Favorite Books of 2020

Well… this certainly was a year, wasn’t it? I remarked on social media recently the dark humor that is watching planner community videos from the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 as they set up their new productivity systems. I know I had a nice little planner for my writing life that basically went blank after May. I tried, I really did, but this year was a rollercoaster more than most, and all the goals I had set and tried to achieve just became less important. I am hoping to jumpstart things in this next year, but I’m keeping my expectations low.

One thing that didn’t change for me was my reading habits! I had a number of life changes this year, and I’m grateful that through it all I had a bunch of good books to keep me steady and keep my mind occupied amidst all the uncertainty. So here’s a list of the books I enjoyed the most this year.

The Shakespeare 2020 Project. Up until June, I was totally on track reading Shakespeare’s entire catalog with a fun group of people on Facebook. I am a little sad I didn’t get to finish it through, and hopefully sometime in the future I will. I ended up purchasing the Shakespeare app with all the plays and explanations of the words to help me better understand the context (and I also didn’t want to be reading from a huge book of the collected works or a bunch of paperbacks. I read better and faster when it’s off my phone.) A few of the participants are moving on to reading all of Charles Dickens in 2021!

Jesus and John Wayne. I wrote up a review for this book months ago, so you can find that here. But it’s still a topic that resonates with me and what I think about a lot still. This was a good introduction to the concept.

My Dark Vanessa. This was one of the fiction books I truly enjoyed this year. And “enjoyed” isn’t the right word. A book about a woman reckoning with the affair she had with her high school English teacher isn’t enjoyable. But the writing was totally top notch, the main character incredibly relatable, and the story relevant and terrifying and achingly beautiful. It was a difficult book to read, but I also couldn’t put it down.

Paper Bullets. This one I got to read early to review for Library Journal! (It’s behind a paywall, alas.) This was a FASCINATING story about an artsy lesbian couple who lead their own rebellion against their Nazi occupiers and were imprisoned for it. If Hollywood doesn’t attempt to make a movie about these two, they aren’t doing their job. If you enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, you’ll relish this one.

Can’t Even. I’d had this book on my radar for a while, and after a number of media outlets mentioned it, I decided I better quickly get it into my reading plans. I was not disappointed. This so definitively nailed my experience as a millennial it was shocking. It laid out so many thoughts that I’ve had in recent years and offered explanations for how my generation has ended up with the problems we have. It’s not a total downer, either, which was greatly appreciated, and the author also gave some hopeful suggestions and ideas and some camaraderie that at least lets the reader not feel so alone in their experiences. HIGHLY recommended for both millennials and those who love them.

What did you read this year that you enjoyed?

Using Evernote in Library Work

I have been a pretty dedicated Evernote user for the past seven years. I used the free version for a while until I had to admit to myself that I used the app enough to warrant a subscription and I haven’t looked back. I don’t think enough people are aware of this awesome app and all the things it can do to keep you organized, and I try to convert all my friends who ask about it.

(Use my referral link to sign up!)

What is Evernote? It’s essentially a digital file cabinet. Instead of folders full of newspaper and magazine clippings, random pieces of paper with lists, and certificates and programs and manuals I may need to refer to later, I can have them all available digitally and searchable on any of the devices I use that have wifi. I use this app to take and organize notes during conferences, clip articles and blog posts I want to retain for future use, hold a lot of rough drafts of writing ideas and projects before I develop them further, and just generally retain and organize a lot of information for me that I might otherwise have in a physical file cabinet. My long-term use of the app has cleaned up a lot of physical clutter I might otherwise have, and since I can create separate notebooks for the different kinds of information I gather, and tag individual notes for my own personal filing system, AND keyword search for information in the whole app, it’s been a marvelous way to keep all the information I may need or will need at a later time.

I discovered pretty early on in my usage that it was especially beneficial to my work as a librarian. So I thought I would lay out what I have used it for during the course of my career.

