Interview With A Book Club Organizer | Sari Pabst
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Sari Pabst is the book club organizing extraordinaire and fearless leader behind the book club we attend locally. She has over 8 years of experience organizing various book clubs, and was kind enough to sit down with us to talk about what it’s like running large book clubs for so long (she’s been running our current one for over 3 years!). She shares what works, what doesn’t, what makes for good discussion, book club rules and structure, venue pitfalls, guiding philosophies, book club organizer pet peeves, and advice for anyone who wants to start their own club, or improve the one they already have!


Q: What made you want to start a book club?

A: I found that as an adult it’s really hard to make friends. When I started going to book club, I had just had my baby, and went from working full-time to being a stay at home mom with no other stay-at-home mom friends. So, I joined a book club near my home. They were really great, and after a couple months, the woman organizing it asked me to take over for a while. When she moved to another city, I ended up fully taking over organizing it.

How did you find a venue?

When I was in our previous town, I just picked a coffeehouse with a big table. It wasn’t great though, honestly. You have to account for the fact that anything with coffee is going to have coffee grinders, so sometimes you’d have to yell. And then a lot of the books we read are adult material, so you’re sitting in the middle of, like, Panera Bread, apologizing to the moms with their kids at the next table. We actually read Lolita, and there was a 9 year old girl at the table behind us. So there we are having this big, graphic conversation with sexually provocative things involving children, and it just made it hard.

When I moved down to Tacoma, one of the things I did was to just go and check places out. I knew I wanted to move it to a bar, because I wanted it to be an “over 21” venue. Not because I think people under 21 don’t have anything valuable to add or to say, but because, I have two kids— whom I love, they’re wonderful—but if I’m going out for a night to have adult time, I don’t want to bring my children, and I don’t want other people to bring theirs either. I don’t want anyone to have to censor what they’re saying or how they’re feeling because there’s a 7 year old in the room. So for me, I was very specific in wanting an age limit on not just our book club, but on who could be in our immediate area.

Plus, moving into a location that was adults only, and to a time that was a little later in the evening made it so that a diverse amount of people could come, because now people could come after work. It’s appealing to come chill and have a drink with friends; it just makes for a much more casual environment. Then I just picked a space like that, one that would let me borrow a room once a month. They’re wonderful, they always let me have the room, and always make sure other patrons are clear from the space if we need it. It’s our home now

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How did you pick a day and time?

We have a core group of people who have hung in there with me for years and years, so I picked a day that worked for them as well as with my schedule and my co-organizer’s schedule, because it was important to me that the core group could have what they wanted. As long as it’s on the same day of the week, most people’s schedules are pretty set, so we just picked what worked best and we’ve stuck with it.

Has keeping it 21+ affected the dynamic of the group?

We have a really interesting demographic. I’m in my mid-30’s, and we have a few people who are in their 40’s and 50’s, then we have a bunch of people who in their mid 30’s or 40’s who don’t come as regularly, and then we have a ton of people in their 20’s. It’s this really interesting range of people. There are months that I come and I’m the only person in the room who has children. So my perspective may be incredibly opposite than the person sitting across from me who just graduated from college, or the person who’s kids have already left home. I love when you get to see different perspectives, especially now that more men have started to come. Having it at our location, it’s gender neutral, and set at a time when professionals can come after work, or stay at home moms can come when their husbands get off work; it’s really opened us up to more interesting discussions.

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You have a pretty large group, right? How do you manage a group that size?

Yeah! We have almost 1,400 followers on Meetup and we regularly have about 20 people show up. I was really overwhelmed when I first moved it to Tacoma, because in our previous location, the largest group I’d had was maybe 17. It’s kind of a trendy thing now in our area to mix alcohol and books, but it definitely wasn’t when we started. I was a little bit overwhelmed, and my voice doesn’t really carry very well, so at first it was little bit of a free-for-all. One of the things that helped me the most was physically standing in front of the group to have command of the room. Which sounds weird, because I’m not actually somebody who likes having all the attention on her, but if I don’t it just becomes complete chaos, with different sections having different conversations and nobody really paying attention.

