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A version of this post originally appeared at Book Riot.

As regular readers of the blog know, between April 4 and July 12, I posted 100 book reviews on Instagram as part of The 100 Day Project, a free, global art initiative where people around the world commit to doing something creative every day for 100 days. Participants pick a project, choose a hashtag, and commit to sharing their progress every day through the the 100 days of the challenge.

I don’t have an artistic bone in my body, but I love books and I love photography, and I was in a position where I wanted a creative challenge… with that, 100 Days of Books by Kim (#100daysofbooksbykim) was born. (In addition to Instagram, I also rounded up all of my photos and reviews here on the blog — you can find links to each of those posts here).

Taking 100 photos and writing 100 reviews is not easy, but I also think it’s a project that anyone with a passion for books and photography could take on themselves. Here are seven lessons I learned while completing my 100 Day Project:

1. Set some guidelines for your project.

Before you embark on an ambitious bookstagram project, it’s important to set a framework for what you want to do. If the project is too general, it’s going to feel overwhelming. If it’s too narrow, you’re going to run out of ideas.

The initial framework of my project was pretty general: post a book photo and short review every day for 100 days. To make sure I didn’t get lazy, I also decided I would use a different background every day and I wouldn’t post more than one book from any author. To keep myself from running out of ideas, I decided I would use both old and new reads to complete the project… there was just no way I was going to be able to read 100 books, but with a lot of backlist titles thrown in it was easy to get there.

2. Find your style… but don’t be afraid to mix things up.

When I started this project, I imagined that I’d be doing a lot of styled photos, putting my books against a nice light background and accessorizing (that’s not even the right word!) with flowers and other ephemera related to the titles. I tried that for a few photos and realized that it wasn’t going to work for me over the course of 100 days – I didn’t have a good space or good props, and I actually thought setting those photos up was kind of tedious.

Instead, I found that I liked doing photos where you find an interesting background or scene, then photograph the book there. This involves a lot more travel and some more thinking ahead, but I it gave the overall project a more natural, casual aesthetic and got me out of my house and explore more than I might have otherwise – an extra win I wasn’t expecting.

3. Find some inspiration.

There are a ton of great bookstagram accounts out there to offer inspiration, from publishing house accounts to individuals to book media. We’ve rounded up many in posts at Book Riot, and I also went out to find my own.

Some of my favorites publishers on Instagram are Graywolf Press, Random House and Dutton Books. Seek out people who you think do good work and see what you can learn from them.

4. Always be looking around… and always have a book.

Once I decided I was going to mostly focus on creative backgrounds, I started to see backdrops for book photos everywhere. The space you need for a book photo isn’t big – probably 12 inches by 12 inches at most – which opens up a ton of possibilities. Because I was also using backlist books, not just current reads, I had some flexibility in bringing books out with me for photo shoots in different spaces as needed. For most of the project, I had two or three or four extra books sitting in my car in case I saw a new location for a photo.

5. Pay attention to light.

Taking photos in the middle of the day, when the sun is highest and brightest, is a challenge. So it taking photos in artificial light. Try to find good natural light to take your photos, and pay attention to the way shadows are falling on your photos. And if you happen to be using library books, pay attention to how light is playing off of the shiny covers.

For more tips on bookstagramming like a pro, check out this post from Rioter Kristina Pino with her suggestions on staging, props, lights and the use of filters.

6. Start a reading journal, now!

One of the best resources I had for this project was my book blog. I’ve been writing about books on the internet since 2008, so I have a pretty extensive collection of reviews and notes of what I’ve been reading for the last nine years. I was doing a lot of backlist books as part of this project, so it was really helpful to have those posts to look back on.

If you don’t want to start a blog, get a notebook and start a reading journal to list the books you’ve read and a few thoughts on each one. Even if you don’t do a bookstagram project, you will love looking back on these notes later as you try to recall specifics about a book you loved (or hated!).

7. Stick with it.

I tend to be a person who starts out strong with projects, then misses a day and can’t seem to get back on the horse (hello, going to the gym). In this case, I gave myself a lot of grace when I missed a day or two and just made the effort to get caught up when I had some extra time. I probably missed 12 days over the course of the project, but I stuck it out and finished on time. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

For me, completing the 100 Day Project was hugely validating. It felt good to set a goal and meet it, and I loved the chance to share my favorite books with a different audience than my blog and Book Riot. If this project sounds like fun, I really encourage you to give it a try!