  • Readers Advisory/Collection Development. I am not currently a selector for my library, but in past positions I was and as I went through the reviews and catalogs and lists of upcoming titles, I’d inevitably find titles that sounded really good for certain patrons and I would want to remember that book. So I started a rather extensive notebook in Evernote just of book lists under various topics. For instance, I worked at a library that had a very active mystery book club, so new mysteries were always on my radar. I’d sort upcoming and new releases into lists of tropes (gardening mysteries, animal mysteries, mysteries with professional cops, mysteries with older women sleuths, etc.) and I would pretty quickly come up with a list I could eventually turn into a bookmark to handout or leave out for patrons. At this point all those lists I created are a few years out of date, but if needed, I could still pull up my “time travel” book list and have a good foundation to come up with a display or bookmark or suggestions for a patron.
  • Professional Development. I have worked at four public libraries in my career. That’s a lot of movement. And I figured out that I couldn’t rely on my work provided email and computer drive for retaining some of the information I was learning and developing. Your work-provided email and computer drive are NECESSARY and you do need to have certain things stored on both. However, when I go to ALA or PLA or a state library conference, I found it was so easy to create a tag for that conference and have a whole series of notes from the sessions of that conference that I could absolutely use back at my home library, but might also be useful to me later in my career, or spark ideas for another library. I can keep track of any continuing education certificates or classes and access them wherever I am. 
  • Diary. This can get a little more into the weeds, but hear me out. I don’t use Evernote for my calendar or to-do list (I have other apps/systems for that), but I have used Evernote to keep track of any daily or noticeably regular occurrences for various reasons. For example, I have used it while I was at the reference desk to keep track of the funny stories of patron encounters I have. I maintain patron privacy, obviously, but when you work public service you gain a large collection of “people are weird/funny/disturbing” stories, and workers like me like to keep track of those for posterity’s sake. I keep thinking I’ll one day write a book about my public library experiences, and my diary of various patron weirdness is at least a starting point. It’s also a great treasure trove of quirks to work into characters if you’re also a writer. 
  • Reading Log. While this is certainly not exclusive to working as a librarian, I have found keeping track of my reading in Evernote is beneficial. Many of us track our reading through Goodreads, but I read plenty of things that I don’t necessarily care to advertise on book social media for various reasons. So I can keep track of it through a simple spreadsheet I designed for that purpose that keeps track of the book title, author, format, and date finished. Many people in the book world have developed complex spreadsheets to track different factors of their reading habits, but this system has been sufficient for me. Plus, you can add keywords or impressions about the book that you can search for later on when you’re doing readers advisory as well.

What kinds of things do you find yourself tracking or organizing on a regular basis? 

(Use my referral link to sign up for your own Evernote account!)

I’m working on a book about Simple Digital Productivity to help folks use their smartphone to plan and accomplish tasks. Let me know the kinds of productivity and organizing helps you could use!

How I Use Todoist

I’m actually not sure how many people know this about me, but I’m an organizational junkie. I am obsessed with how people organize tasks, how they plan, what tools they use. Have been for years, but I think what really skyrocketed my interest was stumbling upon the “planner community” of YouTube a few years back. I was a young professional looking for ways to improve my productivity. I had used a paper planner since grade school to keep track of my assignments, but watching hours (literally) of videos of people showing off their planners and their planning systems got me very interested in trying new ways of organizing and being productive.

One of the systems I got really into was the Bullet Journal. I know plenty of people who utilize a BuJo, and I rather enjoy seeing their Instagram posts of the layouts they use for it. My BuJo was never colorful or decorated, it was pretty utilitarian and minimalist, but it helped me develop habits to plan out my day and record tasks to complete and ideas to tackle later. But the problem I had was wanting to access my tasks digitally wherever I was, and wanting to plan for future tasks further out than just the week I was looking at.

Enter Todoist. It’s a productivity app that is relatively simple to use, and mimics the layout of an old-fashioned checklist, much like a Bullet Journal. But you can collect all your tasks into the different aspects of your life, and set tasks to be completed at a future date, or to be repeated on a regular interval. I don’t mean to be hyperbolic, but this app changed my life. I could continue to use the habits of capturing all the tasks I needed to complete, like when I used a Bullet Journal, but now I had access to my tasks on my phone, at my work station, and on my home laptop.

