Books I Read: February & March 2020 Edition

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Last week I finally typed up the list of books I read in January.  This installment will cover February and March, and then I’ll be all caught up.  In case you missed last week’s post of recommended books, I mentioned that I have been an avid reader for, well, forever.  I have kept track of the books I read in a spreadsheet since 1988.  Ok, technically, I didn’t start the spreadsheet until 1990, but I had kept a list in a journal prior to that.

At the beginning of the year, I thought to provide brief blurbs about most of the books I read, in case it is of interest or value to you.  I read widely, and occasionally there are wild departures from my usual fare of personal finance, productivity, mysteries, and such.  With the recent economic and health crisis, I’ve been off schedule on many of my undertakings, so it took me all the way to April to get going on my January list.

I am tracking whether I’m reading from my shelves or newly purchased books, because I made a goal this year to clear out some of my bookshelves and use the library more.  Well, the library is closed for at least a few more weeks, but I have been dutifully reading quite a few books off my shelves.

Here we go, the books I read in February and March, 2020.*

Motherhood: A Novel, by Sheila Heti (library)

Let’s just start out with a bang, shall we?  I did not like this book.  Not one single, little bit.  It was selected for February in the book club I am in, and because I have a good, long streak going on actually finishing book club books, I read to the end.  Pure torture.  Not my cup of tea.

The book was one long internal debate about whether or not the narrator (I assume the author) wanted to have a child.  I won’t spoil the ending here, but let’s just say thank goodness it was a relatively quick read, so the pain was over quickly.  Except then we had to discuss it over dinner and wine.  I bet you can imagine how that went.

Moving on. . .

Ark of Blood (ARKANE Book 3), by J.F. Penn (Kindle)

I have read numerous books by Joanna Penn about the craft of writing.  In addition to her nonfiction, she writes thrillers under the pen name J.F. Penn.  Late last year, I thought I would check out her fiction, since I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all her nonfiction books.  In February and March, I actually read books 3 through 9 of her ARKANE series, so I’ll give overview comments versus comments on this particular one.

If you are counting, that is seven books that I devoured in every spare moment on my Kindle (and phone Kindle app).  As a rule, I’m a lukewarm eBook reader, as I prefer a real book to hold in my hands.  Nevertheless, when I travel, I will load some books into my Kindle, and I always have an eBook going so I can read on my phone if I’m unexpectedly stuck somewhere without a paper book.

Penn’s books are fast paced, plot-driven stories, which take place in different locations around the world and feature religious artifacts and some sort of intrigue surrounding them.  I enjoyed them immensely, and plan to read whatever other books Joanna Penn has out there.

Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope, by Mark Manson (shelf)

This is the second book by Manson I have read.  I expected this one to be irreverent and somewhat shallow, but I was wrong.  This book really surprised me.  It’s about philosophy, politics, and religion.  I felt like I learned some things, and Manson has definitely done his homework.  His breakdown of how organized religions work was eye-opening.

Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, by Peter Diamandis (shelf)

This book had been on my shelf for some time, and I was truly interested to dig in.  Diamandis and his coauthor present a hopeful argument for why we should be nothing short of total optimists for the future of our world.  Their research into various industries and the work being done to solve issues like world hunger and clean water was completely fascinating.  While it was not a page turner, I read it steadily for a few months.  Highly recommend.

Reinvent Yourself, by James Altucher (Kindle)

Over several months, I kept seeing ads for this book by Altucher.  I kept wondering, who is this guy?  Finally, I took the bait and bought this eBook at a discounted price.  What the heck, right?  Having read it, I still don’t really feel like I know who the author is, and I wouldn’t say this was a favorite read.  The book felt disorganized, repetitive, and was filled with typos and errors.  Right or wrong, that sort of thing erodes my confidence in whatever the message of the book is.

The main points (I think) were to experiment in life, try many, many careers and have tons of experiences in order to find your passion.  I can totally get on board with his assertion to always be learning.  But overall this book fell flat for me.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book about Horrible Things, by Jenny Lawson (shelf)

A few years ago, I read Lawson’s first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.  It was hilarious, weird, and yet moving.  With that experience under my belt, I bought her new book, Furiously Happy, in hardback when it came out.  For whatever reason, I didn’t just dive right into it.  Instead, some years passed, and in my flurry of “I must read fifty books off my shelves this year,” I added it to my short stack.

