7 Reading Lessons from Nana

I spent this past weekend back home in Pennsylvania. There are a lot of August birthdays in my family, one of the most important of which is my Nana’s. As you probably already know if you’ve been part of the SSR community from the beginning, we lost my grandmother very suddenly last September (on my birthday, actually). The year since her death has been hard on all of us, and none of us knew how it would feel to wake up on her birthday, this time without her. I’m so glad that I spent the occasion with my family so that we could support each other. As we approach the one-year anniversary of losing her, I do my best to celebrate her every day.

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Nana was the only person who loved books as much as I do — in fact, she’s one of the people most responsible for making me a reader — so it seems only fitting to pay tribute to her and some of the lessons she taught me about reading in honor of her birthday. My mom and I lived with my grandmother for a big chunk of my childhood and she and I had a very special relationship, so it’s hard for me to put into words how all of this has felt. But she and I always shared books, and I like to think that reading allows me to stay connected with her, even though she’s not here with us anymore.

Here’s what she taught me about books in the twenty-eight years we had together…

1.Read outside of your comfort zone.

Nana was always quick to tell me about the books she’d been reading, and because she was (truly) the smartest person I’ve ever met, I was often just as quick to assume that any book that she’d enjoyed was probably over my head or out of my genre. As proud as I always was to hear that she and I were similar, I also couldn’t fight the instinct to do my own thing and prove that we weren’t exactly alike. I always saw Nana as more intellectual than I could ever be (though I totally own being smart!), and because of that, I could be stubborn about taking her recommendations. But guess what? Every. single. time. I got out of my own head and my own comfort zone and picked up the book she suggested, it was the best book I’d read in months. In the year since she’s been gone, I’ve tried to push myself in the same way she would have pushed me.

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2. Books are for sharing and lending and talking about.

Like me, Nana was an introvert, but she believed that reading shouldn’t be a solitary activity. Books should be discussed and gifted and loved and lent! She was always generous with her own book collection, and as much as I like to hoard the titles I have on my shelf, I try to think of her whenever I have the opportunity to let a friend borrow something. I actually still have a stack of books that Nana gave me to read in the months before she died, and I’m so grateful. Since we shared such a love of reading, that stack (which I still haven’t touched, to be honest) is just as valuable to me as her beautiful jewelry.

3. When it comes to books, more is more.

When I was in sixth grade, my mom and I started living with Nana, but until then, one of the highlights of my summer vacations was the week I would spend at her house every year. She’d pick me up and drive me to New Jersey and we would enjoy long days together sitting out by her pool with our books and nights eating ice cream and watching PBS specials. One of the first stops of every summer trip was the local Barnes & Noble, where Nana would essentially let me loose to grab as many books as I could carry. She never questioned why I was choosing a particular book or if I really needed all six books. She loved spoiling the people she cared most about, and since we both adored books more than anything else, it was especially fun for her to spoil me with them. I tend to be a little more conservative about buying things, but I channel Nana whenever I’m in a bookstore debating whether or not to buy something! She did not believe in moderation… and when it comes to books, I can totally get on board with that.

4. Reading is best done outside and/or with snacks.

My favorite way to think about my grandmother is sitting out by her pool with a big bowl of cantaloupe or a big chocolate chip cookie on a plate. She could make a snack last for hours while she made progress in a book. Nana was a teacher and then a principal, so this is how she spent all of her summer days, even before she retired. She also loved nature, and she was always so happy sitting out on the deck of her house with her breakfast and a stack of newspapers (always The New York Times).

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5. Don’t be afraid of the big book.

Nana always encouraged me to read above my grade level when I was a kid. As a little girl, I loved exploring her massive bookshelves and pulling off titles that sounded interesting. She never once told me that I was too young to read something. Thanks to her, I was reading She’s Come Undone in middle school and attempting to read James Herriot in elementary school. Maybe I wasn’t technically ready for those books at that time, but her encouragement gave me confidence. I can barely remember a time when I wasn’t at least trying to read adult titles, and I think that has a lot to do with my grandmother and her easy acceptance of my curiosity. She always gravitated toward biggggg tomes (the kind that I often wrote off as too intellectual when she’d recommend them to me as a grown-up!), and I like to think of her any time I embark on a lengthier volume myself.

