Archive for the ‘reading’ Category

According to Goodreads, I finished 22 books in 2016 and ran the usual gamut from non-fiction to fiction, though I was lighter on “fem-moirs” than in years past.  The round-up:

2017-books

Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles

The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer by Tracy Kidder

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God by Lauren F. Winner

Parenting Without Power Struggles by Susan Stiffelman

Stoner by John Williams

Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating by Mark Bittman

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn Edin

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of  Modern Believer by Christian Wiman

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Peace Like A River by Leif Enger

You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

 

Best books of 2016:  PEACE LIKE A RIVER!  Sweet Jesus, this was good.  It’s been a long time since I’ve fallen for a character like I did for Reuben.  And his sister, Swede.  And his dad, Jeremiah.  And his wayward brother, Davy.  Ok, I loved all the family.  All the imagery.  All the things about this book!

Also dug Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, because, wowsers, that woman has a way with words that’s amazingly simple but profound.  Honorable mention to Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See for weaving such an intricate, beautiful story, and to Lindy West’s Shrill for her sheer bad-assery.  Oh, and to Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, for touching me to the point that I did the full-on ugly sob while reading the final chapter in bed one night.  It was a good reading year.

On the docket for 2017:  I’m about 150 pages into Atlas Shrugged, and if my Kindle is accurate, it will only take me about 47 hours to finish that one out (oooofffff…).  I’ll be reading a little outside my comfort zone with Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire and Dark Money.  Will be jumping very much back into my comfort zone with Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling and I’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro.  IF I ever finish Atlas Shrugged, that is…

The list-maker in me loves these looks back at 2015, so indulge me one more time!  This is what I read:

2015 books sm

This is Ridiculous This is Amazing by Jason Good

Wonder Weeks by Frans X. Plooij

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Not that Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Why We Can’t Wait by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Everything You Ever Wanted by Jillian Lauren

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

 

It wasn’t a stellar reading year for me – it seemed rare that I was fully engaged in a book.  I lulled a lot on the longer reads (dang you, Goldfinch!) and was disappointed by what I thought would be fun, easy page-turners (Lena Dunham let me down!).  That said, there were still a couple of stand-out gems.

Best books of 2015:  I ended up reading quite a few books focused on justice and race – books that are relevant and important at any time and place, but all the more so given the fact that recent headlines speak of instance after instance of prejudice, oppression, and maltreatment.  I read Why We Can’t Wait over the summer and was rocked by the way Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. boldly defied discrimination with such powerful grace, such selfless love.  Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy was also a reminder that, holy crap, one guy can make a substantive difference.  Honorable mentions to Half Broke Horses for being, just, fun, and to Uncle Tom’s Cabin for putting me through the emotional gamut, from tear-jerking sorrow to hot-blooded indignation.

Worst book of 2015:  Wonder Weeks.  I thought it would be packed with interesting nuggets of insight into what’s happening in Juliette’s quickly-developing brain, but instead it was filled with obvious observations and repetitive anecdotes.  Shoulda skipped it.

On the docket for 2016:  Looking forward to losing myself in the story of All the Light We Cannot See (I’ve heard good things).  Hoping to prompt some intense introspection with My Bright Abyss.  And boldly adding Atlas Shrugged to the list, as it’s been taunting me from my bookshelf for about five years now, intimidating me with its heft.  Bring it.

I got off to a slow start in 2014 but breezed through a lot of fun reads the last couple of months, bringing my reading tally to 20 books.  Last year’s bookshelf contains my usual eclectic mix – a lot of memoirs, a couple of self-help books, a little poetry, some teen fiction…  The year in review:

2014-12 books

The Sleepeasy Solution by Jennifer Waldburger

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

Le Divorce by Diane Johnson

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Best books of 2014:  I just finished Operating Instructions and have once again been wowed by Anne Lamott’s ability to speak to my soul – this journal of her first year of motherhood in all its ups and downs was so poignant and so familiar.  One moment her son is the light of her life, the sweetest, most beautiful creature ever to exist, the next moment he is the devil incarnate (love you, Jules!).  Honorable mention to Bossypants for being hilarious and engaging and exactly the kind of thing I was wanting to read on rainy December afternoons.  I should also give a shout-out to The Sleepeasy Solution for saving us from those late-night marathon baby-bouncing sessions as we “trained” the baby to get to sleep on her own (seriously, I love you, Jules!).

