Weekly-ish notes on navigating big change

book review

308: Favorite books of Spring 2020


Today I’m sharing my favorite books of this spring – from March – May. This is a weird Spring! We were on total lockdown here in my house for about 6 weeks and I had 6 year old and 4 year old foster daughters. We’ll see how that impacted my reading! 

Every quarter I round-up my most-favorite books and share them here. If you are subscribed to my YouTube channel, you may recognize some of these books, as I’ve talked abou them there. If you like learning about great books and you are NOT subscribed over on YouTube, you are missing out! I share reading vlogs, monthly round-ups, and all kinds of fun bookish stuff. You can scroll down and see my whole Reading playlist or click on Videos to see my most recent videos.


I read 25 books in the three months of March – May. That’s 9 more than in the three months of winter. I’m pretty sure this is because I was home more and while the kids watched cartoons or played outside, I read. Of these 25 books, 10 were mysteries, 7 were Literary Fiction, and 3 were a part of my Jane Austen reading, where I tried to work through all of Austen’s 6 published works. It was going great at the beginning of March, but by April I couldn’t focus enough to keep going. I plan to pick the remaining three up this fall. Of the 22 books that were NOT Jane Austen, 6 of the books were written by women of color. I’m tracking this so that I can be sure I’m reading from a diversity of authors. The books I read this season were just SO good, I had so many books that are my favorites of the year (maybe the decade), it was hard to narrow it down, but I stuck with the books I think many of you will like, based on our discussions on Instagram. By the way, if you’re not talking to my over on Instagram, go tell me that you’re listening to the show! Snap a photo of your screen and tag me or shoot me a DM, I’m @taraswiger.

Before I dive into telling you about my favorite books, I am so excited to tell you about this podcast’s FIRST EVER SPONSOR. It is Hank Green, NYT best-selling author of the upcoming A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor. Hank is also half of one of my favorite youtube channels, VlogBrothers AND my fave audio podcast, Dear Hank and John.  

Hank wanted his publisher to sponsor a ton of small podcasts, but they said that was too weird. So, instead, Hank took 5% of his advance from the book and did it himself.

Thanks HANK! 

OK, so Hank’s first book An Absolutely Remarkable Thing was one of my favorites of 2018. It follows April May, who gets thrown into super-famousness when she uploads the first video about a weird sci-fi worldwide event. But it’s really about creating a brand and internet personality around yourself, is not the same as being yourself and what are the outcomes of that? How do you stay a person when the “brand” and personality become super-famous? I loved it and I am always recommending it to anyone who is creating and publishing online. It’s out in paperback now.

The sequel and conclusion to that story,  A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor comes out July 7th. I’ve already pre-ordered my signed copy! You can find it wherever books are sold, and Hank has said he’s adding some extra bonuses to the audio book, so you can grab it there as well. In the shownotes I’ve linked to Bookshop.org so you can buy this book and support indies and Libro.fm where you can get the audio book directly from an indie bookstore. And of course, head to hankgreen.com where you can find everything. 

If you get it, lemme know! We can do a little reading group on Instagram in mid-July!
Support indie Bookstores

Now, on to my fave books of Spring 2020.

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Last summer I read everything by Riley Sager (there’s a link in the shownotes to my vlogs about them) and I was soooo excited for this book to come out. It was published on June 30th, but I read an advanced reader copy. It follows Maggie, whose father wrote a very famous book about the haunted house that they lived in as a child. Maggie thinks it was all fiction, but her parents won’t talk about it. When she inherits the house she moves in to try to figure out (and fix it up to resell it) and the book alternates between Maggie’s present day mystery and the book her father wrote about her childhood experience in the home.
I knew nothing about what the book was about going in, or I might not have picked it up (I don’t read a lot of horror), but it was so so good! It wasn’t really horror, it was much more a psychological thriller. 


The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
This list is in no particular order, but since we just talked about a little horror, I have to tell you about this book. It is so weird and so wonderful. Set in a middle-class suburb in the 90s, a bunch of housewives have a True Crime book club (which they tell their husbands in a bible reading group!). So when a sketchy guy comes to town, they’re ready to see him for the serial killer he is…except they’re housewives, so no one in their life respects them. This book is funny and fast-moving and a little bit of horror. It also does an excellent job of exploring what motherhood and womanhood is like when you serve others and  no one respects you or listens to you. 

