Shelf Love Reading Challenge

Happy November! In the spirit of giving thanks, I’d like to propose another challenge: this month, be thankful for what you own. When it comes to reading, simply select from the books already on your shelves and refrain from procuring new ones.

If you’re anything like me, or any of my book-loving friends, you have a whole stack of books you’ve bought, but just haven’t gotten around to yet. For just this month, let’s avoid excuses to expand our collections and turn to our oft-forgotten previous purchases instead.

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Just some of the many, many books I have yet to read.

The Challenge Defined

Refrain from acquiring any new books that are not already in your possession.

This means no purchasing books, renting books from the library, downloading free books online, taking free books (e.g., from a Little Free Library), or anything else someone sneaky may have thought of that I’ve omitted here.

Benefits

Why should you do it with me?

  1. Everyone likes to check items off a list. Think of how productive you’ll feel crossing off the books you’ve had on your to-read list all these years.
  2. Think of your wallet! If my recent romance novel binge has taught me anything, it’s that $2.99 can really add up quickly. You might as well get your hard-earned money’s worth from the books you already own.
  3. It’s so easy to download a new book with just the simple click of a button. This challenge will be a great way to break that nasty habit.
  4. Because why not? It’s just one month.

Whaddya say? Can you commit to 30 days of reading from your current collection?

I vow to keep you posted by updating the blog with my current reads. Please comment with your own progress!

Mama Bear’s Fall 2016 Reading List

Now that we are almost a month into the new season, I’m back to deliver my fall reading list. Since I was perhaps a little overzealous with my summer list, I’ve kept this one a tad shorter. The goal is to inspire you to pick up some of these books, not overwhelm you with too many options. Happy reading!

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Fall Recommendations

Remember, I strongly encourage you to step outside your comfort zone and read something in a new genre. It’s healthy to try new things!

Biography

The Chris Farley Show

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The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts by Tom Farley, Jr.
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If you, like me, are a longtime fan of Chris Farley and all of his larger-than-life characters, then you should read this book. It chronicles Farley’s life through the eyes of his closest friends and family.

Everyone who was around in the 1990s and tuned in to popular culture knows some detail around his premature death, but this book reminds us how he was so much more than his boisterous comedic abilities and drug addiction. By all accounts, he was a kind, sincere, loyal, and tortured soul. Some stories are heartwarming and charming, others are heartbreaking, but all in all, this book does a phenomenal job of differentiating, remembering, and celebrating the man, the myth, and the legend of Chris Farley.

Fiction

Geek Love

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Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
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Geek Love is not for the faint of heart. Though it’s essentially a story of the powerful ties that can both bind and break family, its central characters are not at all as ordinary as that description makes them sound. No, they’re “circus freaks,” and proud of it; in order to secure their future as successful carnival owners, the Binewskis decide to breed their own freak family by having the mother consume chemicals, drugs, and radioactive materials during pregnancy. (Note: this was very difficult to read during pregnancy.) The survivors of such experiments include the story’s central characters: Arty, a boy with flippers instead of hands or feet, Elly and Iphy, conjoined twins, Oly, a hunchbacked albino dwarf, and Chick, a boy who looks normal but has telekinetic powers.

As bizarre as this already sounds, the story continues to darken as the children age and struggle to adjust to their familial roles. Then, of course, there’s Arty’s pro-self-mutilation cult and subsequent battle for dominance and Oly’s tailed stripper daughter to really round out the story. Stick with me.

If you can handle a little dose of horror, you’ll find that this book is beautifully and hauntingly told. While the characters are extraordinary and their actions often grotesque, each one is unmistakably human and relatable in the most unexpected of ways. This book will make you think about everything from your relationships to other people’s motives to what is right and what is wrong. It’s a pretty deep read, but one you won’t regret.

Serena

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Serena by Ron Rash
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The tale of a Depression-era timber baron, George, and his arguably more powerful wife, Serena, is one that takes readers on a bit of a wild ride. The time period alone is one that makes me shiver in its bleakness, but Rash goes above and beyond to richly pit his characters against both the unforgiving landscape and each other.

The story is interesting in itself, but the real reason I recommend this book is because Serena is one of the most interesting characters I’ve read about in a long time. She’s self-assured, confident, strong, and, well, basically just a boss. That’s not to say she’s good–she does try to kill her husband’s illegitimate son, after all–but it’s just so hard to come by such a strong female character, especially one from this time period. The thrills, passion, and heartbreak threaded throughout this novel will move you and make you feel a little like you’re staring at a car crash from which you can’t seem to turn away.