6. When in doubt, buy the book.

Remember that whole thing about more is more and about never exercising moderation? Yeah, I just needed to drive that home. These days, I buy books to honor my grandmother, and I always laugh a little to myself when I realize that a recent purchase wouldn’t meet her approval. She believed that a book was a more worthwhile investment than anything else, and I like to think that counts even for “bad “ ones.

7. There is no better use for your free time than to read.

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Throughout the seven years that I lived with Nana (through middle and high school), I could almost always count on her to be waiting for me when I got home from school. She retired as I was starting my freshman year, and even though giving up the career she loved was a real challenge for her, she eventually embraced the free time it afforded her by reading even more than she had before. During the mornings, she’d often be out walking her dogs and going to volunteer meetings at our local art museum, but in the afternoon, it was usually time to cuddle up with a good book. I’d find her with her legs thrown over the side of an overstuffed armchair, focused intently on whatever she was reading. She always had an afternoon coffee, which she often covered with a small glass plate (weird what you remember, right?). When I got home, she’d take a break so we could have a snack and catch up on our days. Watching her transition gracefully into retirement with the help of her books made me realize that spending free time with books is a surefire way to feed your brain, learn, and also have fun. I hope to spend just as much time reading when I retire someday!

Who in your life has taught you the most about being a reader? What was their best lesson? Tell me in the comments below or on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!

**Please note that the Amazon links above are affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase through these links. Please do not feel inclined to purchase unless you are excited to add these books to your TBR list!** 

Thoughts on Book Club

About two and a half years ago, I started a book club.

My friends and I had been talking about it for ages. I tend to run in circles with a lot of fellow bookworms, and throughout the years that I spent working in publishing, my pals were always encouraging me to get the group together for a book club so that I could share all of the secrets I was getting on the job. At that point, my enthusiasm for reading had (sadly) hit somewhat of a low because of my mixed feelings about work, and I couldn’t see adding something new to my plate. So we just kept talking about it for a few months.

After I left my full-time job in publishing to pursue freelance writing full-time, I decided that the book club was seriously overdue. My schedule had shifted so significantly and I finally had the time to devote to coordinating it, and as happy as I was to be out on my own professionally, I was seriously feeling the loss of the book talk that I’d been lucky enough to have so frequently in my publishing job.

I finally did it! I finally started the book club!

Our first meeting was planned for February 2017. At this moment, we were all good and mad — and so many other things — about the results of the 2016 election (TBH, I’m still good and mad and so many other things about it), so the initial thought was that we would focus on feminist authors and titles so that we could really get and stay educated when it felt like there were few other things we could do. We used Emma Watson’s reading list as inspiration and chose Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman as our first read. I can’t say that the book was a hit (sorry to those who loved it!), but the process of coming together to talk about a book that some of us may not have picked up otherwise definitely was. We got our March 2017 meeting on the books and have been meeting almost every month since.

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In that time, we’ve picked up a few members and (unfortunately) said goodbye to a few others. We’ve eaten a lot of good snacks and sipped on all kinds of mediocre wine. We’ve cheered each other on through promotions and engagements and frustrating negotiations at work and so many other things. We’ve had some really intellectual conversations and some that I can only describe as the opposite of really intellectual. We’ve loved some books and strongly disliked others. All in all, our meetings are consistently among the highlights of my month and I encourage everyone I know to join or start a book club… even if they wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves big readers!

Here are a few thoughts on how I think book clubs can work best.

1. Smaller groups can be better.

Our book club has always consisted of fewer than ten members, and while I’ve talked to other people who think that bigger is better, I think that keeping it on the small side has been to our benefit. Each member of our book club knows that they’re an important part of the group, which makes it harder to disengage or to bail on a meeting just because you don’t feel like going. A smaller group also makes it easier for everyone to be heard, which is (in my opinion) the most important part of a successful book club.

2. It’s important to set dates in stone ASAP.

We all know how Type A I am, and that served me really well back in 2017 when we were trying to get the book club off the ground. My book club is made up of some of my closest friends, so it would have been really easy for us to take the approach of “we’ll figure out when we want to meet to talk about the book next time we see each other!” But we didn’t go that way! Instead, we set the expectation that we would never leave one meeting without having a date on the calendar for the next meeting (or at least a date that we could use as a starting point and rain check). This helps us keep the ball rolling!

