February’s Reading Roundup

written by Mikaela Cowles on March 3, 2016 in Book Recommendations with no comments


How’s your memory?

Can you remember the title of the last book you read? Do you recall the author’s name? If you’re like me, there’s a good chance you’ve forgotten these details and several others.

We’re not alone. Most of the world struggles to remember important details. For example, consider phone numbers. How many phone numbers do you have memorized?

My list is only four numbers long. It includes: mom’s cell, dad’s cell, parent’s home phone, and brother’s cell. 

My husband is not even on the list! Crazy, right? But in a world where our address book is just a Siri request away, who memorizes numbers?

While contemplating the issue of memory, I did some research. There were a lot of great articles about how memory works and how to train your memory. Joshua Foer’s New York Times article, “Secrets of a Mind-Gamer: How I trained my brain and became a world-class memory athlete,” was particularly interesting.

Among the bits that stood out were these two quotes:

How many worthwhile ideas have gone unthought and connections unmade because of my memory’s shortcomings?

I always find looking up at my shelves, at the books that have drained so many of my waking hours, to be a dispiriting experience. There are books up there that I can’t even remember whether I’ve read or not.

In many ways these reading roundups are about more than just sharing some great titles. They are about remembering. As a reader, there are a lot of tactics to remember what you’ve read. You can re-read a piece. You can read it out loud. You can read it while walking. You can talk about it with someone.

However, the best tactic I have ever found is to take notes. I read with a pen. I underline like a mad woman and scribble thoughts in the margins. And then, when a book is really good, I write important bullet points on a large sticky note and put it inside the book.

While I might not remember what every book on my shelf is about, this allows me to get a quick refresh of why I thought it was important.

And now, for February’s reading roundup.


The Elements of a Story by Francis Flaherty

There’s a tendency to make educational books bland. It’s as though authors get so caught up in just the facts they fail to capture the essence of what they’re discussing – the emotional bits. It’s tough work to bring in a reader, don’t get me wrong. But the best writers can do it even with mundane topics. Through personal experience, a close look at actual articles, and a few made-up pieces, Flaherty breaks down each aspect of a story. He addresses how to craft opening lines, what interview tactics garner the best quotes, how to use word choice to your advantage, and more. With each chapter he provides actionable advice. For example, in Chapter 11 he addresses the issue of over sharing – an instance in which a writer feels compelled to share every detail possible. Flaherty explains how an overabundance of details often detracts from the overall story. As a writer, he says, you must ask yourself if each fact you’re including assists the reader. Or is it only stated because you’re proud of your research?


Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl

“Storytelling, in my family, was highly prized,” Reichl wrote at the opening of her memoir. A renowned food critic, the essence of that statement reverberates throughout every memory she shared. At times, Reichl put food center stage, such as her first sip of carrot soup. It was the moment when she knew she, “had never really eaten before.” At other times food is deftly used as a backdrop, such as her New York arrival. With the help of veal, a home on a filthy street becomes a veritable paradise. Her writing offered hilarious brushstrokes and poignantly captured heartache. It spoke to self discovery and outlined a life many of us can only dream of experiencing.


Red Planet by Robert A. Heinlein

It might surprise you to see young adult (YA) fiction on this list, but a lot of YA novels invite you to stretch your imagination. Regardless of your industry, this is an essential experience. Imagination let’s us creatively problem solve. This sci-fi adventure story is set on Mars and follows the daring actions of Jim Marlowe. It addresses complex issues, such as colonialism, coming of age, and negotiation. Plus, it showcases the importance of doing what you believe is right.

Please Note: It has been brought to my attention Red Planet is not a YA book. It is a sci-fi classic. If you took offense to my YA categorization, my apologies. I’ve loved this book since I read it as a young girl and love it still today.


Check back in April month for our next reading roundup. If you have a good title suggestion you’d like to make, please shoot me a note.

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