If I'm actually standing, it gives the room someone to focus on, so it’s almost like passing the baton when I call on somebody, and gives everyone a chance to be heard. Sometimes there will be a great dialogue, like two people will get really heated about a topic, and I’m not going to cut that off if they’re going back and forth. If someone raises their hand to interject, I can be like “hey guys, they’ve wanted to comment on your discussion for a minute, let’s hear what they have to say,” and that will bring it all back around.

What do you think keeps people coming back to this group?

I hope that it’s that we’re creating a fun, healthy environment for people to get to know each other!


Do you intentionally structure your discussions?

Depending on what the novel is, I look up discussion questions, see what’s been popular in other book clubs, but actually my favorite is when the author has given discussion questions in the back of the book or on their website. There are also questions I’ll ask every single time. The first thing I ask as we start is “who has read the book?” and sometimes it’s just one or two people, which is totally fine. The next question is always “who liked the book and who didn’t?” because I’m very aware that I usually have the opposite opinion of the group, and it gives everyone a chance to see where people stand. Plus, just knowing who felt the same as you and who felt the opposite of you is a discussion point. Like, well, what did you like about it?

Also, even if I really loved a book, I’m probably going to have to act like I hate it if everyone else loved it too, just so I can be that opposition. My job when I show up to book club is to make a discussion happen and to keep it going. Sometimes it’s really easy, but of course, sometimes it’s really hard. We’ve only ever had one book that had a discussion that lasted under an hour. 

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What was the worst discussion you’ve ever had?

Good Omens. We’ve done all kinds of books, and usually there’s some kind of hidden nugget you can pull on to really get everybody going and there was such satire, and such slapstick comedy in that book, but there wasn’t enough depth to have any feelings about it. Most of the group felt the same, and it was just really hard to create a discussion off of one-liners.


Why did you choose Meetup to advertise the group?

Mostly because that’s originally how I found the book club. Six years ago, members suggested we move it to Facebook, but what happened was we went from having 15-17 people come, to having maybe 6-8 people coming, because it just wasn’t getting out there. Also, it just lost something. I love when new people come and offer fresh perspectives, versus when it’s just the same people, you kind of already know what they’re going to say, and who’s going to like or not like the book. When I moved and re-started, I decided to put it back on Meetup because it seemed like the best way for us to get the most exposure, and I genuinely don’t mind paying for the service as long as people are showing up and they’re enjoying it.

As long as it continues to be something I look forward to every month and not something I have to do every month, I’ll keep doing it, because I really appreciate that I have this platform to invite people to come enjoy and discuss books. Also, I think a lot of people really underestimate how difficult it is to put yourself out there. Walking into a room of people full of people you don’t know, it’s scary and it’s hard-- I definitely remember how hard it was for me to walk into my first one. I used this club to make new friends and build community, because I didn’t have it, so I want everyone to feel comfortable walking in. I try to shake each new person’s hand and introduce myself, because I want people to feel welcome, and I do appreciate how hard it is just to walk in the door. 

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What is it about a book that makes it create a good discussion?

Controversy. And it doesn’t even have to be big controversy. One word I can say that will always set somebody off in the room is “sexuality”. It doesn’t matter what we’re talking about, but if I say that word the entire room is going to explode, and there are just little triggers like that. It could be the most tame book in the entire world, but as soon as somebody says a key word, all of a sudden it’s like a bomb went off. So you have to feel the book out, and see what that thing is going to be. Sometimes even just bringing up something I didn’t like will outrage somebody and spark a conversation.

How do you pick what your group will read?

Everyone in the room can bring whatever books they want to recommend, they just have to tell the room what it’s about, and it gets put on the list. We then let people vote for every book mentioned. The first time through, everyone can vote for any book on the list that they’re interested in, and if it’s unanimous, or there is a situation where one book got like 15 votes and the others only got a handful of votes, that’s our book. If two books are close, we do a second round of voting where you can only vote for one book. The reason I do it that way is because I want people to feel like it’s their book club too, instead of it being like “ugh, what is she going to make us read this month.”

I want to read what the group wants to read, and I get to read so many things that never would have been on my radar, so it’s really exciting for me too. Another thing that really worked for us, is that while we used to pick the book two months in advance so that people would have plenty of time to get it from the library or listen to is as an audiobook, we switched to just picking the book for the following month. I realized that people were fighting for the book that they want to read now, and by the time we were actually getting around to that book two months later, nobody actually cared about it any more.