Worst book of 2014:  There are a few duds up there, but particularly wish I hadn’t wasted my time on Le Divorce.  I picked this one up because it’s set in Paris and the review I read promised the perfect mix of tragedy and comedy, but even the Parisian scenery wasn’t enough to get me on board.  Unbelievable, slooooow, and without a single likable character.

On the docket for 2015:  Last year was a little light on classics – going to make up for it this year by tackling The Brothers Karamazov and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  I’d like to delve deeper into poetry as well, maybe pick up Wendell Berry or Maya Angelou.  And for balance, I’ll probably throw in a little Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling, to stay well-rounded, of course…

You know I love me a good list, so I’m always eager to log into Goodreads at the end of the year and browse my virtual bookshelf.  I finished 19 books this year and covered nearly all my literary bases: memoirs, thrillers, classics, self-help…  There are some real goodies in here, books that inspired me to be a better writer or to live a simpler life, books that entertained me through many a late night feeding, books that opened my eyes to gross injustice.  The year in review:

20131230 books sm

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

The Art of Procrastination by John Perry

The Brothers K by David James Duncan

In the Woods by Tana French

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker

On Love: A Novel by Alain de Botton

Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed by Glennon Doyle Melton

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

Best books of 2013:  Sadly, I don’t have any new all-time favorites up there.  But topping this year’s list are The Brothers K and Gone Girl.  They are wildly different, but so, so good in their own right.  I loved Brothers K for the beautiful writing and the endearing characters and the perfect mixture of tragedy and humor – it’s a high-quality novel, though slow going at times.  And then there was Gone Girl.  Not a literary masterpiece, but man, what a freakin’ page-turner!  I can’t remember the last time I read with such fervor.  Fun (though disturbing) stuff.

Worst book of 2013:  Divergent.  I was looking for something quick and fun and engaging and thought this Hunger Games-esque young adult novel would fit the bill.  But it was just a bunch of kids running around with guns speaking in cheesy dialogue.  Not the least bit tempted to see the movie version coming out next year.

On the docket for 2014:  The Sleepeasy Solution (yep, this is our life now!), Daring Greatly, and Half Broke Horses are at the top of my queue.  Plus some Dr. Seuss and a little Maurice Sendak, for our little reader-in-training!

I’m finding our TV is on less and less these days, as Shane and I prefer more and more to spend our evenings on the couch with a couple of good books.  I’ve always wanted to be one of those couples that reads together and talks about books and finally, here we are – we’re livin’ the dream, folks (maybe 30 years prematurely, but whatever).  I finished 18 books in 2012 from a decently wide range of genres.  There were a couple of knocked-my-socks-off good reads, a couple of major disappointments, and a pile of perfect pals for Sunday afternoons on the back porch (or the blanket-laden couch, as of late).

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

God Behaving Badly:Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? by David T. Lamb

The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan

Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli

An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy

Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren Winner

Mission to Paris by Alan Furst

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

No Biking in the House Without a Helmet by Melissa Fay Greene

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

11/22/63 by Steven King

Best books of 2012:  Two-way tie between The Book Thief and Unbroken, because they both brought me joy and sadness in equal measure, and damn if I’m not a sucker for a book that makes me actually feel something.  First runner-up goes to Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, for all of Lauren Winner’s nuggets of spiritual wisdom.

Worst book of 2012:  The Night Circus.  This one had been on my to-read list for awhile, and it left me completely underwhelmed.  It had all the potential in the world to be beautiful and moving and completely fantastical, but…blah.  And bah humbug.

On the docket for 2013:  Those 850 pages of Steven King’s time travel page-turner derailed me a bit, so I’m still working on my 2012 list – The Great Gatsby and The Power of One  are at the top of the list for this year.  Also in the queue are Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and Wild by Cheryl Strayed.  And with that, good night – my Kindle beckons!