Initially I just created a project for my personal tasks and one for work. I’ve since expanded my projects to have one for my blog, one for my reading list (usually articles I find online and don’t necessarily have time to read at that time and want to revisit later), my workout schedule, and my shopping list. I’ll add temporary Todoist projects for intense projects at work, for when I move, or when I have big events to plan for. That way, I can separate all my tasks into the areas they need to be, which helps to clear my brain.

I definitely brain dump – writing down all the things I’m thinking and need to do. Todoist can take those brain dump ideas and allow me to see them all and categorize and plan for them in a much better way. I can put them all in the app’s inbox and when I have a few moments I can sort them into the projects they relate to, and give them due dates for when I can address them. If I don’t get to a task by the due date, I can easily move it to another day without having a messy BuJo with crossed out tasks.

One feature of Todoist I really like it how I can put in reoccurring tasks. At work I have certain tasks that need to be done on certain days of the week, and I can set them to show up every Tuesday, so I don’t need to remember to write in the task for the following week every time. The app reminds me to check monthly reports, to pay rent, to reconcile my banking, etc. Part of the appeal is even when I put in a routine task, it’s off my mind as a thing I need to remember, and it will appear again on my to-do list when I need it to. That leaves room for other ideas and thoughts to come to me when I don’t have to remember so many other things.

You can sign up for a free account and try it out without all the bells and whistles. I used the free account for a few years, but have enjoyed the app so much I now have a subscription!

What productivity tools do you use?

Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

This was a fascinating book to pick up. Being a member of a religious faith myself, and having many friends who are involved with religious academia, I’m around many discussions about God and faith and faith culture and how various interpretations of scripture develop. I’m curious about other faiths, and the evangelical community in America has certainly gained its own kind of notoriety in the last few years to be sure. So I looked at this book as a way to see the history of that faith movement and as a way to possibly get a better grasp on the mindset of someone of that faith.

“For conservative white evangelicals, the ‘good news’ of the Christian gospel has become inextricably linked to a staunch commitment to patriarchal authority, gender difference, and Christian nationalism, and all of these are intertwined with white racial identity.“

This quote was the overall message I gathered from this book. Having grown up and worked in the South, home to a large population of evangelicals, I’ve been more closely involved with and aware of that community. Some would argue that I come from an “orthodox” religious background (in some sense of the word, anyway), and I personally view my religious observance as more progressive than others (and of course “progressive” can be defined a few ways too), so I think that means I look at the evangelical church a little more critically for that reason. I’m not here to argue theology, and I’m not well-equipped to do that, but I have to look at other religious cultures through my American Christian lens since that’s what I know.

The thesis the author presents of how the current evangelical community’s culture and views developed was interesting to me, tracing how actor John Wayne portrayed the kind of rugged masculinity that was the ideal American male, and therefore how American evangelicals came to interpret their version of Christ – they didn’t and don’t care for that meek and quiet version of Christ that others used, that was too feminine and lacked the energy they wanted to have themselves. They wanted a Christ who could beat up a person.

“There are those who rarely consume media produced outside of this world; when it comes to music, news sources, books, and radio, these individuals inhabit a separate and sanctified consumer space.”

I can’t fault a religious tradition or culture for this kind of homogeny explicitly. We all feel comfort with the media that we can share with others that reaffirm our views. But I have been in my share of Lifeway Christian bookstores that dotted the South… I mean, I view myself as having some highbrow ideas of media and culture, so I do critique a lot of evangelical media maybe a little too harshly than I should. However, I can’t get on board with bibles packaged to look like teen magazines or are so totally gendered that one is pink and glittery and another is in camo and they’re supposed to be for adults. My own personal preference is to have holy scripture be revered and to strive to live UP to its ideals, not bring it down to yours. But that’s another discussion.

The idea that people can purchase the home decor, the clothing, the music, the various accouterments of the evangelical community to be a part of that community without ever going to church fascinated me. What an interesting comment on not only consumerism in general but also on how this particular religious community operates, where you can so easily acquire status. It makes perfect sense, once I read that. There can potentially be such a superficial way to find your way into the good graces of a culture.

