Summer Reading Plans

A few weeks ago, I discovered 746 Book’s “20 Books of Summer” reading challenge. The idea is neatly summed up in the title of the challenge: read 20 books this summer and review each one.

20-books

I thought this sounded like great fun so I set about making my list. Right around June 1, I started reading a book off my list.

Only thing: I never shared my list. Or the challenge. But after talking to Becky about it yesterday while we were hiking, I decided it’s never too late to start.

So here it is, my goal list of 20 books to read this summer, with the full and honest acknowledgement that it is highly unlikely I will actually read twenty books before September 1. But that is OK because just making the list itself has helped me be more focused and purposeful in my what-to-read-next choice. I suspended all of my other holds (so my library’s gotta be thanking me!) and am looking forward to just seeing how many I actually get to. I made the list so it would be a sort of reflection of my reading tastes…my idea of beach reads and vacation books, the types of nonfiction I like the best, a few books that aren’t released as of this blog post but that I’ve been looking forward to for MONTHS, some older books I have been intending on reading, fiction that speaks to my personal reading quirks. These are listed alphabetically rather than the order I will read them in, because…I don’t know the order yet!

  1. American Baby: A Mother, a Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption by Gabrielle Glaser. A memoir/history focusing on the US adoption system during the 1960s.
  2. Ariadne by Jennifer Saint. Tells the story of the princess of Crete who helped Theseus kill her brother, the Minotaur. Greek retellings are my jam!
  3. Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman. I meant to read this memoir about friendship last year but staying close to friends felt like a painful thing to read during the pandemic and shut downs, so maybe this summer!
  4. Brooklyn was Mine edited by Chris Knutsen and Valerie Steiker. A collection of essays to read in preparation for maybe going to New York this fall.
  5. The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray. A novel about two sisters taking care of their older sister’s teenage daughters after she is arrested. I’ve wanted to read this since it came out in 2019.
  6. Dearly: New Poems by Margaret Atwood. I bought this right when it came out last fall, read two poems, set it down, and didn’t pick it up again. How can that be true of poetry by my favorite author?
  7. Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi. I listened to a little bit of this on audio and enjoyed it but I think I want to read the physical copy.
  8. The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff. I don’t like traditional “beach read” novels but am counting this as a summer read, since it’s set at a family beach house. Rosoff is one of my favorite YA authors.
  9. Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead. A combo historical/contemporary novel, about an Amelia-Earhart-esque character and the actress who plays her in a movie after her death. I don’t generally like books about Hollywood or acting, but I continue to be drawn to this one so I will try it.
  10. Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian. A retelling of the Arthurian legend, told from the perspective of The Lady of Shalott; a book that releases this summer.
  11. Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change by Maggie Smith. One of my favorite poets writes a sort-of self-help book, although I think it is more about creativity.
  12. Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenridge. Reconstruction-era Brooklyn in a novel that “parses what freedom actually means for Black women.”
  13. Lore by Alexandra Bracken. I’ve actually checked this YA novel out twice but never read it! A contemporary story based on Greek mythology.
  14. Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn. Magical realism set in Hawaii and the west coast…another “beach” read. I am reading this one now!
  15. The Soul of a Woman: On Impatient Love, Long Life, and Good Witches by Isabelle Allende. I’ve loved Allende since I was 15, so I really want to read her memoir. Plus, “good witches” is always going to grab my attention.
  16. The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin. I recently listened to the first two books of this trilogy, because when I read them this third book wasn’t out yet. This will be my trip book, since I read the others while on vacation in 2017. Will the return of the moon destroy or revitalize the world? Can Essun and Nassun ever repair their relationship? Will the citizens of Castrima find a new home? Is Alabaster now a Stone Eater? How did I miss that Essun’s arm turned to stone? I think this series is one of the most brilliant I have ever read, but I’m afraid to be disappointed by the ending.
  17. The Turnout by Megan Abbott. Abbot is one of those authors who I’ll read no matter what she writes. She does a sort of menacing, subtle literary thriller that just…shiver. Works for me. This one is set at a ballet studio.
  18. What Comes After by Joanne Tompkins. Every year I try to read a few things outside of my usual favorite tropes, and suspense/thrillers fall into that category. I picked this book because I initially thought it was a thriller, but I don’t think it actually is. More psychological drama, but I can be 100% ok with that, so I’ll try it anyway.
  19. Whose Story Is This? Old Conflicts, New Chapters by Rebecca Solnit. Because I love her work and haven’t read this one yet.
  20. The Witch's Heart by Genevieve Gornichec. A fantasy novel based in Norse mythology, about Angrboda, who is mostly known as “Loki’s wife” in the mythology but here her story is told. That’s one of my favorite book tropes…a little-known woman from mythology brought to life.

As I wrote about each of these books, I remembered all over again how much I want to read them. It’s impossibly lofty to set myself the goal of roughly 6,000 pages in three months, but I am going to try it, and let my reading be controlled by only this list (unless, of course, I find something else I can’t resist). And, to make it official, I am guessing I will read EIGHT of these this summer. September will tell!

Have you read any of the books on my list? Any guesses as to what ones I’ll actually read?


My Year in Books: The 2020 Edition

One of my yearly goals is to write something about every book I finish. (Sometimes I also write about the books I didn’t finish, but not often.) I’ve mostly accomplished this for the past five years, but 2020 was an exception. I’m not really sure why I dropped the ball, as I read some books that I loved, but there you go. It was 2020 after all! (Also the fewest books I’ve read in a year.)

So this is obviously out of chronological order (I usually post this in the first week of January), and fairly incomplete with links to what I actually thought about each book, but still it is useful to me. I like being able to come to an organized list rather than having to search my blog (which, let’s be honest: almost never finds what I need it to find, after 15+ years of blogging and an apparently not-very-developed search algorithm, thanks Typepad) when I want to know something about a book I’ve read.

No more waiting, here’s my list of books I read in 2020:

Audio Books:

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melmud.  A society of fundamentalist Christians living on an island after a supposed devastation has destroyed most of the world. I enjoyed it until the end, which thoroughly annoyed me.

The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick. An assistant librarian in a small town in England turns her life upside down when someone leaves a book of fairy tales for her to find—one clearly written by her grandmother, who is supposed to be dead. This book falls squarely into the “up lit” genre, which I am just beginning to explore.

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson. A generational novel about two Black families who are connected by an unexpected teenage pregnancy. I loved this book so much. I think I need to read the print version and then I will write about it. 

Scars like Wings by Erin Stewart. This young adult novel tells the story of Ava Lee, whose family was killed in a fire she barely escaped from. When she must go back to school, she starts coming to terms with her scars, both the physical and emotional ones.

