Writing Book Reviews

It’s been said that an intellectual is someone who reads with a pencil in hand. These days I’d update that to say they highlight and make notes in their digital library.

I didn’t jump on the digital books bandwagon until about seven years ago, but I am a full-fledged adherent now. About 90% of the reading I do is done digitally through a variety of apps. I really got into digital books when I started participating with Library Reads, a library worker-centered monthly top 10 list of books being released in a given month. Participants access a website called Edelweiss and now also NetGalley) to download digital copies of upcoming new releases and submit their reviews. 

Say what you will about Amazon, but they did build a really great reading app with Kindle. I did previously use an actual Kindle device (and for some that may be the way to go), but I’m now pretty much exclusive to the app on my iPhone and iPad. So when I get the chance to read an upcoming release for a review, my first preference is to send it to Kindle. 

This is me being a little persnickety, but I use Todoist for all my tasks, and I do a lot of non-fiction book reviews. So naturally I look at the table of contents of whatever book I’m going to write a review for, and I create a task list in Todoist of all the chapters. Then I can schedule out what I need to read to make my deadline. This is a definite quirk of mine, but it helps me not only keep track of my reading but also stay on task and not stress out about missing my deadline.

Once my book is in Kindle, I can highlight passages that stand out to me as I read. When putting together a book review, this is great for pull quotes and general good writing you want to recall. Kindle allows for four different colors of highlighting, so you could even color code your highlights if you wanted to get a little more intense.

You can also add in your own notes and observations. Sometimes I’ll highlight a passage and I’ll have a personal anecdote that goes along with it, or a reference I want to tie with it. I can add that note in, as long as I need since narrow margins is not a thing!

Once you’ve finished reading the book, you can access those notes and highlights for quick reference. This has gotten a little tricky for me, since there is a distinction between the “books” that I purchase or borrow from the library, and the “documents” that are the digital advance reader copies of books. Notes and highlights in documents have to be exported so you can look over them.

This is where Evernote comes in. I can export those notes and highlights into a note in the application, and from there I have all the passages and observations I like ready to go! I can start cutting and pasting items I want to build the review within that note, and it’s all at my fingertips.

Sometimes I’m sent a PDF of a book to review. While that can be imported to Kindle, you either have to import it as a PDF and then have trouble resizing it so you can read it comfortably AND you’re not able to highlight, or you can have Kindle reformat it for Kindle… and I have never had that work out well. The formatting goes so wonky I can’t even read it so it defeats the purpose. 

So I started using GoodNotes for my PDF books! Importing to GoodNotes means I can read the book comfortably on my iPad and MacBook (and iPhone if I want, but again — it may just be too tiny), and I can highlight as I go along and write in my own notes as I read. GoodNotes allows for you to have a “gallery view” of the PDF file, so I can quickly skim through to find my highlights or passages I circled in red pen that I found important. GoodNotes can be good about syncing to where you left off on another device, but I usually trust my task list of chapters to keep me updated when I’m using that app. 

Since GoodNotes doesn’t have a way for me to collate the notes I take in the app, I instead open up an Evernote note with the title and due date of the review and switch between the apps to write down things I want to remember, turns of phrase that I like to include in the review, or anything else. It’s slightly more cumbersome, but it gets me what I need in the end.

What strategies and apps have you found useful when writing book reviews?


The Making of Biblical Womanhood review

My faith tradition doesn’t have the same concepts of “Biblical Womanhood” as many I have read about before, as well as discussed in this book. I hadn’t heard of a “Proverbs 31 woman” until recently – a woman modeled after the scripture verses in that chapter – which can be viewed as both a sweet sentiment and a unattainable ideal. Many of the ways I see “Biblical Womanhood” is from Rachel Held Evans’ book A Year of Biblical Womanhood (a book I highly recommend all around, as it boosted my knowledge and faith in the gospel quite a bit and I’ve re-read it a few times). So reading this book was eye-opening in many ways, from introducing to me how other faiths view women in the church, and the ways that this medieval scholar turns those interpretations on their head based on scholarly research of the contemporary understandings as medieval interpretations, and how both have been skewed over the centuries since.

