April Reads


How I’m picking books right now:
If you’re a follower, you know that I’ve been working my way through my color-coded book stacks. I’m trying to get through every book we have that I haven’t read yet by the end of the year. Which, after my last summer realization that thrift stores have a plethora of cheap classics lonely on the shelves, is a big undertaking. I started on my red stack this month, but I’m still working on one of the non-fiction books from the yellow stack and am working my way through one from the orange stack. I’m breaking those up into parts.

Rainbow Book Stacks

I’ve also started to throw books that are about writing and editing into the mix. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that I’m editing my first book manuscript; I took a break from it through the move and after Jonas was born, but I’m back in full swing. Reading editing books not only builds my skills, but also inspires me to write more.

April Reads

Without further adieu, April’s Reads!

On Liberty (1859) by John Stuart Mill

What you need to know: One of the best works of political philosophy I’ve ever read. Seriously.

“On Liberty” is part of the Essential Works of John Stuart Mill (1961), edited by Max Lerner. The book has four unabridged works of Mill’s. I’ve been reading one work from this book a month. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t like utilitarianism. So I thought I’d disagree with most of Mill’s arguments. Which I did, for the first two works. But with this one I was pleasantly surprised. I’m glad I stuck with the book because I loved “On Liberty”. I’m probably conditioned to love it as an American, because the Bill of Rights was heavily influenced by Mill.

The basic premise is that the government should not impede an individual from doing as he or she likes unless it harms another person. This is the foundation of Mill’s argument on individual rights. A government set up this way would be pretty dreamy, in my opinion. Of all of Mill’s works, this one has the most contemporary relevance. The debate over whether to legalize moral issues is still in the forefront of political discourse. This book has a comprehensive theory that addresses what government should have a right to interfere with. Very interesting, if you like that sort of thing.

And now for a quote: “No stronger case can be shown for prohibiting anything which is regarded as a personal immorality, than is made out for suppressing these practices [referring to examples of differing religious practices earlier in the paragraph] in the eyes of those who regard them as impieties; and unless we are willing to adopt the logic of persecutors, and to say that we may persecute others because we are right, and that they must not persecute us because they are wrong, we must beware of admitting a principle of which we should resent as a gross injustice the application to ourselves.”

The Brain-dead Megaphone (2008) by George Saunders

What you need to know: Rarely do you find an author that can balance writing that is at once laugh out loud funny and deeply, thoughtfully honest. But this is satire at its best.

One of the best collection of essays I’ve ever read. Saunders puts on so many hats in here: travel journalist, political satirist, literary critic, social commentator. And he excels at all of them.

Highly recommended.

P.S. I couldn’t read this one while I fed Jonas. He loved the contrast and it was too distracting for him.

And now for a quote: “F**k concepts. Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.”

What you need to know: This book is good for those beginning their journey into the world of selling handmade, but won’t be cover to cover useful if you’re a pro.

Not that I consider Jake and I pros. But I didn’t find every part of this book useful. In fact, I skipped over some parts (something I almost never do). That said, when I have more time I might go through those parts that I didn’t find immediately useful. Because even if we’ve already learned most of the tricks of the trade discussed in a certain chapter, there’s bound to be a gem hidden in those paragraphs somewhere.

I borrowed the book from a friend to read the section on craft fairs in order to prepare myself for our first craft fair. I found the craft fair section super helpful, especially the checklist of what to bring.

However, the part I found most useful was the section on finances. Jake and I have been working on trying different accounting systems for our Etsy shop but have been having a little difficulty perfecting a system that works specifically for our needs. Jake took many an accounting course for his business management degree, but those textbooks are assuming you’re a big business. Obviously, we’re not. So knowing the little things that are more specific to small businesses, like what qualifies as a write-off, is really helpful.

I also really like that Chapin quotes other handmade business owners on everything from blogging to marketing to inspiration.

And now for a quote: [Under "Good Branding"] “Emily Martin has an online shop called The Black Apple. She also writes a blog under the same name, and Emily has done a bang-up job with her branding. She paints and sews, but she occasionally makes and sells things like paper dolls, postcard sets, and jewelry, which she calls “fancy wearables.” No matter what she is creating, it has a look that is very Emily.”

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (Part 1: Post-War 1945-1953) (2005) by Tony Junt

What you need to know: This book is advanced (collegiate level), so some base knowledge of World War II and its aftermath is necessary. Junt assumes that the reader knows basic facts of the time. That said, this is the best wide-scope book on contemporary history in existence.

I do not overexaggerate.

This book is broken up in four parts. In April I read the Preface, Introduction, and Part 1, which covers 1945 to 1953. I loved the preface, in which Junt states that it is impossible to be completely objective about history, especially for a contemporary of the time. Junt admits that the book will be at times opinionated and parts will be proven to be mistaken over time. I love this; many historians argue that history is simply fact when it is in actuality a persuasive argument. (I’ve very interested in historiography: the study of how history changes over time).

The breadth of the book is amazing.

Though slightly Eurocentric (which is to be expected in a book by a European about Europe), the book is rarely biased. Judt gives multiple points of view, presents both pros and cons of policies, and spends equal time talking about Western and Eastern Europe.

But the most important thing that I have to say about this is how incredibly interesting it is. I’m not reading this at the pace I usually read non-fiction; I’m reading it at the pace I’d read a really good action novel. That’s pretty darn impressive. If only textbooks were this good (and honest).

And now for a quote: “Surviving the war was one thing, surviving the peace another. Thanks to early and effective intervention by the newly formed United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and the occupying allied armies, large-scale epidemics and the uncontrolled spread of contagious diseases were avoided… But the situation was grim enough.” Judt goes on to describe the hunger problems and average caloric intake for various European countries after this quote.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print (2nd ed. 2004) by Renni Browne and Dave King

What you need to know: Even though this book is on editing, it might be a good idea to read it before you even start your manuscript. It might be useful for bloggers as well. After all, if you’re a blogger you’re a writer, even if you don’t think of yourself as one.

After I read this, I pretty much wanted to re-write my entire book (in a good way). The authors give tons of examples, provide exercises, and have a totally readable style.

My favorite thing? This book taught me not only to be a better writer, but a better reader as well. I can be more critical of the mechanics that the authors are using when I read.

And now for a quote: “You can also start out in omniscient narration and then ease into a specific third-person point of view, in effect the literary equivalent of a camera moving from a long shot to gradually close the distance from the actor.”

The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) by John Buchan

What you need to know: The least exciting chase novel ever written.

This book is a classic, but I’m having trouble seeing why. Sure, it’s one of the earliest “on the run” stories. It is pretty cool that a regular guy gets caught up in a huge conspiracy and gets out of all sorts of tricky situations using wits and disguises. But the main character wasn’t well developed, the transitions between scenes were horrible (it just seemed like there was a mess of action without real meaning) and the plot was weak sauce. Blah.

And now for a quote: ” ‘You’re looking for an adventure,’ I cried. ‘Well, you’ve found it here. The devils are after me, and the police are after them. It’s a race I mean to win.’ “

Rainbow Book Stacks

Have you read any of these? What did you think? What have you been reading lately?

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