Friday, January 6, 2012

Favorite Books of 2011

As promised, a list of great books in arbitrary categories!

Favorite Biography of 2011: 'Steve Jobs' by Walter Isaacson

This was such an excellent book, though the writing is cold and clinical. I was expecting a read revering the recently-deceased Apple genius, and was taken aback by what I found instead. This book changed my perspective on Steve Jobs dramatically, and brought to mind questions about links between genius and personality disorders.

Honorable Mentions:

  • 'Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln' by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • 'Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption' by Laura Hillenbrand

Favorite Memoir* of 2011: 'A Stolen Life: A Memoir' by Jaycee Dugard

Wow. This book was incredible, heart-wrenching, and upsetting. Jaycee was kidnapped at 11 and held for 18 years in a backyard as a captive. She has written the book herself after her rescue. She had no help from a ghostwriter, and it shows. The writing is crude and at times very bitter, but given her circumstances and her truncated education, forgivable. She discusses the horrors her captors put her through, but doesn't get too involved in the details. That being said, this book is not for the faint of heart, but has a surprisingly positive message.

Honorable Mention: 'Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef' by Gabrielle Hamilton

*I know what you're thinking. A biography category and a memoir category? I warned you about the arbitrary categories.

Favorite Science Fiction of 2011: 'Ready Player One' by Ernest Cline

In a dystopian not-so-distant future, a billionaire programmer and game-developer dies without an heir and leaves his large fortune to the first gamer to find his egg embedded in a treasure hunt within his most popular virtual reality game. Corporations and gamers alike get wrapped up in the search, until an unlikely teenager solves the first puzzle. This is an excellent book that gamers would love, but I am not a gamer and also very much enjoyed it.

Honorable Mentions:

  • 'Reamde' by Neal Stephenson 
  • 'Matched' by Ally Condie 
  • 'Robopocalypse' by Daniel H. Wilson

Favorite Non-Fiction of 2011: 'The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography* of Cancer' by Siddhartha Mukherjee

This book was a fascinating dive into cancer through the ages. Ancient references to the disease to current treatment options to understanding the core of cancer and why it acts the way it does. The scientific descriptions are simplistic enough for the layperson to understand, but not simplified enough to bore those already familiar with the biochemical mechanics. An interesting read for the scientist and the non-scientist alike.

Honorable Mentions:

  • 'Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion' by Janet Reitman 
  • 'All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis' by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera 
  • 'Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think' by Bryan Caplan
  • 'Food Rules: An Eater's Manual' by Michael Pollan

*Perhaps this should be in the biography category... Nah.

Favorite Fiction/Literature of 2011: 'Major Pettigrew's Last Stand' by Helen Simonson

I'll be honest, I read a lot of crappy literature/fiction books this year. This book was not in that category, but at the same time, it's not as good as I think it could be. I kept waiting for the literature book of the year that I couldn't stop reading, that caught me in its clutches and refused to release me. Alas, I never found it. Don't let this diversion dissuade you from Major Pettigrew, however. This is probably the most beautiful book I read all year, the writing evoked such descriptive emotion. A book about love and second chances and prejudice.

Honorable(ish - see about rant) Mentions:

  • 'The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake' by Aimee Bender
  • 'The Tiger's Wife' by Tea Obreht
  • 'The Marriage Plot' by Jeffrey Eugenides
And just for fun...

Absolutely the Worst Book I Read All Year: 'The Shack' by Wm. Paul Young

Interestingly, I finished this book on January 1, 2011. What a disjointed pile of garbage this book was. All the worse because I had hoped for an inkling of inspiration or something resembling it. Don't even waste your time thinking about reading this book.

This is a good list I think, though as I look back over my reading diary, books keep leaping out at me begging to be included. (I have thrown in several of them, but have to draw a line somewhere.)  Here's to a great 2012 with many more excellent books in store!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2011 Book Report

For me, 2011 was a year filled with babies, new challenges in life, and thankfully a lot of reading. To recap, in 2010 I read 99 books, and goaled (this should be a verb, so I will use it as such here) to increase my book consumption 10% to hit 109 books in 2011.

