Changing the Way I Build My Library

This week my plan was (and still is) to focus on books of my college years and my twenties. I spent most of my twenties single and discovering life so these momentous phases link well together. Because of an unexpected family crisis, I was unable to write at the beginning of this week and this is the first year I hadn’t written a few posts ahead. (Lesson learned!) We’re all back home and doing well so I thought, rather than try to catch up, I’d batch a couple books into one post. So, today and tomorrow will be two books.

51R+D9ZxrSL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_My college years were actually spent reading texts for school, most of which were art history tomes. Life-changing in the academic sense, but really more coffee table books than anything. I got my Master’s Degree in Urban Education and it was there that I really started reading people of color and digging intentionally into books written by authors who have the same background and perspective as the protagonist.

One of my favorite books during these grad school years was The House on Mango Street. Sandra Cisneros is a masterful storyteller and her fictional characters reflect her own life experiences. The short stories follow Esperanza, a Latina girl from Chicago. I love well-written short stories and Cisneros uses this form to create a stunning narrative arc.

One of my favorite stories in the book is “Eleven,” about how we are each of the ages we’ve already lived. That story has helped me parent when my girls (and myself!) act like two-year-old or ten-year-old or even our own ages.

The House on Mango Street sparked my thesis about using our classroom libraries to reflect the backgrounds of our students. I purposefully sought out books my students could relate with and, as I raise white girls, I have intentionally filled our home library with books that don’t reflect my daughters’ experiences. It taught me to be intentional about how I stock my libraries, especially for emerging humans.

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51JAnJWnbkLAfter grad school, a friend and I were talking about reading and meeting guys. We wanted to start a book club that wasn’t simply women drinking wine together so we created “Books and Beer.” Every month we met at a bar and we advertised our club on Craigslist. (In the days before Craiglist got weird!) We thought a lot about our first pick – we wanted something that was easy to read, a good discussion, and a book that guys would want to read, too. Life of Pi by Yann Martel seemed a perfect choice.

While the book itself wasn’t life-changing (though it was one of my first magical realism reads) the marker of this book club was. We met at bars for years and we did indeed meet guys who read. (Though none of our spouses came directly from book club.) Eventually, we stopped advertising on Craigslist and even stopped meeting at bars. As life changed, it became a more traditional book club of women meeting in homes, drinking wine. After 10 years, I stopped going last year but it will always hold a special place.

What I loved about this book club was finding books that fit a large audience. We never knew who would attend and so we tried hard to find books that were thought-provoking but that would also reach a wide variety of readers. We would always have a stranger or two at each meeting and it was always interesting to hear such different perspectives.

Life of Pi sparked a wonderful decade of reading for me and I won’t ever get rid of my copy, even if I never read it again.

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Since we have two books, I have two questions: Is there one particular book that changed the way you build your library? If you were to start a book club, which book would you pick for your inaugural read?

A (1)This post is Days 11 & 12 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Remembering Who Came First

I’m honored to be over at SheLoves today. This month’s theme is “territories” and I originally didn’t expect to have anything to say on this topic. But a trip to the wild landscape of northern Colorado reminded me that this space I call home, where I feel grounded, isn’t really mine to claim. Here’s an excerpt and I hope you’ll click over to SheLoves to join the conversation!

annie-rim-the-privilege-of-finding-home-2I’ve only ever lived in urban areas but the wild west is where I find myself relaxing and exhaling. Born in California and having grown up in Colorado, the landscape of the Western United States is what is ingrained. The cold Pacific Ocean, the red rocks of Utah, the snow-capped Rocky Mountains—these are the natural wonders that shaped my childhood.

While attending college in Paris, I spent four years searching for nature to rejuvenate. I’d take the train to the suburbs, hoping for rest in the sprawling parks designed by landscape architects of the 18th century. While it gave me peace I couldn’t find in Paris, the manicured lawns and evenly spaced trees didn’t give me a wild sense of wonder.

After graduation, I thought I’d find that wildness in the Himalayas of Nepal. I spent three months in Kathmandu, pressed in by people and animals and overwhelming smells. The mountains were there, always in the distance (when the smog cleared). While they were powerful, they weren’t accessible.

So I returned to Colorado, realizing that this is where I could rejuvenate. Now we are raising our girls in the midst of this landscape. We take them to Moab where the sight of the massive red rock formations help me breathe deeply. We drive north to Wyoming where the smell of wild sage fills our car and the canyons and hills remind me of a Western novel, where cowboys and bandits camp and hide.

