A Look at a Week in the Reading Life of . . .
Guest writer Sarah Miller gives us a peek into the reading life of a mom, wife, literary judge and more, and how she fits it all in
Several months ago, I emailed the creator of another newsletter I enjoyed reading and asked if she would like to write a guest post. The glimpses of her reading life I’d seen in her newsletters led me to believe that others might like to know more about her reading life. One of my long-time readers commented, “I love taking a peek into other people’s reading life.” That simple statement became a frequent series in SoNovelicious called Peeks!, and it’s time to take a peek into the commentor’s reading life that started it all.
I’m so happy to welcomeof to SoNovelicious. Sarah's newsletter is devoted to helping caregivers raise readers and build a culture of reading in their homes. Caregivers, educators, and anyone else with children in their lives will find a goldmine of information that helps them do just that. Sarah lives on the edge of the Driftless Area in southern Wisconsin with her husband and two daughters. Her newsletter readers adore her and love her weekly children’s book recommendations. Readers enjoy the variety of formats in her newsletters and say she provides all the books their children love to read that they don’t have the bandwidth to search out on their own. Sarah is funny, kind, and so generous with her time in the bookish community on Substack. I can’t wait for you to get to know her better and take a peek into her reading life. Welcome to SoNovelicious, Sarah!
Hello SoNovelicious readers! I’m so happy to be here. When Gayla first asked me to write a guest post about my reading life for SoNovelicious, I was stymied; it’s not that there’s nothing interesting about my reading life; I’m just not sure it’s of great interest to anyone else.
Then I realized I’m in a bit of a unique season of said reading life. In early September, I applied, on a whim, to be a judge for the CYBILS Awards, the Children’s and Young Adult Book Lovers’ Literary Award, which works to recognize books that combine both the highest literary merit and popular appeal with an emphasis on diversity, inclusion, and appropriate representation.
To my surprise and delight, they accepted me as a first-round judge in the poetry category. I agreed to read a lot of books – no, like, A LOT of books; thus far, 73 and counting – between October and December, with the goal of creating two shortlists, one for poetry collections and the other for novels/nonfiction in verse.
As I learned to navigate the database on which all this work rests and nominations for titles started coming in (and are still coming, as of my writing this), I put these on hold at my local library. Even though mentally I understood the number of books I was requesting, I was unprepared for the actuality of so many at once. I showed up at the front desk and almost tearfully asked the librarian I am closest to – a genuine friend who fields all sorts of my wacky questions and inter-library loan requests – if it was possible for her to override the limit of 75 holds at once. She reassured me she could help, and away I went with the full-size laundry basket (yes, a laundry basket) I use to haul library books, nearly overflowing.
This brings me to Friday, in real-time, the last day I’ll read for my own pleasure for a couple of days: American Murderer: The Parasite That Haunted the South by Gail Jarrow, which is so good I become instantly committed to reading everything Jarrow has written – it’s disgusting and fascinating in equal measure and though it’s intended for teens, I also highly recommend it for adults. Later, on a walk, I also finished the audiobook What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing by Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce D. Perry which is outstanding.
On Saturday – despite the fact that my parents-in-law are visiting from 500 miles away and we’re hosting 13 people for my youngest child’s birthday party that evening – I get down to work: first I read Call Me Adnan by Reem Faruqi (heartbreaking and very good), Garvey in the Dark by Nikki Grimes (imperfect, but Grimes can do no wrong in my book – pun intended!), and Dark Testament: Blackout Poems by Crystal Simone Smith (haunting).
On Sunday, I manage Wolfpack by Amelia Brunskill (despite my sense of urgency in reading as much as I can before my work week begins – have I mentioned I work full-time outside my home? – I genuinely can’t put this one down), and half of Wings in the Wild by Margarita Engle before falling asleep on the couch at 7:30 pm.
Monday is a regular day, which means dropping my 1st grader at her school, dropping my 4th grader at a different school, and commuting 25 minutes to work. I start reading Here is the Beehive by Sarah Crossan on audio as I drive. It’s my intention to sit in my car at some point during my day to steal 30 minutes of reading if I can, but it doesn’t happen. Later at home, after I put my kids to bed, I finish rereading my favorite non-traditionally structured book, Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison (I will never get over the brilliance of its form) and Wings in the Wild (vibrant and lovely).
On Tuesday, my now-7-year-old is sick, and though I hate that for her, I am secretly delighted to stay home with her. She drowsily watches a movie while I read The Order of Things by Kaija Langley in one sitting (sad but superb). I start the biggest novel in verse I’ve approached yet – Spin by Rebecca Caprara – and get about halfway through it before the rest of life intrudes, and I have to do things like, you know, eat and bathe and sleep.