Well, I missed my goal, but I increased from last year to 100 books (a 1% increase, can you handle this math?!). Most notably, my reading habits altered in genre this year. Last year, my ratio of Fiction to Non-fiction was 71/28 and this year it was 60/40. In retrospect, I did enjoy reading non-fiction more this year than last year. I'm not sure if this is because I'm smarter this year, have been reading better non-fiction, or if I'm just getting boring and my imagination is deteriorating. Either way, it's an interesting factoid.

Average Books Read Per Month: 8.25

  • High month: December (13) - I was trying desperately to catch up and Bob traveled a bunch
  • Low month: April (6) - Month immediately following the birth of Henry
Book Type: (A new category in 2011!):

  • Kindle books: 61 (Read on Kindle/iPhone/iPad)
  • Audio books: 18 (via Audible - Bob & I love this!)
  • Paperback books: 12
  • Hardcover books: 9
Last time I looked, Bob and I have 136 books in our Kindle library that we have accrued since Christmas 2009. That is 136 books that we can enjoy any time, from any where, simultaneously on many devices, and without having to worry about book storage. Before, Bob and I were accumulating books at a frightening rate and at several points (usually around moving time) we would be challenged with parting with 100 books EACH. Now, we don't have to worry about the shelf clutter, or the struggle of parting. Plus, we're so eco-friendly! If you haven't switched to digital books and you're a reader, do it. It has literally changed my life. We still have a library of physical books that I return to, and I plan on replacing some of my favorites with beautiful hardcover copies.

2010 was the year of the mystery, and I read some great ones, but in 2011 I only read 4. Genres with largest representation this year are as follows: History (13), Fantasy (13), Classic (12), and Comedy (10).

I'm going to post later this week with a list of my favorite books in several arbitrary categories, but for now I'm going to end my annual book update post with a bit of proselytizing.

  1. Read: Reading is one of the best things you can do in your spare time. It increases your vocabulary, enhances your memory, provides you with fodder for discussion, not to mention the entertainment value. Also, reading improves your writing, and with this information age of Twitter, Blogs, Facebook, Emails, Texts, etc, we could all use a boost in our writing skills; 4 reelzies. If you haven't read in a while, pick up popular books from the zeitgeist (e.g. Harry Potter, The Help, The Hunger Games). These books are popular because they are engaging, you will mostly likely like them too. Ask a reader for advice if you need it.
  2. Goal: Make a goal for yourself for 2012. One book per month? Per week? My goal for 2012 is 120, 10 books a month. We'll see how it goes...
  3. Record: I used to use a journal to record my reads, but now I use a simple excel spreadsheet. It only takes a moment to record each book once I'm finished with it, but at the end of the year I have so much data and can enjoy yummy data crunching. Also, this is an invaluable tool when recommending books to friends and family.
You can do it! 10 minutes a day will make a difference and get you into reading again. Think about times/places you can incorporate reading into your life. I have a friend who reads on the elliptical at the gym and finds herself lengthening her workout for good books. Audio books are a great way to slip reading into commuting time, and can be quite fun! (Look for a free trial of Audible on the interwebs if you're interested.) I read to my babies as they go to sleep (we're currently reading Harry Potter 5). Or maybe it's as simple as turning off the television 15 minutes earlier at night.

Open your mind, expand your world: read a book.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Baby Blogs

After we adopted Olivia we started a blog for her birth parents and their families. We updated this blog every week at first, and then eventually we moved to every other week.

We have grown to love this record of our baby girl, and we decided to do the same thing for Henry after he was born.

So if you would like to follow our babies, check out their respective blogs.

We update every other week, and there are always lots of adorable pictures of my precious babies! Now you see why I don't update here as often as I could...

Friday, March 25, 2011


I'm sitting in front of a roaring fire and watching a blizzard brew outside. Things have finally calmed down this morning, and it's 2:00 in the afternoon. I have a busy road ahead of me. Little Henry Carter is laying next to me in his swing looking incredibly peaceful.