I talked more about this book in this reading vlog

The City We Became by NK Jemisin 
First off, I hope you know NK Jemisin already if you like fantasy or sci-fi. She’s the only person ever to win 3 Hugo awards in a row for the three books in her Broken Earth trilogy. The City We Became is more sci-fi than fantasy, it’s set in modern New York City, where a pandemic of white tendrils begins to spread. Cities who reach enough complexity and maturity are “born” and become embodied in a person. But New York is so diverse it becomes embodied in 5 avatars who have to find each other and work together to save the city from the creeping tendrils. This book is super fun and fast-moving, it’s like the Avengers meets HP Lovecraft, written by a black woman who celebrates diversity and inclusion.

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry

Also in the “set in our world but kinda sci-fi/magical” is We Ride Upon Sticks. This is a super-80s book, where the Danvers HIgh School field hockey team learns about the salem witches and sees if they can use their magic to win at field hockey. The best thing about this book, for me, is that it’s told in a collective first person. “We” did this, “we” did that. Each chapter spends time with a different girl and you can see how much she needs the sisterhood of the team and how she’s navigating her life as a teen in the 80s. It is so good and funny and I really had no idea how it was going to resolve until the very end.

Queenie by Cadace Carty-Williams

I talked about this book in a video about . The blurbs call it a mix of “Bridget Jones and Americanah” but, man, it’s so much deeper than Bridget Jones. A single Black woman is navigating a recent break up, in London, while trying to find a place to live and struggling at work. The real heart of this story is how it handles the mental health and Queenie’s experience trying to get better on her own, spiraling out, how her traditional Carribean grandparents think about mental health. It is so good and so true. I hope it’s not a spoiler to tell you that Queenie’s depression looks so so much like mine, it just felt really real. And yet, the book still manages to be funny and fun to read. 


The HIlarious World of Depression by John Moe

So while we’re talking about funny depression, we gotta talk about this book! I LOVE the podcast The Hilarious World of Depression, where John Moe interviews funny people (often comics and writers) about their depression. When I’ve had a bad bout of depression, and I can’t focus enough to read, this is the one podcast I can stand to listen to.
So I was like, really excited about his book, which I get as an ARC from NetGalley. In this book, the author tells the story of his own depression – when it started in adolescence, when it showed up, all the not-great ways he tried to handle it (what do you mean avoidance isn’t an effective treatment?!) and how he manages it now. He also explains how the show began, so if you're a  public radio nerd like me, you will likely enjoy that. I recommend that you read this book if you or anyone you know has suffered from depression, it will help you understand how their brain is telling them things that are not helpful to improving how they feel. 


Courtroom Thrillers I loved: 

These were a few really good reading months! Check the show notes below where you’re listening or watching for links to all the books, or head over to my website, TaraSwiger.com/podcast308 the full written transcript. 

When you purchase the book using my links, I earn a tiny percentage, which if you’re buying on Amazon, goes to buying food and clothes for foster kids and if you’re buying on Bookshop, goes to new books! I get most of my books at my local library, so check yours out because libraries are amazing. Lots  of my faves came from the Book of the Month Club.


I’ll be back in August with new episodes about enthusiasm, confidence and mental health! 


What I’m Reading: February 2017

follow my enthusiasm by reading…a lot. And once a month, I share (some of) the books I read last month and the books I intend to read this month. You can join the informal book club by sharing your own list with me on Facebook and find all the posts here.

(The usual disclaimer applies.)

What I read

What I’m reading

I need some more recommendations! Tell me on Twitter or Facebook!

  Here’s to another great month of reading!

What I read last February.

And in February 2015, and February 2014!

3 Lessons from The Introvert Entrepreneur (and giveaway!)

An introvert gets their energy from being alone, while an extrovert gets energy by being with other people. Many of my listeners are introverts (me too!), so I love to find resources for thriving in business as an introvert. I recently found a great book. In this episode, we'll discuss the three big lessons I took from The Introvert Entrepreneur, by Beth Beulow. And I'm giving away a copy. Enter to win!

