Good books as therapy?

novel cureSource: Good books as therapy?


Favorite Female Protagonists

My favorite fictional female protagonists! Who are yours?

My friend Anna has a great new section on her blog, which she cheekily dubbed a “lady list” in the great unveiling post earlier this week.   It’s a huge list of books, fiction and nonfiction, that she calls her “feminist reading list.”

This is not a list of my own feminist reading list, although, it would be dang fun to make one, and I could.  A lot of my exploration of feminism started as a way to wrap my mind around body image: both my own and the way the media and culture portray female body image.  I wrote about that a while ago here.   Instead, her list inspired me to make a list of female protagonists who I have loved, and who have influenced my life in big ways and small.

My favorite female protagonists


  • Laura Ingalls Wilder in the Little House on the Prairie Series.
  • Stargirl in Stargirl by J. Spinelli
  • Jo Alcott, particularly in Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
  • Frankie in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart.
  • Kit Tyler in The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
  • Dicey Tillerman in Cynthia Voight’s Tillerman Homecoming Cycle
  • Meg Murray in A Wrinkle in Time by Madelene L’Engle
  • Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables by L.M.Montgomery

Here’s what I realized while making this list

1. Categorizing books on goodreads is too much fun.  Like 45 minutes of mindless fun.

2.  Female protagonists were way more important to me as a tween and teen than they are now.  When I look at the books I’ve loved and the female characters of adult fiction, they don’t resonate with me as deeply as the “girls” I grew up with listed above.  I suppose the notable exception is Kristin Lavransdatter, from the epic trilogy I read last winter.

3. Should I be ashamed (upset?) that my heroines in fiction are so predictable?  I mean, Anne Shirley and Laura Ingalls Wilder top quite a few “best of” lists.  However, that is also why those lists are also “best” lists, because the characters are loveable.

How about you – Who are your favorite female protagonists?


Junkyard Planet


The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” could have been coined with me in mind.  Once I drop my trash and recycling into the bin and haul it to the curb, I rarely think about it again.   Only as my son, 3.5, began to beg me to talk about garbage and recycling trucks most nights as a bedtime story did I have to literally answer the question “Where do garbage trucks go?”

Initially, I told him the trash went to the “junkyard.”  Which is true to a certain extent. However, I knew it wasn’t the full answer, so I checked out a book from the library that I had heard about last year.

I first heard about “Junkyard Planet,” by Adam Minter, after NPR had an interview with the author. No less than 3 of my friends sent me a link, knowing I’m green-info junkie and love reading.  However, I hadn’t listened to the segment, so I didn’t come to the book with much knowledge beyond the dust jacket blurb.

Minter’s book reads like a detective novel, criss-crossing the country and globe searching for the resting place of a variety of suspects: plastic, paper, various metals, e-waste.  The author grew up around the scrap business has a decade long career reporting on junk. The resulting detail, characters, and in-depth knowledge, not to mention his great prose, makes this mystery story a delight to read

As we all know, Americans produce a lot of waste.  Minter puts it like this “The richer you are, and the more educated you are, the more stuff you will throw away.”  Not only trash, but also recycling, needs to leave your house.  The stuff you throw away still has some value, but extracting that value from the “harvest” of your recyclables takes effort.

Furthermore, the value still left in that harvest depends on an ever-shifting confluence of factors. How costly is it to process the material?  How far do you need to ship the materials? How pure is the feedstock? (Feedstock refers to the type or raw material material used to supply a demand: such as paper, metal, types of plastics).  In answering these questions Minter starts to get to the heart of the recycling worries that often linger on the fringes of green-minded do-gooders everywhere.

Is everything I recycle ultimately going to China?

This is one of the main questions I had when I picked up Junkyard Planet, and although Minter doesn’t mention Salem, MA specifically, the ways he tracks recycling leads me to conclude that even if my paper and metal stays local, it’s likely some portion of my plastics, e-waste, and any old car I’ve had has definitely taken a slow boat to China.

Certainly, one of the best reasons for reading this book would be to get a description of what recycling looks like in China.  Minter paints a picture of the industry that has grown up around U.S. discards.  He details a vivid picture of the people and places involved, both workers and owners, countryside and cities.

