A year’s worth of books

By my rough count, I’ve read 63 books this year, not including the countless number of kids books I read aloud. It’s a respectable number–nowhere near my peak, but not too shabby when I take into account everything else that happened in 2015, which notably includes raising a toddler and growing a baby.

Part of the reason that I make it a point to read often is so that my son, and soon my daughter, can see me enjoying books. I want to raise readers. Readers can be entertained anywhere, they can explore new ideas and test theories, and I have found that they are generally interesting people who are capable of having great conversations. The best advice I have ever been given is to develop the ability to speak genuinely and intelligently with anybody about a topic that interests them. Sometimes that means knowing a lot about a subject and sometimes it just means knowing how to ask thoughtful questions. I took that advice seriously and realized that being broad in my reading choices is the best way to develop those skills. This year’s books included history, science, literary fiction, young adult novels, architecture, material culture, food, mystery, essays and memoirs. I loved some of them, worked my way through others and stopped reading a few that I just did not enjoy.

I believe that reading makes me a more interesting person. The mental space to encounter new ideas and explore old ideas in unique ways makes me a more thoughtful person. The ability to do something for myself definitely makes me a better mother.

There are a few things that I know for sure about what 2016 will bring. Our family will gain a new member and many sleepless nights. The toddler will grow faster than I realize and learn new things constantly. My children and I will read together. And I will read alone to keep a sense of myself. Because in my continually changing reality, books will remain a constant.


Have you ever watched a toddler’s face?

There is nothing guarded or held back. Emotions play out in all their ferocity and quickly flicker back and forth. Anger turns to elation when the blocks finally stay stacked. Happiness becomes sorrow when a loved one leaves the room.

My favorite toddler face is a mixture of surprise and wonder. Something like this:11796287_722338451355_6153115859727048228_n

The picture is blurry, but I think the general feeling comes across nicely. Noah was amazed that his Uncle Ryan could skip rocks across a river. It violated his fragile grasp of gravity.

More recently the face looked like this:


He spent a lot of our walk through Zoo Lights pointing and talking and generally being excited. However, it was the carousel that had him truly impressed. There were movement, lights and animals. Here’s a close-up:


Riding the carousel was an entirely different face (a combination of trepidation and sleepiness), but I never want to forget how happy he was watching the animals go around in circles well past his bedtime.

You can’t manufacture a face like that; you can only enjoy them when they come.

Another season of waiting

As I sit here drinking my coffee, ignoring the plaintive cries of my toddler for a few more minutes, two candles are glowing in the background. I wrote last year about my love of Advent, a feeling that gets stronger each year. This season I find myself waiting for many things–my students to turn in their final projects so I can put my online class to rest, paychecks to come, temper tantrums to end. I can feel my daughter forcefully moving, which has me impatiently thinking of the day when I get to hold her.

I am trying something new this Advent, which I hope will evolve, the way these things do, into a loved tradition. I filled the drawers of our Advent calendar with things to do. Some are big, like visiting Zoo Lights, but most are small things that we can do each day to put us in the right mindset. So far we have danced to Christmas carols and mailed postcards to loved ones far away. Soon we will count the donation pig and do something for some else. It is an attempt to remind us about what we are spiritually waiting for, beyond the temporary desires that hit each December.

We sing the missa simplex at our church this liturgical season, and one line keeps coming back to me each morning: “Christ, true light from light,  heal our blinded sight.” As I hear hate speech coming from a presidential candidate in the wake of heartbreaking violence, I pray that this season of waiting will allow us all to open our eyes to the beauty and goodness that still exists in our world.

2015 in Books, November

  • Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
    • Fantastically good writing. Honestly, when I read the blurb on the back of the book I wondered how anyone could write a novel based on a man walking between the World Trade Centers on a tightrope. The plot was not what I was expecting, but it was expertly executed.
  • How Buildings Learn: What Happens after They’re Built by Stewart Brand
    • This architecture book was one I read for work. Part of the big idea of the new exhibits I am working on is that the use of the mansion building has evolved over time to fit the needs of its users. My research is leading me to the conclusion that this is true both architecturally and philosophically. Brand made me think about buildings in a whole new way, which had the added benefit of making me love my old house even more.
  • Queen of the Turtle Derby and Other Southern Phenomena by Julia Reed
    • As a general rule, I will read any book that promises humorous essays about the region that I love. Some of Reed’s essays fit the bill and others were not quite my style. It was also odd to read stories written about New Orleans pre-Katrina. I have gotten so used to post-Katrina NOLA discussions, that it was hard to get into a pre-flood mindset.
  • Landline by Rainbow Rowell
    • As with the other Rainbow Rowell books I have read recently, this one made me happy. It’s a fast book, and a reminder to not take people we love for granted.
  • Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook by Dana Gunders
    • I won a copy of this book from The Penny Hoarder, which I was super pumped about. While I already do a lot of the things that Gunders suggests in her handbook–like utilizing the freezer, canning, composting, and making stock from food scraps, I found some good information. For example, her explanation of food expiration and best by dates made me rethink my approach to some of my kitchen staples. I also appreciated the reminder to think about food as precious and something that should be used to its fullest capacity. It’s easy to forget that mindset when living in the land of 24-hour grocery stores. We have a food-secure household, and for that I am very grateful.
  • Elite Women and the Reform Impulse in Memphis, 1875-1915 by Marsha Wedell
    • Background research for a project at the museum. We recently reframed the concept of a gallery that we are redesigning to include a panel about the suffrage movement in Memphis. Wedell’s book does not deal exclusively with the suffrage movement, and it comes before the time period the exhibit will cover; however, I believe in casting a wide net. She gave me background information about the women who were active in the community in a well-researched format.
  • Broken Harbor: A Novel by Tana French
    • Tana French is the reason why I do not read other mystery novels. She sets the bar so high that I have a difficult time finding other authors who can entertain me as well as she does. This is the fourth book of hers that I have read, and, like the others, she kept me guessing and twisting with the lead detective until the end. If you like psychological mysteries, you should definitely give her a read.

Sister Suffragette

Finally…another post for the Pink Palace. This one is about the women’s suffrage movement.

The Pink Palace Family of Museums


A major political battle that took place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was the fight over women’s right to vote. In Memphis, Martha Elizabeth Moore Allen was one of the city’s most prominent suffragettes. She was born in in 1851 in Plymouth, Indiana, and later married Jacob Davis Allen. Mrs. Allen first got interested in the women’s suffrage movement after she heard Susan B. Anthony speak at a rally in the 1870s. Her active involvement in suffrage work began in 1889 after she and her husband moved to Nashville. After they moved to Memphis, Mrs. Allen joined the Equal Suffrage Association in 1904. The organization folded shortly thereafter, and she became the first president of a suffrage group called the Equal Suffrage League from 1906-1912. Her involvement was not limited to the city, but rather extended to organizing the suffrage movement throughout Tennessee, and one of the…

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