An introvert gets their energy from being alone, while an extrovert gets energy by being with other people. Many of my listeners are introverts (me too!), so I love to find resources for thriving in business as an introvert.  I recently found a great book. In this episode, we'll discuss the three big lessons I took from The Introvert Entrepreneur, by Beth Beulow. And I'm giving away a copy. (Scroll down to enter!) 

Resources mentioned

Enter the book giveaway here!


How to listen

  • You can subscribe to it on iTunes (If you do, leave a review!)
  • You can listen to it using the player above or download it.
  • Subscribe or listen via Stitcher (or subscribe in whatever you use for podcasts – just search “Explore Your Enthusiasm” and it should pop up!).

Find all the podcast episodes here.



What I’m Reading: May 2016

follow my enthusiasm by reading…a lot. And once a month, I share (some of) the books I read last month and the books I intend to read this month. You can join the informal book club by sharing your own list in the comments and find all the posts here.

What I'm reading this month: business books, memoirs, novels. Find out more at TaraSwiger.com

What I read

  • The Introvert Entrepreneur, by Beth Buelow. I SO enjoyed this book! It is so inline with the many “For Introverts” podcast episodes I've made, and the author gave voice to why I do a lot of my business practices and systems. I loved it so much, I'm going to give away a copy next week! Be sure you're signed up here to get the chance to win it!
  • Wake up Happy, by Michael Strahan. It's so weird that I read two books kinda related to sports this month. This one was happy, upbeat, and encouraging. I didn't know anything about Michael and I like him quite a lot after reading it. If you need a pick-me-up, read it!
  • Lock in, by John Scalzi. Oh man. This novel was SO good. If you like sci-fi set in an almost real-world, read it. I have loved every Scalzi book I've ever read. I'll be reading more!
  • Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable, by Tim Grover. I have mixed feelings about this book, written by a superstar basketball trainer (he worked with Michael Jordan!). I want my teenage brothers to read it, for its message of “work harder than anyone else, in order to be great”… but making excuses for why “great” men cheat on their families is pretty disgusting. Related: He only talks about great men. Not once does he mention women, or how they can be relentless and great. Ugh.
  • Drawing Blood, by Molly Crabapple. I had no idea who the author was, or how the book even landed on my “to read” list, but it came in at the library so I got it. And it was very engaging. Fascinating to read about a world that's unfolded parallel to my own (we're close in age) but so totally different (being raised in rural Ohio, going to school in East TN then living in Appalachia is nothing like NYC!)

What I’m reading

What I read last May.
And in May 2014.

What are you reading?

I could use some recommendations! What are you reading and loving right now?



What I’m reading: August 2015

 I follow my enthusiasm by reading…a lot. And once a month, I share (some of) the books I read last month and the books I intend to read this month. You can join the informal book club by sharing your own list in the comments and find all the posts here.


Looking at the list of this month's reads made me think about why I choose to read what I read. I realized it might help you in your own choices if you understood what I'm hoping to get out of the books I read. Sometimes it's just for pure fun and relaxation (novels), sometimes it's to learn something I don't know, or because I want different perspectives on an issue I deal with/teach in my work (many of this month's reads), and sometimes it's just to learn from the structure  or style of the book. As I work on my own book proposal, I need to understand what already exists in the market so my book is different and complimentary. Often I'll read a book for my clients or students, to see if it answers their questions (and then I'll recommend it to them!).

No matter why I'm reading a book, if I find myself avoiding it or just not moving forward through it quickly, I put it down. I'm a big fan of quitting (wow, I wrote that post 5 years ago!). If I don't like a book, I don't put it on the list here (or if I do, I'll tell you why I didn't like it).