This part of the book was gritty and uncomfortable to read, and not just because of my role in the process.  No, the most uncomfortable part is that there are no definitive answers for what to do about the current exports, from an environmental or human rights standpoint.

Would legislation help the situation? Certainly, but as Minter points out, the issue isn’t even the most important problem for China right now.  And, if not China, then it’s likely another developing nation would quickly leap forward to make money off American excess, or worse, virgin materials would be mined leading to further environmental degradation and higher energy expenditure. There are more factors at play than I wanted to know, but being more informed helped me to understand how my choices contribute to this problem.

In the final chapter of Junkyard Planet, after leading us through long, grimy journey Minter closes with an extremely important takeaway for those of us who love to recycle, and want to get more people to recycle.

“Nothing – nothing – is 100 percent recyclable, and many things, including things that we think are recyclable, like iPhone touch screens, are unrecyclable… Everyone would be doing the planet a very big favor if they… conveyed a more realistic picture of what recycling can and can’t do.”

When it comes to the the three R’s, the most important one of them is the first – Reduce. Endeavor to buy only what you need, and to share what you can.  By all means, of course, continue to recycle in every way that you can. Use the resources that are out there on the web, including our own at GreenSalem, as well as others such as those at Earth911, one of the most comprehensive websites for how to recycle anything, but make it a priority to reduce first.

As for what I’ll say to my son when he asks “Where do garbage trucks go?”

I’m planning to start telling him we need to think of more ways to make less garbage and recycling, even if it means fewer trucks.

Would you like to read more by Adam Minter?  He blogs at ShanhaiScrap, and his work can be found in TheAtlantic, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Business and more.

Another excellent review of this book can be found by Erica Grieder at the Wall Street Journal.

This post originally appeared on

Summer Reading Roundup, Fall Reading Ideas

An apple tree definitely signals back to school - which equals more reading... right? Except no school for me!
An apple tree definitely signals back to school – which equals more reading… right? Except – no school for me! I’m done my MS degree!

Remember when I said I was going to read maybe half of that summer reading list? I read about a third.

But holy cow the ones I read were amazing!

(Except for Babbit. That wasn’t that great.)

I highly recommend Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.  I’m planning on giving it as a gift for Christmas for some special people.  Who knew psychology and economics had so much in common… not me – but now I do. This book is almost dauntingly big, but you can read it 10 page chapter by 10 page chapter as a nightly devotional.

I’ve been reading Metamorpha with my husband, and it’s allowed for some really great conversations about how Christianity is a journey, not a destination, or a past gate we walked through when we were “saved” so many years ago.  I’m loving Kyle Strobel’s overarching framework of a trifecta of worldview informers who help Christians through life: the Bible, good community, and the Holy Spirit.

I re-read the entirety of Lev Grossman’s trilogy – including the final book The Magician’s Land which kicked ass by tying up all the loose ends and being satisfyingly well written. Yep, I recommend all three – and my awesome Librarian friend Anna reviewed the book here.

I just finished Aubrey Daniel’s classic Bringing out the Best in People, which is the popular version of his textbook Performance Management, which I mistakenly thought I wanted to read. I didn’t really feel like reading a textbook. Really. Daniel’s is a huge proponent of positive reinforcement, with reinforcement being used in the psychological sense.  The book makes a lot of sense for both managers, teachers, and parents to read.  It wasn’t exactly scintillating – but I gleaned some important lessons.

The Locust Effect by Gary Haugen was powerful, but oh so sad.  I read it on the plane to and from my brother-in-laws wedding – which helped to not make it as sad as it could have been.  Otherwise it’s the type of book that will depress you for weeks.  The basic premise is that unless violence is alleviated in third world countries with serious justice systems and police accountability there will be no relief from poverty no matter how much money is thrown at the problem.  The stories are really heartbreaking.

Off-the-list reading this summer I really enjoyed included:

  • The Sparrow and sequel Children of God by Mary Doria Russell.  Super thought provoking fiction grappling with the concept of theodicy.
  • Drive by Daniel Pink.  Looks at the idea of motivation and what motivates us.  This is written in the spirit of most pop nonfiction books (think “Blink”).  The book was fascinating with it’s distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation – but what was more fascinating was reading the online venom between Aubrey Daniels and Daniel Pink. Ha.