3. Planning time to have non-book related conversations is totally fine… and actually pretty great.

I know a lot of people joke that book clubs are really just wine-drinking clubs where people happen to talk about books occasionally. I find that this feels a little offensive — especially because it’s almost always directed at book clubs made up of all women — but I’m also willing to admit that there have been times when my own book club has spent more time on personal chatter than we did on the book. And that’s okay! Often, the book we’re talking about inspires us to share things about our personal lives that we wouldn’t have otherwise. As a result, I’ve learned so much about people that I already considered close friends! Even if we spend a lot of time on book talk during a meeting, we also like to hold about 20 minutes open at the end to go around the group for updates. Sometimes, we also share our roses and thorns of the last month. You know how much I love to talk about books, but book club has also become a nice guarantee that I’ll have the opportunity to check in with my pals on a regular basis… and I appreciate that just as much as the book conversations.

4. Shake up your book selections!

As you may have guessed after my lukewarm reference to the first book we ever read as a group, we have moved away from focusing solely on officially feminist reads. That being said, we do like to read books written by female authors whenever possible, and we try to alternate between fiction and non-fiction somewhat regularly so that we are holding each other accountable to learn new things and stay informed. The women in my book club are all super smart and opinionated, and there’s generally at least one person every month who wasn’t thrilled with the book we chose. We try to let their feedback inform our choice for the next month so that everyone stays motivated to keep up with the reading and so that everyone is periodically being challenged with a book choice that may not have come naturally to them.

5. Celebrate the seasons.

We like to read a romance for our February meeting (last year, we read Lady Chatterley’s Lover and this year, we read Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating, so there’s been quite a range!) and we lean toward beach read-style fiction in the summer months. We try to look for “cozy reads” in the wintertime, which can mean a lot of things. In between, we slot in lots of memoir and non-fiction.

6. Use Bookstagram!

I didn’t get seriously into bookstagram until I launched the SSR Instagram feed in May 2018, but my title recommendations for book club got so much better after I did! Because we are such an opinionated group, it can take forever for us to agree on a book for the coming month, and it’s nice to be able to pull up my Instagram feed and offer a few suggestions based on what I’ve been seeing around most often. If you’re like me and often find yourself getting overwhelmed by the sheer number of books out there in the world waiting to be read, bookstagram is a really good place to start!

7. Go for books that everyone isn’t going to love.

Every once in a while, I like to come prepared with a suggestion that I have a feeling is going to spark some interesting, slightly divided conversation. I happen to have a book club meeting tonight, and I’m planning to push Three Women. I’ve seen such rave reviews and frustrated commentary about this one, so I think it’s a great choice. Plus, I’ve been dying to read it myself!

Are you in a book club? What’s the best book club book you’ve ever read? Tell me in the comments below or on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!

**Please note that the Amazon links above are affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase through these links. Please do not feel inclined to purchase unless you are excited to add these books to your TBR list!** 

5 Things I've Learned About Myself Since Starting SSR

Producing and hosting The SSR Podcast for the last year has taught me about a lot of things. I’ve learned how to read multiple books at the same time, to read really fast, to anticipate sensitive subjects that might require an extra thoughtful discussion, to research books, and to talk about them in a fun and interesting way. But guess what? I’ve also learned a lot about myself!

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I like to think that there are opportunities to become more self-aware in almost any situation, but I had no idea that starting a podcast — and building the community around it — would give me so much insight into who I am and what I need to work on. Here are five of the biggest lessons!

1. I really like to be in the nitty gritty of a project.

When I started SSR, the plan was always to do the editing myself… at least for a while. I learned basic video editing in high school and college, so learning how to work with GarageBand wasn’t a huge stretch. In the pod’s earliest days, it was taking me so crazy long to edit each episode that I couldn’t envision myself continuing to carry that part of the process indefinitely. My hope was that I’d be able to get some momentum, find ways to monetize the show (full transparency!), and ultimately delegate the editing to someone else who could do it better — and much more efficiently — than I could.

