Favorite books of 2013

It’s that time where I get to share with everyone my favorite books of the year! So looking back at all the books I’ve read for 2013, it was a “meh” sort of year. There were some good books, some great ones, and a lot of “meh” reads, which is why overall my year wasn’t that great. As I write this (Sunday morning), I’ve read 249 books in all. By the time January hits, I’ll probably add two more books to that number.

Before I get to my favorite books of the year, here’s a few things about the list that surprised me.

1. Most of the books that made the list were published in 2013. That’s never happened before.

2. None of the books that made the list were books I owned. This is one more reason why I’m tackling my tbr mountain in 2014.

3. The oldest book on my list is Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. It was originally published in 1973.

4. The newest book on my list is The Visionist by Rachel Urquhart. It’s publication date is January 14, 2014. I found it such a good read that I had to add it to my list of favorites.

5. Every book that made my list is a book that I’m willing to buy. Pure and simple. If I’m not willing to buy it, I won’t give it five stars or add it to my list.

So enough of that, here’s my favorite books of 2013:

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bestof2013hbestof2013i.jpgThe last book is Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson.

Have you read any of these books? Which books made your “favorites” list of 2013?

Review: The Year of Learning Dangerously by Quinn Cummings

cummingsThe Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling

Quinn Cummings

230 pages

Published in 2012 by Perigee Books, an imprint of Penguin

Source: Public Library

I was hiding in the laundry room fighting off a full-blown panic attack. If long division with remainders hadn’t been invented, this would not have been happening.

So begins Quinn Cummings’ memoir, The Year of Learning Dangerously, documenting her first year homeschooling her daughter, Alice. Alice is like any other kid: she loves cats, playing outside, and reading. When it comes to math, there’s this huge struggle every year. At the end of the school year, Alice usually doesn’t advance much in the subject. Cummings sees herself in Alice and knows that if she doesn’t intervene, the situation won’t change. What comes next is a hilarious and honest account of Quinn’s quest to homeschool her daughter, explore various homeschooling approaches, and just figure out what she’s doing.

Homeschooling has been going on for decades in the United States and one of the biggest reasons parents take their children out of school is for religious or moral instruction. That’s not always the reason why we decide to take our kids out of school. With Cummings, we know that she just wants Alice to love learning and to become willing to tackle things even when they’re not easy for her.

What makes the author’s story different from other memoirs about the same subject is the humor. Cummings is hilarious and honest about her shortcomings and her search to make Alice’s first year memorable. Or at least not traumatic. While tackling homeschooling, Cummings also finds the time to examine several approaches to homeschooling such as the classical method and unschooling, attend a Christian homeschooling prom, and learn as much as she can about the history of homeschooling. None of this is new to any veteran homeschooling parent. But if you’re curious about the subject or new to homeschooling, this book is really helpful.

While reading The Year of Learning Dangerously, readers see how privileged Cummings is. In her search to learn more about other homeschooling groups like Fundamentalists and Gohardites, she’s flying all over the country. Unless these same groups are living in my community, there’s no way I’m going to find out about them. These sections of the book are interesting because I had no idea what some of the groups think or believe, but it takes the focus away from Alice and her adjustment (which went well) to homeschooling. Some people may be offended by these sections since Cummings pretty much lied her way through most of these conventions. I wasn’t offended at all.

I found The Year of Learning Dangerously to be one woman’s hilarious take on her year of homeschooling and all that she’s learned. My rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Faced with a very foggy road ahead of us, we are probably best served by understanding there is just so much we can predict, and so much we can’t. We need to acknowledge that we’re all trying our best−homeschoolers and brick-and-mortar schoolers alike. After that, we need to embrace the uncertainty and just hope everything turns out better than bad. 

Short review: Primates by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks

ottavianiPrimates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas

Written by Jim Ottaviani

Illustrated by Maris Wicks

Published in 2013 by First Second Books

139 pages

Source: Public Library

In Primates, Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks tell the stories of researchers Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas; three women whose obsessions with primates lead them to famed anthropologist Louis Leakey and their life’s work. The book starts with Goodall’s childhood fascination with Africa and nature before detailing the lives of Fossey and Galdikas along with some background information on Leakey.

What makes all three women so fascinating is their determination to do their research despite the challenges. Goodall’s mother was her chaperone when she first arrived at Nigeria in the 60s while Fossey had her appendix removed before her trip to the Condo. The hut that Galdikas and her husband lived in while she did her research on orangutans was in such bad condition, it would probably been better to just live in a tent. I loved this type of detail about the women. Readers see that their research wasn’t easy but the women managed.