Honestly, I did not love this book.  Lawson suffers from mental illness, and I appreciated her honesty about how she lives with her illness.  Ultimately, though, I felt like there wasn’t really an overarching theme to this book: it came off as a series of essays that didn’t really coalesce into a solid message.  I wanted to like it, but I’m afraid I didn’t.

Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury (library)

Dandelion Wine was our March selection for book club.  It was a slow starter for me, but ultimately, I enjoyed it.  The book is a series of vignettes that describe the sights, sounds, and experiences of a twelve-year-old boy during summer.  Some of the storylines meshed together, but overall the experience was that of getting a perfect mental picture of a midwestern summer in 1928.  It wasn’t a plot-driven novel; it was more of an experience of the senses with a little magic thrown in.  I had never read anything by Bradbury before, so this book inspired me to seek out others.

The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag, by Alan Bradley (new)

This is the second book in the series of Flavia de Luce novels that started with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (which I read in January).  As I write this in April, I have read the first five books in this series.  From this point forward, I won’t write up a blurb about them.  If you like mystery novels, smart writing, and unique main characters, do yourself a favor and read this series.  I can’t say enough good things about it.

The Simple Path to Wealth, by J.L. Collins (shelf)

Finally, a personal finance entry for this installment of books I’ve read!  Collins wrote this as a compilation of letters he had written for his daughter to teach her about how to be successful with her money.  Other than the fact that he’s a wee bit negative on the idea of working with a financial advisor of any sort, most of his information is sound, and much of it I agree with.

As opposed to being a well-rounded survey of all areas of personal finance, this book is heavy on investment information.  Which is fine!  His information is easy to digest, and if you are a do-it-yourselfer when it comes to your money and investments, you will find some interesting things here.

American Spy, by Lauren Wilkinson (library)

I really, truly wanted to like this book.  It was chosen by the book club I’m in for our April selection, and the description sounded intriguing.  I mean, what’s not to love about a 1986 Cold War tale of intrigue featuring a young black woman trying to make her way in the male-dominated world of the FBI?  My final assessment was it was just okay.  Parts I found interesting, but other parts I found myself skimming because I just didn’t care about the story that much.

(Boy, this installment definitely has a mixed bag – plenty of clunkers this time!)

How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency, by Akiko Busch (new)

I enjoyed reading this book, even though I’m having a difficult time trying to find a way to describe what it is actually about.  Busch writes beautifully, and each chapter is an essay about invisibility.  Most are examples of how invisibility serves creatures in the natural world.  Busch is building a case for the advantages of being inconspicuous in an era where we pretty much know everything about everyone.  If you like lyrical writing and philosophical musings, you might enjoy this book.

The Elements of Style, by William Strunk (shelf)

Yup, the very same book you likely read in high school.  And then again in college.  I confess that until now, I had not reread this book since college, but I should have.  A reread every five years or so might be just the ticket.  I’m a grammar nerd, and I enjoy good writing.  And in this case, by “good,” I mean structurally sound and grammatically correct writing.

I picked this up again as a refresher, since I’ve been digging into writing the past few years.  It never hurts to remind yourself of the rules of grammar and usage.  It took me several months to finish this little book, because it is jam-packed.  I would read and digest a few pages, and then come back to it a few days later.  Whether you know you need some help with your writing skills, or you feel you already write well, I promise you that you will come away with some improvements by reading this book.

Plot and Structure, by James Scott Bell (shelf)

See a theme here?  I have quite a few books on my shelves about the craft of writing.  Many I have read over the past two years, but I have quite a few to go.  I have written non-fiction in the form of articles for many, many years, and my first non-fiction book, Simplify Your Financial Life was recently published.

But my secret project involves learning to write fiction, which I have not done since. . . third grade.  Perhaps I’ll tell you more about my foray into fiction-writing in the future, as it is a strange and wonderful story.  For now, suffice it to say I am spending some of my free time learning how to write good fiction.


Whew, that was a bunch.  Now that I have caught up, I will try to be more on the ball with writing up blurbs about the books I read each month, whether they are recommended books or not!


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You might also enjoy:

Books I Read: January 2020 Edition


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