Young Adult Books:

Agnes at the End of the World by Kelly McWilliams. I’m sad I didn’t write anything about this book because I LOVED it. Agnes and her sister try to escape from the fundamentalist cult they’ve grown up in, only to discover that the world outside is suffering from a virus that might kill all of humanity. Which sounds like a lot but wow, the author did a great job with this story.

Break the Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli. Gymnasts vying for the Olympics. How could I not read this?

The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kincaid by Kate Hattemer. This one is right on the border…a little bit too sexy to be firmly in the YA category, it’s more on the “new adult” side, but still shelvable in YA. (I discussed this with two of my coworkers just to be sure.) It’s the story of Jemima Kincaid figuring out her last days of high school while she navigates what it really means to be a feminist. 

Love and Gelato by Jana Evans Welch. After her mother dies, Lina spends a summer in Tuscany with the father she never knew. I’m a sucker for most things set in Italy so this was fun.

Historical Fiction:

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman. I read this prequel in the continuing story of the Owens family of witches in October and it was perfect. It tells the origin story of the Owens’ family’s magic. I loved it! The last book in this series, The Book of Magic, comes out next October and I will definitely be spending my time with the Owens women again.

This Tender Land by William Kent Kruger. Odie, Albert, Mose, and Emmy run away from the orphanage where they are being abused and travel across the American Midwest by foot, through the landscape impacted by the Great Depression. I still think quite often about Odie’s evolving relationship with God.

General Fiction:

Girl by Edna O’Brien. Tells the story of a teenage girl who is kidnapped by Boko Harem and then later escapes. “Good” in the sense of moving, powerful, unforgettable, and so well-written. But a devastating story.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I think I read Little Women at least ten times as a kid, so this was clearly a reread. Undertaken with a little bit of trepidation as what if I couldn’t love it anymore? And there were definitely some annoyances that my 10-year-old self never saw, but I’m glad I reread it. (I also realized, upon revisiting that post, that I meant to write another one.)

Speculative Fiction:

After the Flood by Kassandra Montag. A woman and her daughter travel across the world that is transformed after global warming has caused the seas to rise.

The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal. Explores the impact of syphilis on a royal family. I enjoyed this book but am not sure I could recommend it to just any reader. You have to be willing to enjoy a book that almost never lets up on darkness and despair. I loved the ending. But it was a hard book to get through, even for me.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow. I love love loved this book about finding doorways to other worlds.

The Dark Tower Series:
This was my main reading this year. It kept me company during the pandemic and was the perfect way to distract myself from worrying about imminent death.

The Gunslinger

The Drawing of the Three

The Wastelands

Wizard and Glass

The Wind through the Keyhole

Wolves of the Calla

Song of Susannah

The Dark Tower


My Year in Books: The 2019 Edition

I realized as I wrote this list that I didn't finish a single book of poetry. I read poems and parts of poetry books but didn't finish any of them. I read almost all of Joy Harjo's American Sunrise but not the whole thing; most of Lay Back the Darkness by Edward Hirsch, and some of the poems from Eat this Plum. And quite a few (but, again, not all) of the Best American Poetry 2019 poems. So yeah, that is high on my list of resolutions (read more poetry) because a life without poetry is blah.

Anyway!

Here's the list of books I read this year, organized by genre:

2019 books collage

General Fiction

Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson. Another favorite, because museums and antiquities and Wales and Denmark and trying to figure out who the hell you really are.
Conviction by Denise Mina. Thrillers aren't my favorite, even though everyone loves them right now, but I enjoyed this one. (By "enjoyed" I mean...I liked reading it, I'm glad I read it, but I didn't LOVE it.) Partly because it was set in Europe which I enjoy.
The Quilter's Apprentice by Jennifer Chiavarini. I donated a set of 12 of this book to my library's book club in my mom's name. I liked it but it's a little bit cozier of a story than I usually read. Which has made me wonder if an edgy quilting novel is possible? :) 
Sula by Toni Morrison. This one ripped me open, tore all my guts out, and left me empty. But in a good way. It helped me understand a few things about some of my relationships. And it reminded me of just how good Toni Morrison was. The second book I cried over in an airplane, on my way to Denver this fall.

Young Adult

Tin Heart by Shivaun Plozza. I enjoyed this story of a girl who tries to seek out the family of the person who donated his heart to her, but I don't think it's one that will stick with me.
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline. Post-apolaclyptic story with elements of First People mythology. Another one I loved. 
The Furies by Katie Lowrie. A novel set in a small English town about contemporary witchcraft. I wanted it to be better than it was.
Thirteen Doorways, Wolves behind Them All by Lara Ruby. This historical fiction/ghost story blend is one of my favorite YA novels I've *ever* read.
Unpregnant by Jenni Hendricks and Ted Caplan. The "funny book about abortion." It was OK to me. I liked many things but the humor is not my style.
The Burning by Laura Bates. Another one I have mixed feelings about. Loved many things about the story but the structure felt clunky to me.

Fantasy

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. A reworking of the Rumplestiltskin fairy tale, with other threads woven in. I LOVED this one.
The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden. Fantasy based on Russian mythology and the second book in a series I loved.
The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden. The third novel and an excellent conclusion. This series is a perfect read for January.
Middlegame by Seanan McGuire. Another excellent read. And a wild ride. And sort-of unlike anything I've read before. Pondering the meaning of life via alchemy, plus adventure and books and repeating time and OH MY. I loved it!
Naamah by Sarah Blake. The story of Noah from the bible, but from his wife Naamah's perspective. An amazing, gorgeous, moving, memorable book.

Science Fiction

Ammonite by Nicola Griffith. The book that kicked of my women-in-science-fiction streak (that I didn't really start on purpose). A scientist from earth sets out to figure out the secret of reproduction on a planet with only women.
The Wanderers by Meg Howrey. A crew on a simulation of a flight to Mars.
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders. Science fiction set on a planet that doesn't rotate. Still thinking about this one.
Contact by Carl Sagan. Wrapping up my quartet of science fiction with women protagonists. This book has shaped my thoughts for decades now.

Graphic Novels

Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal. What if men vanished from the world?
Fruit of Knowledge: The Vulva vs. The Patriarchy by Liv Stromquist. Don't be afraid. It's really interesting and made some feminist points I'd never considered. 

Non-Fiction

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson. How to leave behind only what matters. I read this and thought "I wish I could share this with my mom without offending her" but it might've offended her, and then before I had the courage she passed away and she had definitely not done any death cleaning.
The Soul of An Octopus by Sy Montgomery. I read this when I was the host of my library's book club. So fascinating. I finished it on my way home from South Carolina and it was the first book this year I cried over in an airplane.