I got a shiny new Kindle for Christmas and have been on a reading rampage for the past week – I blazed through The Hiding Place in just a few days and have been scouring the library’s e-Book offerings this evening, making a list of all the books I want to tackle this year (the beginning of a new year has me feeling all goal-oriented and list-crazed).  I also like the idea of taking a look back at what I’ve read over the previous year, so here’s my recap:  I read 15.1 books in 2011 (that .1 is for the 150 pages I read of Les Miserables, before deciding I love reading too much to make myself trudge through all 1450 pages of Victor Hugo’s looooooong-winded story).  There were a few definite winners in here, a few solid Sunday afternoon companions, and a couple that I just wish I hadn’t wasted my time on.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

 The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs

Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebowitz

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Naked by David Sedaris

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom

Best books of 2011:  Three-way tie between Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,  The Hiding Place, and Cold Sassy Tree.  They were all dramatically different (child wizard vs. concentration camp survivor vs. mischievous boy in the early 1900’s South), so I can’t compare them – I’ll just say I loved them all for different reasons: the fantastical unraveling of an epic story, the spiritual inspiration, the witty and endearing characters…  The Poisonwood Bible and The Help were close runners-up.

Worst book of 2011The Friday Night Knitting Club.  Don’t read it.  Just don’t.  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was also sadly unimpressive.

On the docket for 2012:  The Hunger Games Trilogy (a carry-over from my 2011 to-read list), The Great Gatsby (I missed classics this year), and The Power of One (I’ve heard amazing things).  I’ve decided that despite the rainy forecast, it’s going to be a very good winter.

Almost nine months ago, I embarked on a new literary journey as I picked up Harry Potter Book One.  My original intent was to read all seven books back-to-back, but book club and general Potter fatigue prevented me from powering through – it took me much longer than I expected to jump on board and officially join ranks with the HP fan club.  The first couple of books were fun, but they wrapped up too quickly and lacked the drama I love in a good read.  Book Three picked up a little bit, with the introduction of Sirius Black (one of my favorites) and an ending that started to unravel the story of Harry’s beginnings.  Book Four was fun and exciting but dark and mysterious, with the first real twinges of tragedy.  Book Five was intense and maddening (seriously, have you ever hated a character more than Dolores Umbridge?) but so, so good.  By book Six, I was all in, ready to sign up for the Order of the Phoenix, wanting to plaster ‘Dumbledore for President’ stickers on the bumper of our Civic.  And then, 10 days ago, I picked up Book Seven.  Ohhhhhhhh, Book Seven – I can’t remember the last time I loved a book like I loved the Deathly Hallows.  I was so fully invested in Ron, Hermione, and Harry, cheering them on, fearing for them, praying that they would emerge from their journey unscathed.  Shane came home last night to find me clutching the book to my chest, gushing over how brilliantly J.K. Rowling was tying the long and arduous journey together.  This evening, I turned the very last page, and the journey came to an end.  And for complete closure, I joined my fellow Potter fans tonight for the final movie.  And now…it’s done.  Finito.  All tied up with a scarlet and gold bow.  It’s kind of sad to see it end – it’s been one heck of a ride, HP…

Winter-time always brings out the reader in me – rainy Sunday afternoons spent curled up with a good novel are total perfection.  And I just finished up a goody – The Poisonwood Bible is my book club’s January pick, and I will be giving this one a very solid rating, starting out the year on a hard-to-top high note.  If not for last quarter of the book, where the story-line seemed to move away from the family of main characters and more toward what seemed like the author’s political agenda, I would have loved it even more.  Still, underlying agenda or no, it’s a really, really good read, about a missionary family that goes to live in Congo, and must come to terms with what life looks like when the comforts and ideals of a typical American life are stripped away.  The characters are all fictional, but the political turmoil that serves as a backdrop is real, and I love when a made-up story can still give me a general understanding of real-life cultural practices and historical events.