Humor

Me Talk Pretty One Day 

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Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
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I am often asked for book recommendations and this is usually the first one I suggest. Sedaris has a slew of hilarious memoirs, but this one has stuck with me the most and I think it’s because of the way he recounts trying to learn and adjust to French culture. Rather than talking about his distinct voice and trying to convey his particular brand of humor, I’m just going to quote my favorite passage.

“On my fifth trip to France I limited myself to the words and phrases that people actually use. From the dog owners I learned “Lie down,” “Shut up,” and “Who shit on this carpet?” The couple across the road taught me to ask questions correctly, and the grocer taught me to count. Things began to come together, and I went from speaking like an evil baby to speaking like a hillbilly. “Is thems the thoughts of cows?” I’d ask the butcher, pointing to the calves’ brains displayed in the front window. “I want me some lamb chop with handles on ’em.”

You’re doing yourself an injustice if you don’t pick this up. In fact, I’m doing myself an injustice by not rereading it right now.

Romance

Knitting in the City Series

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Neanderthal Seeks Human by Penny Reid (book one in series)
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At the center of this series is a group of women who are part of a knitting circle and each book features one of their love stories. (For what it’s worth, the second book was my favorite because it’s got the whole friends-turned-lovers trope, which I unabashedly love.)

Unlike many contemporary romance novels, the women in these books are multi-dimensional and smart and the men are respectful and gentlemanly. They are a reminder that good romance heroes don’t need to be borderline abusive to be sexy and that sweet and smoldering can and do co-exist.

The Virgin Romance Novelist

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The Virgin Romance Novelist by Meghan Quinn
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Here’s another friends-to-lovers book that made me laugh out loud and smile until my cheeks hurt. Rosie is an extremely awkward yet incredibly lovable aspiring romance novelist. And, as you guessed it, she’s a virgin. When she realizes she can’t possibly write sex scenes without some experience, she throws herself into the dating world. This, of course, forces her resident playboy best friend and roommate, Henry, to realize his attraction and make his move. Yes, the arc might be a little cliché, but I cringed, I laughed, I swooned, and I loved every minute of it. (Note: I wasn’t as big of a fan of the sequel, unfortunately.)

Thriller

Sharp Objects

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Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
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Lovers of Gone Girl need to read Gillian Flynn’s debut novel if they haven’t already. Sharp Objects is a psychological thriller about Camille Preaker, a journalist who is sent back to her small hometown to cover the investigation of the murder and disappearance of two young girls.

Once there, she is thrown back into the complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with her estranged mother and younger half-sister. Flynn brilliantly weaves together Camille’s tormented past as it relates to the crimes about which she is there to report, all the while leaving you unsure who can be trusted. At its core, this quick-paced novel is about secrets, family, jealousy, and mental health. You’ll read it late into the night, sweating nervously under your sheets until you finish. And it’ll be worth it.

Your Thoughts

Have you read any of these? If so, what were your thoughts?

What are your favorite books to read in the fall? Let’s start a conversation!

Volumes Bookcafe: A Chicago Spotlight

There are several things to love about Wicker Park’s five-month-old Volumes Bookcafe, but chief among them is its goal to bring the community together around a shared passion for books. Also high on the list? This place combines coffee, pastries, wine, and books. In other words, there’s really no reason to ever leave.

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Upon entering, visitors note the sleek, modern decor with just the right number of quirky embellishments to draw them in: a reading nook covered in colorful hardbacks, a high-contrast Don Quixote poster, quote-ridden chalkboard walls, and a decent-sized shelf of board games (squee!).

While it’s not the biggest bookstore in the city, it is apparent that a lot of thought has gone into what’s on the shelves. In fact, Volumes prides itself on having a well-curated collection, and from what I could see, it’s one that would satisfy any reader’s palette.

Like any bookstore worth its salt, personal recommendations are peppered throughout each section, many of which I wholeheartedly second (lookin’ at you, Geek Love). But what’s different is that in most cases, there are only one to three available copies of any book. This place isn’t aiming to pump out the latest best-sellers; they’re looking to spark conversation and engage their customers on a quest to find their next favorite novel.

And, importantly, the staff with whom I’ve spoken are readily available, knowledgeable, and able to provide thoughtful next-read suggestions.  They are also more than willing to special order anything not found in the store.

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The Paper Bag Princess is by far one of my favorite children’s books, too.

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If I didn’t feel like I’d be defiling books, I’d create something like this at my apartment. There’s probably a second-hand market for book covers, right?

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A reading bench in the children’s section helps even the youngest readers relax a while.

Then there’s the cafe, which, on a weekday around noon, was pleasantly populated but not overcrowded. Serving Metropolis coffee, (local) Dollop pastries, wine, and beer, it seems there’s something for everyone to enjoy while they walk the store, read, chat, or work away on their computer.

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Just in case you want to flaunt your nerd status via bracelet.