I do have a few issues with the book. I was confused a few times about who I was reading about. Being a graphic novel, the women were drawn differently but still similarly enough for me to be lost. Goodall being a blonde helped but with Galdikas and Fossey as brunettes, I had to look at them really closely. Since this is a book aimed at middle grade readers, there isn’t any detail about Fossey’s death just a panel explaining that her life was tragic in ways and an illustration of her headstone. If you don’t know, Fossey is famous for her research on gorillas and her book Gorillas in the Mist which was adapted into a movie. She was murdered in 1985 and her case is still open.

Even with those issues, Primates is a fantastic book to read. It’s also a great introduction into the lives of these three women for readers young and old.  My rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars.

Sunday Salon: What’s on my nightstand

sunday salonGood morning! Today is the last day of the kids’ holiday break and then it’s back to school tomorrow. It’s been fun having them at home all day but I know they’re looking forward to seeing their friends. Our break has been filled with trips to the park, trying new meals, baking, and just having fun.

solomonI’m currently reading a book that I’ve been dying to share with you guys. It’s called Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon.  It’s been sitting on my shelves for a weeks. It’s due back at the library on Tuesday so I’m trying to finish this 900+ tome by then. I don’t think I will since I’ve been marking passages on almost every page with post-its.

In Far From the Tree, Solomon interviews parents who face the challenge of raising children who have very different identities from their own. These are parents raising a child who is transgender or deaf, mentally or physically disabled, schizophrenic or gifted. The author explores the question of identity versus illness while examining how society views these identities and how that can affect how parents themselves view their own children.

I’m finding this to be a powerful and moving book. I think if you are a parent or may one day become one, you should read this.

“To look deep into your child’s eyes and see in him both yourself and something utterly strange, and then to develop a zealous attachment to every aspect of him, is to achieve parenthood’s self-regarding, yet unselfish, abandon. It is astonishing how often such mutuality had been realized – how frequently parents who had supposed that they couldn’t care for an exceptional child discover that they can. The parental predisposition to love prevails in the most harrowing of circumstances. There is more imagination in the world than one might think.”

The book trailer:

I’m off to try and make a dent in this book. What are you reading?

Thankfully Reading Weekend starts

Today is the official start of the Thankfully Reading Weekend. I started my reading yesterday with a collection of short stories, Love Stories in This Town by Amanda Eyre Ward. Between cooking yesterday and spending time with the family, I also started The Mercy Papers: A Memoir of Three Weeks by Robin Romm. Romm chronicles the three weeks leading up to her mother’s death from cancer. It’s a sad but engaging read. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is another book that was started a few days ago. It was Dewey’s favorite books of all time. Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors so I’m reading it to honor her memory.

I have a ton of books on my shelves that I would love to read this weekend like Liar by Justin Larbalestier and Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith. I’m hoping to finish at least three or four books this weekend.

What are you reading this weekend? Are you participating in Thankfully Reading Weekend?

It’s Monday, What are you reading?

Children’s books in blue

So far this month I’ve read:

Happens Every Day: An All-Too-True Story by Isabel Gillies
Jellaby by Kean Soon
The Adventures of Huck Finn by Mark Twain
Crazy Beautiful by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Snow White by Paul Heins and Trina Schart Hyman
Chicken Little retold by Steven Kellog
The Pencil by Allan Ahlberg

Right now I’m in the middle of several books:

Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie and Folkore in the Literature of Childhood by Jane Yolen
The Pleasures of the Damned: Poems, 1951-1993 by Charles Bukowski
Black Swan, White Raven edited by Ellen Datlow and Terry Windling
The Successful Child: What parents can do to help kids turn out well by William and Martha Sears
A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade by Christopher Benfey
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe by Douglas Adams

I’m almost finished with Touch Magic and Black Swan, White Raven. Look for reviews for both books next week. What are you reading this week?

Sunday Salon: Short Works Sunday

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This week my reading has been all over the place. Since last Sunday I’ve read essays, short stories, graphic novels, and children’s books but no novels. For the last couple of years I’ve been primarily a novel reader, forgoing short stories, poetry, and essays for longer works. Though I have many novels I need to read before they have to be returned to the library, I’m happy just picking up a book, opening up to an unread story or essay, and digging in. Because of this I’ve been on a plane with Barbara Kingsolver as she tried to fit reading short stories into her busy life in “What Good is a Story?”, watched a family sing during a family member’s execution in Margo Lanagan’s “Singing My Sister Down”, and listened as silence takes over a big city in Kevin Brockmeir’s “The Year of Silence”.