But a funny thing happened! As I got into a better routine with editing episodes for each week, I realized that I didn’t mind it so much! I actually kind of liked it! I’ve always enjoyed tasks that give me a chance to work with my hands (for lack of a better word), and editing audio seems to scratch that itch for me. It allows me to really get into the details of this larger SSR project — and, yes, it also allows me to let my control freak flag fly.

2. I’m not as adventurous a reader as I thought I was!

Reading across so many genres of YA and middle grade books for podcast recordings has been a reminder of how open I was to reading pretty much anything when I was a kid… and it’s made me realize how likely I am to stay in a narrower lane with my book choices as an adult. Before I started the podcast, most of my “grown-up” reading was contemporary fiction. I would toss in a memoir or a historical fiction novel now and then, but I rarely stepped outside of my box.

Adding SSR books to my reading list has brought back so many memories of reading fantasy, science-fiction, thriller, mystery, non-fiction, and historical fiction books. I can’t say that I feel motivated to bring all of those categories back into my non-podcast reading routine, but I have been thinking more intentionally about how I can diversify my TBR. I’ve been reading a lot more non-fiction in 2019, and I think that’s a good start!

3. I can be really open in the right circumstances.

I tend to think of myself as a full-time introvert, and even some of my closest friends would probably tell you that I’m a very private person. I’m slow to share the details of my personal life and I tend not to ask for help or confide in others unless the situation is really dire. I also don’t like to shine a spotlight on myself or to feel as though I’m seeking attention. All of these factors made it really difficult for me to maintain my first blog, which I launched in 2016 (learn more about that here!).

As a result of all of this, I was genuinely surprised when I found myself getting really honest with guests on the podcast, and even with social media followers via Instagram stories. Before SSR, I wasn’t one to turn the camera on myself and share my thoughts randomly on social media, or to talk openly about things like family, religion, or my history of disordered eating. It was like as soon as I found myself in a more comfortable set of circumstances — like talking about books! — I got way cozier with it.

I’m still extremely private in my day-to-day life, but I’m working on it… and maybe the podcast will help!

4. I can figure most things out if I’m willing to take the time to Google it. (This goes for you, too!)

You wouldn’t believe the number of things you need to learn to do when you undertake a project like this. I definitely wasn’t prepared for all of them! I figured that I would need to pick up on the basics of recording equipment and editing, and that I’d pretty much be able to call it a day after that. L-O-L.

Since launching SSR last year, I’ve had to teach myself basic coding, graphic design, photography, affiliate marketing, e-commerce, shipping, crowdfunding, and so much more. Each time I set a new goal for SSR, I feel really overwhelmed at first. I always feel like I’ve underestimated the number of steps I’ll need to complete in order to get a seemingly simple task finished… and then I panic and wonder if I’ve really bitten off more than I can chew this time.

Luckily for me — and for you, too, if you’re dreaming up a big project — there’s Google! It sounds so obvious, I know, but you really can learn to do almost anything with the right combination of patience and online searching. I don’t naturally have a ton of patience for reading instructions (ask my husband!), but I’ve gotten better at it over the last year. It really pays off!

5. I say “ummmmm” a lot. Like, A LOT.

I’ve joked about this a few times, but I really don’t think it can be emphasized enough. Truly, how many times can one person say “ummmmm” over the course of a one-hour conversation? For me, the answer is somewhere in the neighborhood of “infinity.”

When I was preparing to start the podcast, I was worried that I would overuse the word “like” or that I would talk way too fast for listeners to understand. Adults used to call me out for these little tics when I was a kid and I’ve been hyperaware of them ever since… so hyperaware, apparently, that they’ve been phased out of my speech patterns entirely. “Ummmmm” is actually a way bigger issue! It’s gotten to the point now where I can practically anticipate an “ummmmm” during an editing session before it happens, based simply on the tone of my voice before I say it. In all reality, I don’t think this is something that’s caused any problems with my communication in my non-podcasting life, but it’s been interesting to realize it, anyway.

What else do you want to know about behind-the-scenes of making SSR? Tell me in the comments below or on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!

Irving Is 1!