As our girls grow and we create memories that will make the West part of their identity, my husband and I are thinking of ways to intentionally weave the history of this land into our family’s explorations. This year, as we prepare for a family visit to Yellowstone and the Tetons, our family is reading books about Sacagawea, the Shoshone guide for the Lewis and Clark expedition. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the conversation! 

Where do you find your home? How have you learned more about the land where you live?

The Red Couch Book Club

RedCouch-books-2018Tis the season for posts reminiscing about 2017, rating best books of the year, and looking toward the new year. In the land of the Red Couch, this year has been one filled with changes. In March, I was honored to step into the role of editor for this incredible community. You all have stretched my thinking and my reading this year, and it’s been quite an adventure and learning experience!

Something that is so interesting about planning a year’s worth of reading in advance is learning to trust that the right book will be picked for the right month. I found that to be true in so many ways of our 2017 selections, whether remembering the importance of lament to learning the complex history of immigration in the United States to making space for the layers of hospitality this season, each book seemed picked for the right moment in time.

As we sorted and arranged and added books to the 2018 lineup, my hope is that the same holds true for next year. It was difficult narrowing the list down but I love the story we’re trying to tell through these books! Head over to SheLoves to check out our 2018 book selections!

Welcoming the Stranger Introduction

I have the honor of introducing our May book club read over at SheLoves Magazine today. We’ll be discussing Welcoming the Stranger by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang Yang. We’ll do most of our interactions over in our Facebook group and I’d love for you to join this discussion! (Here’s the link: Red Couch Facebook.) This book was filled with a lot of information and powerful stories, which makes it a timely and important read. Here’s an excerpt, but click over to read the whole post and join the discussion!

Red-Couch-Welcoming-the-Stranger-IntroductionMy family history is one of skirting modern-day immigration regulations. On one branch, my ancestors arrived soon after the passengers on the Mayflower, helping to build the new Massachusetts Bay Colony. Others arrived pre-World War 1 and worked their way to the Midwest. Regardless of route, my family arrived in an era when a boat passage was paperwork enough and they came from desirable countries that posed no threat to the white Protestant population.

In Welcoming the Stranger, Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang Yang remind us that people immigrate for a wide variety of reasons: from fleeing unsafe regimes to the prospect of higher wages and standards of living to reunification with family who live in America. Every immigrant has a unique story and journey that brought them to the decision to pursue life away from their familiar culture.

Soerens and Yang pack Welcoming the Stranger full of the debate on immigration. They feature personal stories, address misconceptions about contributions of immigrants to the economic and social aspects of our society, and cite religious precedents of caring for the foreigner. Intermixed with stories are facts and data and the appendices alone are worth the read. This is a manual for Christians to understand the actual impact of opening our doors to immigrants and retaining the United States’ foundations as a nation that welcomes all cultures.

I appreciate the depth and scope that Soerens and Yang bring to this conversation. They broke down a lot of misnomers about the effect of undocumented workers on our economy; of the actual crime statistics of those entering our country; and of the reality of working your way up in society. Read the rest and join the discussion at SheLoves!

What are some practical, real-life ways you get to know your neighbors? How do you listen to their stories?

Finding Inspiration

We meet once a month, this group of strong, opinionated women, to talk about books written by or featuring strong women. Over food and crusty bread and wine, we share our lives and dive into big topics. This group is my most diverse book club, from a life-experience perspective and our conversations about the books and topics surrounding the books (and topics surrounding life that have nothing to do with the books!) always generate lively discussion.

Frank and I were talking about things that motivate us. He enjoys listening to motivational speakers on the way to work. Even though he’s heard the message countless times before, he always gleans something new and it gives him encouragement. For me, sitting around a table and sharing life is what gives me motivation. Talking about hard topics with women I admire inspires me to learn more, to do more, and to view this world in new ways.

I’ve definitely been inspired after going to a conference or hearing someone give a powerful talk, but the inspiration that will most likely lead to concrete changes in thinking and action is when I’m with friends who challenge and encourage my own journey.

I’m thankful for this group of women – most of whom I didn’t know until joining this book club – that we take the time each month to meet, to debrief about life, and to encourage each other on the journey.

Where do you find inspiration and encouragement?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.