The essential premise of this book is that the view of women in the church has shifted so much, and when you go back to find the reasons why in the text… it’s not there or not clear. Barr brings in her background as a pastor’s wife and academic scholar and uses those skills to show how the role of women has shifted and used to be far greater. She states in the opening of her book that this whole book stemmed from her husband being terminated from his position at their church of 15 years after questioning how women were utilized within the church. Barr wrote this almost as an angry rebuttal, with all the uncomfortable conversations and thoughts she’s had about how women are treated in the church, and showing how hollow the justifications for them are.

My own church has had similar trajectories, and not just with the role of women. Many argue that the way women are treated in our church is not based in doctrine but in cultural traditions that have little to do with being followers of Christ. This was a similar argument in Barr’s book, how the cultural treatment of women in society becomes reflected in the church, when really it should almost be the other way around. That women have a far greater standing in God’s and Christ’s eyes than church administration/governance allows. I’ve sensed this kind of idea in waves over the years, but seeing it put so blatantly obvious in front of me was quite a thrill and an aggravation at the same time.

I found SO MANY passages to highlight while I read this book! In my church I have taught our “Gospel Doctrine” class on and off for years. This is a curriculum that rotates through all our standard works of scripture every four years. When it comes to the New Testament especially, I try to seek out different interpretations and translations to add to our study of those books of scripture, and pride my classes on being very discussion-driven and helpful for a lot of students who attend. This is a book I know I’m going to be referencing a lot in that class. I found myself transcribing passages from this book onto notecards to put in my study Bible because they were important enough to me to not want to forget. Honestly, I’m an academic at heart, and if I can find good discussion questions to use down the road, I want to get them immediately in place.

There’s an article of faith in my church that states that we believe the Bible to be the word of God “as far as it is translated correctly.” And while I had that line memorized as a little kid, it wasn’t until I was much older than I began to understand how deep that one line can go. The Making of Biblical Womanhood demonstrates to me just how incredibly nuanced the Bible is, how complex and even broken it is, due to the translations and scholarship around it.

For instance, the author gives an example of how Paul declares in his epistle to the Romans that women should be quiet in church (a verse that vexes at least one student in my gospel doctrine classes I teach when that lesson comes around), and how simple punctuation can change the whole meaning to be the opposite of what most of us think Paul is saying. The author shows how certain Hebrew words get simplified so that the many ways that women are depicted in the Bible get boiled down to “wife” and “woman” when there were broader depictions.

I could tell this was a cathartic book for the author to write. She’s clearly been mulling over these concepts for years, and relates how she’s had to contort her thinking to justify the treatment she’s received, or the teachings she’s been taught in church that contradict what she learned in the classroom, and now she’s had the opportunity to lay it bare and call out the inequalities and misinterpretations she sees so clearly.

In addition to this books that I highly recommend, I would also suggest reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Evans and Jesus and John Wayne for added context to the concept of Biblical Womanhood and how the interpretation of it has changed and evolved over the centuries and especially in the last few decades. There are many things to mull over and reassess.

Using the Day One Journal App

Are you someone who journals? I used to journal very regularly in my childhood and teens, and now somewhat sporadically in my adulthood. Having a regular social media presence means that many milestones and events in my life are still being documented, but sometimes it’s nice to record your more private thoughts. Sometimes it’s nice to have space to just dump out what’s cluttering up your mind so you can sort through it better. I’m a fan of journaling, I just don’t always find I have the time or energy to keep it up the way I would like.

Overall I think I do prefer journaling in a paper notebook. It’s a break from screens, you can connect a little bit better with yourself, and it can be interesting to look back and see how your phrases and handwriting change at different points in your life. But I also realized awhile back that I got out more thoughts faster if I had an online journal. Something digital I could access throughout the day to add to. At one point I was doing really well with the JRNL app, which will publish your entries into a book for you. But once again journaling has been a little stagnant for me.

A friend of mine posted on Facebook recently that she had been journaling regularly by using the Day One app, and how nice it’s been and what a blessing. Getting a recommendation from a friend like that is sometimes all I need to try a new thing, so I signed up for an account and for the past number of weeks Day One has been a great addition to my routine.