Middle Grade

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly. A story based on Polynesian mythology. I will never forget the scene with the turtle shell.


31 Poetry Recommendations for The Sealey Challenge

One of my goals for 2019 was to read a print version of some poetry every single day. I have been off and on with this goal, mostly off for the past three weeks or so.

But August is a challenge month done by the poet Nicole Sealey. Her challenge is to read a book of poems every day for the entirety of August. I LOVE this idea and am going to play along, except I know I won't finish an entire book every day. So I'm going to reestablish my poetry-every-day habit, and in the spirit of social media challenges, I am going to share more on my social media about poetry or poems or the poems I read and love.

HERE is an explanation of the challenge and a list of 31 poetry titles recommended by contemporary poets. It is a great list and a good place to start.

But I thought I would also share some of my recommendations, so here it is: Amy's list of 31 poetry titles you might want to read in August. Even if you just picked up ONE book of poetry from your library (it's in the 811 section of Dewey) and read only one poem a day, you might just find you love poetry too.

  1. My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter by Aja Monet. The first book I’m going to read. “Aja Monet’s ode to mothers, daughters, and sisters—the tiny gods who fight to change the world.”
  2. Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar. The second book I’m going to read. “The work here means to go out on limbs, be it to fling blossoms, chew fireflies, or push old nests into the river once the rearing is done.”
  3. A Woman without A Country by Eavan Boland. The third book I’m going to read. I started this one a couple of years ago, but only got a few pages into in before I picked up something else.
  4. Any edition of The Best American Poetry anthologies. These look like they are long compared to other poetry books, but there are also two introductions (one by the series editor and one by that year's editor) and quite a bit of biographical info about each of the poets, so it's not as long as you think. I buy my own copy of this book every year because I love finding both new poets and new poems by poets I already love. It is a great way to immerse yourself in contemporary American poetry and get a sense of what that means.
  5. Love Poems (for Married People) by John Kenney. This is sort-of funny poetry. Funny because it's true, so it's also painful. But funny. (As an example: One of the poems is titled "When Are You Going to Turn off Your Kindle?")
  6. Power Made us Swoon by Brynn Saito. Woven through all of the poems in this book are poems about Warrior Woman, who is "descended from the dark/river of women"; the rest of the poems are disparate but unified by Warrior Woman. One of my favorite lines: "I don't know whose story/has taken up residence in my body, what ghost."
  7. Anything by Mary Oliver. She is accessible (meaning you won't just think "huh?" after every poem) and wise and her poetry will make you despair over the crumbling natural world while you simultaneously remember just how glorious and beautiful it is.
  8. Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong. His poem “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong,” which is in the collection, is in my top-20 all-time favorite poems. “The most beautiful part of your body/is where it’s headed. & remember,/loneliness is still time spent/with the world.”
  9. Magdalene by Mary Howe. Poems through Mary Magdalene's perspective.
  10. American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin by Terrence Hayes. This book will challenge any assumptions you've made about yourself being "woke." Seriously, I want everyone to read it. It is political but deeply personal (if you can even separate the two). 
  11. The Mobius Strip Club of Grief by Bianca Stone. Poems set in a purgatory that is part burlesque, part feminist poetry stage. The ghosts of the dead can do scandalous things. This is something that contemporary poetry can do in the hands of skilled poets, create something heretofore unimagined and make it breathe.
  12. Dizzy in Your Eyes: Poems about Love by Pat Mora. In theory this is a collection of poetry for teenagers, but if you've ever been a teenager, or a teenager in love, you will connect. Plus the poet explains the origins and methods of some of the poetic structures she uses, so you learn about poetry while you're reading poetry.
  13. Averno by Louise Gluck. I could also write "Anything by Louise Gluck" here, because her understated, wry poems are all a punch to the gut you never see coming. But this is my favorite by her, as it explores the Persephone myth.
  14. Native Guard by Natasha Threthewey. All of her poetry is worthy of your time. This one, which I just read last year, changed me because it gave me a different vision of the voices a poet can use in her work.
  15. Ariel by Sylvia Plath. Not because of the Sylvia Plath suicide idealization or because her husband was an awesome poet but an enormous asshole, but because the poems are just so good. And because many of them are cultural touchstones.
  16. Stone Spirits by Susan Elizabeth Howe. She was one of my favorite professors at BYU. A local poet in the sense that she lives in Utah, but her poems are published everywhere. This collection is her first and it is excellent.
  17. Blackacre by Monica Yoon. This book got me through my Narnia Winter. Not sure I would be here without it. 
  18. American Journal: 50 Poems for Our Time edited by Tracy K. Smith. Smith is the current poet laureate and this anthology is awesome. It is small enough to carry with you in almost whatever bag is your favorite. I've read it in line at Taco Bell and Target, while waiting for a movie to start and while waiting for a doctor's appointment. This is another awesome place to start discovering who contemporary American poets are and what they do.
  19. Selected Poems by Anne Stevenson. I discovered Stevenson when I was in college and she is a seminal influence on my ways of thinking. Her poems about motherhood are exacting in how brutal and beautiful that experience can be.
  20. Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl by Diane Seuss. Poems about art are some of my favorites.
  21. Transformations by Anne Sexton. Or really any of her books. I really…I love her poems. But the more I know about her as a person the more I really have to work to separate the poet from the poems. So many of them are intimately connected to my relationship with poetry itself, the connections it makes and how it helps me feel embraced by the world at large. But she had some strange ideas about sex and motherhood that I cannot get behind. I cannot admire her as a person, but her work is incredible. This duality can be an inherent part of any literature, of course, and I think it is possible to make that separation.
  22. Anything by Seamus Heaney. I had a dream once that I met Seamus Heaney at a store that was having a sale on wool socks. I would like to turn that dream into a poem one day.
  23. Kingdom Animalia by Aracelis Girmay. Full of "Self Portrait as a __________" poems. At first you might thumb through and think "those poems are too long for me" but they are worth the emotional investment. You wouldn't want to miss lines like "we walk inthe rubble/of the African dream,//brushing shipwreck/from our hair and dresses" because you're afraid of a little bit of length would you?
  24. Good Bones by Maggie Smith. So freaking good​. Especially if you've ever A---been a mother or B---had one. 
  25. The Beautiful Librarians by Sean O'Brien. I bought my copy of this book at the British Library in London, but hopefully your library has one too.
  26. Oceanic by Amiee Nezhukumatathil, if only to learn how to say her name (but of course for the poems too).
  27. Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith. Race, gender, politics, society. Will break your heart.
  28. American’s Favorite Poems by Robert Pinsky. This is an anthology that Pinsky put together while he was the poet laureate. It is poems selected by everyday, average American people who happen to like poetry. Because yes: everyday, average American people like poetry! (HERE is what I wrote after I actually met Robert Pinsky, which was a pretty cool day in my life. 
  29. Anything by Donald Hall. His book Without, about his wife Jane Kenyon’s battle with cancer is one of my favorites. (Is that weird…to love a book about someone’s death? It is a way of witnessing, for me.)
  30. Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds. Her poems are so joyfully invested in her marriage and sexuality that this was utterly shocking to me, a chronical of her divorce. Like Without, it is a devastating book about loss and grief, but so beautiful.
  31. The Door by Margaret Atwood. The whole book is excellent, of course. But the title poem? If you are anywhere close to 40 or older, the title poem with fill you with fear and rip your heart out and make you mourn for the briefness of life and the length of death.