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This post originally appeared on Book Riot

This month’s total solar eclipse, which will pass over the United States on Monday, Aug. 21, has gotten me all excited about space and astrophysics once again. In order to help all of us get a little historic and scientific background for this event, I’ve put together four books that I think are worth picking up.

(Note: These aren’t books that will tell you about how specifically to watch or participate in the total solar eclipse – there are plenty of great online resources (like this one from Space.com) you can turn to for help. And many local libraries are hosting eclipse viewing events, so make sure to check those out too).

For a general history of solar eclipses… Sun Moon Earth by Tyler Nordgren

In Sun Moon Earth, Tyler Nordgren looks at how “this most seemingly unnatural of natural phenomena was transformed from a fearsome omen to a tourist attraction.” He revisits the work of ancient astrologers and philosophers, explores the weirdness of Victorian-era science, and looks at contemporary researchers use eclipses to study major scientific theories. I liked this one because it’s a slim but comprehensive look at how humanity’s perceptions of solar eclipses has changed over time and how strange they continue to be.

For women’s contributions to astronomy… The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel

I, for one, am so excited about the wealth of books coming out about the specific contributions that women have made to science behind the scenes and without the same type of credit that their male counterparts have gotten. The Glass Universe tells the story of the female “calculators” at Harvard College Observatory in the mid-19th century. Similar to the women of Hidden Figures and Rise of the Rocket Girls, these women were charged with calculating and interpreting the work of their male colleagues. Eventually, the women were also able to study the images captured each night and start to make discoveries of their own. I haven’t gotten to read this one, but I’m looking forward to it.

For one look at a Gilded Age solar eclipse… American Eclipse by David Baron

One of the last times Americans could view a total solar eclipse was July 1878, smack dab in the middle of America’s Gilded Age. Science journalist David Baron recreates what it was like in the United States at that time, looking deeply at the scientists who hoped to learn about the world during the event. American Eclipse focuses most on three people – asteroid and planet hunter James Craig Watson, astronomer Maria Mitchell, and inventor Thomas Edison – to show how the eclipse provided an opportunity for Americans to contribute to the advancement of science which, at the time, was happening primarily in Europe.

For a tour of the cosmos… Welcome to the Universe by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, J. Richard Scott, and Michael Strauss

If you ever wanted to take an astronomy course with some of today’s top astrophysicists, this book is the one to pick up. Based on a lass that Tyson, Scott, and Strauss taught at Princeton, Welcome to the Universe covers a lot of the basics – planets, stars, wormholes, black holes, galaxies and even time travel. While not specifically about eclipses, this book is a great primer because it’ll give you the tools to talk about space and the universe with other enthusiasts while experiencing the eclipse for yourself.

Original photo by Takeshi Kuboki via Flickr.

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Around Here | Job hunting is the worst. That’s pretty much it. I worked on a bunch of applications near the end of the July, and I’m now waiting impatiently to hear if I’m going to get interviews out of any of them. And searching job boards. And filling out more applications. And waiting and waiting and waiting.

Reading | I got a lot of reading done in July, but not much so far in August. I have finished two books — We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge and Camino Island by John Grisham. We Love You, Charlie Freeman was great, but I have a weakness for books on families being part of anthropological experiments. I also liked the way Greenidge wrote about race and the complicated history we have with race and medicine in the United States.

Camino Island was a fun read… but otherwise not great. I picked it up because the central mystery/thriller of the book was a literary heist, but that ended up being pretty secondary to a book that mostly felt like a series of extended monologues on The State of Publishing and Writing. A friend described it as a book by someone who wants to write literary fiction, but doesn’t really know how, which seems pretty accurate to me. But, for all of that, I still read it all the way through and mostly enjoyed the experience.

Watching | The only thing I have wanted to watch in the last week or so is old episodes of The Great British Baking Show on Netflix. I’ve been in a weird mood lately, and that show is just soothing and warm and funny in a way that is perfect right now. I would love to watch something similar… but I just can’t find anything that fits.

Listening | I’ve enjoyed the first three episodes of Book Riot’s newest podcast, Annotated, quite a bit. It’s an audio-documentary series, kind of like Hidden Brain or This American Life, except for stories about books and the literary life. The fourth episode — “The United States V. One Book Called ‘Ulysses'” — dropped today, so I’ll probably dig into that this afternoon.

Buying | Even though it’s summer and really warm, I still like to cuddle up in the morning under a blanket with a cup of tea. But all of my blankets were way too hot for that too be comfortable… dilemma! Last weekend I bought myself a summer blanket. It’s navy and a light cotton blend and it’s perfect. Life is about the little things.

