Stay at Home- Read a Book Part 2

Welcome back for part two of pandemic book recommendations. On Friday, we covered non-fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, classics, and sci-fi. Today we are moving forward with the second half which encompasses: darker reads, mysteries, memoir, general fiction, and lighter reads. Without further ado.

Darker Reads

These reads could easily find themselves in other categories, but they all generally have a sinister air about them. While they may not lighten the mood, they will grip you enough to forget about the troubles going on in your world.

Final Girls by Riley Sager

This is a fast-paced, thrilling read. It’s quite enjoyable and has a nice twist in the end. I believe it was compared to Gone Girl. While it does have the dark vibe of Gone Girl, there are actually likable characters in it, so is far more palatable in my opinion.


An Elderly Lady up to No Good by Helene Tursten

I would bet twenty bucks you haven’t heard of this book. This is an odd little tome. It’s a series of short stories all featuring the same main character Maud who is the elderly lady. And she is definitely up to no good. These are wonderfully devious little tales. It’s a tiny book, and I would highly recommend.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

This is one of the best books I have ever read, but it is extremely dark. It deals with people surviving after nuclear war/disaster. It has all the usual hallmarks of McCarthy’s writing- no quotation marks or speaker tags. It blunt and beautiful at the same time.


The Alienist by Caleb Carr

The T.V. show is dark, but the book is far darker. Nevertheless, it is riveting. For those of you interested in true crime but want a little fiction in your life, this is for you. The profiling and psychological theory behind this book are truly fascinating.



If We were Villains by M.L. Rio

A little bit of Shake sphere, a murder, a decade of confusion and hurt, and a questioning twist. This book has all the fixings for anyone who delights in a darker side of college life and the theater.


In my opinion, there is nothing better than a whodunnit. There are oodles of them out there to read, but here are a few that might get you started.

And there were None by Agatha Christie.

She is the queen and for good reason. You will be guessing to the very last page of who could possibly behind these strange but exacting murders.

Unnatural Exposure by Patricia Cornwell

Back in the day, when murder mysteries were all I read Dr. Kay Scarpetta was the shit. She certainly is in this particular book. It’s not particularly long, but the ending left my eyebrows having a nice long tête-à-tête with my hairline. However, it should be noted that this book centers on using a virus as a murder weapon. Given our current, biohazard situation anyone attempting to avoid reminders of disease and death should steer clear.

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A Study in Scarlett by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

This is the first full length novel featuring Sherlock Holmes. Although it is a longer form of a Sherlock story it is not very long at all. Nevertheless, Doyle as always packs a punch in a small space. This is my favorite “full length” story involving the infamous detective.

Tell No One by Harlan Coban

This was the first book I read by Coban. It is still probably one of my favorites. It is classic in its tale and trajectory of a mystery but there is something supremely comforting in that. Coban’s easing writing style allows the reader to sit back and enjoy the ride.


The 7.5 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

If you are in the market for having your brain twisted and contorted into uncomfortable positions as you attempt to keep up with a plot, this is the book for you. It is not a quick read, but I found it incredibly satisfying and weirdly philosophical.




Until a few years ago, I hadn’t read many, if any, memoirs, but I find these stories of success or triumph engaging and encouraging. I think now more than ever we could use something to remind us that there is light on the other side of tougher or strange times.

Bossy Pants by Tina Fey

It will come as no surprise that a former writer of SNL has the ability to write a funny, easy reading, and relatable memoir. Ms. Fey tells her story and makes some good points without every verging on being preachy.


The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Didion wrote this after the sudden death of her husband. It is a breathtaking portrait of grief. It displays how the human mind wrestles with loss and attempting to make sense of the sometimes senseless happenings of life.


Life will the Death of Me by Chelsea Handler

While this book is written by a comedian, I didn’t laugh. However, it is a lighter book despite the fact that Handler delves into her past and faces some of her more problematic qualities. It serious but not in a heavy or depressing way. Handler is relatable in these pages even though she discusses her unique life as apart of the rich and famous.