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Do you have any other book club rules?

If you show up, whether you’ve read the book or not, we are going to talk about the end of the book, because it’s not fair that everybody read it and we can’t talk about a part of it because somebody didn’t finish it, even if that person is me.

Is there anything that you, as an organizer, would not have thought about as a member?

I get a lot of messages behind the scenes. One of the most frustrating things for me is when people don’t bother reading the actual event details on Meetup, because I try to make sure that when you click the event listing, all the information is there about what time we meet, where we’re meeting, how to find us…everything. People will inevitably private message me asking the same questions over and over again, and every single month having to answer the exact same questions when you’ve already posted the information, can be really frustrating. I try to be understanding and give a gracious reply, but it’s one of those things, that as a participant, I didn’t realize was so frustrating.

I also get messages from local authors who want us to do their book, as in have us all buy copies of the book. It’s not that I don’t want to support local authors, it’s that I’ve been working on this club for 8 years. It sounds like a really silly thing, but I’ve literally put 8 years of my life into these book clubs to be able to cultivate it to be the way it is, and I care a lot about it. So I get frustrated when I feel like somebody is trying to financially profit off of my hard work, especially when I go out of my way to make sure that there’s no financial hardship on my members. 

Is there any advice you have for people who want to start a book club?

I would say have an idea of what you want it to be. I know that sounds silly, like of course you want to read books, but decide how you want to run it and what you want it to feel like. If you come to my book club, be aware that I curse, and I drink, and I’m a really laid back person who tries to be really open and non-judgmental. It’s easy to take things personally if your space isn’t the right space for someone, but try not to.

Know what you want your group to look like and feel like, and be okay if its not the right fit for someone. I want my group to be people who enjoy being around each other and enjoy coming, and I don’t want someone to have to censor themselves because another person isn’t comfortable with swearing. Be aware of what your goals are, and be okay that you’re not everybody’s cup of tea. Just make sure you don’t take it personally, because I know it’s hard when you put your heart and soul into something, and it feels like a personal rejection, when in reality it’s just…he’s just not that into you.

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Do you have any other questions for Sari?

Literary Dinner | The Nutcracker
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The Nutcracker is such a shift from the popular ballet we all know and love, and it was wonderful to read during the holiday season. Even more wonderful was getting to immerse ourselves into the inspiration behind the music that lead to the ballet, and revel in Hoffman’s incredibly creative literary work.

This was one of those dinners where Michaela had a vision, but couldn’t fully articulate it, so between a little bit of telepathy and trusting her vision, we brought it to life together. It was a literary dinner party dream come true. Twinkle lights forever, y’all.

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We brought in a trimmed piece of a pear tree from my backyard, hung it with fishing line and decked it out with Christmas lights and gold ornaments. A simple, yet striking focal point. The table was layered with a tablecloth and runner, with a large nutcracker as the focal point, balanced on either side with tall candle tapers, bottle brush trees, candles, and some fake snow to add to the glittering effect we often associate with The Nutcracker. We were going for a kind of “enchanted forest” feel, and I think we nailed it.

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It was so great to tie in elements from the actual story, but also parts of the ballet that have left an imprint in our minds. We wanted to keep a classic and traditional Christmas feel, but also different from what we’ve done before. We were both pretty thrilled with the results!

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While a tasty pumpkin and sausage soup simmered on the stove, we had an elaborate charcuterie platter and a custom cocktail to go with it. We used additional branches wrapped with lights on the counter by the window, a small floral and greenery centerpiece with evergreen branches and red roses, along with candles and few small nutcrackers to keep the theme cohesive.

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A blackberry simple syrup to amp up the champagne, topped with cranberries and rosemary was a delightful treat as we snacked and waited for dinner.

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We went ahead and splurged on a bakery made buche de noel for dessert, and swapped out cocktails for cocoa as we ended the night. We talked quite a bit about the magic of the story and how great a read it was this time of year.

This concludes our holiday season as we ring in the New Year. Cheers, friends!