Brainstorming | My therapist suggested that one way to move through a long period of unemployment is to put together a “bucket list” of things to do or accomplish during a season when having enough time isn’t an issue. I’ve been working on my list, rather slowly, but made sure that it also includes a bunch of things I’ve already done… since there’s nothing more satisfying than adding something to a list and immediately crossing it off.

Loving | Last weekend I went to Madison to spend some time with friends. I saw a play, went for a walk in a nature conservancy (with a cool bubbling spring!), stuffed my face at a food festival, and spent a lot of time catching up with people I don’t see often enough. It was an excellent visit.

Anticipating | Tomorrow morning, my sister and I are leaving for a semi-spontaneous trip out to Denver. This weekend is the one year anniversary of Nate’s death, a fact of the calendar that I have no words to describe. I haven’t known what to do with myself as the anniversary approaches, but getting out of town and creating some positive memories seemed like one good option. So after a lot of hemming and hawing on my part, we booked flights and a nice hotel and we’re just going to see what happens.

But before we go I’ve got laundry to finish, books to pack, and applications to finish… so I better wrap this up. Happy August, everyone! What are you most looking forward to this month?

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This is the end! I officially wrapped up 100 Days of Books on Instagram on July 12, a feat that was (and still is) incredibly satisfying. When I the project back in April, I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d make it all the way through. I don’t have a great track record completing things like this, and I worried that I would run out of ideas before the 100 days was complete.

As I got into it, I realized how much I loved this review format and the push it gave me to think more creatively about book photography. The timing also ended up being perfect – I was laid off shortly before the project started, so I had extra time and mental space to work on it, and it helped me feel like I was doing something worthwhile during this time of transition. I’m really grateful for that.

I’m also thankful for everyone who followed along and left encouraging comments along the way. It was really energizing, especially on days when I was behind or felt like I didn’t have a strong idea for my next post. Community is the reason I’ve kept my book blog going for so long, and I loved finding even more of that on Instagram. My goal is to continue to share books there with photos and short reviews, and then find a way to bring that here to the blog (but not in such long post!). But before that happens, here are my last 10 books of the project.

91. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

On November 15, 1959 four members of a prominent Kansas family – Herb, Bonnie, Kenyon and Nancy Cutter – were brutally murdered for no apparent reason. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote follows the entire investigation, piecing together the day of the crime and the days after from the perspective of the investigators and the murderers. After the murders, the killers fled Holecomb and made an ill-conceived escape to Mexico with no money and no options before they were arrested back in the United States. Capote is there for the entire process — capture, trial, and eventual execution — and he details those events with a chilling clarity and eye for detail. I’m not sure I’d universally recommend this book – it’s creepy and often very hard to read – but it has certainly earned its reputation as a classic of narrative nonfiction.

92. Leaving Orbit by Margaret Lazarus Dean

I spent a good chunk of last year obsessed with books about space. Leaving Orbit by Margaret Lazarus Dean, a look at the last days of the American space shuttle program, was one of my favorites. Dean isn’t an astronaut or expert, she’s just a curious space enthusiast. In the book, Dean offers a history of American spaceflight while also chronicling the last three shuttle flights before the program was shut down. She looks to previous writers on space – Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, and Oriana Fallaci most deeply – and writes about the experiences of other NASA employees and space fans. Although it’s a slightly meandering book, I thought it was very engaging. Dean asks good questions, looks to many sources for answers, and isn’t afraid to deeply engage with her subject. I loved this one.

93. Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

There are certain times when I just want a nice book to consume. In those moods, I find myself looking for a book that’s both light and charming, with a plot that moves along simply and characters that I connect with in some way. Last fall, the book that hit that sweet spot for me was Funny Girl by Nick Hornby. The book tells the story of Sophie Straw, a working class woman in 1960s London hoping to break into show business. She manages to get her big break as a comic actress, starring in a sitcom about a couple from opposite sides of an economic divide. The book then follows the cast and crew of the show as they age, pushing and pulling against social trends to try and stay relevant and funny for viewers. This novel is just lovely, emotional without being overly sentimental, just a really easy book to fall into and enjoy.

94. Chemistry by Weike Wang

Chemistry by Weike Wang was an impulse buy just before my Fourth of July cabin trip last weekend. I think the book made it on my radar because of the plot description: “a luminous coming-of-age novel about a young female scientist who must recalibrate her life when her academic career goes off track.” At a moment when my life feels a little derailed, I had a sense of kinship with the unnamed chemist at the center of this story. Chemistry is told in little vignettes, almost like diary entries, that leave a lot to the imagination, but still give this young woman a very specific voice. I loved reading about her struggle, seeing the steps she was taking to try and figure out what might be next, and reading between the lines in the moments when she wasn’t able to see herself clearly. It’s an odd little book, but one I liked a great deal.