Call the Nurse by Mary Macleod

This book was a gift and actually got me into memoir reading. It is a series of anecdotes from a country nurse who moves to a remote Scottish isle after living near London for many years. It is a charming book.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

If you are looking for a little action and adventure, Into Thin Air will certainly get your heart going. The true story of an ascent of Everest and the disaster that follows is captivating and terrifying.

General Fiction

This would be the largest section and thus there were lots of options, but I managed to get her down to five. And if you don’t read fiction but would like to have a starting point, I hope these help.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

This man knows how to write a book. I would recommend anything he has written, but A Man Called Ove is my absolute favorite. It’s heart-warming and funny. Backman’s writing style is easy but unique. It’s just an all-around good read.


The Ice Cream Queen of Orchid Street by Susan Jane Gilman

This was a tipsy purchase when I was doing a stay-cation with my best friend. I didn’t have high expectation when I sobered up. However, this book shocked me. It was fabulous. It had a lot of depth that I didn’t expect. It told a lifelong story in a clear and engaging way.

The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

This came out in the eighties, but still rings true to this day. It shows how perception can make everything go up in flames. It’s a longer read but well done and striking.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

This tiny, little-known book is a delightful read. It is another one of my absolute favorites. The relationship between a professor with an 80-minute memory and his new housekeeper and her son is fascinating and beautiful.


Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell

My mother loves shoes, and she received this book from a colleague upon her retirement. It was not only a nice nod to her love of shoes but is a wonderful read. It is one of those sadly beautiful books that somehow despite the sadness warms you and gives you hope.

The Stand  by Stephen King

Obviously, if you are steering clear of pandemic reminders this is not the book to choose. However, I consider this the best book I’ve ever read, so I couldn’t possibly cut it from the list even if this plot edges a little to close for comfort.

Light Reads

I’ve singled out a few darker reads so it’s only fair I do this for lighter reads as well. Particularly, since they are desperately needed. These are light, fluffy, and wonderful stories that can hopefully transport you to your happy place.


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

This lovely little book is mainly told through letters. It takes place during World War two but is delightful despite the time period. How can you go wrong with secret societies and romance?



Can’t Wait to get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg

Elner Shimfissle is one of the best characters of all time. Her take on life is fantastic and comforting. If you need to feel good about the world, this is the perfect book.


The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain

This is a delightful little read that uniquely follows an object, the President’s Hat, instead of a character for the duration of the story.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

This book just made me feel so good. It’s about books and moving forward from a tough past. It gives such hope that even after something tragic has happened, life will lead on to better and more wonderful things.

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

This is probably the epitome of a beach read or chick lit, but it is awesome. It’s perfect to keep you feeling happy and light. Charming would be the best way to describe it.

Well there you have it. Hopefully if you are looking for something to read one of these strikes you as worthy.

Until next time, happy reading!

Stay a Home- Read a Book Part 1

In this pandemic era, I’m seeing numerous requests on various social media platforms for book recommendations. Since, shelter-in-place orders are starting to extend into May people may need to make their pandemic TBR lists a bit longer. So, for those of you our there that need an idea of what to get your hands on via audible, tablet, or hardback, here is one book lovers top five picks per category.

Please note that I’ve broken this up into two posts due to length. The categories covered today are:

non-fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, classics, and sci-fi. In the next post, I will be covering darker reads, mysteries, memoir, general fiction, and lighter reads. So, without further ado:


I didn’t get into non-fiction until a few years ago, but there are some wonderous true tales our there. Even if you are more of a fiction person you may want to consider dipping your toe into this category with one of these.


Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi

This is a heavy book both physically in size and metaphorically in topic, but it is masterfully written. You might have a bit of fun reading this and then watching Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. He gives several nods to the minute details of this case that are highlighted in this book.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

The happenings in this book are so outrageous. I had a terrible time remembering it was non-fiction. It’s a quick read and tells a little-known story we should all hear about.

Deadwake by Erik Larson

I loved Devil in the White City, but I admit this book is better. It’s naturally a sad but eye-opening tale of how sometimes as humans, we never seem to learn from our previous mistakes.