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Reading Resolutions for 2019
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2019 is already off and racing ahead of us, but we belatedly took a few minutes to reflect on what we’d like to improve on in our reading lives. We each agreed we had some really simple, basic goals to ensure this reading year was better than the last, and that we choose books that are better and better suited for us. In the end, all any reader wants is a satisfying reading life, and a few tweaks can make all the difference. With that said, we have some simple resolutions:

Michaela

  1. Read from my SHELVES- I’ve amassed a collection I’m really excited about, and need to just commit to actually reading them instead of getting side tracked by new releases. I reorganized the TBR shelf in my bedroom into rainbow order so that it looks fresh and appealing (is the rainbow trend dead yet? This is the first time I’ve tried it!), and I feel more compelled to draw from it. I really do love having a legitimate home library filled with books I’ve curated for myself, so it’s time to read some more of them!

  2. Quality above anything- I feel like 2018 was kind of a “meh” year for my reading life, and that needs to change in 2019. That means prioritizing quality reads and being better about discerning whether I’m interested in the BOOK or the CONVERSATION going on around the bookish internet when choosing what to read next. I also need to accept that fun, contemporary, fluffy reads just don’t tend to be my jam. They always look appealing, I almost always hate them, and I just need to accept I have to get my fluff elsewhere (looking at you, kdramas!). Quality for me is going to mean more of the classics and meatier reads that leave me feeling fulfilled, and I’m looking forward to it.

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Rikki

  1. Read the classics I know I’ll love - I am so eager to keep reading the classics that speak to me. The winds have changed directions toward a deeper prose that leaves me thinking a little more, that speaks to my soul, and provides a greater foundation and appreciation for the literature I want to carry with me. A lot of foreign novels and classics are what I’m after for the foreseeable future.

  2. READ FROM MY SHELVES!!! - Do you hear me, self?! I want to be intentional about reading what I have. Story of our readerly lives, right?! But really, my main bookshelf got a major facelift this year. So many books were purged and made way for so many brilliant and beautiful new-to-me books. It’s time I resist the urge to read everything at the library and maybe even buying, and focus on the good that I have for awhile.


Do you have any reading resolutions for the New Year??

Cheers to the Weekend 1.11.19
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Around the Web

Can you believe Pride and Prejudice is celebrating its 203rd anniversary?! If that’s a thing worth celebrating to you, here’s a list of retellings to commemorate the occasion.

I read and loved Fahrenheit 451 last year. So this is kind of the coolest, strangest thing!

Do you agree this is the best thing to do for your reading life?

Are you looking to up your photo game? These tips will help you get there!

Some of the most anticipated books of 2019. Are any of these on your list?! I see a few I’m anxious for.

Instagram

I love to see posts with equal parts talk of the book and discussions. Jordan has it down!

Anaïse has an interesting taste and style that I can’t help but be drawn to.

A lovely literary lifestyle feed full of color, good books, and good conversation.

What We’re Reading

Michaela- I’m reading like three books, and since two are pretty heavy, I needed a brain break and have been focused on The Hating Game, which is pretty much exactly what you’d expect: funny, fluffy, and pure escapist fantasy.

Rikki - Seabiscuit is a lovely story so far. I’m anxious to get into the meat of it and be fully immersed, like I know to expect from Hillenbrand. I’ve finally committed to Lolita as well, aside from the difficult story, the writing is insanely phenomenal. I’m also listening to Between Shades of Gray, and is a really good, but hard-to-hear historical fiction story.

How We Fared With Our 2018 Reading Resolutions
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MICHAELA

My 2018 resolutions were:

  1. Read more selectively

I’m not sure how good I was about this, honestly, though I did improve over the course of the year. I’m finally coming out of the process of learning who I am as a reader now, and getting better at choosing books for myself, and a lot of that has been wrought from discovering the power of saying “no” to a book just because other people like it, or because I want access to the conversation about a trendy new book.

2. Read more from my own shelves

I failed at this, I’m not going to lie. I only read a handful of my unread shelf, and should probably recommit myself to this goal because I put WAY MORE BOOKS on the shelf than I read and took off of it! I’m genuinely excited about what I have collected, I just need to resist the siren’s call of the library.