 What I read

  • Landline, by Rainbow Rowell – Oh man. This is the book that solidified my love for Rainbow Rowell. While her other books are categorized YA, this is definitely adult. It's full of moments I've recognized in my own marriage, and insights into what it's like to spend a lifetime with someone. Totally recommend.
  • Radical Self Love, by Gala Darling – This isn't available anymore, but I think it's because she got a traditional book deal to release it. Fun, sweet, full of the kind of stuff you'll find in her best blog posts … but it could definitely use an editor for structure.
  • The Success Principles, by Jack Canfield – I heard the author on a podcast, and he seemed smart (he's a multi-time best-seller author!), so I picked up the book. At its core, it talks about the same kind of thing as Gala's book (above), but in a more structured format. If you have NO idea what you want to do with your life, and you're very very stuck, I recommend it.
  • Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell – Loved it!
  • The Soul of Money, by Lynn Twist – The title turned me off, but the author worked as a fundraiser for The Hunger Project and has used her experience in the third world and the super-rich fundraising world to explore our relationship with money. The book is much more about our cultural relationship than your personal relationship, but I'll be using some of the insights I gathered in the updated version of Pay Yourself.

What I’m reading


What I read last year


What I’m Reading: January 2015

follow my enthusiasm by reading…a lot. And once a month, I share (some of) the books I read last month and the books I intend to read this month. You can join the informal book club by sharing your own list in the comments and find all the posts here.
What I'm reading

What I read

  • Time Warped, by Claudia Hammond
  • Show Your Work, by Austin Kleon. I wanted to post almost every page of this book and say: Yes! Yes! If you don't know how to start sharing your work or using social media, read Austin's book. It's less specific than my book, but has the same message, in such an inspirational package.
  • Not My Father's Son, by Alan Cummings. Not a “my fab celebrity life” memoir at all, but a close, compassionate look at his two family stories: the results of his abusive father & the uncovering of the mystery of his mother's father. It's sweet and authentic and brave.
  • Yes, Please, by Amy Poehler. Funny and sweet, Amy gives some good life advice that you probably already know.
  • The Color Purple, by Alice Walker. Part of my Good Reads Project – what took me so long?

What I’m reading

The Great Books Project

After months of waffling, the Great Books Project is underway. I’m tracking it via GoodReads (my entire list is here) and holding discussions on the Facebook page, with conversations about our lists, our progress, and regular quotes from the books I love. I’ll be sharing a little update here each month, and you’re welcome to join in on your own project, either in the comments, or over on the FB page (the joy of FB is that we can all reply to each other).

This month I got a bit further in the Aeneid (I'm taking it slow, a “book” or two a month) and plowed through The Color Purple in a few days while travelling. Why in the world had it taken me so long to read this book? It's a beautiful reflection on self-definition and finding your voice as a woman and creative. This book reminded me WHY I'm doing this project – to find beautiful gems I've missed.


What are you reading?



6 thoughts on the New Domesticity


6 thoughts on the new domesticity

This weekend I read Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity, and the short version is: I liked it! It knits together some threads of our current culture that I hadn't really put together – the rise of: “handmade”, lifestyle blogs, Etsy, foodie culture (organic, homemade, free range), and attachment parenting and contextualizes them in the economic reality my generation of college-educated, woefully underemployeed peers experience.
Here are some of my thoughts as I read:

1. This book is not about an individual lifestyle, but about a cultural phenomenon.  I had to remind myself of this a few times because it's odd to read the very first book about my generation and the movement I've been a part my entire adulthood. It's odd to find that it's not just my little underground society of makers – but it's a huge sociological shift. Not everyone interviewed is representative of myself or the makers I work with…but it's not about me. It's about the bigger picture, and the author really does a great job of painting the bigger picture, covering massively successful bloggers and I've-never-sold-a-thing Etsyians, homesteaders and attachment moms.


2. Lifestyle blogs featuring domestic pursuits + the success of some Etsyians set wildly unrealistic expectations. From the jewelry artist who lists a few things on Etsy and is disappointed when nothing sells, to the blogger who thinks she can run a profitable business while “staying home” with the kids, to all of us who look at the perfectly appointed (and clean!) homes and the massively prolific quilters, knitters and writers and think “I'm just not doing enough!” – the internet is warping idea of what real people DO and what we SHOULD be doing.

This bums me out because it takes something that some people are genuinely passionate about and turns it into a measuring stick for other women, who have no interest in it. I want to hug you all and encourage you to follow the thing the makes YOU happiest – if that's Thai takeout + marathon quilting sessions – go for it! If it's home-crafted meals (and no time to craft) – go for it! The bloggers you love, and small business you admire are NOT doing it all (trust me, I've seen their houses) – so you don't need to either.

(I've written more about this here and here.)