For one, you can set it up so the app reminds you every day at a time you determine to write in your journal. For better or worse, my life runs on push notifications. I have a lot in my calendar, a lot in my to-do list, a lot of projects in my life I’m working on. Even for something small and regular, having a reminder on my phone or smartwatch is a HUGE help in me remembering to do it. So now I have a regular reminder for me to spend just a few minutes journaling.

I can set up multiple journals for different aspects of my life. I have my regular, everyday journal on the app for things going on in my life, and I decided to start a writing journal as well. I’m trying to be more consistent with my blogging and fiction writing, and being able to trace my progress and put down other writing-related thoughts is very helpful to the process. “Brain dumping” can do so much to clear your head of all the extra thoughts and ideas roaming in your head so you can put the focus back on your current project.

I also was able to import my Instagram feed, an app I’ve used for years, so I already have another “journal” that the app can show me memories from, and can help document my life in my journal. The app continues to sync my Instagram feed, and I can add photos and other media to my forthcoming journal entries as well.

If you don’t feel particularly inspired, it has a daily prompt you can use to get some thoughts down. In the very least, the prompt allows you to change up your focus, and start developing the habit of writing in your journal every day. It can also have you thinking about memories or habits or preferences you wouldn’t have pondered otherwise. Makes for some interesting self-reflection!

All in all, Day One is a really great app for those who, like me, have their life centered around their smartphones and would love to better get down their thoughts and document their memories in a more detailed or private way.

Anxiety Re-watch

It’s been about a year that we’ve been in our pandemic state, and over the holidays and into January I was noticing more and more people on social media saying that their therapist had told them that more of their patients were hitting a brick wall when it came to them being able to remotely handle the situation. I’m feeling the fatigue big time.

I have been extremely lucky that I have been consistently employed this whole time, even changed jobs. But that also means I haven’t had a vacation – a good number of days off outside a long holiday weekend – in a year. Taking time off is complicated right now, but my husband and I are plotting when I can take some deserved time off and just… not do anything. In the meantime, I know more than the previously normal amount of free time I have is being spent watching shows.

My husband Eric and I have been consistently watching shows together since we started dating long distance. He’d call me, we’d queue up a show on Netflix or HBO, and hit play at the same time and make comments on Snapchat together. We’ve watched Stranger Things, Game of Thrones, What We Do in the Shadows, Sharp Objects… just to name a few. Now that we’re under the same roof we jump around with new shows and can get through them faster than when we had to find time to queue up from our separate states. We might be watching more TV than we’d like, but there’s a pandemic on and it was a high of -3° the other day, so I’m not going to worry about it.

But when it’s just me needing to put something on, I am putting on a show I’ve seen many times over. It’s still entertaining and I don’t need to think too hard to follow it. I know the characters, I’m familiar with the plot, I can just enjoy that familiarity. When it was pointed out to me that people with anxiety tend to rewatch old shows, I felt that. I don’t have debilitating anxiety, but I have a sufficient amount to know it’s there. And sometimes I just need one of my shows to help me relax.

The Office for sure. We were all upset that it left Netflix, and I have no intention of subscribing to Peacock. But I do have most of the seasons on DVD, and Vudu had a bundle sale so now I can still access the full run of the show from a mobile device when I really need something to help me fall asleep. I had been watching along with The Office Ladies podcast but gave up on that awhile ago. Now I rewatch the episodes I want when I feel like it.

Midsomer Murders. I enjoy a good procedural, and this one has been a consistent favorite for years. It’s also off Netflix, moved to Acorn (something I may at some point subscribe to but am not currently), but it does currently have a channel on Pluto TV. And since I’ve watched the first 13 seasons of the show over and over again (before the original Chief Inspector Barnaby was replaced), I am usually pretty happy with whatever episode happens to be on. I may or may not remember who the murderer is, or all the details, but I’m familiar enough with it that it’s excellent background noise for me.