Last week, we celebrated my podcast baby’s first birthday… and this week, we celebrate the same milestone for my dog baby.

Happy Birthday, Irv!

I know this post isn’t explicitly book-related, but you’re going to get a mix of everything here — and since Irv has basically become the official mascot of SSR ever since we brought him home in September, it seems only right that he get some dedicated space on the blog, especially for such a big occasion.

I grew up with a very special golden retriever named Jake, who my family unfortunately lost in 2017, but even before that, I’d been dreaming of having a pup of my own. Obviously, dog ownership can be a challenge in the city, and while there were many moments during my first few years in NYC when I seriously considered just going for it and figuring it out later, I deferred to my better judgement. Matt and I planned the whole “getting a dog” thing verrrrry carefully. Last summer, we decided to move out of the apartment that we’d been living in for three years — and absolutely loved — because it wasn’t big enough for our future fur baby. We knew we needed more space, so we moved into an apartment building in a neighborhood that we didn’t love quite so much. I spent months researching puppies while we packed our first home together. Ultimately, this little photo of Irving (his name was Harry at the time) was the one that captured my heart.

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Irving is from a small family farm near Reading, Pennsylvania. His original humans owned two golden retrievers who occasionally ended up with a litter of puppies. They also sold veggies from their garden and had a small custom cabinetry business. I reached out to them, and we made arrangements to pick Irv up just five days after our big move. This would give us enough time to get settled, but not so much time that we would miss the squishy puppy stage! Luckily, we were both able to take some time off while all of this was happening, and I was excited that we would have the chance to bond as a new little family of three. We couldn’t have planned it out better.

As we drove the two and a half hours to Reading, I started to get nervous. I insisted on driving so that I would have a way to channel my anxious energy. As we got closer to the final destination, I was definitely freaking out. What if I had misjudged these people? What if the whole thing was a scam? What if they treated their dogs poorly? What if the puppy was nasty, or looked nothing like the photo I’d seen online? Luckily, just before I went into full panic mode, the song “Golden Slumbers” started playing on my Spotify. Is that a sign or what? I cried happy tears of relief and we went to meet our new best friend with confidence.

When we pulled up to the farm, we saw a group of little kids frolicking in the yard and jumping on a trampoline. One of the girls asked me if I wanted to meet the puppy. Duh (I didn’t say that, but you know what I mean). Irv was hanging out in a barn all by himself — the last of his litter to be picked up! — and when he saw us, his little head popped up and I was obviously in love immediately. I sat with him in the back seat of the car the whole way back to New York. We spent the next few days trying to establish some sort of potty training routine and laughing at Irv’s antics. We realized early on that we’d really lucked out with Irving. He was sweet and laidback, wasn’t very interested in chewing our things, and had very few bathroom-related accidents, even in the beginning. What a guy!

Most of you know that things took a turn pretty quickly after that. My grandmother died suddenly just four days after Irv’s Gotcha Day (on my twenty-eighth birthday). The three of us — me, Matt, and Irv — rushed back into the car, drove back to Pennsylvania, and did our best to bond and stay on track with training while the sh*it hit the fan. When we got back to Brooklyn a few days later, I was alone for the first time in days, in an empty apartment, with tons of work to do and a lot of feelings. I was also suddenly responsible for a dog full-time, without Matt to share walking responsibilities and to help me watch Irv’s every move. What I’m trying to say is that, despite the fact that we tried to plan Irv’s arrival the best we could, he ended up coming into the mix at one of the craziest (/worst) times I can remember. Isn’t life weird?

As challenging as it was to juggle all of these things while I was grieving and feeling isolated, having Irv around made all the difference for me. I’d always known that it would be nice to have a dog around during the day (since I work from home full-time), but I had no idea how much I would need a furry new pal last fall. Having a golden retriever has been one of my dreams for, like, ever, but Irving ended up being the best thing that could happen to us with everything that my family was going through. We like to think we’ve been pretty good for him, too : )

So, yes, while Irv is adorable and hilarious on Instagram stories, he’s also meant a whole lot more to me than I usually share on social media.

