Books read in October 2019, plus a weekend report

We managed to fit a lot into what I think was a logistically well-planned weekend. My husband and I went out for Mexican food on Friday night. Both of us managed to run on both weekend days. The time change is helping make this work. I do like to run outside first thing in the morning, but when the sun rose at 7:30 a.m., fitting in a run before our weekend activities (or school on weekdays) was becoming difficult. A 6:30 a.m. sunrise is an entirely different matter.

Saturday morning featured flag football and then family photos (with Yana Shellman — you can see our joint bump picture over at Instagram, lvanderkam). We managed to take shots in front of our bright red Japanese maple on the last day before the frost made our yard a lot more brown. One kid stopped by a birthday party (while my husband went to Costco) and then we all went for a walk at Morris Arboretum before having fondue for a cozy family dinner.

Sunday I sang in the All Saints service (my husband went for his long run during this time as he trains for an upcoming half-marathon; it turned out there was no youth group/older kid Sunday school so I wound up stashing the older kids in a pew where I could see them from the choir loft, and I joined them during the sermon. This worked reasonably well, considering.) We toured several open houses, though this did not produce any neat conclusions about our housing situation. Then we went for a family excursion to Valley Forge to get the kids some exercise. After another family dinner (leftover fondue…) my husband and I plotted out our vacation schedule for 2020. Neither of us has to put in for vacation days but having these weeks set will help both of us with planning work and managing kid expectations. I’m very happy to have these dates set on the calendar.

Now, on to books! Between long plane flights and waking up in the middle of the night (sigh…), I had a fair amount of time to read in October. Here’s what I got through.

The Conservative Sensibility, by George Will

Will, the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, talks through American history and explains his philosophy, including his general unhappiness with the statist Left and populist Right. I quite appreciate Will’s leanings (and his positioning of Princeton as critical to various historical ideological battles…who knew?), and I have a high tolerance for reading analysis of matters such as Lochner vs. New York, but…this was probably my least favorite Will book I read this month. It’s quite lengthy, so be prepared if you plan to pick it up.

Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life, by Diane Tavenner

Tavenner, the founder of charter network Summit Public Schools, talks about her philosophy of education, and how the Summit schools make it work. I’ve seen project-based learning done so poorly in various places that it’s interesting to read about schools that seem to get it right. Tavenner is an upcoming guest on Best of Both Worlds, where she’ll offer advice on raising independent children.

A Nice Little Place on the North Side, by George Will

Will tells the history of the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field. He grew up cheering for the Cubs, which was generally an exercise in frustration. He explores why this might be, and comes to the intriguing conclusion that Wrigley Field is so pleasant that fans haven’t actually demanded winning as a price of attendance. Of course, this book came out in 2014, shortly before the Cubs ended their 100+ year drought to win the World Series in 2016. I read an updated version with an epilogue on the victory, in which Will comes to the less-surprising conclusion that when you replace bad management with good management, you get good results. This is a quick and pretty fun read for any baseball fans (I was reading it during the lead up to the World Series this year).

The Great Revolt, by Salena Zito and Brad Todd 

I think I wound up with this book because Amazon’s algorithm told me that Salena Zito was like George Will. In any case, Zito (a reporter) and Todd (a political consultant) decided to add their voices to the question of what happened in the 2016 presidential election. They profile the counties, and many individual voters, who voted for President Obama in 2008 and 2012, and then for President Trump in 2016. Most of these people who switched allegiances defy easy caricatures, and hence make this a more nuanced political book than many out there.

The Money Tree, by Chris Guillebeau

Guillebeau, host of the popular daily Side Hustle School podcast, turns his money and lifestyle advice into a fable. Jake, an earnest but confused young man, wakes up to find himself deep in debt, his job uncertain, and his personal life falling apart. He feels stuck until he accepts the mentorship of a group called the Third Way, which teaches him how to take control of his personal economics and his life story. I got to read an advance copy of this one (which will be out this spring) and quite enjoyed it, both for the fiction and the message, so be sure to add it to your 2020 TBR list.

Men at Work, by George Will

Since I decided I liked Will’s baseball writing more than the policy stuff (or at least baseball made for better airplane reading…) I decided to read his most famous sports offering. Men at Work profiles four baseball stars on top of their games, in order to explain the intense effort that goes into managing well, pitching well, hitting well, and defending well. Of course, the stars themselves are fascinating (e.g. Cal Ripkin Jr., Tony Gwynn, Orel Hershiser) but I also quite enjoyed the eagerness of Will, known for being a cerebral sort, writing like a kid in a candy store as he gets to follow his idols around during the late 1980s seasons. This was as long as The Conservative Sensibility…but had an entirely different feel. Highly recommended.