Ghost Map by Steve Johnson

This is about the cholera outbreak in the summer of 1854. This might not be the best choice if you are attempting to forget about our current pandemic. Nevertheless, Johnson writes a riveting history and shows how the science of epidemiology was born.  As a side note, I would not drink water while reading the first half of the book. There are some upsetting descriptions of sewage mingling with drinking water.


Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

This book is entertaining and informative. I discovered it after I started running, but I honestly think even non-runners would find this book interesting. It attempts to answer the questions should humans be running as much as they do or even at all?


Fantasy books generally don’t come alone. My list demonstrates this. If you find a fantasy book you like, it is most likely a series which is great news because it gives you several books to keep you entertained. Fantasy, similar to non-fiction, has flourished in the last decade or so. There’s a lot more variety than there used to be; something to consider if you normally avoid this genre.

Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson is known for creating unique worlds and magic systems, but this is one of the coolest yet. Also, having a female hero is less common in fantasy novels and adds to the freshness of this series.

Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks

This has been around for a while, but it is memorable. This series is a little more on the gritty side of fantasy, but the grit isn’t gratuitous. Weeks creates a very dynamic tale.


Six of Crows Duology by Leigh Bardugo

This duo is unique not only because it’s a duo instead of a trio, but it’s Ocean’s Eleven meets Game of Thrones with less death and no weird sex. It’s a real cool concept and well written.

Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susan Clarke

This is a stand-alone book, but it is huge! It is well worth the time and effort. It has a mysterious darker edge and yet it’s a mesmerizing tale of dual worlds.


The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This book is also a stand-alone. They fly-leaf of this book does not do it justice which is part of the reason I and many others put this book on the back burner for a long time. We were mightily surprised when we finally got to it. I beautiful and complex world exists within these pages which is part of the reason the summary can’t do it justice.

Historical Fiction

If you are looking to split the difference between non-fiction and other wordliness, historical fiction might be for you! It may all take place in the past, but this is a supremely diverse genre in topic and tone.

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

If you want to really throw it back, this is the tome for you. And yes, it is a tome. It weighs in over 1000 pages but is not a slog. If you’re into architecture, the middle-ages, or blood boiling debauchery, Pillars is the ticket.


All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

I know we’ve all read about world war II and honestly what else could possibly be done to make it moving or interesting? This book. Doerr writes beautifully, and he has a reason to because he’s giving you the world through the senses of someone who is blind. This is in my top five books of all time and deserves all the acclaim it has received.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

This book could easily also be classified as romance. If you aren’t into that beware, but I admit I didn’t think I would be either. And I was definitely into this book. It’s large, but the writing style is easy and presents an interesting question on morality when in tough circumstances.


The Rossetti Letter by Christi Phillips

Full disclosure- I read this book when I was in high-school, but it stuck with me. Nevertheless, you might want to take this recommendation with a little salt. But from what I can remember it was a great story. It had some romance, but nothing steamy like Outlander. It was captivating, at least to 16-year old Jill, and if I remember correctly my mother also enjoyed it upon my recommendation.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Yes, I am recommending another world war II book. I can’t help it. It is flippin’ amazing and if you’ve already read All the Light You Cannot See like so many have, here’s a story that’s in the same vain but starkly different. The length of the French occupation is truly astounding and fully displayed in this tale.


Don’t roll your eyes. Classic can be great pleasure reading, particularly since you don’t have to write an essay on its themes when you are finished. I read all of these on my own out of school and recommend them regularly to people looking for something good but a little different. The great news about these is they are all public domain, so if you download a free reading app it should include all of these titles.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

This is one of the best classics around. I know a lot of people who have read this, and they all enjoyed it. It has a great story line with some surprising twists. It’s also far less complicated and lighter than Emily’s Wuthering Heights.


Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

However, if you are into dark. This would be a great selection. It’s dark. It’s devious. It’s a supremely intriguing tale. It takes the trope of a love triangle to a new and unsettling level.