I’m falling in love again with short works.

So now I’m off to read more of the stories I’ve been missing. Below is a list of the collections I’ve been reading from. Take care and have a great week.

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Do you read short stories? Who are some of your favorite short story writers? What are some of your favorite collections?

What My Children Are Reading – July 16th

This is a meme started by Jill over at Well-Read Child. For some reason this week has been really laid back. I don’t think any of us over here has read as much as we wanted to except for my youngest Oli. Oli’s asthma has been acting up again, so he’s spent most of the week at home with me. Here are a few books the kids and I have been reading this week.

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My Mom Is Trying to Ruin My Life (2009). Written by Kate Feiffer. Illustrated by Diane Goode. The girls in my house love this book and I have to admit I do too. The main character, a little girl, swears her mother is trying to ruin her life by doing a number of embarrassing things like giving her a kiss in public and talking too loud. The main character then thinks of a plan to get rid of both of her parents. The ending is such a nice lesson for kids about how great our parents can be.

Gone with the Wand by Margie Palatini (2009). Written by Margie Palatini. Illustrated by Brain Ajhar. After Bernice, a fairy godmother, loses her magical powers, her best friend Edith the tooth fairy comes to the rescue. What ensues is a hilarious journey to help Bernice get her powers back. The first time I read this I laughed so hard, I had to stop reading for a second.

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Dog’s ABC: A Silly Story about the Alphabet (2000) by Emma Dodd
Dog’s Colorful Day: A Messy Story about Colors and Counting (2000) by Emma Dodd
Dog’s Noisy Day: A Story to Read Aloud (2002)by Emma Dodd

The Dog series by Emma Dodd is the series right now in our family. All the kids, ages 4-9, have read and re-read these three books. In Dog’s ABC, Dog goes through his neighborhood noticing the different creatures. It’s a great ABC book and my family loved the illustrations by Dodd. Dog’s Colorful Day is a story about colors and counting that’s easy and fun for kids to learn. Dog goes through his neighborhood getting dirty by adding a new color spot with each adventure he has.  Then Dog takes a tour of a farm in Dog’s Noisy Day, listening to all the sounds that different creatures make. My youngest enjoyed making the sounds along with each creature.

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Frogs (2008) by Nic Bishop. The title is pretty self-explanatory. This book is all about frogs, telling readers how they reproduce, live, and the different species. I just this as a read aloud for the older kids and though most aren’t into reading about animals, they really enjoyed reading the book and looking at the great photos that the author took.

Chicken Soup with Rice: A Book of Months (1996) by Maurice Sendak. Oli has read this book several times a day this week. A little boy loves chicken soup with rice so much that every month he does something different with it. Told in rhyme, readesr will love seeing what happens with every month.

What books are you and your children reading together this week?

Essay Review: What Good Is a Story?

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“What Good is a Story?”
from the essay collection, Small Wonder (2002)
written by Barbara Kingsolver

I have always wondered why short stories aren’t popular in modern America. We are such busy folks, you’d think we’d jump at the chance to have our literary wisdom served in doses that fit between taking the trash to the curb and waiting for the carpool. We should favor the short story and adore the poem. But we don’t. Short-story collections rarely sell half as well as novels; they are never blockbusters. They are hardly ever even block-denters. . .

This is the start of “What Good Is a Story?”, an essay by Barbara Kingsolver, detailing the three months she spent in 2000 as a guest editor for The Best American Short Stories series. Kingsolver had to read  125 short stories before she could pick the twenty best ones. In her essay, Kingsolver explains those hectic three months, why she loves short stories, and what reading means to her.

On reading during this hectic time,

. . . all of us have to work reading into our busy lives. The best tales can stand up to the challenge-and if anything can, it should be the genre of short fiction. . . If we lived in silent white rooms with no emergencies. . .we probably wouldn’t need fiction to help us explain the inexplicable, the storms at sea and deaths of too-young friends.

On choosing the stories that she did,

With a pile of stories on my lap I sat with this question, early on, and tried to divine for myself why was it that I loved a piece of fiction when I did, and the answer came to me quite clearly; I love it for what it tells me about life. I love fiction, strangely enough, for how true it is. If it can tell me something I didn’t already know, or maybe suspected but never framed quite that way, or never  before had sock me so divinely in the solar plexus, that was a story worth the read.