RIKKI

My 2018 resolutions were:

  1. Have more books on my shelves that are read versus not read

I scarcely know what to say about my reading life this year. I read 92 books. More than ever before. I kind of like the trend of reading more than previous years, but a lot of my reading was because of classes (done with school now though!!!), and I don’t regret it one bit, nor will I aim to continue doing that intentionally.

My tastes changed so very much this year, and a ton of new and old books joined the ranks of ‘home’ on my shelves. And because of that, I can’t say that I really read more from my shelves, since so much has changed; so many books were donated and others filled their space. But, I did want to read more classics, and I do feel that I accomplished that. Which, I think is my primary aim for 2019, along with reading more from my shelves…again.

Rikki RiveraComment
Taking Better Bookstagram Photos

A new year brings about all sorts of motivation to improve ourselves, our lives, and the details that make up both. One of the things I find myself thinking about is the shift from holiday photos to winter and then to the much anticipated spring. I won’t lie, I’m ready to be outside again, but our beloved #bookstagram is still holding onto those cozy vibes. Thus, I’m stretching myself to find a mix of working with low light and cozy indoor vibes to document our reading lives.

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If you’re stuck inside because of the cold, rain, or snow, fear not friends, you aren’t alone. Unless you live in Australia, we’re all struggling to find inspiration and take beautiful photos to share. The days are indeed getting longer, but we still have some time before it’s a substantial difference. I have a few tips to help you through.

  1. Plan ahead - I cannot say this enough: plan ahead. What does that mean exactly, you ask? It means that if you want decent content to post without stressing or burning yourself out, plan a day during the week that you’ll be home when there’s ample sunlight. Taking a few varied bookish photos to get you through the week will help immensely.

  2. Find the light - There has to be at least one spot in your home that gets some decent light in the late morning or early afternoon. Whether it means scooting a chair over, bringing in a blanket, or setting up a little prop spot, use this area and plan to shoot in. Going out for coffee? Sit by the window and snap a few shots there too. And just because you take the photos now, doesn’t mean you have to post them right away.

  3. Change your angle - When you have a setup that you love, consider taking an extra shot or two from different angles. This gives you additional photo content to mix in throughout the week and add some consistent interest to your feed.

  4. Add variety - Even if you have to use the exact same spot, you can easily make a few small adjustments to keep it interesting for you. Add in a cup of coffee, a plant, change up your book choice, pose the book open and closed, add a blanket, get yourself in the frame. The options are endless. Also, if you’re working with window light, change your angle. If you subject is lit from the left side, move to the right, above, eye level, step in closer and move away.

  5. Keep your captions interesting - Ok, so this isn’t exactly a photo tip, but if you are planning ahead with your photos, you’ll need to ensure that your written content is just as interesting and diverse. Not only do you not want to post too similar of photos back-to-back, you also want to keep the conversation interesting. Think about your book AND your reading life, and mix both into your posts.

Interested in more helpful content like this? Consider joining our Patreon community for 24/7 feedback, helpful tips, advice, and more!

Cheers to the Weekend 1.4.19
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Whoooo that felt weird to type “19” instead of “18”. DOes anyone else remember going back to school after the winter break and forgetting to change the year when you dated your papers in class? I feel the same kind of adjustment happening to me right now, the slightly off kilter settling in to a new year and a clean slate. This weekend we are back to our breakfast dates, reclaiming our routines and spaces as the holidays and visiting family filter out, and welcoming in some better habits and better books into 2019. What are you guys up to this weekend? Did you do any goal setting?

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Around the Web

This is a great review, and look at a new release that we both had mixed feelings about.

A look at some 2019 resolutions. Have you thought of yours? Do you feel inspired with the new year?!

An interview with debut author Mesha Maren, whose novel is sitting on my shelf now. This has me looking forward to it more than ever.

It’s time to declutter your shelves, here’s some help if you need it.

The absolute sweetest story on one man’s love of books.

Instagram

I love Hey Atlas, and not just because they’re local and make cool things, but Cade has a feed that is so simply and wonderfully literary lifestyle

Excellent classics, interesting movies, and great reviews

Lots of great books, poetry inspiration, and writing motivation from this lovely little community


What We’re Reading

Michaela - I took a second to breathe after inhaling so many books in December, but am starting the weekend in the company of Stoner and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Bonus that they’re both pulled from my unread shelf!