Dracula by Bram Stoker

If you are worried this might be too scary, I assure you that if my chicken butt can read it so can you. There are a few thrilling moments towards the end, but this book is not scary. This is partly due to the fact that the story is conveyed through the characters’ diaries and letters. They are well-written, but they take a little of the edge off.

Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

The writing of this book stunned me. I never expected to find a novel written in the 19th-century to feel so alive and fast paced. This book led me to read other Dicken’s novels. All of which I enjoyed, but Tale of Two Cities is still my favorite.


The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

This book has it all which it should since an unabridged version is between 1200-1400 pages. It’s a great adventure story; however, finding an unabridged version is difficult, and I’m not sure what abridged editions are good. Also, it should be noted that its movie was awesome, but is vastly different than the book. I view them as two separate stories that have a few overlapping parts.



Admittedly, I don’t read sci-fi often, so I am not an expert in the genre. Nevertheless, I did find the reads below particularly of note.

Watchers by Dean Koontz

I read this book on the recommendation of my mother. It was a great read. The beginning was a bit creepy, but fascinating. I strangely remember a lot about it and even had my husband read it. If you like weird government experiments and golden retrievers check this out.

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Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

This is another great, but perplexing read. This is to be expected anytime you involve endless strands of time and characters start crossing them. It was an easy read and fully engaging.

Enders Game by Orson Scott Card

This is a classic sci-fi book and one where its movie didn’t come even close to doing it justice. The reveal in the end is masterful. Card creates a unique world and if you enjoy video games, they factor greatly into this read.

Sphere by Michael Crichton

This is another sci-fi classic. I read this back in high-school. While I don’t remember a lot of the details about the book, the concept is fascinating. Crichton, creator of Jurassic Park, does not disappoint.

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Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

If you are looking for a truly unique one of a kind book, Hitchhiker’s is it. Adams’ writing style is verbose, but it adds to the jovial and nonchalant tone of the book. There are some great moments and lines in this book that have stuck with me and are wonderfully quirky.

I know this was a lengthy list but hopefully it can get people started who are in search of reading material.

Until next time, happy reading!

Books Now and For Later

In normal times, I am generally terrible for the economy. I drink free coffee at my office. I brown bag my lunch to work. I bake our bread. We cook 95 percent of our meals at home. We buy most essentials in bulk. I prefer to imbibe while sitting on my couch with a book as opposed at a bar or restaurant. I exercise on my own. And I refuse to throw away socks until they have at least two holes. I have been convinced to throw them away with one big hole, but my husband had to sell it hard.

Nevertheless, I have tried to do my part for the places that I love in these strange times, namely bookstores. In the first week of our work-from-home-stay-the-hell-away-from-people program, I purchased four books from Barnes & Noble.

Now I understand that B&N is a national bookseller, but they weren’t doing so hot pre-pandemic, and I’m terribly afraid what will happen post pandemic. Where I grew up B&N is really the only bookstore available. It’s where my love of reading was nourished. My greatest gift every Christmas was a B&N gift card. My mom and I would go on a special shopping trip just for books, and it was magical. No, they are not an independently own business, but I feel a great fondness them and hope they continue to thrive and prosper.

However, as you all know, my love of books has no bounds. So, I have also purchased two gift cards from local independently owned bookstore in my area. I’m excited to have an excuse to do a nice big book haul after this pandemic hold-up ceases. It will be a nice treat and a great way to celebrate our social freedom.

Reading is what is keeping me sane in these long and strange days, and I hope my small part can help keep them going now and forevermore.

Until next time, happy reading!


Virtual Book Club Re-Cap

Last night, the ladies and I had virtual book club. The virus caused us to cancel our original gathering. Given that the end of the pandemic does not appear to be imminent, we decided to video chat about our various reads.

Per usual, we discussed five books. Starting off, we had Girl on a Train. As a whole we felt that it was a fine read; nevertheless, it may have been trying too hard and had unnecessary components. Yet, we felt some of the concepts were unique and interesting.