I don’t know about you, but that is very true for me. I don’t want to read anything predictable or something that I already know. Many of the books I’ve read lately have uncovered to me lives I don’t usually think about. Reading this essay reminded why I picked up this book the very first time. I enjoy Kingsolver’s writing. It’s accessible and tells me something that I knew but couldn’t put into words myself about reading.

I won’t give you any more quotes but if you’ve enjoyed any of Kingsolver’s other works, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this amazing collection of essays. Or if you haven’t read Kingsolver before but enjoy a mixture of the personal and the political, this book may be for you.

Other books you may enjoy:
A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning & Life by Nancy Peacock

Sunday Salon – Book Coveting Women Writers

Good morning. Right now the sun is shining and there’s not a cloud in the sky. With very little homework left to do, I plan on spending my day reading and writing posts. With so many books checked out from the library and so many of my own books piling up on my shelves, this week’s book coveting post focuses on the books I have and those written by women.

Fiction

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The Physick  Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe. I’ve heard so many great things about this book that I’m hoping to start reading it today. A historical thriller that goes back and forth between the Salem Trails and modern time. Witchcraft, family secrets, and more makes us this thriller.

First Light by Rebecca Stead. First Light is the story of Peter, a boy who join his parents on a trip to Greenland and Thea, a girl whose people live deep inside the article ice.

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer. I don’t read short story collections as often as I would like to, but I couldn’t ignore the praise that Packer’s debut collection has been receiving.

Nonfiction

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Sinners Welcome by Mary Karr.  I read The Liar’s Club by Karr a few years ago, rushed out and bought Sinners Welcome, but haven’t read more than a few poems. This volume of poetry chronicles Karr’s exploration of her faith.

Small Wonders by Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite books. Filled with powerful and engaging essays, Kingsolver’s essays range from topics about September 11th, surviving rape, the power of indie bookstores, why short stories are great, and more. I’m currently re-reading these essays, trying to dissect them and see how Kingsolver puts one word after another to make beautiful sentences that make up powerful essays.

Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems 1965-1990 Complete by Alice Walker. Though best known for The Color Purple, it is this volume of poetry that I love the most. I first read this collection when I was  a teenager. Since then I’ve re-read this many times. One of my favorite poems is “Goodnight, Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning”.

Fiction

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Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd. I recently heard of Dowd while reading The Guardian. Dowd passed away in 2007, only three months after finishing Bog Child. She started writing at the age of 47 in 2003. All four of the books that she wrote has received rave reviews. Set in 1981, Fergus is helping his uncle with chores when he finds the body of a murdered child in the bog. It’s a coming-of-age story that’s won the 2009 Carnegie Medal award.

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver. After a kiss with a man who is not her partner, Irina McGovern, must make a decision to either give in to passion or stay in her safe relationship.

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith.  Ida Mae Jones is a girl who dreams of flying. When the United States Army forms the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), Ida decides to use her light skin to pass as white. Colleen at Chasing Ray called this book, “a historical drama that grabs you at the throat and holds on tight”.

Now the morning is almost over and I’m off to read. Have you read any of these books? What books are you coveting?

500 Great Books by Women

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500 Great Books by Women (1994)
edited by Erica Bauermeister, Jesse Larsen, and Holly Smith
426 pages

I don’t review reference books here on 1330v, but I love this book and wanted fellow bookworms to know about. If you liked Book Lust by Nancy Pearl, you will love 500 Great Books by Women.

Edited by Erica Bauermeister, Jesse Larsen, and Holly Smith and compiled with the help of thirty contributors, 500 Great Books gives the reader a collection of short reviews of lesser-known books of all genres written by women writers from different races, ages, sexual orientations, and countries. Many of the featured books were first published in a language other than English.

The reviews are divided by theme such as Growing Old, Choices, Families, Ethics, Observations, and many more. I used post-its to mark all the books I wanted to read and I ran out of post-its! My book now looks like a rainbow.

Many of the books featured here I have not heard of and less than twenty of them I’ve read. The editors included many well-known writers like Angela Carter, Louise Erdrich, Alice Walker, and Barbara Kingsolver but you are not going to find every book they wrote in this collection. Instead every writer only gets one book featured to leave room for other writers. I thought the idea was thoughtful and fair.

The only thing I didn’t like about the book is that there’s no table of contents though you can find out what books is featured by going to a theme’s page. Included in the back of the book are many indexes such as by title, subject, country, and others.

I loved the beginning of the book’s preface,

We read to learn, to feel, to stretch beyond our own lives, to escape, and to understand. A book has the power to reach back toward us and let us know we are not alone. Up from a flat page of type comes joy or anger or sadness, a sentence that soars, or an image that surprised like a photograph long forgotten. For a few hundred pages we can feel new rhythms, see new images, learn about ourselves, and become someone else.