A year ago, we were applying for our adoption approval. This entailed a lot of complex steps (e.g. fingerprinting, disclosing financial information, home inspections). Then we left on a long trip to eastern Europe and Bob and I celebrated our five year anniversary.

Today I have two babies, one six months old and one one week old. They are both beautiful angels, and I am couldn't be happier. Oh, and I'm also incredibly busy. Bob is at home this week, which we mostly spent shuttling Olivia to various babysitters (and the doctor after she got a nasty ear infection) and then travelling to the NICU to check in on baby Henry. He was finally able to come home yesterday after battling an infection, and Olivia got to meet her baby brother.

Baby Henry enjoyed his time in the NICU. All of the nurses gossiped about us, each of them knew our story before we even brought it up. "Now you guys have a six-month-old at home as well? You're going to be busy!" "That's worse than twins!" I personally am just excited to be a mom without being pregnant as well. Those last few months were getting tricky, I missed having a hip to prop Olivia up on.

I guess I just have to say that miracles do happen, and sometimes they happen really close together. I'm so grateful for my two beautiful babies, but I think I'm finished with this particular brand of miracle, at least for a while.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

2011 - What Will You Bring?

Can you believe how big she's getting? Liv is 4 months old, 26 inches, and 16 pounds 10 ounces. That puts her in the 97% percentile across the board. She's a big baby, and has developed such an awesome personality.

Life's pretty crazy around these parts, 2011 is going to be a big year for my family. At the end of this month, we're closing on a new house in Alpine. I never thought that Bob and I would move to Utah County, it seems quite out of character for the two of us, but life seems to be full of surprises. Besides, Bob assures me that we're going to love it there and I am inclined to agree with him. I'll be sure to post some pictures, but it isn't officially ours yet, so I don't have any keys. It will be nice to be doubling our space and to be closer to Bob's work, especially since there's nothing holding us to Salt Lake now that I'm no longer working.

Did I mention that? My maternity leave turned into a permanent hiatus. I have loved staying at home with Olivia, she's an angel. Additionally (prepare yourself internet-only friends), I am seven months pregnant with a little boy who is currently referred to as 'Baby Brother.' (We're working on a name, we've got two months, right?) Apologies for the late update, but we kept it close to the chest until we were sure of a healthy pregnancy. The official due date is March 19th, which will be a couple of weeks after we can officially adopt Olivia!

So yeah, 2011 is going to be a great year for us. I suppose that you can say that when the Lord sees fit to bless us, he goes all out.

Finally, check out my dogs' blog for some interesting stats on my book reading in 2010. Something tells me that they are going to be barking on their blog more often...

Friday, December 17, 2010

World Revolves From Night to Day

I can't believe how big Olivia is getting! She turned three months old a couple of weeks ago and she is now nearly fifteen pounds. She loves being read to, shiny lights, being naked, and her birds (a mobile).

I have always loved the holiday season. I drive Bob nuts listening to straight Christmas music from Thanksgiving to Christmas day. In the car, he races me to hook his iPhone in first so we can listen to his music rather than my holiday jams again!

There is nothing more fun than having a kid at Christmas. Even though Olivia has been with me when I've bought all of her Christmas presents (and wrapped them too), I'm so excited to open them up with her! We even have it on good authority that Santa has a few gifts for her as well...

I put up our Christmas tree while she was napping and had just plugged in the lights when she awoke. I picked her up and brought her into the front room and you could just see the wonder and excitement in her eyes as she stared at the twinkling lights. It was so magical, seeing the light in her eyes. I place her Bumbo chair in front of the tree and she'll sit there for twenty minutes (a long time for her) staring at the lights.

Bob thought I loved the holidays before, but he has no idea how bad it's going to get in the future!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Weary Travelers

Bob, Olivia, and I in Soho last week.
Last week, Bob and I decided to try something bold and adventurous! We took Olivia on her first big trip, all the way across the country to New York City. Bob was going already for some work meetings, and the baby and I hung out in the city both with and without him.