If you read any poetry this month, I would love to hear what it was and what you thought of it.


Book Review: Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

A favorite quote:
Girl nerds are in even more trouble than boy nerds, because everybody says we don’t exist, or if we do exist, it’s because we’re trying to get the boy nerds to like us. I don’t like any of the boy nerds in my school. I’m smarter than all of them, so they’re mean to me just like everybody else.

Some books are really, really hard to describe. "What are you reading?" is a question people often ask me, almost always followed by "what's it about?" (And that's actually a fairly loaded question anyway. What a book is "about" often depends on what the reader brings to the book, what her reading history is, what she needs to take from a novel, and besides, is it about the story? the characters? the place? the plot?)

MiddlegameMiddlegame​ by Seanan McGuire is even harder to explain. It's about a colorblind boy named Roger, who seems to be able to have conversations with his imaginary friend, who's named Dodger. It's also about a girl named Dodger, who is brilliant at math but not so much at language arts, who seems to be able to have conversations with her imaginary friend, Roger.

It's about an alchemist, James Reed, who is attempting to embody the theory of ethos. Actually put pieces of it into two separate bodies who, when they eventually are able to connect fully, will do...something extraordinary. 

Reed was created by another alchemist, Asphodel Baker, who wrote a series of children's novels (sort-of like the Wizard of Oz, but only slightly, and sort-of like Narnia, but not really, and while there are excerpts in the book from the children's books, I'd really like to read Over the Wayward Wall) that were read across the world but are actually instructions for alchemists.

It's about Erin, who is sort-of like Roger and Dodger, but not really, and who might be there to help them (with what?) and might not, but she is definitely there for a purpose.

It starts with Roger and Dodger being ambushed and shot at in some mysterious way that ends abruptly with we got it wrong and then it tells you a bit of the Baker children's story and then it starts on Roger and Dodger's story.

It moves, sort-of, between those three things, forward (probably) through time, but always going back to that moment of ambush, which is similar but different every time it repeats.

Plus you read about some of the work of contemporary alchemists as well.

So it's definitely non-linear, even though the story mostly goes forward, with Roger and Dodger meeting and then disconnecting as they work towards what is described in Baker's book as the Impossible City on the Improbable Road.

(Which isn't the yellow brick road, not at all, but Oz does come into the narrative.)

I feel like I'm bungling this explanation but I don't know how else to write it. I've erased and rewritten already, several times. Which just goes so well with the book itself that if you've read it, I could leave it at that.

If you haven't read it, well.

If you need a book that is straightforward and uncomplicated and that doesn't ask you to pay much attention, you probably won't like Middlegame.

If seemingly-senseless violence bothers you, you probably won't like Middlegame.

If you like strange books that play with time, you will like Middlegame.

If you like books that make subtle references to all sorts of cultural and literary things, but without being pretentious about it, you will like Middlegame.

If you like books that make you think about the junctures in your life, the places when you made a choice that changed everything, and how it would be different if you'd chosen different, and if different would've been worse or better—you will love Middlegame.

Not everyone will love this novel. It does require your attention, but not in a painful way. In a fascinating way. It isn't a simple book, or an easy one, but one that is worth the effort.

And all of that is to say: I loved Middlegame. Even though it's hard to describe. Maybe because it is hard to describe. 

Let me know if you read it!

PS: If you loved the following books, I think you will also love Middlegame:

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
My Real Children by Jo Walton
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
The Midwich Cuckoos​ by John Wyndham
Time After Time by Kate Atkinson
All the Birds in the Sky ​by Charlie Jane Anders


A List of Books I Might Want to Read. Maybe.

I was thinking today about my process for choosing the books I end up reading. Sometimes (always?) this is overwhelming because there are SO MANY BOOKS I want to read! Right now, in fact, I have three YA books, three novels, and five non-fiction books checked out. I'm actively reading two of the novels but I want to be reading all of the books.

And then every time I go to work I read about some other new book (or ten) that sounds so good.

But as my reading time is limited, and as reading is not the only thing I want to do (because I also want to make all the quilts and run all the miles and scrapbook all the pictures, and then sometimes I have to clean my house and do the laundry), I am fairly picky about what I actually end up reading. (Even if I do request the library to buy a book, and then I check it out, I probably only read 25% of what I bring home. Dismal, I know.) Partly because I am easily beset by non-rational guilt. I shouldn’t feel guilty about sitting down to read. But I always do. The guilt is lessened if I’m reading something really, really good. I mean, it’s my karmic duty as a bibliophile and lover of beautiful writing and all things word-related to pay attention to the excellent books, right? I don’t need to feel guilty for books that are more than an escape.

My pickiness gets sharper and sharper the more buzz a book has. This is really because if everyone is reading a book, I don't want to read it. It stems back to my adolescent angst and the dressed-in-black goth girl who is still a part of me. I want to think I am cool and hip and a trend setter. (Even though I know I am none of those things!) Is a book good because it fits my "good book" criteria, which is often different from what everyone else seems to love, or is it good because everyone else loves it?

The books in this list are some I've heard a lot of people talk about, which seem like they would almost be just my kind of novel. But maybe not. They might suffer the same fate as the other 75% of books I check out: hauled home, stacked in my scrappy space, the first few pages read, then returned. Or I might just love them.

And you know...as a book lover, that is just not too difficult or painful of a problem to have!


Inspection josh malermanInspection
by Josh Malerman. A story about genius teenagers, who are each trained at a gender-specific facility, and what happens when a male and a female student meet each other. Why I'm interested: just the kind of science-fiction story I tend to like, and besides, books in any sort of boarding school are my jam. Plus it seems like a blend of Never Let Me Go and The Knife of Never Letting Go, two novels I loved. My hesitation: a negative review from PW, plus I tried to read Unbury Carol, also by this author, and the writing style didn't really grab me. On the other hand: the comparisons to Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O'Connor, and Keith Donohue make me think I maybe just didn't give Unbury Carol enough time. BUT! EVERYONE has read and raved about Bird Box. I resist jumping on bandwagons.