What I very much appreciated about this book was the laying out of the history of the evangelical tradition in this country over the last 80 years or so. Following certain pastors and other figures and their families and how their rhetoric developed, along with reasoning for shifts and changes. And then it seemed like the narrative of the Reagan era to present really zoomed by with the Moral Majority and a whole slew of policies and political figures who still resonate today. And if you’re like me and watching Mrs. America on Hulu, you’re getting a pointed taste of that influence as well.

The book confirmed many notions I have about the evangelical community. I don’t automatically assume when I meet one that they’re a racist, but they often have some racist thinking that quickly comes out. Their concept of a super masculine Jesus bewilders me. I can take the strength and fortitude of it, but when Christ’s message of love and forgiveness seems to be completely overlooked or even ignored I very much dislike how the concept of being a Christian gets weaponized, and can even be looked at with disdain by people outside the community. Not to mention how this view of masculinity frequently translates to a subordinate, inferior, and even an infantilized view of women.

I don’t intend for this to be the only book I read on this community and religious thinking. It opened up a few more ideas and trains of thought to explore. But it’s a reasonable introduction to a history of the evangelical community and may help readers uncover and learn more about the religious community’s lineage and cultural mores.

My Favorite Podcasts

We live in strange times. It’s hard to even unpack that phrase. But we’re all looking to survive and maybe even thrive as we get through this current crisis, and one thing I’ve been particularly grateful for is that my usual podcasts are continuing to release, and some of them are even producing more content. 

I arrived at getting into podcasts relatively late. It’s only been the last year that I’ve accepted that I enjoy podcasts and I want to keep up with the rotation and releases of new content. It’s kind of like having regular contact with old friends, even though I haven’t met any of these folks in person. (Though I might get to occasionally interact with them on Twitter.) And even though I’m not in my car as much as I used to, which was my usual time to catch up on podcasts, I’m making efforts to listen to my regular podcasts while I go for a social distancing walk or am cleaning my house. 

So here are the podcasts I listen to in case you’re looking for something to help distract you from the world (or at least keep you entertainingly informed).

This is the only podcast I have been listening to consistently for years. This is obviously more of a thing for people who identify as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), or those who have more of an academic interest in the culture of the church. But Geoff the host is highly intelligent and funny, and he now has a rotating array of hosts who help to tell the news of the day as it relates to Mormons and provide some lively commentary as well. I live in Utah and am surrounded by Mormon culture, yeah, but it’s still fun to have it distilled through other people.

Like most white people my age, I’m a huge fan of The Office. It’s one of my comfort shows that I can watch repeatedly and have on in the background while I do other things. Now two of the actors from the show are doing this great rewatch and recap of each episode, occasionally bringing in guests like the series creator Greg Daniels or Andy Buckley who played Dunder Mifflin CFO David Wallace. Even someone like me, who has absolutely watched the episodes with the cast and crew commentaries, has learned a few different pieces of trivia about the making of the beloved show. Angela and Jenna are super cute, and getting their journal entries and MySpace posts from back during the filming days adds some fun spice to the fandom. 

I stumbled upon this show because I kept noticing one the hosts, Sarah Marshall, get retweeted by other people I follow, and when I further investigated I learned she and her cohost Michael Hobbes had this podcast with this great premise of doing deep dives into famous events and famous people from the past and “debunking” the common thought about them. I started from the first episode and binge-listened to every episode until I was caught up. I’m absolutely obsessed, and their arcs on the O.J. Simpson trial and the D.C. Snipers are in particular pretty amazing. Their Kitty Genovese episode and their episode on sex offenders were also major standouts for me. I’m now a supporter on Patreon because I love their work so much. They’re currently doing a “book club” series on the Satanic Panic, one of host Sarah’s pet interests. 