Rikki - I recently finished Stoner and finally cracked open Seabiscuit. I’m also slowly reading Lolita and just started Between Shades of Gray by Ruty Sepetys.

Wrap Up | December 2018
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Michaela

War and Peace | Leo Tolstoy - That’s right friends, I FINISHED! I’m still kind of unpacking the novel, but I finished War and Peace, and it was sincerely amazing. It deserves 5 stars for sheer scope alone, but the characters, the playing with micro/macro, the themes, just everything, all combined to make one seriously (giant) powerful read. I also learned arguably too much about 19th century warfare tactics and logistics. Truly though, this book is obviously very long, but it is actually beautifully, compulsively readable, and the characters, their choices, their romances, their lives are the heart and drive of the novel. Andrey was probably my favorite (I love me some angst!), but Pierre and Natasha and all the rest feel just as alive and interesting to me. I will say, if you’re considering reading this, it is WELL worth it to compare translations and choose one that works for you! If you don’t want to commit to the book yet, I highly recommend that you watch the 2016 mini series; it is so, so well done, and you will immediately see why this novel is such an enduring story. This was the most stand out reading experience of my year, and I’m so glad I took the time to read this novel. Anna Karenina (again, but in a different translation) next!

Spinning Silver | Naomi Novik- I honestly didn’t like this one as much as Uprooted. It felt a little messier, was a little harder to follow (some stuff wasn’t really explained??), and I wasn’t as attached to the characters. I did like having so many bad ass ladies running the show, and I thought it was a clever twist on the Rumplestiltskin fairytale. Novik’s writing is also just really enjoyable to read, and she builds atmosphere beautifully. So, still a solid read, but not going on my favorites list. Thanks so much to the publisher for gifting us a copy!


The Nutcracker | E.T.A. Hoffman + The Tale of the Nutcracker | Alexandre Dumas- If you pick this up, you’re in for Christmas magic, the feeling of being a child at this time of year, lush descriptions, and a tale that is a beloved classic. It does differ from the ballet a bit, and is a tad darker (most old fairy tales are), but I see echoes of Beauty and the Beast, of Narnia, and of Sleeping Beauty in this story. It’s a wonderful description of an old fashioned Christmas, a princess story, a battle between good and evil, and a magical trip through a Christmas wonderland packed into 60 short pages. In Dumas’ version, the narrator is telling a group of children the story of the Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman, but he adds and embellishes a lot of details, so it’s actually a more lively story to read, while still being faithful to the original. All in all, an evening well spent reading by my Christmas tree, and the perfect story to get me to feel some of that holiday magic.

The Fir Tree” + “The Snow Queen” | Hans Christian Anderson- The Fir Tree was a quick little tale with a clear message that I loved, but was kind of sad. I really really loved The Snow Queen though, it has all the elements I most enjoy in fairytales: a quest, a witch, sassy characters, whimsical details (the flowers that tell their stories, omg) and of course, a happy ending. Such a solid fairytale, and one I really enjoyed.

Mrs. Dalloway | Virginia Woolf- Holy shit guys. After War and Peace, I was looking for quick reads, and while this is a slim little book, it is dense. So dense, so magically, beautifully brilliantly dense. I can’t even describe how much I loved this novel, and I’m shocked it took me so long to pick up Woolf. I can’t wait to read more from her, because I was completely blown away by this novel, and it’s going straight on to my all time favorites list. Hands down one of the best things I’ve read in the last couple years. It’s all the atmospheric nostalgia, and all the genius, and insight, and lyrical prose I could ever want.

The Age of Innocence | Edith Wharton- After Mrs. Dalloway I decided to stay with the same themes, but go with a different style. I picked up this one because it was another short classic on my shelf, and Wharton swept in and swept me off my feet. The Age of Innocence is truly magnificent, and if you like society novels, this is undoubtedly one of the best of the best. Crisp prose builds the glittering, atmospheric world of old New York and its strict society, which is cleverly and fully drawn. As a reader you can truly feel how suffocating and opulent it is, and Wharton’s tone manages to be lovingly satirical. Ultimately though, this is a bittersweet love story. Watching Newland and Ellen fall together and fall apart, is beautiful and excruciating, and you truly feel for them. Ugh and the ending was just. Dead on perfect. So many layers to this one, and just so, so well written and emotional.

