two different perspectives: that of Blacks, both freemen and freed slaves, and of poor, rural whites. It's been fascinating to fit these two different points of view together, as both are a far different story of U.S. history than what I learned in school! I especially like the chapters where Du Bois shares some of his own experiences, as a teacher and later, a father. I enjoyed it and learned a lot. Apparently, this book is considered an important book in the study of sociology (which Du Bois helped create), and it feels especially important to read it at this moment in time.

Now, I am listening to an audiobook I have been waiting for with excitement, No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality by Michel J. Fox. I read his first memoir, Lucky Man, while visiting my mother-in-law, who also had Parkinson's disease. And I listened to his second memoir, Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist, on audio and loved every minute--I laughed and cried, and felt understood and lifted up. As with those first two memoirs, this new one also deals with his experiences with a debilitating chronic illness, which I can relate to (though now, later-stage Parkinson's is a whole different ballgame), but he also writes about life, with its ups and downs, loves and losses, joys and sorrows. I am already loving this memoir, and I keep pulling out my earbuds to play certain parts for my husband. As with Fox's earlier memoirs, I am laughing and crying and loving every minute of it. I highly recommend listening to this one on audio, read by the author in his instantly-recognizable voice. For a little preview, check out his interview from Sunday Today with Willie Geist that aired yesterday. More tears and laughter!

My husband, Ken, is reading one of my top reads of 2020 (maybe THE top one), Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. I'll let my Monday update from August speak for itself here: "I LOVED THIS BOOK! It was amazing, and I just want to tell everyone to read it! I always enjoy time travel plots, and this book is part of her Oxford Time Travel series, which also includes To Say Nothing of the Dog, which I also enjoyed (they are loosely related and don't have to be read in order). This time, in 2155, a young female student, Kivrin, has traveled back in time all the way to the 1300's, in England's Middle Ages. It's the first time they've sent anyone back that far, and there are all sorts of concerns since so little was recorded about that era. Hours after Kivrin leaves, though, a contemporary emergency occurs when one of the techs working on the project comes down with a devastating virus, and says that something went wrong with the time travel, just before he passes out. This shouldn't happen, given the high-tech medical precautions used in this future (no one even gets colds), so there is a scramble to figure out what the virus is and where it came from. Meanwhile, the team at Oxford doesn't realize it, but the reader knows that Kivrin arrived in the Middle Ages with the same debilitating symptoms. What a premise--a contemporary woman horribly sick in the Middle Ages and all alone. The action goes back and forth between the present-day and the past, and the suspense is incredibly compelling. The mystery in the present and the happenings in the past continue to evolve and intertwine, and I came to care about the characters so much that I can't stop thinking about them, a week later. Ok, yes, there are two epidemics involved in this novel, and some similarities to our present situation (the book was written in 1992) are a bit unnerving, but the story, characters, and suspense are so great that I didn't care.  I loved every minute of it! (My review is at the link above)." So far, Ken is loving it, too, especially the humor.

Our son, 26 (and recently moved out), was very sick last week (COVID-19 test was negative, thank goodness; just his usual bronchitis and he's doing better now on antibiotics), so he had plenty of reading time. He finished reading The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett, book one of The Demon Cycle. Amazon says it's a series about humans versus demons, in a world where humans must live in magical wards to protect themselves from the hordes of demons that come out every night. But the demons are winning, with more humans killed every night. Three young people dare to stand up to the demons and sleep outside the magical ward in a desperate attempt to rediscover the secrets of the past that used to keep people safe. Our son loved book one and immediately moved onto book two, The Desert Spear. It's good to have some great fiction to escape into when you don't feel well!

Blog posts last week:

TV Tuesday: Yellowstone - modern Western drama we are loving!

Middle-Grade Graphic Novel: Trespassers by Breena Bard - realistic story of friendship plus a myster, set at a lake house

Fiction Review: Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam - unique and suspenseful story of two families and a mysterious global tragedy

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

You can follow me on Twitter at @SueBookByBook or on Facebook on my blog's page.   

What are you and your family reading this week?


  1. Our Thanksgiving is just going to be the two of us. Yours sound like you are doing all you can to be safe. You have some books here that sound very interesting too. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

  2. Hope you enjoy the Michael J. Fox book, its hit our bookshelves too. Oh boy that sounds like a Thanksgiving dinner like never before and hopefully never again! It's amazing how going to the grocery store is exciting when you haven't been before. In our lockdown time I ordered online for delivery but never the same as looking at what I am buying. Don't over do Thanksgiving!!

  3. I loved H Is for Hawk on audio, but I think I'd like to read it in print sometime. I knew nothing about hawks, but The Once and Future King was my all-time favorite novel in my teen years, so I loved all the references to it. Great plan for Thanksgiving! We're cooking and plating the food at home and bringing it for everyone to warm up their own plate in the microwave and eat at a distance from each other with open windows. It's supposed to rain here too, but one of the five of us only has Thanksgiving Day off, so we couldn't choose a different day of the weekend to celebrate on. Hope your energy returns in full force soon, but please take it easy on Thanksgiving!

  4. I'm so sorry you're not feeling well! I'm glad you managed a couple fun outings, though! Cider donuts sound delicious, and your cornucopia looks wonderful—I wish I had one to decorate with! H is for Hawk sounds fascinating—I have family who have that book, but I don't think they've read it yet, so I'll have to relay your thoughts to them. Thanks for the great post!

  5. I hope you have a lovely holiday dinner with your boys. Don't overdue it with all the cooking and cleaning! I like your small colored gourds.

  6. You've got a wide selection of books on the go. Happy reading.

  7. Sorry to hear that you've been struggling physically, but happy to hear you can share Thanksgiving with your sons. That's called making the best of a tough situation.

    I really liked H is for Hawk - it was an audio for me, so the pace was naturally slow. I found the parts about T.E. White particularly rough, but loved the parts about her training her hawk. Looking forward to reading her latest book this winter.

    I must've read Doomsday Book at the wrong time because I'm the only person I know who's read it and didn't love it. Maybe I should try again - love the premise to bits!

    Happy Thanksgiving - stay safe.