I haven’t been listening to this podcast for as long as the others, and right now it’s more serving the purpose of a “filler” podcast when my other podcasts are between episodes. However, I first got into listening to their series on the movie The Song of the South that Disney made in the 40s that’s essentially become a blacklisted film these days (but you’ve no doubt heard the movie’s big hit “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah” at some point). The series went into how the film came about, the rereleases it’s had, and all of its many controversies that lead up to it not being included in Disney+ today. The podcast delves into stories and biographies of classic Hollywood, which is a favorite topic of mine, and now has a large backlist of episodes to keep you entertained on a car trip or long weekend when you need something to listen to. I grew up watching old Hollywood films and being familiar with those actors and directors and major players, so it’s a continued interest and something I will always find interesting.

This one I stumbled upon and immediately became obsessed with. I was definitely one of those 80s Babies who acquired American Girl dolls during the course of my childhood. I still have them, though right now they’re packed away. A fellow history major in college and I discussed how we became history majors because of Indiana Jones and Molly McIntire, and I love the podcast for completely indulging in that for me. Two professional historians, who grew up with American Girl as well, are reading through each of the books and discussing them with modern insights. I love the deep dives, the in-jokes that develop, and the knowledge shared. And the hosts recently got a book deal, and I can’t WAIT to get my hands on that, too!

Desert Island Movies

As a white woman in her 30s, I’m a fan of The Office. Heh. I’ve been an avid listener of the The Office Ladies Podcast and just finished reading The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s: An Oral History by Andy Greene. So I’ve been reliving favorite episodes, one of them being “The Fire” from season 2 when Ryan started a fire in the toaster oven with a cheesy pita. Jim starts some games with the employees to pass the time, one of them being Desert Island Movies, and it made me think about what my Desert Island Movies would be. “The movies you’re going to watch for the rest of your life!” So here, at this point in time, is what I would pick:

Road House
I am a huge Patrick Swayze fan. And I have see Ghost and Dirty Dancing, and those are okay, but my personal favorite of his is Road House. This absolutely stems from my love of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and their frequent references to it (in particular the classic holiday song “(Let’s Have) A Patrick Swayze Christmas”). But I have to admit, the movie has its charms separate from that. For one, Dalton, the Patrick Swayze character, is an NYU philosophy grad who works as one of the best bouncers in the business. What. Even. You get to see Sam Elliott pull his hair back into a ponytail before showing off his own king bouncer skills. The villain is a rich guy who sings “Sh-Boom” while not obeying traffic laws. And one of Elvis’ old pals plays the owner of a hardware store. There are just too many amazing things about this movie to enumerate, so do yourself a favor and give it a shot.

Evil Under the Sun
For some reason, this Agatha Christie adaptation is a perennial favorite of mine. The all-star cast is fabulous, the setting exotic, and even though I know exactly how the crime is committed, I love watching it again and again. This is a movie I watch to have on for the sound as a comfort. This is a movie I watch on sick days. It’s a movie I watch when I’m bored and just need to watch something. The music is all Cole Porter, and Diana Rigg wears some GORGEOUS ensembles.

Working Girl
A movie about a woman using her smarts to get ahead, and getting Harrison Ford through all of it. What’s not to love? I have felt at different points like I’m Melanie Griffith or Sigorney Weaver in my career and in life, and I think ultimately I want to be Harrison Ford LOL. And Little David Duchovny and Little Rikki Lake are in it with bit parts!

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Another Harrison Ford pick! This is Indy at his best – fighting Nazis with his James Bond dad LOL. Plus it starts with Young Indy back at the turn of the last century in Utah, which in some circles has the joy of indicating that the Jones family are Jack Mormons, and for me that’s just an added delight of the Indiana Jones headcanon.

Could have been the third Harrison Ford selection for my desert island movies, but no. While I actually quite like the 90s remake, my preference is still the 1954 Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and William Holden vehicle directed by the great Billy Wilder. There’s a level of humor here that is foundational for me, and a shared humor with my family that is special and irreplaceable. At a young age I identified so much with Hepburn’s Sabrina and her need to reinvent herself, or reveal the woman that was hidden underneath. Sabrina goes to Paris, her favorite city and place of growth. In my personal life, Charleston, South Carolina was my Paris and provided the same function and love.