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Rikki

A Little Life | Hanya Yanagihara - What an incredibly heartbreaking and beautiful story! But like most people who loved this book have said, it’s really ALL ABOUT THE PROSE. Yanagihara knows she’s intelligent, witty, and writes accordingly, and I love that she does (you should watch her interviews if you haven’t already). I’m so anxious to read The People in the Trees, and am wishing on all the stars that she finds another story to write about! A Little Life was beautiful, heartbreaking, albeit a little melodramatic, but the characters were so alive—so real. Their names and stories keep replaying in my mind, I imagined scenes they were in and wondered what would happen next. It’s been hard to know their story has ended, and that’s all there is for them. There are many parts I marked that I want to revisit in time, because I can’t imagine not visiting Jude, Malcolm, Willem, and JB again.

Too Loud A Solitude | Bohumil Hrabal - I stumbled on this book from a fellow bookstagrammer, and I’m thrilled my library had a copy. This book is a gem, and one I’ll need to read again, because I’m not sure I got everything the first time. A beautifully, uniquely written story that is reminiscent of Fahrenheit 451, but also completely different. So good and thought-provoking.

Other People’s Love Affairs | D. Wystan Owen - A collection of intertwining short stories that was charming and wonderful to read. I really enjoyed it, but also found myself losing patience as this book kept getting pushed back due to buddy reads and book club. Overall though, I kept hoping for more from it. The stories were good and in decent prose on the surface, but I really did want more.

The Nutcracker | E.T.A. Hoffman - A worthwhile holiday read that is nothing like what you might expect, but that whisks you off into a fantasy land of good vs evil when your toys come to life. I really enjoyed reading this and bringing it to life with a dinner party.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas | Agatha Christie - What a fun novel to end the year with. I haven’t read an Agatha Christie book since Murder on the Orient Express last year, and before that, I can’t even tell you when, but it’s been ages. This is one of her older novels, and it’s witty, clever, and has the classic language I love. You can really tell a difference between some of her books and this one goes to the top of my favorite Agatha books.

What was the best book YOU read this month??

Our Top 5 Books of 2018
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Michaela

I don’t know that I can put my books in any particular order, they’re all so different, but these are the books that will stick with me the most, and are ones I’ve gifted and recommended repeatedly. Despite feeling overall like my reading year wasn’t the best, these books redeemed 2018 for me. I can’t wait to read more from these authors in 2019, and have more of their works waiting for me on my shelves as priority reads.

  1. I Am I Am I Am | Maggie O’Farrell- My first 5 star read of the year and one that left me a little stunned and shivery when I closed it. This memoir explores Ms. O'Farrell's life through a series of her near death experiences that are brilliantly woven together and work to explore larger concepts while maintaining a really life-affirming, if tense, tone. The entire book was taut and beautiful and a little heartbreaking, but also proud and strong, and complex, and interesting. Stunning. This one is going to haunt me for a long time. 

  2. War and Peace | Leo Tolstoy- It deserves 5 stars for sheer scope alone, but the characters, the playing with micro/macro, the themes, just everything, all combined to make one seriously (giant) powerful read. I also learned arguably too much about 19th century warfare tactics and logistics. Truly though, this book is obviously very long, but it is actually beautifully, compulsively readable, and the characters, their choices, their romances, their lives are the heart and drive of the novel. Stunning, emotional, pwoerful, and unlike any other reading experience I’ve ever had

  3. Mrs. Dalloway | Virginia Woolf- This book is dense. So dense, so magically, beautifully brilliantly dense. I can’t even describe how much I loved this novel, and I’m shocked it took me so long to pick up Woolf. I can’t wait to read more from her, because I was completely blown away, and it’s going straight on to my all time favorites list. Hands down one of the best things I’ve read in the last couple years. It’s all the atmospheric nostalgia, and all the genius, and insight, and lyrical prose I could ever want.