Wednesday nights, my husband takes the children to gymnastics, so I have a small but precious chunk of time to myself, which I spend picking up more holds from the library, going for a walk (getting further into Here is the Beehive), and then finishing Spin (a compelling retelling of the story of Arachne that would appeal to any YA reader into Greek myths). To be totally honest, it’s a bit exhausting reading at this pace but also kind of exhilarating. I mean, I’m not mad about reading a book a day. The organization of it all is nuts (see my home office here), but I’m having a lot of fun.
Thursday, I made yet another trip to the library. Thankfully, there are two collections in the pile, which I read in a pocket of time I steal before dinner – See Us Bloom: Poems on Compassion, Acceptance, and Bravery by Kyunghee Kim (too didactic for me) and Where I Live: Poems About My Home, My Street, and My Town edited by Paul B. Janeczko (as excellent and enjoyable as anything Janeczko touches). After bedtime, I start Willful Disregard and abandon it 20 pages in – the premise intrigues me, but the translation is clunky – and go back to the poetry work. It seems every time my husband passes me in my reading chair in the corner of our kitchen, I am laughing out loud over Bea Wolf by Zack Weinersmith (fantastic and a must-read for any fan of Beowulf, which I absolutely am). I read it in one sitting and managed to start A Work in Progress by Jarrett Lerner before I can’t keep my eyes open any longer.
Friday! Friday. Sometimes, I only make it to the end of the week by the skin of my teeth, and this is one of those times. Every day, I have brought two books to work with me, thinking I will read some way, somehow, but this is the only day it has actually happened. I sit in my car for a bit and finish A Work in Progress (raw and engaging) and start No Matter the Distance by Cindy Baldwin. On my commute home, I start The Sea in Winter by Christine Day on audio, which I plan to review for my own newsletter. I race in and out of Costco – where I muster all my self-control to walk away from buying Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor, and Loki by Kevin Crossley-Holland, only because I don’t want it to get wet when I go back outside. I stop by the library again.
Before I go offline for the weekend, literally and figuratively, I make a plan for the next two days: I hope to read Trees: Haiku From Roots to Leaves by Sally M. Walker, One Last Shot: Based on a True Story of Wartime Heroism by Kip Wilson, Kin: Rooted in Hope by Carole Boston Weatherford, and Ode to a Nobody by Caroline Brooks DuBois. I also recognize that I need to do some reading outside of the CYBILS awards list – to relax, but also to fortify myself in mind and soul for next week, when I’ll try my best to read a lot despite a three-day work trip. For that, I’m planning on Family Meal by Bryan Washington and/or The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel: A Story of Sleepy Hollow by Alyssa Palombo. (Though I also have another Gail Jarrow book waiting – Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat.)
On Wednesday night, my husband walked by the door of my home office and laughed when he saw me amongst my teetering piles.
“What?” I said.
“Your obsession with books is out of this world,” he replied.
Reader, he’s not wrong.
Sarah is a lifelong bookworm who’s always been crazy for children’s books, and she’s built her home library over time, book by precious book. She’s a full-time, work-outside-the-home parent who somehow finds time for her own reading life amongst everything else that she does. Currently, her newsletter is donation-based -- meaning, there's no paywall, everything is available to everyone, though paid subscriptions keep the lights on, so to speak. Subscribers at both levels receive a variety of instant digital downloads, and paid subscribers can request personalized booklists to address a specific topic or issue in your family or classroom. She also lists her most popular or special newsletters, grouped by category or type, to help you find content on a specific topic. Her bookshop link below leads to a large variety of booklists for children’s ages and stages. If children’s reading is important to you, be sure to subscribe. It will be the best newsletter you receive in your inbox every week.
Wow, Sarah! I don’t know how you manage to do everything you do during the week and still have time left over to judge a literary award contest, but I want to be you when I grow up. Your newsletter was one of the first I discovered when I began writing on Substack, and I’ve enjoyed reading it ever since. Even though I don’t have little kids anymore, I have a little granddaughter who enjoys reading and loves our trips to the library to find more books to read.has helped me find books in the library every time.
Readers, head to the comments to share your thoughts; feel free to ask Sarah any questions and share with her something about your own reading life so she can get to know you a little better, too.
Books and reading are so important to me, and helping other readers find newsletters that provide such great benefits to readers is one of the most enjoyable types of newsletters that I write on SoNovelicious. Thanks to Sarah and her comment, I’ve enjoyed “peeking” into other’s reading lives and now peeking into hers. Have a wonderful week, and happy reading!
All Bookshop links here are affiliate ones, meaning Sarah may receive a small commission if you use any of them to make a purchase – thank you!