So there you have it. Amanda Mae’s 2020 Desert Island Movies. What would you have on your list?

What’s in my bag?

I am a person who needs her bag when she leaves for the day. I’m a city girl at heart, and I think that’s part of it. I want to have the essentials with me when I head out, just in case. Conferences totally fall into that category. As I’m attending the Public Library Association conference, I’ve got my “conference bag” ready to go.

  1. Messenger bag. I am a diehard messenger bag fan. I like the look of them, and I like that I can sling the bag on my back, or keep it on my hip or close to the front of me for not only ease of access to phone/wallet/water bottle, but also to keep an eye on it.
  2. Smartphone. I take all my conference notes in Evernote in my phone. I find it the best portable and organized way for me to gather thoughts and file any slides the presenters upload/send out or photos I take. It also keeps my bag from being too bulky or heavy.
  3. Charger and —
  4. External battery. Using my cell phone so much during the day, I don’t know when my battery will give out or if I’ll have access to an outlet. I cover my bases.
  5. Snacks. This is the minimum – gum and hard candy. I frequently pack an apple and/or granola bar to keep my energy up. Meal times can vary, and I may not know what will be available, so having a few things to munch on really help take the edge off.
  6. Lip balm. Dry lips bother the heck out of me. If I don’t have my bag, it’s in my pocket.
  7. Water bottle. I learned at a young age that I get dehydrated fairly easily if I’m not careful. So part of that is keeping a water bottle with me all the time. It’s a little big, but that helps me not stress about not having enough water when I need it.

So these are my conference/convention essentials! What do you find you need when you go?

You Never Forget Your First by Alexis Coe

Alexis Coe begins her biography of George Washington by stating that she had looked over her shelf of previously published biographies of Washington and noted they were all written by men. And as soon as she pointed that out I was even more determined to read what she had to say because gaining a woman’s perspective on one of the greatest Americans would be of particular interest to me. This is one of the reasons I try to read widely – gaining new perspectives on what some might consider tried-and-true or even dry topics. I gained a lot of insight into not only Washington’s life but also in how we have traditionally viewed the Founders and how we can adjust that lens to not only learn more about them but also make them more relatable and real to more Americans.

This is the first Washington biography I’ve read since I was in grade school, and that one included the apocryphal anecdote about the cherry tree. I have not read many of what one might refer to as the “dad” biographies about the Founders. (At least in my family, my dad got one of these every Christmas for awhile and he would read them and they would be on his shelf looking all imposing.) I did read Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton and David McCullough’s John Adams, and those were both a direct result of being obsessed with Hamilton the Musical. (Lin-Manuel Miranda is a godsend, let me tell you!) I lived in Northern Virginia growing up, visiting Jamestown and Williamsburg and D.C., and have a basic understanding of the Revolutionary War and early American politics. One thing this biography did was put things in a context I could easily grasp without weighing me down with more information than I’m able to process. I know I can find other sources for those deep dives about certain battles, but I’m reading this book to learn about Washington the man!

It reminded me of Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell, which I listened to on audiobook, and therefore had the pleasure of hearing Nick Offerman be George Washington shouting, “Are these the men with which I am to defend America?” Lafayette in the Somewhat United States was also written by a woman, and perhaps having that irreverent outlook, and featuring colorful anecdotes about many of the Founders, contributed to my enjoyment. Like how *seeing* Shakespeare is a better experience than merely *reading* Shakespeare, having actors in my head who have played Washington and the other characters in history helped me to grasp the scenarios and feel the humanity. So yeah, Chris Jackson was singing in my head in parts of this book, Nick Offerman appeared in others, and even Jason O’Mara from Sons of Liberty helped me along. (Side note: Sons of Liberty was way not accurate as a miniseries, but at least was entertaining.)

This Smithsonian interview with Coe helped to pique my interest in reading the book, in particular this quote, on how many prior biographies talk about Washington:

And the way that they would describe them, “He gripped the saddle with his thunderous thighs.” It was a little inappropriate, sometimes read like a romance novel. And I couldn’t really figure out why. Did they just really love his thighs? Were there a lack of great thighs in early America?