Next we had Fahrenheit 451, my friend Sarah and I enjoyed this classic. Kelsey struggled and mainly with the writing style which I do remember to be challenging. This book has been often compared with Orwell’s infamous 1984. And while the message is in a similar vein, Bradbury’s writing style is far more nebulous compared to Orwell’s straight and to the point prose.

The third book was the fourth in the Outlander series called Drums of Autumn which is my biggest complaint. The titles of these books after the first installment make absolutely no sense whatsoever. I couldn’t for the life of me remember what this one was called, so I kept referring to it as Outlander #4. However, despite my issue with the title. This book is grand. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it for being fourth in a series. Sarah agreed with this assessment. Kelsey jumped ship on this series after book three, so Sarah and I were temporarily on our own.

Book four was another classic read, East of Eden. Kelsey and Sarah adored this book. I was less enthusiastic.  I agreed that the writing was phenomenal but the lack of plot, particularly for a tome coming in at 601 pages, doesn’t rev my engine of praise. I’m told Steinbeck’s other work such as Of Mice and Men might be more my speed as it’s just as beautifully written and has more of a substantive plot. Despite my lack luster response, I did enjoy East of Eden more than I originally anticipated.

And finally, we wrapped up the evening with Chelsea Handler’s Life will be the Death of Me. This was a light and yet insightful read. All of us enjoyed it even though I’m the only one of the group that is not a big fan of Handler and am not familiar with her other work. We generally agreed that it is a well-written memoir that didn’t have us rolling on the floor but has a nice levity to it.

It was a great evening despite the current social distancing circumstances. We hope to do it again soon to stay sane and ended with a group air hug.

Until next time, happy reading!

Writing Real People

As I grapple with personal essay and memoir writing, I, like so many others, have discovered one of the major pitfalls of these personal yarns. They involve other people-real people. There is a lot of angst as a writer about these real people and how they will feel about your writing and your portrayal of them.

I’ve read plenty of personal essays and memoirs that have me raising my eyebrows at how the author describes family members and friends. I wonder how they have any friends, and I’m shocked a family member hasn’t murdered them when they show up to Thanksgiving dinner.

There is plenty of good advice out there from writers about how to deal with this. Things to keep in mind as you tell your tale. But for me, it was a moment in college that has stuck with me regarding real people and writing. Strangely, this was a random event, and it had nothing to do with writing. At the time, it was just funny. Little did I realize; it would have gravitas later when I would get more into personal narratives.

One Friday afternoon in the spring of my Freshmen year, a friend of mine asked if I could pick up something at The Ministry Office for her.  We went to DePaul University which has a split campus. She was downtown, and The Ministry Office was located at the main campus in Lincoln Park which is where I had all my classes.

Once I finished with my classes, I went to pick up the item. I walked in and told the girl working the front desk what I needed. She asked me to take a seat while she went to get it. I sat down.

There was another student worker and a priest called Father Chris also milling about in the reception area. Father Chris was famous around campus. He was a younger guy. He did a lot of classroom presentations and was known to have a great sense of humor.

The new bulletin had come in for that weekend’s masses. Father Chris and the student were flipping through it. The back of the bulletin had local business logos on it as sponsorships.  Right in the middle was a logo of a bar.

When Father Chris got to the back and flipped it over, he muttered, “McGee’s is going to be pissed.” McGee’s was the local Irish pub that was less than half a block from the church.

The student asked, “Why?” Father Chris put down the bulletin and walked over to sit down on sofa in the waiting area.

“They wanted to sponsor the bulletin, but we said, ‘no’ because their main business is alcohol. We decided we didn’t want to condone college drinking with a bar advert on the back.  This one must have slipped through the cracks.” He leaned back and put his heads behind his head.

“Who’s responsible for the sponsorship page.”

“Oh, the greasy haired fellow in back.” He responded pointing causally to the area beyond the front desk to the back offices.

My eyes startled wide at this unbecoming comment and from a priest no less. When Father Chris saw my sudden horror (I have no poker face.). He responded, “Describing not judging.”