3. “The importance of financial independence often seems to get lost in our eagerness to ditch our boring jobs or pursue our passions.”

I was thinking this over and over as I read stories of women who left the workforce to pursue homesteading or housewifery (their word!), so I was delighted to read the author state it plainly in the last chapter. Being raised by a single mom and spending years as the unintentional “breadwinner” in the family (yes, even after quitting my boring job), I can not stress how important financial independence is for everyone (men and women!). Your spouse is an absolute gem, but what will happen if they (or you, if you're the bigger earner) get hit by a truck tomorrow? What if he gets downsized? Do you have the skills to care for yourself and your family for the next 4 decades?

I am deeply devoted to helping artists, makers and writers create financial independence for themselves. This is why I focus on defining success, creating plans, and building a sustainable business (one that you can keep doing for years). It's not enough for you to quit your day job or do what you love, you have to be able to keep doing it, no matter what life throws at you. (And having a traditional job is a fantastic way to keep that kind of security, while you build something else.)

4. “Opting out” of having a career is NOT the same as opting out of the traditional workplace. I was disappointed that the author seemed (especially in the blogging and Etsy chapters) to conflate the two. Just because you leave an office job doesn't mean you can't build a career for yourself. In fact, it's what I've spent the last four years doing – building a career as a teacher and a writer. This would be impossible in a traditional job given my French degree and the options available in my small Southern town.

5. Thus, being a “stay at home mom” is vastly different than being a “work at home mom.” Some mommy bloggers and certainly Etsy's messaging pretends that it's all the same thing, and that building a bill-paying blog or business can be done easily during nap times. This is another one of those unrealistic expectations. I'm not saying you can't build a business that allows you to spend more time with your kids, only that the two require prioritizing two different sets of tasks. And depending on the age + needs of your kids, the age + needs of your business, you'll choose one over the other at different times. (In other words, you may get childcare help, or choose to build your business slower).
You're not a failure for doing so. In fact, all of the successful bloggers and business you admire are doing the same thing. The book refers to Dooce as a “stay at home mom”, but she's quite clear that she works full-time, in an office in her own home. I love this post, from a mommy blogger who comes clean about the help she has in order to work full-time.

This issue comes up a lot when I lead Pay Yourself  – women take a good look at their profitability and their scale and then they spot what needs to change, or what they prefer to prioritize (sometimes it means they stop building their craft business, and they find something else that suits their family situation better).

6. The food you cook, the home you decorate, the way you parent, the job you do, the passion you follow – it is not a measure of your moral worth. {Click to tweet this!}

I want to tattoo that on your forehead. Don't let society, even a DIY-celebrating society, tell you have to do something to conform – whether it's shopping at Wal-Mart + eating meat or it's shopping at the farmer's market + being vegan. Choose your own definition for success for your family and focus on that. Let yourself obsess (in the fun way!) over what you care most about and give yourself a free pass on doing everything else.


In case you're curious, my own brand of New Domesticity looks something like the picture above: I knit + watch TV or read while my husband prepares massively fancy vegan dinners (check 'em out on Instagram)…on the weekends.  I quilt while he watches baseball. Jay does all the grocery shopping, and I do most of the dish-washing. We split all other domestic chores, usually on Friday nights (literally: I make a list of everything that has to be done and we each pick half of the things on the list). If it's not Friday, the house is as messy as it is. I bake when the urge strikes.

We both work full-time, Monday – Friday, 8:30-4:30. (I could work whenever, but this is when I work best and it gives us weekends and evenings together.) We eat a lot of weeknight dinners of bean dip or spaghetti (store-bought sauce + noodles, maybe with homemade vegan “meatballs”) or homemade veggie burgers.

If I were defining our Ideal Domestiticity it would value equality – in housework and in passion-following and in financial decision-making. We value small and local over big and corporate, but we get nearly all of our clothes from Target. We value homemade but we equally value rest and time to pursue hobbies…so if “homemade” means hours of unpleasant work, forget it. (This shifts on a daily basis. Sometimes homemade pie crust sounds like fun, and sometimes it sounds like torture.) And above all, we remind ourselves (ok, I ask Jay to remind me) that our choices in the domestic sphere do not indicate our worth as humans.