Coe frequently mentions “the thigh men” in her narrative, referring to past biographers and historians who tend to have a reverential or even worshipful view of the Founding Fathers (not necessarily the Founding Mothers) to the point where these men are more übermensch than real people with real foibles and characteristics that we all face. She talked about Washington as a man who had magnetic charisma and was a devoted father figure, a man with a seemingly complicated relationship with his mother, and one who suffered from both financial and fraternal losses. She goes at length to describe Washington’s thoughts on slavery, on the slaves who were closest to him, and how their families were torn apart for business reasons. This latter point is one that is dived into more and more with our Founders, clouding our image of them as saintly men.

One story that particularly drew me in was how, during the Revolutionary War, Washington learned of many accounts of rape on American women by British soldiers, and went against the usual convention at the time by encouraging these accounts to be reported and publicized.

Washington let it be known that he wanted horrific stories “on the subject of the Enemy’s brutality” collected and sent to him. […] Accounts about the “infamous mercenary ravagers” were then pieced together and printed in congressional reports, placed with no less care or intention than troops on the battlefield.

As someone who has sought out more women’s stories during early American conflicts, learning that the general, in his way, heard women and sought to fight the injustice is something of a comfort. It may have been to further ostracize the British soldiers, but it still gave victimized women some amount of justice in a society that wouldn’t necessarily provide that.

So if you’re interested in learning more about one of the most important first Americans, and don’t want to spend months reading a “thigh man” biography where you lose track of where you are in the person’s life, I highly recommend Alexis Coe’s entertaining and enjoyable read on good ole George.

Favorite Books of 2019

Being a librarian and former bookseller, I’m a voracious reader who tries to read widely to try out different genres and styles of reading. Here are a few of the standouts from my 2019 reading list.

This was a book that seemed tailor-made for me. As a one-time huge fan of VH1’s Behind the Music, I was obsessed with the oral history format, and could NOT put this book down. I have read many rock star (and rock groupie) biographies and memoirs, and this read just like so many of those true stories. Jenkins Reid did her research and it shows. I read the ebook for this, but I hear the audiobook is a phenomenal way to experience it as well.

I am absolutely a HUGE fan of Queer Eye. I was a fan of the first iteration of it, and the update is incredibly sweet and lovely. I could not resist getting to read Tan’s story! Being a Utah resident currently, I loved learning that Tan calls Salt Lake home (and I know folks who see him at Harmon’s or the gym or just out and about and I’m so jealous lol). He has charming origin story of becoming the person he is now, and all the struggles and adventures he had along the way. It’s a quick read and loads of fun, and great for anyone who feels they’re just a little more odd than most.

I cannot stress to you how much I love Alyssa Cole and her Reluctant Royals series. I wasn’t previously much of a romance reader, and Cole was a big reason of why I now read a ton of them. Her characters are incredibly fun and real and experience very relatable stumbles and challenges. Her heroines are strong and nerdy and truly adorable. Her heroes are super cute and not intimidated by the fabulous women in their lives. These are the kinds of fantasies you imagine can be real. This is the third in the series, and worth getting to!

While I still had access to HBO after Game of Thrones ended, I devoured this series based on a real woman named Anne Lister and her diary that wasn’t decoded until recently. (She wrote it in CODE!!) The way I describe the book and show to people is “it’s Pride & Prejudice with lesbians.” That wasn’t the term used in the 1830s, but that’s what we view them as now. Anne took charge of her life in a very different and unique way, and wanted to settle down with a wife like any other landowner. So the book (and show) is so much like a novel of manners that we associate with Jane Austen, following her exploits, mundane tasks of running her family’s estate, and trying to woo the pretty (and wealthy) lady who lives nearby. I was very captivated by it all.

This book has stuck with me since I read it months ago. The writer relates the stories of three different women who experience love and heartbreak in three very different ways. The one that resonated with me the most was the woman who had an affair with a teacher in high school and has to revisit the experience years later as an adult. I can see how this book might upset some readers, but getting to read about some very deep and complicated emotions that these women experienced and had to justify was an exercise in and of itself.