Daisy jonesDaisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I KNOW! Everyone adores this novel. I think I would enjoy it, a story about a 70s rock band and their internal strife & romance. Why I'm interested: I mean, I know most people like music. But music has been a shaping force for me, even though I am completely incapable of creating it. (Maybe because I can't sing and I never learned to read music?) So a novel about a band is one of my favorite things. My hesitation:  everyone adores it. I start getting suspicious when something is getting a lot of buzz. Is it buzzy because it's really good? Or is it buzzy because everyone's buzzing about it? On the other hand: "Read Daisy and the Six" just keeps coming back to me. Almost like a prompting. BUT! Remember what I wrote about bandwagons?

Black leopardBlack Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James. Tracker, whose keen sense of smell helps him locate almost anyone, travels through a medieval Africa searching for a lost boy. Why I'm interested: A Booker-prize-winning author writing fantasy? And it's non-Eurocentric? and dark and twisty? OK. You've got me. My hesitation:​ two things. One is that I am always reluctant to start an unfinished trilogy. It's just too difficult to keep track of plot lines. Two is probably dumb and maybe sexist of me...but the older I get the more I resist reading male writers or books that mainly have male characters. On the other hand:  I enjoy quest stories so much. BUT!  Many reviewers call this an "African Game of Thrones," and while you know I love dark & twisty, my psyche could only handle the first GoT book. It was just too dismal and it actually took me awhile to trust writers again after reading Game of Thrones. Will Black Leopard be as unbearably dark?

Machines like meMachines like Me by Ian Mcewan. Set in an alternate version of London in the 1980s, this is the story of Miranda, her downstairs neighbor and boyfriend Charlie, who invests his inheritance on an AI prototype, and Adam, the artificial intelligence. Why I'm interested:  an AI who writes haiku because it will eventually be the only form of communication; plus, I think it could be an intriguing exploration of identity and humanity. My hesitation: I loved and adored and continually think about Mcewan's novel Atonement. But Sweet Tooth made me so angry that I haven't read a Mcewan novel since. On the other hand: Maybe I should just try him again. Just to see if I like Atonement or I like Mcewan's work. BUT! Now that I think about it, am I really interested in a novel about beings of artificial intelligence? Or am I just getting on a bandwagon of a different (High British Literature) sort?

QueenieQueenie by Candice Carty-Williams. A Jamacian-British woman's very bad year of trying to get over a breakup with her boyfriend. Why I'm interested: Dare I confess it's for the cover? I really like the cover. No, really, that isn't the only thing. It's set in London, for one. And it seems like the type of novel that is as much about the protagonist's relationship with her family and friends as it is about love and/or romance. And also to prove that I am not an aging old fuddy-duddy who's too uptight to read a funny-and-sweet romance. My hesitation: Maybe I am too old to read this kind of book? And maybe I've been a fuddy-duddy my whole life, and reading Queenie will just remind me of how unadventerous my life has been? And of how things that are funny to most people are just never funny to me? On the other hand: You just never know what you'll find in a book. Maybe this will surprise me, even though I don't know where that optimism is coming from. BUT! Several reviewers have said this is a black Bridget Jones's Diary, which, gah. Why can't books just be what they are, instead of another version of a different book? Is it really like the first book? Or is that comparison made as a way to draw attention to it?

Care and feedingThe Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Grey. Three sisters, Althea, Viola, and Lillian, have to contend with each other, their shared history, and their daughters when one of the sisters is arrested. Why I'm interested: I am drawn to stories about sisters, and currently I have been thinking a lot about the relationship between aunts and nieces, which I think this looks at. Plus: my friend Karenika loved it, and she has great taste. My hesitation: OH. MY. GOSH. I can't even clearly explain why, but I just really don't like the title. It feels too ambitious and showy. Like it's trying too hard to be cool. (WAIT! Am I trying too hard to be cool?) On the other hand:  books with awful titles can still be really, really good (I'm thinking of you, A Heart in a Body in the World). BUT! Again with the comparison: this one is compared often to An American Marriage, which I loved, and I don't want to set up an expectation and then be disappointed. 

And, finally, to prove I am not entirely a curmudgeonly, snooty old librarian, here's a list of new(ish) books I have absolutely no hesitations about:

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi. Fairy tale retelling.
Women Talking by Miriam Towes. A group of women in a Mennonite community confront their attackers.
Normal People by Sally Rooney. A friendship between two teenagers in Dublin.
The Island of Sea Women​ by Lisa See. A friendship between two sea divers in Korea.
The Dreamers by Karen Thompson. An illness springs up in a university town that causes people to sleep without waking.

Have you read any of them? What did you think? And how do you choose your books?

 

 


My Year in Books: the 2018 Edition

I felt like it was a really great year for reading for me...I read a lot of books that left me thinking about some things in my life and I discovered books that held answers to questions I didn't realize I had until I found the answers.

2018 books

My goal for 2019 is just, as always, to read more. But I have also set myself the goal of reading at least one poem a day, not online or in my email, but a poem in a printed book. I'm starting with the current Best American Poetry (as soon as it arrives from Amazon; the last few years Costco has had it but, alas, not this year). I want to share more of my book reviews on my Instagram page and maybe get some more reading selfies.

But before I jump into 2019, here's the list of all the books I finished in 2018, with links to my blog posts. (There were many more I started but didn't finish, for different reasons.) This year I'm dividing what I read into genres, just for fun.

Young Adult

Far from the Tree by Robin Benway: adoption from two sides of the triangle. One of my favorite young adult novels I've ever read. Definitely my favorite YA in 2018.

Half-Witch by John Schaffstall: the last book I read in 2018, and it was just my type of YA fantasy.

A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti: Dumb title, excellent, excellent YA novel about a girl who runs across the country (Seattle to Washington DC) to process a trauma.

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor (sequel to Strange the Dreamer): very romantic fantasy, conclusion to the duology.

Night of Cake and Puppets by Laini Taylor (a companion novel to the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series): A quick read about Zuzana and Mik's first, magical date. Love!

The Other Side of Lost by Jessi Kirby: girl abandons Instagram and hikes the John Muir Trail.

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman: I almost always enjoy books about a character taking a road trip. Fantasy that is a companion novel (but not a sequel) to Hartman's other YA books.