Murder, She Wrote. This has only become a favorite in the last few years. I really didn’t care for the show for awhile, and then one weekend I started binge watching it (again, back when it was on Netflix) and had a ball with the coziness of it. I think the arc of the show went way off the rails in the later seasons, but for the majority of the show it’s just silly and fun. And it has the added bonus of featuring numerous TV stars of the 70s and 80s that I know from other projects, as well as Old Hollywood stars from the 40s I can spot.

I did binge watch Bridgerton, though. And almost immediately started another rewatch with it I enjoyed it so much. So I am getting some new shows in, at least! What have your comfort TV shows been during this time?

My Great Gatsby

As you may or may not know, depending on your circles, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby just entered the public domain. So now a whole slew of new editions of the book are coming out and another wave of attention has come to one of the most recognizable American authors. Fitting that the man known for memorializing the Roaring Twenties has come back for the next Twenties… whatever they may be.

I remember The Great Gatsby as one of the few books I had to read in high school that I genuinely liked at the time. I don’t know what the difference was, but sitting in Ms. Willoughby’s English class this book enthralled me. Not enough to immediately become obsessed with Fitzgerald, but enough to have a healthy understanding and appreciation for the book.

A number of years ago my mother and I hopped over to Montgomery to attend a showing of Twelfth Night at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. While there, we also took in Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald’s childhood home, which has been refashioned into the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum. At the time, there wasn’t much there, but it looks like they’ve upgraded it a lot in the intervening years, including turning some of it into Airbnb suites.

They didn’t even have a museum store, or not much of one anyway, and my mother and I are people who do enjoy a good museum gift shop. I had hoped to purchase a Fitzgerald novel to commemorate the visit, but they didn’t have them. So my obliging mother – who was excited by my burgeoning interest in one of her favorite authors – took me to a bookstore and we got a copy of Tender is the Night. It’s Fitzgerald’s longest novel, and like much of his writing based loosely on his own experiences with Zelda. And I loved it. Within a short period of time, I had read all of his full-length novels, including the unfinished one, and had read many of his short stories.

I think partially why I enjoy Fitzgerald is the time period he came from. There’s something sadly romantic about his depiction of the Jazz Age, and the style of writing he had is very much of the time in addition to being still relevant today. I’m no English major, so I couldn’t really dissect into detail why his books and stories resonate, I just know that with me they do. I grokked the disillusionment and the tragic love story in Gatsby, and as I get older different aspects of the story speak to me in new ways. Sometimes when I read the book or watch a movie adaptation I get really into Jordan’s storyline, or I feel more for Daisy, or my heart breaks a little more for Gatsby. That’s the sign of a good story, when you can experience it in so many new ways as time passes.

I was very excited when the Baz Luhrmann Gatsby was released. Having grown up in the 90s, I have a soft spot for Leonardo DiCaprio even if I currently find him a tad overblown. I enjoy the fabulousness of Baz Lurhmann, and I LOVED the modern take of the soundtrack (my mother did not, but that’s her prerogative). I cried in the movie theater. It hit me at just the right point in my life. I was still reeling from a devastating breakup, and Gatsby and I were on a similar wavelength. I don’t know that I’ll get that kind of clarity with it again, and even watching it now the movie doesn’t quite feel the same as it did for me when it first came out. But man… I felt it hard.

I’ve read books about F. Scott, I’ve read books about his books, and even read Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast because he mentions the frenemy relationship he had with F. Scott. I find Fitzgerald a fascinating person, both as a literary figure and a celebrity. I’m looking forward to more people discovering or rediscovering his work now that more has entered the public domain, and we’ve come to an anniversary of sorts with the time period he’s known for defining.

Do you have an author you just… love? Who you feel understands the human condition in a way that makes you feel seen?

Laziness Does Not Exist review

I picked up this book based on the description. I recently read Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, and these two books touched on very similar themes that counter a popular narrative that “kids today” don’t know what hard work is. And it’s not even just Millennials who deal with this (though I do see them receiving the brunt of it), it’s anyone working in a post-2008 recession-era who is underpaid and watched their job benefits dry up. Whatever expectations we had about going to college and scoring a well-paying job in a field you enjoy has… not happened for so many of us. It’s a constant conversation I see play out on social media, even as recently this week, of how my generation in particular was told to go to college (which entailed going into debt) and we would practically be guaranteed a good job when we go our degree. But how many baristas do you know how have master’s degrees? I know plenty of retail workers with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. And even if you do land a full-time professional job, it may not pay you well enough to live off of. I took my first professional library job with a starting salary of $32,000. If I hadn’t been living with my grandmother at the time, I would not have been able to survive on that salary. Student loans and spiking gas prices alone would have forced me to either take another job or not be able to pay rent. I got a master’s degree to get out of retail, and then continued to be paid retail-like wages until I found another job over a year later.