95. Knocking on Heaven’s Door by Katy Butler

In 2010, Katy Butler wrote a wonderful, devastating piece for the New York Times Magazine called “What Broke My Father’s Heart.” In the essay, Butler shares the story of her father’s life after a severe stroke. At one point, in order to complete a relatively simple surgery, doctors fitted her father with a pacemaker. This pacemaker kept his heart beating strongly while his mind and the rest of his body began to fail. In Knocking on Heaven’s Door, Butler extends out the threads of argument in her essay, making a persuasive case that medicine’s culture of over-intervention is taking away our choice to die with dignity and increasing the overall cost of treatment. The book is well-researched and approaches these issues fairly, but Butler also doesn’t hide her simmering outrage and the way the medical establishment let her father down at the end of his life. It’s an incredible piece of work.

96. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn

Fresh from her stint at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris author/chef Kathleen Flinn isn’t sure where her path leads. The idea for her next project comes at the grocery store, when Flinn notices a woman filling her cart full of processed foods. When she gets up the nerve to ask the customer about it, Flinn discovers that the customer wants to eat better, but feels overwhelmed choosing and preparing healthier options. Lightning strike! Flinn decides her next adventure will be to set up a basic cooking school for home cooks that want to do more and cook better, but don’t have the basic skills to get started. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School is an account of Flinn’s first class, and offers practical advice on everything from basic knife skills to reading recipes to developing flavors to getting the most out of every grocery dollar. The best word I can think of to describe this book is comforting – Flinn has an easy writing style, and organizes the book around an amateur cook’s biggest challenges to make it both engaging and helpful.

97. Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni

Lipstick Jihad is journalist Azadeh Moaveni’s memoir about growing up “Iranian in America and American in Iran.” As a child, Moaveni moved with her mother to southern California, then after college returned to Tehran to work as a journalist. While there, Moaveni discovers a country going through a sort of adolescent struggle to find itself in the face of an oppressive religious regime and a government that can’t seem to get going in the right direction. As Moaveni becomes more accustomed to Iran, she sees how fundamental changes are coming from the bottom up, rather than top down, and that Iran has some potential for change. Although this memoir might be a bit dated by now, at the time I read it I enjoyed it a lot. Moaveni was very good at explaining the complex politics of Iran, while also being a relatable and honest narrator. She is not easy on herself as she tries to adjust to her new country, and she’s open about her faults and struggles. Her second memoir, Honeymoon in Tehran, is also a great read.

98. Victoria: The Queen by Julia Baird

The one nonfiction book I was able to stick with through the fog of last fall was Victoria: The Queen by Julia Baird, an intimate and personal biography of one of Britain’s longest serving monarchs. Victoria ascended to the throne at just 18, after spending most of her childhood manipulated and sheltered by her mother and her mother’s aide. When she was crowned, it was the first time she was able to make decisions for herself, and she grew into adulthood in the public spotlight. Baird’s biography shows Victoria as passionate, smart, stubborn, and engaged with her kingdom and subjects throughout much of her reign. Although Victoria is probably best remembered for publicly mourning her husband, Prince Albert, for decades, this biography shows how much more there was to her as a monarch and as a woman. I loved the way Baird presented a nuanced look at Victoria and her life, celebrating her accomplishments and pointing out some of her public and private mistakes. This biography is huge, almost 500 pages before the endnotes and sources, but well worth the time it took me to read it.

 

99. The Magicians by Lev Grossman

If you are a regular blog reader, you probably know but my love for The Magicians and the rest of the Magician’s Trilogy by Lev Grossman. Quentin Coldwater has always loved fantasy and magic, so when he gets the chance to attend a college for magicians, he jumps at the chance. Magic, it turns out, is a lot darker and a lot more difficult than the books made it seem. After graduation, Quentin and company head into the real world, where they learn that the wizarding community has set up a fund so that real life wizards don’t really have to do anything… which is the moment when this book, and the rest of the trilogy, really takes off. I loved so much about this series, like the way it challenges and admires the tropes of fantasy, and the serious questions it asks about happiness and finding meaning in our lives. Quentin can often be an annoying, whiney narrator, but the magicians around him are a delight. This trilogy veers into some pretty dark territory, but it’s easily one of my favorites.

100. Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

To close out this project I wanted to share the book that’s been the most influential for me this year: Option B by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Wharton professor Adam Grant. In the book, they explore the ideas of “facing adversity, building resilience and finding joy” after significant loss and setbacks. The main thread of the book is Sandberg’s experience after the sudden death of her husband, Dave Goldberg, while on vacation in Mexico. Sandberg writes movingly about finding her husband’s body, telling her children about their father’s death, and the loneliness and isolation of widowhood. The sections of the book on resilience research are equally as interesting, and provide a nice counterbalance to Sandberg’s personal narrative. Given that so much of my last year has been taken up by this very topic – surviving loss and rediscovering the things that make life joyful – my love for this book is very much a matter of right place, right time. But, I still think there’s a lot of value for those coming to it from a place that’s not quite as connected to Sandberg’s experience as I am. (FYI: Parts of this review originally appeared at Book Riot as part of the “Best Books of 2017 (So Far)” feature).

And that, my friends, is it. One hundred book reviews in 100 days. Whew. You can check out Days 1 through 10Days 11 through 20Days 21 through 30Days 31 through 40Days 41 through 50Days 51 through 60Days 61 through 70, Days 71 through 80, and Days 81 through 90 on the blog, or follow me on Instagram for more bookish photos (outside my 100 Days project).

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Can it really be August already? That is bananas. Anyway… on to the books! Thanks to the awesome 24in48 Readathon earlier this month, I managed to finish eight entire books in July. It seems weird that I’m not reading more, given that I’m not working right now, but I suppose there’s only so much time a person can spend reading before you want to so something else. And eight books in a month is a decent pace for me, in general, so I’m not complaining. Here’s what I finished:

  1. Chemistry by Weike Wang (fiction)
  2. Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld (fiction)
  3. The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith (nonfiction)
  4. Uprooted by Naomi Novik (fantasy)
  5. Evicted by Matthew Desmond (nonfiction)
  6. American Fire by Monica Hesse (nonfiction)
  7. Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong (fiction)
  8. Pretend I’m Not Here by Barbara Feinman Todd (memoir)

The two books I liked most this month were Evicted and The Power of MeaningEvicted is an incredible piece of reporting, even if it’s very, very hard to read. And The Power of Meaning gave me a lot to think about in terms of finding a sense of purpose during a season of life where it’s difficult to see that. My favorite piece of fiction was Uprooted. I got this very particular craving for fantasy in the middle of the month, and since Uprooted is a rare stand-alone novel, I got to jump in and jump out with ease. Plus, it’s just a really engaging novel — I definitely want to read more of Naomi Novik’s work.

For those counting (like me!), this puts me at 45 books read for the year, which is about on pace for what I’ve typically read… although my life has been so weird the last 12 months that it’s hard to even really assess what is typical or normal anymore. In the past I’ve read around 100 books in a year, so although this is slow it’s getting closer to average.

A Look to August

Now that the summer is winding down, it means that the fall publishing season is gearing up. A lot of the books I brought home from BookExpo (both fiction and nonfiction) publish in September, so I’m hoping to start reading ahead a bit on those titles… and maybe previewing them here? I’m not sure yet. And of course I have a bunch of backlist and earlier-in-2017 books that I would like to get to this month. Here’s what’s on tap:

  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern — I’m rereading this one for a book club I am in and I am so excited about it. The fantasy craving I’ve had since Uprooted hasn’t totally gone away, so I think this will help scratch that itch. Mixed metaphors!
  • The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde — This is another one I’m reading for a book club. I don’t know a lot about it, but I think it will be fun?
  • We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge — I’m working on a post for Book Riot that may include this book, so I want to read it soon. Also, a book about a family that becomes part of a research experiment pushes a lot of my buttons.
  • Fifty Inventions that Shaped the Modern Economy by Tim Harford (Aug. 29 from Riverhead Books) —  I got this one for review and I’m pretty psyched about it. Harford (probably best known for being the Undercover Economist), writes about a bunch of random inventions that have had major impacts on our current economic system. It sounds like it’ll be interested to dip in and out of.
  • American Eclipse by David Baron — This one is a look at “a nation’s epic race to catch the shadow of the moon and win the glory of the world” during the last total solar eclipse in 1878. It looks super interesting!

And that, I think, is that. In addition to reading, I’m planning some trips this month, sending out a lot of job applications, and just trying to squeeze as much awesomeness out of the end of the summer as I can. What are your plans for the month? Let me know in the comments!

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