Wild Bird by Wendelyn Van Draanen: Wilderness recovery

Fantasy

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden: An exploration of Russian fairy tales. I wasn't sure I'd love it but it was fantastic.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro: I re-read this for our library book group, so I could lead the discussion, and I loved it just as much the second time around.

Circe by Madeline Miller: revisiting the witch of The Odyssey, except this is fully Circe's story. My favorite book of 2018.

Elevation by Stephen King. A man discovers that gravity's grip on him is beginning to dissolve. A fast, sweet read, not scary at all, it will make you consider mortality and what you are doing with yours.

What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine: more a magic realism/history blend than a traditional fantasy. I loved many things about this, but the end was anti-climatic. (Audio)

Science Fiction

Fledgling by Octavia Butler: Vampires in a science fiction vein; "read more by Octavia Butler" is high on my to-do list! 

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich: Dystopia/Post apocalyptic blend. Beautifully written but the end felt weak.

The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper: I continue to think about this, long after I read it. A post-apocalyptic novel in which the world after a nuclear cataclysm is rearranged: women control the cities, and men live in garrisons outside of them, training for war. This is thought-provoking and disturbing science fiction I wish more people had read so I could talk to them about it.

The Power by Naomi Alderman: I cannot stop thinking about this feminist apocalypse novel; I am not seeing everywhere the real effects of women's lack of power in our society. SO GOOD.

Contemporary Fiction

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: an African American man is arrested for a rape he didn't commit. One of my 2018 favorites.

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy: parents lose their kids while on an off-ship cruise outing. Hit me right in the parent-terrors spot.

Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner: New York/Parenting/Adolescence. Hard to qualify, but I liked it.

Poetry

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrence Hayes: so good. One of my favorite poetry reading experiences of my whole life, let alone 2018. 

The Carrying by Ada Limon: the only book I finished this year but didn't write about. WHY??? I loved it, as I loved her previous book Bright Dead Things

Good Bones by Maggie Smith: restored my faith in poetry about motherhood.

Historical Fiction

Eternal Life by Dara Horn: I wasn't sure where to put this...it is sort-of historical fiction, but it's also contemporary, and it's magical realism, all rolled in to one amazing book. Rachel makes a pact with God that means she lives forever...Seriously. This was so good, on so many different levels, motherhood and faith and the power of story and what our lives even mean. 

The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman: I learned a part of history I didn't previously know, about Canada's process of putting orphans into insane asylums, whether or not the orphans actually had mental health issues. So sad. A little more fluffy than I usually read.

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman: I loved this generational novel about the painter Pissaro and his family.

So: I only read 26 books this year, which is the fewest I've finished in some time. But there were very few I didn't really, thoroughly enjoy, so I'll still take this as a great reading year! What did you read and love in 2018?

If you're curious what I've read in previous years, here are some older lists too:

2017

2016   

2015  

2014   


Book Review: The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper

Every once in a while, when I’m deciding what to read next, I realize that I have gotten stuck in a habit of always reaching for what is newest, what is being talked about, what is influencing thinkers right now. But there are so many great books in the world, written five or eight or twenty years ago, still to be read. (This is why I used to joke with my kids, when they were all still young teenagers, that I needed about, oh…a year in jail. Just to sit on a cot and read until I was finally caught up with everything I want to read. They could bring me books every day! Perfect, yes?) (“Never go to jail” is one of my life mottos, by the way!)

Gate to womens countryThe Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper is a book I read about during my work at the library, when I was putting together a new science fiction list. It was published in 1988. Science fiction has always been interesting to me, and I have made many such lists at work—but somehow, I never knew about this novel until now. I think the summary from the Foreword by Adam Roberts sums the story up well:

What separates women’s country from the rest of the world? A wall with a gate in it, of course: the title of the novel alone tells us that. But it’s more than than that. In this richly imagined post-nuclear, women live in walled communities with names such as “Marthatown,” “Tabithatown” and the like. Most men live outside the walls in military camps, and spend their lives training for, and fighting, wars. The flavor of this world is neo-Hellenic: the warriors train and fight like Spartans with spear and shield; technology in the “post-convulsion” cities is, by modern standards, rudimentary. Marthatown has been deliberately modelled upon the prototype of a fifth-century BC Greek polis, right down to the collective performance of tragic drama—Tepper interleaves her chapters with scenes from this latter, a play called “Iphigenia at Ilium,” modelled in part on Euripides’ Trojan Woman.

OK, if you know me at all, you know how much of this summary would grab my attention: post-apocalyptic communities controlled by women? And a thread of classic Greek narrative running through it? I’m not sure there could be a more perfect book for me. It explores so many of my defining issues: motherhood, the work of women, the difference in relationships between mothers and daughters, mothers and sons; how we might solve society’s ills. Feminist thought made into story: these are my favorite novels.

It takes the fear of all feminist-hating men and turns it into a story: what if women ran the world?

Well, what if? Would it be a better or worse world?

In the story, it is as if men are given everything they seem to want. So, fear not, feminist-haters and misunderstanders of the world! If women did control everything, look how great it would be for you. In essence, the story works with men in stereotypes: unfettered access to sex, not much responsibility to babies, the freedom to prepare for and fight in battle. They don’t have to worry about jobs, finding or raising food, making clothing, or anything else that the women do. They only have to protect the women. In this way, women are also presented as stereotypes.

If that was all the story did, however, it would be highly unsatisfying. Instead, it sets up this society, but then shows us how real characters (not stereotypes) move within it. Some characters—both men and women—resist, some fulfill the fullness of the role their society gives them, in all its negatives and positives.

And that underlying thread of narrative about Iphigenia (remember, she was sacrificed by her father Agamemnon after he tricked her with the promise of marriage to Achilles; he needed the winds to change so he could sail his fleet to Troy and start the war to get Helen back) is the perfect one to weave. It serves the same purpose that a black outline does in a tapestry with figures: sets them apart from the background and underlines what is implied but never said.

In case I haven’t made it clear: I loved this novel.

My only problem with it is that since it’s not new and shiny, there’s no one else to talk to about it. So I’ve read reviews and recommended it to my friends (and now I am recommending it whole-heartedly to you, my friendly blog reader!) and I continue to want to discuss it. Its weaknesses (the way it deals with homosexuality would cause quite a stir in today’s society, for example, and I can see many points upon which I might have some delicious arguments over). Its characters. The absolutely unexpected turn the plot took, and how right this turn is to the underlying wisdom of the story.

It is not a feminist utopia, as some reviewers have suggested. It is also not a dystopia. It is a science fiction story in the truest sense: it asks “what if?” and then it answers. It is blunt in its realizations about war, and about how men are deeply entwined with all the wars in history. It explores how technology leaves ripples in time, and how having power changes individuals, and how individual choices change society at large. It asks: what is the true nature of men, and of women? Or is there one at all? What are our weaknesses and our strengths? Can we work together?