And now that I’m ‘between books’, if only for a few hours, I’ve been spending some time going back over the list of what I read last year, making note of the books I especially loved, and the working on my list of want-to-read’s for 2011.  My top three of 2010:

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See.  As with The Poisonwood Bible, I appreciated the chance to learn about another culture’s history and traditions through totally enthralling fictional characters.  Book-wise, that’s a win-win.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris.  Not at all educational, or life-changing, but still really, really fun.  Plus, this book invokes memories of the hours I spent reading it on a beach in Mexico.  Bonus.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.  I loved this book, but have yet to find anyone that enjoyed it even half as much as I did – it’s become a point of contention with some of my most trusted book-recommenders.  I wish I could articulate clearly what it was about this novel that struck such a cord with me, but I can’t put my finger on it…  And I don’t have to justify or defend my solid two-thumbs-up, so I won’t – I’ll just say that this is one of those rare books that I finished with the wish that there was more of it.

And a few books on my to-read list for 2011:

Books 4, 5, 6, and 7 of Harry Potter.  I powered through the first three toward the end of last year, then got distracted with something else. Admittedly, I don’t love them quite as much as I’d hoped, but I still look forward to reading the rest of the series.  It will be nice to not have to silence people whenever they start to talk about Harry Potter, since I’ve made it this far without knowing what happens at the end.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.  I bought this book several years ago, and all 1,400 pages of it taunt me every time I peruse my bookshelf for something new to read.  Yes, the size of it is daunting, but I’m ready.  And hoping it will make my next visit to Place des Vosges (one of my favorite squares in Paris, bordered in one corner by Victor Hugo’s lovely old mansion) that much more special.

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins.  ‘Cause I heard these books are fantastic and impossible to put down, and I might need a page-turner by the time I make it though Les Mis

It’s extremely rare that I read the same book twice – I instead tend to focus my efforts on my constantly-growing shelf of unread books, which is the curse (or blessing) of being a person with a book-buying addiction.  But when my book club decided on Traveling Mercies as our latest pick, I felt like I was due for a little time with ol’ Annie Lamott – it had been 3 or 4 years since I’d picked up anything of hers.  And good, good Lord, this is good, good stuff.  Like, speaks-to-my-soul kind of stuff.  Like, makes-me-laugh-out-loud-then-want-to-cry kind of stuff.  Like, ‘Amen, Sister!’ kind of stuff.  She talks about her faith in a way that allows you to understand that it’s entirely possible to be deeply connected to God, but still deeply flawed, whether with anger, bitterness, self-centeredness, or vanity.  Being a Christian and being a person with a closet full of skeletons are not mutually exclusive.  And Anne’s closet certainly has skeletons.  But her life is incredibly rich with moments of finding and being found by God.  He hunts her down in the midst of her drug and alcohol addiction; she accepts His embrace through the death of her best friend; she even takes a moment to talk with God in the midst of the most frustrating circumstances, like her car breaking down while she’s on her way to visit an old friend that’s dying of cancer:

“‘It would be hard to capture how I felt at that moment.  It was a nightmare: Bad Mind kicked in.  Bad Mind can’t wait for this kind of opportunity:  ‘I told you so,’ Bad Mind says.  It whispers to me that I am doomed because I am such a loser…  ‘Will you pray with me?’ I asked Sam…  We said a prayer together that we find a solution, that we feel calmer.  I don’t believe in God as an old man in the clouds – ‘bespectacled old Yahweh’, as the late great John Gardner put it, ‘scratching his chin through his mountains of beard.’  But I do believe that God is with us even when we’re at our craziest and that this goodness guides, provides, protects, even in traffic.”

Amen, sister.

I’ve been in a bit of reading slump for the past couple of months – it’s been awhile since I’ve had something in my hands that I couldn’t put down.  A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee was beautifully written, but I found it hard to truly invest in any of its characters.  Little Bee by Chris Cleave was intriguing, but its ending left me feeling frustrated and unsatisfied.   And so, after years and years of somehow missing the boat, I am embarking on a new literary journey – all seven Harry Potter books, read start to finish, back-to-back.  My dear friend (and book club confidante) Nancy has lent me her well-loved set and has assured me that I will not be disappointed.  I have just started digging into book one and am already reveling in the vision of rainy Sunday afternoons spent curled up on the couch with Harry and Hermione, being whisked off to faraway lands full of wizards and witches, where reality is temporarily forgotten and my imagination runs wild and free.  Yes, I suspect this may be just what I’m looking for…