Anyway, Laziness Does Not Exist hit a few heads of nails for me. I found a lot of truth in the author’s narrative, on how underpaid so many of us are, how the gig economy has resulted in people who are working three different gig jobs with no benefits in the hope that maybe one of them will be the breakthrough they need to only need to work one job, and how we have been conditioned to believe that if we’re not doing something productive in nearly every aspect of our life, we’re lazy and unworthy of praise or assistance. The author interviewed numerous people with similar stories of wrecking their health in the pursuit of being productive. Some haven’t been able to change anything about their working lives, and others have gratefully been able to make changes to have a less stressful existence.

One critique I have of the book is the author is based in Chicago (I don’t mind that, I’m also from Chicago), and a lot of their interviews are with people they know in Chicago. I think registering how people in big American cities deal with this particular issue is valid and needed, and certainly a good basis to build off of, but I would be VERY interested in hearing how people outside this particular bubble of people grasp the concept of laziness and how to combat it. Does a Southern baptist minister recognize this with his congregation? Do office workers in a smaller college town also have these problems? Do people in the Boomer generation see this as a problem with the people they employ, and with themselves? Really, this book is only a starting point of addressing the problem of workers being deemed “lazy” if they aren’t constantly seen as working and hustling. (Think about how most cashiers in chain stores aren’t provided with chairs, and must be on their feet for their full shift.)

I found a lot to identify with in this book, and think it enters very well with the issues we have with people working full-time not being paid enough to live off of those full-time hours. How retail and food&beverage workers have been considered “essential” during our current crisis, but as soon as people demand better pay the jobs are suddenly seen as menial and not for people to stay in long term especially if they would simply get a better education.

The book ends up being a little bit of a therapy session, with the author identifying problems that persist, and offering mindset changes and other more concrete solutions and troubleshoots to combating them. I appreciated having that to help balance out the kind of despair that permeates through the narrative of so many workers who seem similar to me and my friends who struggle with how we define work and what their boundaries are. I would like to see follow-up from this book where business owners are confronted with what their workers endure and how that gets exploited. That may be WAY too big of a project for this one author, but using this book and the knowledge it contains can only add to the mounting evidence that the American work culture is broken and not helpful to those it should be benefiting.

Around the time I was reading this book, I also saw this article from Jill Lepore on “What’s Wrong With the Way We Work?” that also stresses many of the same points as author Devon Price does. This is going to keep being brought up again and again until something changes. And now my senses are heightened to recognize it.

I received a digital ARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Books of 2020

Well… this certainly was a year, wasn’t it? I remarked on social media recently the dark humor that is watching planner community videos from the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 as they set up their new productivity systems. I know I had a nice little planner for my writing life that basically went blank after May. I tried, I really did, but this year was a rollercoaster more than most, and all the goals I had set and tried to achieve just became less important. I am hoping to jumpstart things in this next year, but I’m keeping my expectations low.

One thing that didn’t change for me was my reading habits! I had a number of life changes this year, and I’m grateful that through it all I had a bunch of good books to keep me steady and keep my mind occupied amidst all the uncertainty. So here’s a list of the books I enjoyed the most this year.

The Shakespeare 2020 Project. Up until June, I was totally on track reading Shakespeare’s entire catalog with a fun group of people on Facebook. I am a little sad I didn’t get to finish it through, and hopefully sometime in the future I will. I ended up purchasing the Shakespeare app with all the plays and explanations of the words to help me better understand the context (and I also didn’t want to be reading from a huge book of the collected works or a bunch of paperbacks. I read better and faster when it’s off my phone.) A few of the participants are moving on to reading all of Charles Dickens in 2021!