Bob and I love to travel. We love experiencing new places, seeing new things, meeting new people, and eating weird food. When we thought about having children, we always thought it would be important to share those desires with them, and hopefully be able to share in some exciting experiences with them as well. So when the opportunity arose to take her as a two-month old, we jumped at the chance. How hard could it be?

Well, we now know a little better. Gone are the days where we can carry on all of our luggage. Babies require a ridiculous amount of accouterments, and Bob thought that I packed heavy for myself! We no longer can stay out late at night in the city (not that we were big clubbers to begin with), babies need to go to bed at night. But we were able to do a lot of things and Bob and I were able to share some of our favorite Big Apple things with Baby Liv.

When you're fantasizing about the children you will have 'one day,' it's easy to become idealistic and imagine the great life that you are going to provide for them. I worried that some of our dreams were a little far-fetched and that children would make certain actions improbable if not impossible. It was refreshing to take our sweet baby girl on a fairly large endeavor and have it turn out alright in the end. The plane ride wasn't as relaxing, trips out took a lot more accessories, and we had to constantly be aware of what amenities a locale had in case of a sudden diaper or feeding need. But the trip was incredibly fulfilling, because we were together as a family, the three of us, and nothing could have been better in my mind. (Though honestly, I think that she might have preferred staying home. Hopefully, she'll enjoy the next trip a little more.)

I hereby call this trip to New York, a success!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Happy Birthday to Myself

Last week I turned 25, a quarter of a century! I love birthdays, and though I'm march ever onward toward the dreaded 30, this year was no exception. It's funny how aging works, I don't feel that old, but I look at 20-year-olds, and I definitely feel older than them.

I don't think Olivia quite got into the celebration. The hat started to bother her after a while, and she wasn't able to eat any of the delicious birthday cupcakes. Ah well, hopefully she'll understand it a little better by the time her own birthday rolls around next September.

This year, we went on a hike up Millcreek Canyon to Dog Lake with the whole family. The five of us trekked through the gorgeous yellow-leaved aspens, though Olivia slept the whole time strapped to Bob's chest. It was pleasant to reach the top and enjoy what will most likely be the last dog swimming session of the year.

Now there's snow on the ground, and the leaves are mostly fallen from the trees. So long beautiful autumn, and so long another lovely birthday for me!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Nothing Much Here

Bob and the dogs on a walk.

I don't know what I want to say tonight. My baby has zits and it's raining outside.

It's been a lazy afternoon. Olivia has better things to do than sleep. She's actually surprisingly alert for blowing through her traditional 4-hour nap. So we've read lots of books and I've watched lots of Hulu as I've tried to soothe her into drowsiness.

She's smiling a lot now, but mostly not at people. She enjoys lights and fans and her butterfly rattle. She keeps growing longer and longer, though not plumping up much despite her voracious appetite.

I guess I still don't have anything else to say, but here we are.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Autumn is a Second Spring When Every Leaf is a Flower

Olivia is getting ready for the cooler weather by donning her favorite beanie!

I love the fall; it's the best season. Autumn smells of cinnamon and pumpkin and freshly sharpened pencils and crisp coolness. Autumn is full of incredible colors, greens and yellows and reds and oranges. Autumn is when the coolest people are born (e.g. Olivia, me).

This September just flew by, probably because of the whole having-a-newborn thing, and I feel like I need to really take advantage of the fall before it's gone in a flurry of snowflakes. It's Olivia's first Fall, and I feel like she needs to enjoy it, though I'm not sure how to facilitate that when she can't hold her head up on her own yet. Perhaps we'll go for a Fall drive next week.

I really want her to enjoy all of the things that I love. I read her books every day, hoping she'll pick up my love of reading. (Speaking of that, having a newborn is great for reading, I'm blowing through lots of books during feedings and late night rockings!) I play and sing for her music that I love. Under close supervision, we play with the dogs. We go on walks outside, drives to beautiful places, and she's even been on a couple of hikes. I hope that when she grows up, we'll be able to enjoy some amazing things together, while still allowing her to be her own person.

Well, I'm off for now, I guess I should go make an apple pie or something!