However I learned about The Gate to Women’s Country (and I’m not sure I can even pinpoint it), I am glad I discovered it. Like The Handmaid’s Tale and The Mists of Avalon and A Wrinkle in Time (and many, many others) it changed how I think about and perceive the world, as well as my ability to influence some part of it. And I hope someone out there has also read it, and that you’ll tell me what you thought. (Even if you hated it!)


New 2018 Book Releases I'm Anticipating

I'm not always certain that being a bibliophile isn't the same as being a drug addict. Except, you know. Brain damage, bad teeth, the possibility of death. OK, what I mean is: even when I am in the middle of a book I love (currently reading: Far from the Tree by Robin Benway) I am also already thinking (when I'm not reading) about what I'll read next. As I currently have about 18 books checked out, I don't need to anticipate any more. But, alas. Here are some books that aren't released yet that I, however, am already anticipating:
 
Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott (7/17/2018)
Megan Abbott is one of those authors whose books I will always eagerly anticipate. I mean…she made me dislike cheerleaders a little bit less, she wrote about gymnastics in a fairly-authentic way (no mean feat…most writers get it totally wrong), and she upended high school social politics. I love her books: the writing style, the building tension, the misdirection. This one feels a little bit The Robber Bride-ish, mixed with science. Whatever. I’ll read it!
 
Call Me Zebra by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi  (2/6/2018)
Books about readers always seem interesting to me. I'm not sure I can picture yet what this is even about...a young woman who's recently orphaned traces backward the trail she took to New York with her father from Iran, finding a relationship along the way. 
 
Circe by Madeline Miller  (4/10/2018)
I adore books set in ancient Greece that play off the old mythologies. I loved Miller’s retelling of the Iliad, The Song of Achilles. And I can’t wait to read her new one, which brings Circe (who will eventually turn Odysseus’s men into pigs) to a full, imagined life. Perhaps that should be an early birthday gift to myself…
 
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland  (4/3/2018)
The Civil War. But with Zombies. And of course, the nation enlists the children of minorities to fight the zombies. The main character is an African American zombie hunter. I don’t know…this just sounds incredibly awesome to me.
 
Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith (2/6/2018)
There’s a rumor out there that, as with poetry, no one reads essays. And that might hold untrue only for me, but I’m pretty sure it’s just a rumor. At any rate, I love reading essays. And I adore Zadie Smith. So, yes. I’ll read this, despite that rumor that no one else will.
 
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (4/3/2018)
A novel about a college student finding her path in life influenced by feminism. As I consider myself to be a feminist, but others disagree (because I’m a member of a fairly patriarchial religion, because I wanted to be a mother—and a stay-at-home mom at that!—because I live an average, heteronormative life) (to which I say: if you feel that way about me, it is because your understanding of what feminism is is skewed), this is a topic I actually think about quite a bit. Can I lay claim to the feminist title? I’m wondering how this novel will speak  to that quest.
 
I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O'Farrell  (2/6/2018)
It's well established that I am a Maggi O'Farrell fan. This one is a memoir of sorts, about how almost-dying has influenced her living. The British edition has been out for awhile and is currently making its way across the pond to me. I might not have it before the US release...but that's OK. I sort of really like reading British editions when I can get my hands on them.
 
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee  (4/17/2018)
Speaking of no one reading essays, here’s another collection I will definitely read. As a person who tries to construct personal narratives of my own, I have an inkling that this will be one of those books that I enjoy reading for reading’s sake and for what I learn about writing.
 
Not that Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, edited by Roxane Gay  (5/18/2018)
Put “Roxane Gay” on the cover of a book and I’ll want to read it. (Although if I didn’t find any of her actual writing inside the cover, I might not continue…) This is a collection of writing about rape culture, with many of today’s best writers writing about intimate, painful experiences and how they got through, as well as how society needs to change so that such experiences aren’t so common. I am certain this will be a tough read—but also an excellent one.
 
All the Names They Used for God: Short Stories by Anjala Sachdeva  (2/20/2018)
Kelly Link is one of my favorite writers of fantasy-esque short stories, so when a reviewer compared this to her work, I decided: yep, need to read this, too. I say fantasy-esque because they have elements of fantasy (and sci-fi, and strangeness) but not all the markings. Plus I'm just really enjoying short stories lately.
 
What are We Doing Here? Essays by Marilynne Robinson  (2/20/2018)
(MORE ESSAYS!) Dare I confess that I love Marilynne Robinson (who I once got to drive to the airport) more for her nonfiction than her fiction? I think her voice lends itself best to shorter pieces. I will read this without question.
 
How about you? What are you looking forward to reading? Or what are you reading right now?

My 2017 Reading Experiences

As I was putting together my list of 2017 books, I kept thinking of reading experiences that didn’t exactly fit into a list of titles, so tonight I’m writing a post about some of my memories of reading (rather than the books themselves, if that makes sense). I’m listening to Will Schwalbe’s new book, Books for Living, during my time at the gym this month, and there was something that stuck with me this morning. Summing up because I don’t have the print book to refer to, he says something like “the person I am when I finish a book is different from the person I was when I started it.” This struck me because I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about it exactly that way—but still find it completely true. Books change us, if we let them. They give us scraps of wisdom we can use in wider ways than the story might’ve intended. They help us become better people: more compassionate, more kind, gentler, more empathetic to situations outside of our own lives. They sometimes put into words what we cannot yet express by ourselves, and by doing so they bring us peace, understanding, the relief of knowing we are not alone in the world with our sorrows and our joys.

This blog post is about that—about how my life has been changed by books in 2017.