Jesus and John Wayne. I wrote up a review for this book months ago, so you can find that here. But it’s still a topic that resonates with me and what I think about a lot still. This was a good introduction to the concept.

My Dark Vanessa. This was one of the fiction books I truly enjoyed this year. And “enjoyed” isn’t the right word. A book about a woman reckoning with the affair she had with her high school English teacher isn’t enjoyable. But the writing was totally top notch, the main character incredibly relatable, and the story relevant and terrifying and achingly beautiful. It was a difficult book to read, but I also couldn’t put it down.

Paper Bullets. This one I got to read early to review for Library Journal! (It’s behind a paywall, alas.) This was a FASCINATING story about an artsy lesbian couple who lead their own rebellion against their Nazi occupiers and were imprisoned for it. If Hollywood doesn’t attempt to make a movie about these two, they aren’t doing their job. If you enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, you’ll relish this one.

Can’t Even. I’d had this book on my radar for a while, and after a number of media outlets mentioned it, I decided I better quickly get it into my reading plans. I was not disappointed. This so definitively nailed my experience as a millennial it was shocking. It laid out so many thoughts that I’ve had in recent years and offered explanations for how my generation has ended up with the problems we have. It’s not a total downer, either, which was greatly appreciated, and the author also gave some hopeful suggestions and ideas and some camaraderie that at least lets the reader not feel so alone in their experiences. HIGHLY recommended for both millennials and those who love them.

What did you read this year that you enjoyed?

Using Evernote in Library Work

I have been a pretty dedicated Evernote user for the past seven years. I used the free version for a while until I had to admit to myself that I used the app enough to warrant a subscription and I haven’t looked back. I don’t think enough people are aware of this awesome app and all the things it can do to keep you organized, and I try to convert all my friends who ask about it.

(Use my referral link to sign up!)

What is Evernote? It’s essentially a digital file cabinet. Instead of folders full of newspaper and magazine clippings, random pieces of paper with lists, and certificates and programs and manuals I may need to refer to later, I can have them all available digitally and searchable on any of the devices I use that have wifi. I use this app to take and organize notes during conferences, clip articles and blog posts I want to retain for future use, hold a lot of rough drafts of writing ideas and projects before I develop them further, and just generally retain and organize a lot of information for me that I might otherwise have in a physical file cabinet. My long-term use of the app has cleaned up a lot of physical clutter I might otherwise have, and since I can create separate notebooks for the different kinds of information I gather, and tag individual notes for my own personal filing system, AND keyword search for information in the whole app, it’s been a marvelous way to keep all the information I may need or will need at a later time.

I discovered pretty early on in my usage that it was especially beneficial to my work as a librarian. So I thought I would lay out what I have used it for during the course of my career.

  • Readers Advisory/Collection Development. I am not currently a selector for my library, but in past positions I was and as I went through the reviews and catalogs and lists of upcoming titles, I’d inevitably find titles that sounded really good for certain patrons and I would want to remember that book. So I started a rather extensive notebook in Evernote just of book lists under various topics. For instance, I worked at a library that had a very active mystery book club, so new mysteries were always on my radar. I’d sort upcoming and new releases into lists of tropes (gardening mysteries, animal mysteries, mysteries with professional cops, mysteries with older women sleuths, etc.) and I would pretty quickly come up with a list I could eventually turn into a bookmark to handout or leave out for patrons. At this point all those lists I created are a few years out of date, but if needed, I could still pull up my “time travel” book list and have a good foundation to come up with a display or bookmark or suggestions for a patron.
  • Professional Development. I have worked at four public libraries in my career. That’s a lot of movement. And I figured out that I couldn’t rely on my work provided email and computer drive for retaining some of the information I was learning and developing. Your work-provided email and computer drive are NECESSARY and you do need to have certain things stored on both. However, when I go to ALA or PLA or a state library conference, I found it was so easy to create a tag for that conference and have a whole series of notes from the sessions of that conference that I could absolutely use back at my home library, but might also be useful to me later in my career, or spark ideas for another library. I can keep track of any continuing education certificates or classes and access them wherever I am. 
  • Diary. This can get a little more into the weeds, but hear me out. I don’t use Evernote for my calendar or to-do list (I have other apps/systems for that), but I have used Evernote to keep track of any daily or noticeably regular occurrences for various reasons. For example, I have used it while I was at the reference desk to keep track of the funny stories of patron encounters I have. I maintain patron privacy, obviously, but when you work public service you gain a large collection of “people are weird/funny/disturbing” stories, and workers like me like to keep track of those for posterity’s sake. I keep thinking I’ll one day write a book about my public library experiences, and my diary of various patron weirdness is at least a starting point. It’s also a great treasure trove of quirks to work into characters if you’re also a writer. 
  • Reading Log. While this is certainly not exclusive to working as a librarian, I have found keeping track of my reading in Evernote is beneficial. Many of us track our reading through Goodreads, but I read plenty of things that I don’t necessarily care to advertise on book social media for various reasons. So I can keep track of it through a simple spreadsheet I designed for that purpose that keeps track of the book title, author, format, and date finished. Many people in the book world have developed complex spreadsheets to track different factors of their reading habits, but this system has been sufficient for me. Plus, you can add keywords or impressions about the book that you can search for later on when you’re doing readers advisory as well.