As always, my “To Read” list on Goodreads is enormous and I’ll never finish it.

But… I’ll try and read these books this fall (significant summer overlap since I reallllllly did want to read the first 4), and hopefully a few others off of it.

  • Big Data at Work – Davenport.
  • Reasons and Rationalizations – Agyris.
  • Cradle to Cradle – McDonaugh.
  • Disunity in Christ – C. Cleveland.
  • The Meaning of Sex: Christian Ethics in a Moral Life – D. Hollinger
  • Kristin Lavransdotter Trilogy – S. Undset.
  • Good Work – H. Gardner.

Summer Reading!

Summer Reading

It’s always fun for me to put together a summer reading list of things I think I should read.  I usually choose nonfiction books that will bring me new insight into myself or my topics of interest (sustainability, psychology, christianity) and some fiction books I’ve heard a lot about in reviews or through friends.

Typically what actually happens though, is that I just read what I feel like reading, and don’t usually finish my list. Here was my reading list from the winter – I read 5 out of 11.  Here is my reading list from summer 2012 – I read 7 out of 15.   I better aim high because past experience seems to indicate I’ll read about 50% of this list.


  • A Fine Balance – Mistry Rohinton
  • NW – Zadie Smith
  • Babbit – Sinclair Lewis
  • Wind up Bird Chronicles – H. Murakami (I’m loving Murakami, one of my new favorite authors I believe).
  • Eleanor & Park – R. Rainbow
  • The Magicians Land – L. Grossman.  (Third book in the Magicians series… and I’m really excited for it.)


  • Thinking Fast and Slow – D. Kahneman (already reading this one, and I highly recommend it).
  • Change Agent – Os Hillman
  • Performance Management – Aubrey Daniels
  • The Wisdom of Crowds – Surowiecki (You’d be surprised how often you hear about “crowdsourcing.”  This book is about some of the psychology of that.)
  • Big Data at Work – Davenport
  • Reasons and Rationalizations – C. Agyris (or any book by him)
  • Micromotives and Macrobehavior – Thomas C. Schelling
  • Cradle to Cradle – W. McDonough
  • Deep & Wide – Andy Stanley
  • Disunity in Christ – C. Cleveland (*Christena writes a fabulous blog about social psychology and christianity. you should check it out.)
  • Metamorpha – K. Strobel
  • The Locust Effect – G. Haugen.

I update my reading progress on Goodreads often – If you use that site, I’d love to be friends with you and see what you read.

goodreads logo


PS:  In other REALLY exciting news – I’m 92% done with my MS degree at Salem State, and therefore might have some more time for blogging in the future!  OR…  I might just read ALL the books and work on my 30 before 30 list.  We’ll see.

Nonfiction Books I think you should read

Sometimes I scare myself with how much I love contributing in almost meaningless ways to the abyss that is the internet.

Take my Awesome Quiz!

50 popular Nonfiction books

I took 25 minutes of book quizzes on the listchallenges website.  Then I signed up for an account which took another 2 minutes. 50 minutes to create a list.  Then 12 minutes to photoshop a super awesome clickable photo.  Then another 10 minutes of hitting the refresh  button to see how many people were taking the quiz.

5 minutes to share on all my social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+) and finally, another 6 minutes to write an embarrassing time analysis of how I use the internet. 3 minutes to add the links and upload images.

Total: 113 minutes (1 hour and 53 minutes.  Holy crap.)

This is why I don’t want to be a stay-at-home-mom.  I’m afraid I’d do things like this all. day. long.

And convince myself it is productive and meaningful.


Subjective Hierarchy of Popular Novels

I’ve spent most of today, a bit of yesterday reading Gone Girl.  I like it.

I only read about 33% fiction each year (see this bar graph) half of which are probably YA novels and  then a classic or two. I’m still slowly working my way through The Brothers Karamazov; last year I reread The Great Gatsby.  This year I may try for a re-read of Of Human Bondage since I loved it so much five years ago. Re-reading becomes so much sweeter the older I get.

I admit, I really like fiction where the psychological aspects are in your face.  That is… until I find it aggressively in your face, I mean you Cloud Atlas.

I decided to make this little chart I’ve affectionately titled:

Beth’s Subjective Hierarchy of Popular Novels.

Subjective Hierarchy of Novels