I started laughing which caused them to start laughing. We were all in tears by the time the girl came back out with the thing I needed to pick up.

It happened nearly a decade ago, and I still remember it. I keep it in mind as I write. It was not only good advice but came from someone genuinely practicing the idea of best describing someone but not judging them for it.

Until next time, happy reading!

My Reading Bedrock

Unless you’re been living under a rock, in a cave, a mile under the ocean, you are aware that the world is hurdling towards hell. Towards hell in a virus covered biohazard bag as we all desperately cling to our travel sized bottles of hand sanitizer.

It seems every new notification and news article is about the pandemic. The new case totals, the new death totals, tips for working a home, easy recipes for quarantine, a list of song choruses that are approximately 20-second-long, so you don’t get tired of singing happy birthday all the time. Even a cute video of penguins roaming the Shedd Aquarium with free reign in Chicago, has essence of pandemic. Yes, it is adorable they are running amok, but a dark, deserted aquarium on a weekday afternoon is unsettling.

Last week in my office, every direction my eyes looked there was a tub of Clorox wipes. It was if we decided that we were going to play elf on a shelf with cleaning products. The stress was high. We were all anxious about taking public transportation. There was incessant washing and sanitizing. There was a small sigh of relief when we were told we could work from home for the next two weeks.

However, even in the coziness of my abode, it is hard to not be thinking of the state of the world. Finding an escape is difficult but necessary. I worry about my family and friends. I’m concerned what unnecessary stupidity will occur in panic or in the lack thereof. The barrage of anxious thoughts and fear-inducing news articles seems eternal.

This is where my simple enjoyment of reading becomes my bedrock of sanity. Reading is my best escape. It allows me some peace. It loses me in something other than the chaos and the plethora of pandemic announcements and updates.

I’ve always loved reading, but these days I don’t just love reading; I am deeply grateful for it. The temporary relief it can provide in these trying times is urgently needed. It is no longer just a hobby, but a health remedy.

The good news is my general love of reading has me well stocked. I have not only numerous books in which to choose but some voluminous tomes including Les Miserable and Don Quixote. It might not be the lightest reading, but it’s something other than the real world and will get me through. I’m being strategic about what a reading. I’ve planned out happier stories to bookend darker reads and also tried to keep variety in the length. It’s all a way to distract and cope, but thus far it’s working.

I hope your bookshelves are well stocked and reading can do what it does for me.
Until next time, happy reading! And stay safe, my friends.

Airport Books

It’s Friday morning at 6:30 AM. I’m standing in the International Terminal of O’Hare Airport. A 7:45 AM flight doesn’t sound so bad until you math it backwards.

The upside of this obnoxiously early hour is traffic, for once in Chicago, is of no consequence. Early hours plus pandemics make traipsing through this petri-dish less desirable. This in turn makes security quick and the line to the single place opened for breakfast more tolerable.

Once my husband and I have obtained the elixir of good behavior, we stop by the always open Hudson’s. My husband goes to grab a bottle of water. I go to look at the books. I have one, but this has never stopped me from looking before.

I drive my bag toward the beckoning pages in the back. I glance at the titles. I don’t expect to find anything particularly of note. I’ve never purchased a book at the airport. I’m proud to brown bag.

My eyes glimpse a purple octopus. They snap into focus. The cover reads The Soul of an Octopus. I nab it off the shelf. It is the last copy. Where my love of these gangly, eight legged blobs comes from I can say, but I know that I must own this book. It makes me stupidly happy.

I rarely spontaneously buy things even books, but today is different. The last few weeks have been stressful at every angle-work, training for a marathon, a pandemic. This overpriced airport purchase has put a little more buoyancy in my strut.

I walk out with my new acquisition. My husband grins, “I thought you brought your own?”

“I did! But this is about octopi!” As if this explains everything; thankfully to my husband, it does.

He laughs as I clutch my new travel companion to my chest as we proceed to our gate.

Another upside to early morning travel: random unknown books about cephalopods might be found.

Until next time, happy reading!