What kinds of things do you find yourself tracking or organizing on a regular basis? 

(Use my referral link to sign up for your own Evernote account!)

I’m working on a book about Simple Digital Productivity to help folks use their smartphone to plan and accomplish tasks. Let me know the kinds of productivity and organizing helps you could use!

How I Use Todoist

I’m actually not sure how many people know this about me, but I’m an organizational junkie. I am obsessed with how people organize tasks, how they plan, what tools they use. Have been for years, but I think what really skyrocketed my interest was stumbling upon the “planner community” of YouTube a few years back. I was a young professional looking for ways to improve my productivity. I had used a paper planner since grade school to keep track of my assignments, but watching hours (literally) of videos of people showing off their planners and their planning systems got me very interested in trying new ways of organizing and being productive.

One of the systems I got really into was the Bullet Journal. I know plenty of people who utilize a BuJo, and I rather enjoy seeing their Instagram posts of the layouts they use for it. My BuJo was never colorful or decorated, it was pretty utilitarian and minimalist, but it helped me develop habits to plan out my day and record tasks to complete and ideas to tackle later. But the problem I had was wanting to access my tasks digitally wherever I was, and wanting to plan for future tasks further out than just the week I was looking at.

Enter Todoist. It’s a productivity app that is relatively simple to use, and mimics the layout of an old-fashioned checklist, much like a Bullet Journal. But you can collect all your tasks into the different aspects of your life, and set tasks to be completed at a future date, or to be repeated on a regular interval. I don’t mean to be hyperbolic, but this app changed my life. I could continue to use the habits of capturing all the tasks I needed to complete, like when I used a Bullet Journal, but now I had access to my tasks on my phone, at my work station, and on my home laptop.

Initially I just created a project for my personal tasks and one for work. I’ve since expanded my projects to have one for my blog, one for my reading list (usually articles I find online and don’t necessarily have time to read at that time and want to revisit later), my workout schedule, and my shopping list. I’ll add temporary Todoist projects for intense projects at work, for when I move, or when I have big events to plan for. That way, I can separate all my tasks into the areas they need to be, which helps to clear my brain.

I definitely brain dump – writing down all the things I’m thinking and need to do. Todoist can take those brain dump ideas and allow me to see them all and categorize and plan for them in a much better way. I can put them all in the app’s inbox and when I have a few moments I can sort them into the projects they relate to, and give them due dates for when I can address them. If I don’t get to a task by the due date, I can easily move it to another day without having a messy BuJo with crossed out tasks.

One feature of Todoist I really like it how I can put in reoccurring tasks. At work I have certain tasks that need to be done on certain days of the week, and I can set them to show up every Tuesday, so I don’t need to remember to write in the task for the following week every time. The app reminds me to check monthly reports, to pay rent, to reconcile my banking, etc. Part of the appeal is even when I put in a routine task, it’s off my mind as a thing I need to remember, and it will appear again on my to-do list when I need it to. That leaves room for other ideas and thoughts to come to me when I don’t have to remember so many other things.