Overall, the ambiance of the store and cafe is inviting, relaxed, and enjoyable. It’s very fitting that Volumes is owned by two sisters with backgrounds in education because it feels welcoming to children and adults alike. Even though I had a baby and a stroller with me, I didn’t feel receive any side-eyes or feel the pressure to GFTO as I do in so many other places that are traditionally quieter and/or less kid-friendly.

With a ton of events, book clubs, and even an incredibly attractive sounding NaNoWriMo project, it truly is a place that encourages community interaction, which just makes me appreciate it all the more.

Plan Your Visit

Location and hours

Volumes is located at 1474 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622. It’s open Monday to Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Those are pretty generous hours, if you ask me.

Parking and transportation

In my experience, parking in Wicker Park is kind of a nightmare because space is so limited and several areas require permits. However, metered parking is available.

I personally recommend public transportation, though, especially because the store is only a four-minute walk from the Damen Blue ‘L’ stop.

Stroller or carrier

With only my jogging stroller at my dispense on the day of my first visit, I can attest that there is plenty of room for a stroller–especially a normal-sized one–at Volumes Bookcafe. Plus, a stroller makes it substantially easier to sit down and enjoy a cup of joe.

Final Word

If you’re looking for a bookstore with spunk and substance, check out Volumes Bookcafe. If it were possible to be friends with a bookstore, I’d sign right up with this one.

And, after all, you know here at Baby Brown Bear, I am a fan of keeping it local.

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Unabridged Bookstore: A Chicago Spotlight

Yes, yes, yes. I’m a little late to the game, seeing as how it was voted as Chicago’s “Best New-Book Store” in 2015, but I finally made my way down to Lakeview’s Unabridged Bookstore to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day on April 30. (To clarify, “new-book store” refers to a shop where you can purchase new books instead of used books.)

Opened in 1980, it’s been a neighborhood–and city–staple for more than 35 years. Given how tumultuous the last decade has been for brick and mortar bookstores, it’s incredibly impressive how much this one thrives. If you’ll recall, I’m a huge proponent of shopping locally. For the most part, locally owned businesses just care more. They are more knowledgeable about their products and provide superior customer service than the typical big box (and certainly more than online shops). This holds especially true for Unabridged.

The staff was extremely helpful and patient. I was actually a little startled when one employee immediately recognized the titles of two rather obscure children’s books I was trying to find. Though he sadly informed me they were not in stock (which he knew without having to check), he quickly offered to order them for me. After I unsuccessfully searched for a third book, he walked me straight over to where it was hiding. It was a busy day and he didn’t need to do it, but he didn’t even bat an eye. Perhaps these things shouldn’t have impressed me as much as they did, but his sincere helpfulness seems extraordinary nowadays and I really appreciated it.

I was equally impressed with the size and variety of stock Unabridged has. I expected the store to be smaller given that it is located in a city where space is limited. Since one of my favorite pastimes is lackadaisically perusing bookstores, you can imagine my delight when I discovered I was wrong. I could have spent hours exploring all the genres and shelves Unabridged carefully curates. Since I had a hungry baby at home, my first Unabridged adventure was unfortunately cut short. However, I think it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Here’s my quick virtual tour so you can see for yourself how great Unabridged is. Keep in mind that this barely scratches the surface; I only took a handful of pictures because I felt a little creepy taking any, much less any more. I suppose you’ll just have to visit to see the rest. And if you need inspiration on what to buy, you can either ask someone or browse among the several staff recommendation stickers lining the shelves.

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Baby Bear has so much story time ahead of him!

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I’d never seen such a large area devoted to classics before. A good reminder of so many books I have yet to read.

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I love anything to do with Scandinavia, so this whole wall called to me.

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This is just part of the travel section in the basement. Being in this room gave me even more of a travel bug than I already (constantly) have.

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Unabridged Bookstore has one of the largest LGBTQ book sections in the city (if not the largest). Not shown, but right by this is a huge discounted section. It had several titles I’ve been wanting to read, including newer ones that I would never expect to be on the sale shelves. 

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It was tough, but I narrowed down my bounty to the above selection. I see several visits in our near future.

Plan Your Visit

Location and hours

Unabridged Bookstore is located at 3251 N. Broadway Street, Chicago, IL 60657. It’s open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Parking and transportation

There is metered street parking along Broadway and its side streets, but I’d recommend taking the Red, Brown, or Purple ‘L’ train to the Belmont stop and walking for about 10 minutes.

Stroller or carrier

Though Unabridged is large, I’d recommend using a carrier if you plan to bring your baby. It will allow you to navigate much more easily, though it’ll be harder to bend down to read the bottom shelves.

Final Word

As someone who feels pretty well versed in bookstores, I am telling you this one is exceptional. I’d make it a point to visit, and soon.