  4. This Is How You Lose Her | Junot Diaz -I was shocked at how much this collection burrowed into my brain. Diaz is clearly a ridiculously gifted writer, and the stories are compelling in a way that I almost never find. Yunior's voice is so electrically alive as he talks to the reader about losing love, about his various identities, about his alienation, his family, the complexities of his life and the tumbling mess of his emotions. I loved this one and can't wait to read more from Díaz. I spent weeks unpacking this collection, and rightfully so. I know Diaz is controversial….but goddamn.

  5. The Best We Could Do | Thi Bui- I am decidedly not a crier, but this graphic memoir was so impactful it had me misty eyed at the end. The focus is on one family's immigration story from Viet Nam, but manages to wrap in so much history and culture and personal history and relationship drama so elegantly and meaningfully. I loved this so much, I immediately bought myself a copy after returning it to the library. No question, this was one of the best books I read this year. 

Honorable Mentions:

The Age of Innocence, Bitter Orange, Swimmer Among The Stars, Less, A Closed and Common Orbit, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

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Rikki

This was a defining and pivotal year for my reading life. It started with a recommendation, continued on with classics I’ve wanted to read, books for school, and buddy reads. In sum, I read a lot of amazing books this year. It was hard to decide which ones were the ultimate favorites of the year, but it came down to which books moved me the most and changed my reading life. Also, these are definitely not in order.

  1. A Little Life | Hanya Yanagihara - I kept hearing this book mentioned as a favorite, an emotional rollercoaster, and by the time I got to it, I dove in without hesitation. I loved everything about this book, but the characters and their stories will stay with me always. For the writing alone, Yanagihara has something to offer that you truly should not miss, but the story is equally immersive.

  2. As I Lay Dying | William Faulkner - It took me a little bit to understand what Faulkner was doing, as far as understanding his style and the prose, but after 20 or so pages, I found myself completely swept up in it. This book changed me.

  3. The Picture of Dorian Gray | Oscar Wilde - Wilde is the epitome of satire and humor and brilliance. I first read The Importance of Being Earnest and didn’t get it as well at first, but this one changed me completely. I laughed out loud so many times, this is another book I’d love to read again and again.

  4. Fahrenheit 451 | Ray Bradbury - Checked this one off the list, and wondered why on earth it took me so long to pick it up. There is so much packed in between the lines in this story, I was so swept away and of course, held my books a little tighter that night. This is one I’ll need to read a few times to really unpack all this novel holds.

  5. Homegoing | Yaa Gyasi - This book was AMAZING. One of the most powerful, timeless, incredible pieces of literature I've had the pleasure of reading. Spanning generations of two families from Africa to America and back, and the harsh reality and truth of African culture and life in the 19th century to 20th, this book is sweeping, emotional, and yet, you cannot turn away. During an interview, Gyasi said she had visited Ghana and decided to tell an untold story that didn't have faces and names, and she felt compelled to tell a version of their story. And she did it beautifully.

Honorable Mentions:

Too Loud a Solitude, Frankenstein, Where the Crawdads Sing, Circe, The Astonishing Color of After, Beartown, I Am I Am, I Am, Eleanor & Park, The Smell of Other People’s Houses, The Outsiders.

What was YOUR favorite book in 2018?

Michaela Devine Comments
Cheers to the Weekend 12.28.18
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And just like that, the year is almost done and I sincerely have no idea where December went! It’s time for us to round up our favorite books of the year and begin to goal set and look forward to 2019. We’re both hoping for quality over quantity, and are looking to read more from our shelves again this year. Do you have any 2019 reading goals??

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Around the Web

Did you guys hear that Tin House is ceasing publication of its literary magazine?

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The best books of 2018 lists are starting to hit the interwebs! We need to start compiling ours, too!

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Instagram

Lauren is focused on great translated lit and has colorful photos, great reviews, and a genuine presence.

Molly is absolutely nailing that literary lifestyle vibe.

Beautiful photos, great reads, and of course, that wonderful lit lifestyle!

What We’re Reading

Michaela- I just finished Mrs Dalloway and I don’t know what to do with myself. I might start Record of a Spaceborn Few though. Becky Chambers never disappoints me!

Rikki - I’m aiming to finish my last holiday read of Hercule Poirot’s Christmas within the next few days. Fingers crossed for some much needed reading time!

Michaela DevineComment