  1. I loved the movie The Arrival so much that I sought out the book that includes the short story the movie is based on, The Story of Your Life. It’s a sad, amazing, lonely and lovely story, but what really influenced me was the first story in the collection, “The Tower of Babel.” In it, the novelist imagines what might’ve been the process of building the actual tower of Babel, and why the people would do such a thing, and what God would think about people doing such a thing. This short story broke my heart. It was a powerful reminder to me that God must value, perhaps above all else, our freedom to choose, even if what we choose is foolish or dangerous or pointless. This knowledge has become a bitter truth in my life; it isn’t exactly comforting but it is because it helps me understand why some of my choices have had the consequences they did. I finished the story reading at my kitchen table and when it was done I had to put my head down and weep. I don’t know if all of the other stories in the collection are as powerful as that one—but I needed that one.
  2. One thing I miss about having little kids is reading lots of picture books. I mean…I can still check them out and read them to myself, and there is still the pleasure of a sweet story and condensed language and amazing images. But it doesn’t feel the same without a small little someone snuggled in at your side enjoying those things with you. But I couldn’t resist checking out Dave Eggers’s picture book, Her Right Foot. I checked this one out because even though I don't have a little one to read to anymore, wanted to read it. It's about the Statue of Liberty and an often-overlooked part: her right foot is in motion. I read it one afternoon when I was covering the children's desk and that is one reason I try not to read at the desk: maybe I am more open-hearted at the library, but anything that is vaguely moving makes me cry. And I don't like crying at the desk. But the illustrations made me cry, and this made me cry: "Liberty and freedom from oppression are not things you get or grant by standing around like some kind of statue. No! These are things that require action. Courage. An unwillingness to rest." Hopefully the young generation is learning this, and maybe they will be able to repair the many ugly things that are happening in our country right now. But it also inspired me: I need to be courageous, too. I need to act, to move forward, to try to make change happen even if my actions feel small and pointless.
  3. For work, I am on the committee that chooses the children’s poetry long list nominees for the Beehive Award. I had so much fun reading almost 30 different junior poetry books. Some were, of course, better than others, and I’m pretty picky about what I will accept as far as rhyming goes (forced rhyming being a cardinal writing sin in my view). But I was reminded that there are so many excellent writers writing excellent poetry. I remembered, as I did this, the first time I discovered that there even was such a thing as “children’s poetry,” at least anything beyond Shel Silverstein, and how from that moment—when Haley was still going to the library with me in her stroller, so 1996 or ’97—I read poetry to my kids. I hope it is a thing that lingers in their memories and shapes their psyches in beautiful ways.
  4. One book I forgot to put on my list is called Poetry in Motion. Actually, I haven’t finished it yet, as I am savoring it, so I think it will go on my 2018 list. It is a collection of poems, both typeset and as images, of the work that’s been displayed in the subway trains in New York City. I’ve only seen a few in person (and, come to think of it, I saw exactly zero during our second trip to NYC last fall), but just the fact that someone puts poetry in the subway makes me happy. I bought my own copy of this, after seeing the library’s copy (which I also ordered!), and I read it here and there when I have a few minutes for a poem. It makes me think of one of our non-subway experiences in New York, strangely enough, when Kendell and I walked around Astoria looking at murals and then walked across the Robert F. Kennedy bridge to Randall’s Island. My feet were killing me and once we got to the island I’m not sure why I wanted to go there so we got on a bus and rode into Harlem. Maybe the book reminds me of that experience because it felt like a poem, both difficult and beautiful all at once. I don’t know. But every time I pick up the book, I’m back there to that early afternoon.
  5. Every week, I almost always read the new issue of The New Yorker. Not cover to cover, but I always read the poems and flip through to see the comics and drawings. A few weeks ago, I also read a short story (even though I’m really not, technically, supposed to read at the desk at work). It was titled “Cat Person,” which caught my eye when I was looking at the table of contents, so I flipped to it and read it. It was an engrossing story about a woman trying to make a relationship work with a man who turns out to be entirely not for her. It is uncomfortably true in its handling of their experiences. What I loved best about it was how it described the way we try to make peace with someone’s problematic behaviors; I have made those same excuses for others. But what really turned this short story into one of my memorable reading experiences that the very next day, when I checked my social media, “Cat Person” was all over my feed. Tons of other people had read it and were talking about it. It’s not often that I manage to be right in the middle of a cultural literary experience, so this felt pretty cool to me.
  6. But, speaking of being in the middle of a cultural literary experience. Do you know that the novel The Handmaid’s Tale was one of the country’s best sellers in 2017? Even though it is more than thirty years old? And that everyone is reading it? And that I am completely bugged by this? I know…that’s a strange reaction. But this is a book I’ve loved since I first read it in 1990. It’s a book that literally changed my life, because when I read it I wanted to learn both how to write like Margaret Atwood and how to find more books like it, which influenced my education choices in a dramatic way. In theory I should be thrilled that everyone is loving something I have loved for so long. But…I don’t. Instead, I’m annoyed because everyone’s like “oh, it’s prescient!” and “how did she know?” and “this is so good” and I’m like…yes, I know. I’ve known for a long time! (For what it’s worth: I have not watched the TV adaptation. Many people have told me it’s excellent. But The Handmaid’s Tale is definitely one of my top-five favorite books of all time…and I don’t want it reinterpreted for the screen. I don’t want someone’s vision of it. I just want my own. Is that crazy?) This all has something to do with the fact that I like liking things that everyone else hasn’t ever heard of. Does that make me a snob? Perhaps. But it’s a thing about me that hasn’t changed in decades. If everyone likes something, it feels less important, somehow. Less meaningful. So I really have not enjoyed having one of my favorite books becoming diluted throughout the culture. I know, it sounds lame. But it’s bothered me all year.
  7. Reading in Hawaii. Dare I confess that I don’t really love the beach. If I’m there by myself or with other adults, I’m OK. But when I’m at the beach with my kids, I’m always terrified that someone will drown. When we were in Hawaii this spring, we went to the beach every day. The kids swam and wandered and snorkeled. And I happily volunteered to sit with the towels and keep everything safe, when really what I was doing was trying to trick my heart to stop beating so hard and my head to stop filling up with worries. And I was also performing that mom mindtrip thing, which is that if I’m thinking very hard about my kids, I’m literally keeping them safe with my mind, right? So, in Hawaii I sat on lots of beaches, covered in sunscreen, worrying about my kids, and reading. (Yes, one can perform the mom mindtrip while simultaneously reading. Obviously, as I read and no one drowned.) My carefully-chosen books were the first two novels in N. K. Jemisin’s series The Broken Earth These books are so good. They give me exactly what I want from a fantasy series: excellent & beautiful writing, characters who are deeply human despite whatever magic system exists within the world, a magic system that makes literary sense (even if not scientific) and is not used as a deux-ex-machina for every problem, a plot that isn’t derivative of Tolkein or C. S. Lewis or George R. R. Martin. A strong female protagonist whose strength is also not a deux-ex-machina. Companion characters who are equally intriguing as the main ones. And, if I am fully completing my wish list, some women’s issues dealt with in unique ways. These books had all of that and an expansive underground tunnel/cave system that I will never completely erase from my psyche. They would’ve been great reads anywhere, but in Hawaii? On the Big Island under sun, on sand, under the shade of our rented umbrella? They were perfect. I was happy.

I feel like 7 is the perfect number of memorable reading experiences for one year. Did you have any? How have books changed you over the past year?