A few other things about Irv that you may not know: his favorite snacks are peanut butter, spinach, pumpkin seeds, and vanilla ice cream (don’t worry — we only let him have a liiiiiiittle bit). He’s terrified of cardboard boxes and any packaging that makes a crinkly noise. Every night, he sleeps with one of Matt’s old t-shirts. He really likes his alone time, and can often be found just chilling in his open crate. He loves going on adventures in the car, but does get carsick sometimes. He’s obsessed with watching sunsets. When he’s happy, he makes funny pig snorting noises. We think he has some wires crossed somewhere, because he also growls when he’s happy sometimes. He HATES taking baths. If I put music on and start dancing, he sits and gives me his paw or starts running around the coffee table. His full name is Irving Gilbert Kosik. Basically, he’s a really funny, sweet, wonderful little guy, and I am so happy that he is in our family. He has brought us so much happiness! And I may or may not be making him a doggie birthday cake to celebrate…

Here are a few of my favorite Irv photos to mark the moment! (Let’s be honest — I could go on for days.)

Wish Irv a happy first birthday in the comments below or on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!

Three Love Stories for Three Years

I’m not quite sure why I thought it was a good idea to launch my podcast just two days after my wedding anniversary.

When I was in the planning stages of putting everything together for SSR, it didn’t occur to me that there would be quite so much to do in the final stretch before those first episodes went live. After all — I’d given myself plenty of time to get everything in order in the months before that day. It would be smooth sailing, right?

I can’t really say that it wasn’t smooth sailing — I’m a big planner, and I find that I can get almost anything organized as long as there’s notice — but I did find myself doing a lot of last-minute prep and promo while my husband Matt and I were on our second-anniversary trip to Mexico last year. As I scrambled to get the word out about SSR from our hotel room and ferociously highlighted portions of Nancy Drew from a hammock, I couldn’t help but laugh. Maybe my timing hadn’t been quite right. Oops!

While it all felt a little chaotic in the moment, I kind of love the fact that I get to celebrate the anniversary of my wedding and the anniversary of the podcast (my sweet little baby passion project!) within the same 48-hour period. And now, we get to add the anniversary of the blog to the mix! I have so much to be grateful for, especially in late June.

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Matt and I were married on June 24, 2016, just short of seven years after we started dating in the summer before sophomore year of college. We had our wedding in Pennsylvania, roughly an hour from where we grew up, and although our venue coordinator came to me just thirty minutes before the ceremony was scheduled to start to ask me if I was really sure that I wanted to move forward with the plan to be married outside (the sky was looking pretty dark!), the clouds cleared and we had exactly the day we wanted. I’m sure I’ll find plenty of ways to celebrate — maybe even embarrass — Matt in this space in the future, but for now, I’d like to celebrate our three-year milestone by sharing some of my favorite love stories with you. Is there any special moment that can’t be marked with BOOKS? Personally, I don’t think so.

Check out the titles below — one for each of the years we’ve been married — if you need a swoon!


The Time Traveler’s Wife

by Audrey Niffenegger

I read The Time Traveler’s Wife when I was in college and it TOTALLY captured me. At the time, I wasn’t reading a ton of books outside of what I was assigned in school, and I have such vivid memories of tearing through this one and being reminded of just how much I love fiction. It’s been long enough now that I can’t say I remember all the details of the plot, but it remains close to my heart and is absolutely among my favorite love stories. (For what it’s worth, I did not dig the movie adaptation. Such a bummer.)

One Day in December

by Josie Silver

When I picked up One Day in December a few days after Christmas last year, it was — at least in part — a case of “bookstagram made me do it.” But it ended up being so much more than that! I read Jack and Laurie’s story in just a handful of sittings, and I think it’s probably one that I’ll come back to every few years. More than any other book I’ve ever read, it gave me serious rom com vibes… and I mean that in a good way!

Tuesday Nights in 1980

by Molly Prentiss

As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the most underrated books out there. It’s easily my favorite read of the last few years. The love story doesn’t necessarily have a happy, shiny ending, but I really enjoyed the gritty New York City romance. Whether you read this for the love or something else… JUST READ IT!

What are your favorite love stories??? Share them with me in the comments below or on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!

**Please note that the Amazon links above are affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase through these links. Please do not feel inclined to purchase unless you are excited to add these books to your TBR list!**