Spark Joy, by Marie Kondo

Like, oh, everyone, I read The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up a few years ago. I borrowed the sequel from the library and read it on a plane. Nothing much new here (the title comes from her most famous advice to keep only that which “sparks joy”) but it did help motivate me to declutter my dining room, and if we wind up staying in this house because it gets decluttered, that will have been a rather wise investment.

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, by Mary Roach

Roach is known for her irreverent science writing. In this book, she tackles military science, and how the military experiments and innovates to keep soldiers healthy. New weapons get all the glory, but effective methods of fighting infection, gut ailments, and the woes of sleep deprivation, will ultimately make for a more prepared and happier fighting force. I really enjoyed this one, and it’s reminded me to pick up some of her other titles that I haven’t read (like Packing for Mars).

What books did you tackle in the last month?

11 thoughts on “Books read in October 2019, plus a weekend report

    1. @Ruth – I know, caricatures bother me a lot. In all directions. I appreciated that the authors were trying to do something different.

  1. I hope you’re willing/ able to expand on the 2020 vacation planning. It’s something I’d like to do in advance of the new year, too!

    1. @Brenda- oh yeah, I could do a post on this. Basically, the school district posts calendars quite a ways ahead (we have 2020-2021 and have had it for a while) — so we can see that there are some interesting schedule quirks, like we start the next school year very late (Sept 8) and get a full post-Christmas week off (so good to do a weekly rental somewhere). I have also found that planning vacations one-off means you’re pitting quite different ideas against each other (should we go to the islands or skiing?) Whereas if you plan a year holistically the people who like to ski might be OK with going to the beach at a different point knowing that there is a ski week coming up. Spring break tends to hit at a relatively busy time, so we need to get that on the calendar. If we’re buying plane tickets, we’ve also learned that it’s hard to get 6 (or 7!) together on a flight, and since we definitely prefer to fly direct, that’s something that needs to get booked earlier rather than later. Likewise with bigger rentals. If you just need a hotel room for 4 people you can always get that. If you need a villa/suite/etc. that can accommodate 8 people, that’s a different matter.

  2. In October, I read:
    – To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
    – The Old Man and The Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
    – The Lost Art of Reading: Books and Resistance in a Troubled Time, by David L. Ulin
    – Out of Passau: Leaving a City Hitler Called Home, by Anna Rosmus
    – Humans: A Brief History of How We F*cked It All Up, by Tom Phillips (on audio)
    – Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kaur

    I go to bed early and wake up early every day to read for 45 minutes to an hour, M-F. I had to face the fact that reading after work just wasn’t working out. Weekend nights are always: quality time spent with the hubby (in fact, every Tuesday is our weekly date night!), running errands, conducting life admin, doing chores, and/or making dinner. Even though all I did was shift my sleep schedule, so that *technically* I could have the same reading time in the evenings (and instead go to bed later) rather than in the mornings, that shift made all the difference, because I have 100% control over my time in the mornings (the will power to not watch TV or do something else less mentally taxing, no external forces laying “shoulds” at my feet, etc.).

  3. Inspired by you, in October, I read:
    Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens (I know everyone loves this one; I found it a little light and predictable, but the ending was an awesome gut punch.)
    Secrets of the Savanna, by Mark and Delia Owens (much better than Crawdads)
    Orange Is the New Black, by Piper Kerman (it was a book first)
    Blowout, by Rachel Maddow (audiobook, listened to about a third, will not be finishing)
    Baby in the House, by Megan Beller (I don’t have a baby, but my friend wrote this wonderful, accepting compendium of practical advice with a baby.)

    Hot damn! Thanks, Laura. Since tracking my time, I have become much more conscious of how I choose to use it, and I strongly prefer reading to surfing the Internet or spending time on Facebook. I get about 30 minutes a weekday, plus about 2.5 hours total on weekends, bringing me to a total of 5 hours a week. I have always loved to read, and I am thrilled to discover that I still do.

  4. The Conservative Sensibility, by George Will
    He’s saying instead of just letting the market or society work itself out and social forces let things fall where they may, progressives want to shape social arrangements and market outcomes for various reasons (righting perceived wrongs, etc). Your point is well taken though as progressives would respond that they don’t have any issue with human nature determining things in a JUST system..and since it’s broken, they want to fix it more by adding and expanding it than contracting or doing status quo stuff per the conservative agenda. That’s my 2 cents, but I’m only about halfway through it.(less)

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