You can sign up for a free account and try it out without all the bells and whistles. I used the free account for a few years, but have enjoyed the app so much I now have a subscription!

What productivity tools do you use?

Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

This was a fascinating book to pick up. Being a member of a religious faith myself, and having many friends who are involved with religious academia, I’m around many discussions about God and faith and faith culture and how various interpretations of scripture develop. I’m curious about other faiths, and the evangelical community in America has certainly gained its own kind of notoriety in the last few years to be sure. So I looked at this book as a way to see the history of that faith movement and as a way to possibly get a better grasp on the mindset of someone of that faith.

“For conservative white evangelicals, the ‘good news’ of the Christian gospel has become inextricably linked to a staunch commitment to patriarchal authority, gender difference, and Christian nationalism, and all of these are intertwined with white racial identity.“

This quote was the overall message I gathered from this book. Having grown up and worked in the South, home to a large population of evangelicals, I’ve been more closely involved with and aware of that community. Some would argue that I come from an “orthodox” religious background (in some sense of the word, anyway), and I personally view my religious observance as more progressive than others (and of course “progressive” can be defined a few ways too), so I think that means I look at the evangelical church a little more critically for that reason. I’m not here to argue theology, and I’m not well-equipped to do that, but I have to look at other religious cultures through my American Christian lens since that’s what I know.

The thesis the author presents of how the current evangelical community’s culture and views developed was interesting to me, tracing how actor John Wayne portrayed the kind of rugged masculinity that was the ideal American male, and therefore how American evangelicals came to interpret their version of Christ – they didn’t and don’t care for that meek and quiet version of Christ that others used, that was too feminine and lacked the energy they wanted to have themselves. They wanted a Christ who could beat up a person.

“There are those who rarely consume media produced outside of this world; when it comes to music, news sources, books, and radio, these individuals inhabit a separate and sanctified consumer space.”

I can’t fault a religious tradition or culture for this kind of homogeny explicitly. We all feel comfort with the media that we can share with others that reaffirm our views. But I have been in my share of Lifeway Christian bookstores that dotted the South… I mean, I view myself as having some highbrow ideas of media and culture, so I do critique a lot of evangelical media maybe a little too harshly than I should. However, I can’t get on board with bibles packaged to look like teen magazines or are so totally gendered that one is pink and glittery and another is in camo and they’re supposed to be for adults. My own personal preference is to have holy scripture be revered and to strive to live UP to its ideals, not bring it down to yours. But that’s another discussion.

The idea that people can purchase the home decor, the clothing, the music, the various accouterments of the evangelical community to be a part of that community without ever going to church fascinated me. What an interesting comment on not only consumerism in general but also on how this particular religious community operates, where you can so easily acquire status. It makes perfect sense, once I read that. There can potentially be such a superficial way to find your way into the good graces of a culture.

What I very much appreciated about this book was the laying out of the history of the evangelical tradition in this country over the last 80 years or so. Following certain pastors and other figures and their families and how their rhetoric developed, along with reasoning for shifts and changes. And then it seemed like the narrative of the Reagan era to present really zoomed by with the Moral Majority and a whole slew of policies and political figures who still resonate today. And if you’re like me and watching Mrs. America on Hulu, you’re getting a pointed taste of that influence as well.

The book confirmed many notions I have about the evangelical community. I don’t automatically assume when I meet one that they’re a racist, but they often have some racist thinking that quickly comes out. Their concept of a super masculine Jesus bewilders me. I can take the strength and fortitude of it, but when Christ’s message of love and forgiveness seems to be completely overlooked or even ignored I very much dislike how the concept of being a Christian gets weaponized, and can even be looked at with disdain by people outside the community. Not to mention how this view of masculinity frequently translates to a subordinate, inferior, and even an infantilized view of women.

I don’t intend for this to be the only book I read on this community and religious thinking. It opened up a few more ideas and trains of thought to explore. But it’s a reasonable introduction to a history of the evangelical community and may help readers uncover and learn more about the religious community’s lineage and cultural mores.