This was a HIGHLY anticipated release. I didn’t read Handmaid’s Tale until fairly recently, and the show is a little obsession of mine. So I was thrilled that Atwood was going to update the story of Gilead for us, though slightly apprehensive that it would be a money grab and be unsatisfying. For me, it was an excellent addition to the story. Gaining further insight into the women of Gilead and how the outside world sees it was wild and scary and still relevant to political narratives around the world today. This filled in a lot of questions I had, and I appreciate that the author gave us a great follow-up to her story.

I have not read much indie publications, and have had a bit of a snobby outlook on it for awhile, but this is a book that helped change that perspective. I now know that I LOVE small town romance stories, especially if they are Southern as well. This was a comfortable and enjoyable read that made me excited to read anything else this author publishes, and look for any other similar romances. And when the heroine is an over 30-something getting her life back on track after divorce, I just had to root for her the whole time to get her truly happy ending.

Good and Mad

A 2017 Pew survey found that nearly six in ten women said they were paying increased attention to politics since the 2016 election, a greater share than men.

I’m for sure one of those six.

I never considered myself a political person until the 2016 election. I barely paid attention to government matters most of the time, and didn’t like to disclose political views because many of my friends were very passionate about politics and I feared their wrath if I opined on anything when I felt so uninformed. So I generally kept my mouth shut. Until Trump.

I felt so defeated after the election I was in a bit of a stupor the day after. I was living in a very red area and was extremely grateful no library patrons came to gloat – but those who had voted for Hillary had a look about them and we could nod to each other and know that there was someone in that town who understood. And reading Good and Mad was like an extended version of that nod.

In this book, I felt my feelings were finally articulated and distilled to a point that could be explained to others who didn’t feel them the same way. I was good and mad. I was bewildered. I was angry. And the activist movement that came out of that anger helped to keep me sane during the first part of the 45 administration. I had a purpose to give that anger to. I could commiserate with people who felt similarly, and together we could work to express our dissatisfaction to others in a productive way.

“Grab the broom of anger and drive off the beast of fear,” wrote Zora Neale Hurston

Selfie with my handmade pussy hat at the Atlanta Women’s March, January 2017.

I can’t fully express the joy I felt participating in the Women’s March in Atlanta. It was so incredibly cathartic, and gave me the opportunity to meet some lovely women I carpooled up with who lived in our small Georgia town and were all so grateful to know there were others like us there. I marched with a woman who had marched in Selma back in the 60s and it was a privilege to link arms with her. There were so many of us we couldn’t hear John Lewis speak, but we knew he was there and that was enough. I’d been able to knit some pussy hats and got them to some of the other women in the group and they were so pleased to have a handmade souvenir of the event.

Some members of my family, and some of my friends who lean conservative, did not understand why I participated in that march (and the March for Science and the March For Our Lives, and presumably others in future) and I found myself getting very heated about it. How could they NOT see why I participated?!

It was comforting to read this book and not only feel that my anger was vindicated and not unusual, but to feel that righteous anger bubble up in me again. The author stresses that it’s better to have that anger released in productive ways:

Having had the rare and privileged experience of having had my anger taken seriously, valued on its merits, I no longer believe that it is anger that is hurting us, but rather the system that penalizes us for expressing it, that doesn’t respect or hear it, that isn’t curious about it, that mocks or ignores it. That’s what’s making us sick; that’s what’s making us feel crazy, alone; that’s why we’re grinding our teeth at night.

We can’t keep that anger inside us. We have to allow it to come out. We have to express it, articulate it. Women are automatically called crazy or hysterical when they show their anger, they are seen as unhinged. But women have valid reasons for their anger, and they can use their anger to not only help themselves but others who are also seen as unhinged for being unsatisfied and frustrated with their situation. It was invigorating to read this, and I think it’s not only a good book for people of today who need help deciphering their anger, but also for future times when people want to understand how the movement unveiled itself during this time.