I read seven books in October (four were audiobooks), which brings my 2018 total to 73.
I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.
1) Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living, Elizabeth Willard Thames
Description: This is the story of how a personal finance blogger abandoned a successful career in the city and embraced frugality to create a more meaningful, purpose-driven life, and retire to a homestead in the Vermont woods at age 32 with her husband and daughter. While not everyone wants to live in the woods or quit their jobs, many of us want to have more control over our time and money and lead more meaningful, simplified lives.
I’ve been reading the Frugalwoods blog since the beginning, back when Liz and Nate lived in Cambridge and didn’t have any kids and were saving a large percentage of their income so they could retire early. I’ve always enjoyed the blog, even though (as a city dweller) I don’t relate to it as much now that they’ve achieved their goal and moved to rural Vermont. I do like how their attempts at homesteading come with a fair amount of self-deprecation and a big learning curve, proving that it’s difficult to get everything right from the very beginning.
If you’ve read the blog, the book includes quite a bit of information you’ll already know: how they set up their first home using Craigslist and abandoned items; their soda stream hack; how Liz stopped wearing makeup and got her husband to start cutting her hair; how she stopped paying for pricey yoga classes by working in the studio; how her husband biked to work every day, even in the dead of winter; how they’re renting out their Cambridge home while living on their homestead in Vermont; and fighting the baby industrial complex.
The book did contain some new information (mainly about Liz’s early years, relationship and marriage to Nate, her early and continual dissatisfaction with her job). There were also new details about their years living in Washington, DC when she was in grad school (which was free because she purposefully sought out a job working at the university). I must admit that as a DC resident, I didn’t particularly appreciate her low opinion of living here — once they decided to move, she noted they were “done with the grubby slickness of DC.” I’m of the opinion that a city is what you make of it. They may have met a lot of grubby, slick people while they lived here but I happen to know many, many people who don’t fit that description.
My favorite Frugalwoods posts are the ones that show being super frugal isn’t a hardship, it’s simply a life choice. My husband and I aren’t at the Frugalwoods level of frugal living (I’ve been asking him for years to cancel our cable TV service), but I do feel a kinship with them because we’ve adopted many of the same money-saving habits and also have a goal to retire early.
Recommendation: read the book, check out the blog (especially the archives). I’d be surprised if it doesn’t inspire you to make at least a few changes in the way you spend.
2) My Beloved World, Sonia Sotomayor
Description: The first Latinx and third woman appointed to the US Supreme Court, Sotomayor became an instant American icon. Here she recounts her life from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench, a journey that offers an inspiring testament to her own extraordinary determination and the power of believing in oneself.
What a cool memoir. I didn’t know that Sonia got married young, later divorced, and has never remarried. She’s also never had kids (she puts part of the blame on the Type 1 diabetes she’s had since she was a young kid, but admits that her dedication to become a lawyer — and now a Supreme Court justice — has not been conducive to having them either). I enjoyed reading about her independence and moxie.
3) No One Tells You This: A Memoir, Glynnis MacNicol
Description: Over the course of her 40th year, Glynnis embarks on a journey of self-discovery that contradicts everything she’d been led to expect. Through the trials of family illness and turmoil, and the thrills of far-flung travel, she is forced to wrestle with her biggest hopes and fears about love, death, sex, friendship, and loneliness. In doing so, she discovers that holding the power to determine her own fate requires a resilience and courage that no one talks about, and is more rewarding than anyone imagines.
When Glynnis turned 40, she said: “I knew I could be alone, but what if I gave myself permission to prefer it?” This memoir touches on many of the issues faced by a single woman turning 40, and the inevitable questions that arise about what she wants out of life. She also describes watching her mother struggle with Parkinson’s and dementia.
4) Calypso, David Sedaris
Description: Sedaris sets his formidable powers of observation toward middle age and mortality. Much of the comedy here is born out of that vertiginous moment when your own body betrays you and you realize that the story of your life is made up of more past than future. This is beach reading for people who detest beaches, required reading for those who loathe small talk and love a good tumor joke.
I’ve read Sedaris’ previous memoirs so I knew I’d like this one. I don’t find his humor laugh-out-loud funny, but his books are enjoyable enough. One of his sisters committed suicide in 2013, and he touches on that subject with a bit of his trademark dark humor. I love that he’s been with his partner, Hugh, for over 30 years, as well as his reasons for not getting married.
Description: For so many people, reading isn’t just a hobby or a way to pass the time–it’s a lifestyle. Our books shape us, define us, enchant us, and even infuriate us. Here, Bogel leads readers to remember the book that first hooked them, the place where they first fell in love with reading, and all of the moments afterward that helped make them the reader they are today.
I’ve read Anne’s blog for several years, but most of the time I skim it unless she’s talking about nonfiction (a majority of her book recommendations are fiction).
This book is likable and relatable for bookworms. Those who don’t consider themselves big readers probably won’t feel the same. I consider myself a big reader and there were parts of this book that I didn’t relate to — especially when she wrote about the need to own physical books and organize them in a personal home collection. I used to collect books but at this point I own less than a dozen (and those were all given to me; I never buy them). It is possible to be a bookworm and also a minimalist; I highly recommend checking out e-books and audiobooks from the library for free.
6) Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, Eric Klinenberg
Description: An examination of the most significant demographic shift since the baby boom — the sharp increase in the number of people who live alone –that offers surprising insights on the benefits of this epochal change. Drawing on over 300 interviews with men and women of all ages and every class who live alone, he reaches a startling conclusion: In a world of ubiquitous media and hyperconnectivity, this way of life helps us discover ourselves and appreciate the pleasure of good company.
There’s a lot of good information here, especially in the strong refutation that living alone equates to being lonely (it can with some people, of course, but a majority of people living alone are doing so because they choose to). However, there were more dry statistics than I expected, and multiple chapters focusing on single seniors, which is understandable but I didn’t find as compelling to read about.
Description: Cait documents her life for 12 months during which she bought only consumables: groceries, toiletries, gas for her car. Along the way, she challenged herself to consume less of many other things. She decluttered her apartment and got rid of 70% of her belongings; learned how to fix things rather than throw them away; researched the zero waste movement; and completed a television ban. At every stage, she learned that the less she consumed, the more fulfilled she felt.
I halfheartedly read Cait’s blog for a few years (she’s since stopped blogging). I assumed in advance I would rate this book as “Okay,” and I got what I expected. I was wondering how she’d fill an entire book with a year-long shopping ban, and the answer is: there’s a lot of filler that I didn’t care about.
For example, a few months into her shopping ban, her parents decided to get divorced. Cait became deeply depressed, could barely leave her bed, and cried all the time. I’m sure she had a tough time and I have sympathy for that, but it’s not what I cared to read about in a book that I thought was supposed to be about paring down her life. There are also exhaustive details about what she saw and experienced on a road trip, and a long back-and-forth about whether she should quit her job and become a freelancer.