The contributors and editors did an amazing job with this book. With so many books published every year in the United States let alone other countries, 500 Great Books is not meant to be comprehensive but to recommend to the reader some of great books the editors have read. Highly recommended.

Library Loot

My library loot has been piling up lately. I have less than 36 hours until the end of the semester and I’ve started placing large amounts of books on hold. If I’m lucky I can cut the stack in half in a month. If I’m lucky.

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Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. I’ve seen great reviews for this book all over the blogisphere so I had to pick it up. It’s this year’s Printz award winner. I can’t wait to sit down with this book.

The Knife of Letting Go by Patrick Ness. Renay has been pumping this book up, so I had to check it out.

Che: A biography by Spain Rodriguez. I picked this one up because I love the cover.

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Still Alice by Lisa Genova.

Girl with a Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson. It’s a thriller and from what I’ve read a great book. If it’s it as good as bloggers have been saying, I won’t have to wait long for the release of the seqeul, The Girl Who Played with Fire.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney.I’ve read the first two in the series and couldn’t pass this one up. This is one of the hottest series to hit my library’s system since Harry Potter.

What’s waiting for me to pick up:

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Follow Me by Joanna Scott. I’m blaming this on every blogger that read this book and wrote a review.

Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor by Bard Gooch. I’m reading as much as I can right now, so I can start on this book next week.

The rest of my library loot was featured in this week’s Sunday Salon post: Book Coveting.

What did you check out this week from the library?

Sunday Salon:Book Coveting

This week has been a great week for books though horrible for reading. I was assigned Moby Dick to read this week and it nearly did me in. It’s a great book to read aloud from but with only a little bit more than a week to read it, I had to set aside other books to read it. Thankfully this week’s required reading is only a few poems by Emily Dickinson.

For this week’s Book Coveting post, I’m going to show you the books I’m most excited about, got my hands on, and in most cases was unable to start reading. I’m so excited to read them this week.

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Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. I’ve been wanting to read this for so long and Maggie’s Southern Reading Challenge gave me the perfect excuse to pick it up.

The Music Teacher by Barbara Hall. Hall is the creator of Joan of Arcadia, one of my favorite series. When I found out she was publishing a novel, I had to put it on hold at the library. Here’s the first paragraph:

I am the mean music teacher. I am that cranky woman you remember from your youth, the one whose face you dreaded seeing, whose breath you dreaded smelling as I leaned over you, tugging at your fingers. You made jokes about me, drew caricatures of me in your notebooks, made puns out of my name, swore never to be me.

Well, listen. I swore never to be me, too.

Bicycles: Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni. Earlier this month Frances at Nonsuchbook wrote a great post about a reading she attended for Giovanni’s newest book, Bicycles: Love Poems. It’s such a great post for a few days afterwards, I kept going back to read it.

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The fantastic Renay, from YA Fabulous, asked for volunteer judges for her upcoming young adult book tournament, Nerds Heart YA. I signed up and Debbie Harry Sings in French by Meagan Brothers is one of two books I need to read and judge within the next couple of weeks. I’m so excited!

The Song is You by Arthur Phillips. I first heard about this book from Michele at Read and Breathe. Michele recommended Kate Christensen’s The Epicure’s Lament, which I had a chance to read a little of and enjoyed before having to return it to the library. Christensen wrote a review for The Song is You. The first sentences of the review:

If novelists were labeled zoologically, Arthur Phillips would fall naturally into the dolphin family: his writing is playful, cerebral, likable, wide-ranging and inventive.

Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter by Seth Lerer. This book combines two of my favorite reading subjects: children’s literature and books about reading. Lerer won the 2008 National Book Critics Award for Criticism for this book, so it’s the perfect book for the end of the Book Awards Challenge 2.

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Tales of Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan. I have been waiting months for this book from my local library. Tales of Outer Suburbia is a collection of short stories that as Heather said a few days ago, is the “perfect marriage between words and illustrations.” I have to agree with her. At 94 pages, this is a short read but one that will have you rereading it to catch everything you might have missed the first time you read it.

Last but not least is Everyday Matters by Danny Gregory. While I’ve waited months for Tan’s book, I’ve waited years for Gregory’s from paperbackswap. Everyday Matters is a illustrated memoir about Gregory and his family’s life after his wife is paralyzed from the waist down. Another short read that I cannot wait to dig into.

So that’s this week’s list. What books are you coveting?