My Year in Reading

Earlier this year, I wrote this tweet:

 

I think many people felt the same way: reading seemed hard. There was so much crazy flying around in the world; my brain was filled with that. I simply couldn’t focus on one static page—especially if the book was difficult in any way.

There are times when books should challenge and expand us—and times when they should comfort us. Times when reading should feel like sinking into an armchair in front of a fire while the storm rages outside.

So this year I re-read a lot of old favorites. The first three Harry Potter books. Wonder BoysLost Cat. It was reassuring to return to something I loved, a known quantity. But the funny thing is, you never read the same book the same way twice. It had been years since I read the early Harry Potter books, and this time around the writer in me was fascinated by the way J.K. Rowling built and revealed her world, how she plotted, how she introduced characters and information. There’s always something new to see in an old book.

Re-reading these favorites allowed me to get back into my reading groove. It still wasn’t a standout reading year—I only read 34 books, as opposed to 46 in 2016—but that’s ok. When I was ready to return to them, books were there for me.

Before I share some new favorites from this year—some stats in the name of reading diversely.

  • 18 of the books I read were written by women, so about 53%.
  • 11 books were written by people of color, or 32%.

That second number keeps going up every year, which is great—and it’s because I’m paying attention. If you want to diversify your reading, following Book Riot is a great place to start.

And now! Without further ado! Of the new books I read in 2017, here are the raves and faves.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters, Vol. 1 by Emil Ferris

My_Favorite_Thing_Is_Monsters

OMFG THIS BOOK! Just go buy it now. After having two people highly recommend it, I got it from the library and wish I had just bought the thing.

First off, this book is BEAUTIFUL. The illustrations are like nothing I’ve seen, created with BIC pens in a beautiful crosshatched style. And then there’s the story…ooooh what a story. So much is woven in here: history, art, myths, family, identity and community. If that sounds like a lot—it is! But somehow Ferris takes it all and makes a cohesive whole, a beast of a story in the best way possible. I’m not going to say anything more about it. Just go buy it now.

The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

The_Stone_Sky

For better or worse, to appreciate this book, you need to read the whole Broken Earth trilogy, beginning with The Fifth Season. The Stone Sky is not a book that stands on its own. But it is a brilliant, heart-wrenching finale to a brilliant, heart-wrenching series that has won a zillion awards and done a hell a job redefining some fantasy tropes.

It’s also a timely read for our current reality. I mean, check this:

“Some worlds are built on a fault line of pain, held up by nightmares. Don’t lament when those worlds fall. Rage that they were built doomed in the first place.”

Start with book one. Read the whole trilogy back-to-back. Sink in and enjoy the rage.

You’re Weird: A Creative Journal for Misfits, Oddballs, and Anyone Else Who’s Uniquely Awesome by Kate Peterson

Youre_Weird

Last year, when I left my steady corporate job, a friend from college reached out. She was full of enthusiasm for my new adventure, full of book recommendations and advice. That friend was Kate, who quit her full-time job in order to create art. You’re Weird is her first book, and I was so pleased (and unsurprised) to discover how delightful it is.

Part journal and part coloring book, You’re Weird basically encourages you to have FUN, which at the end of a long day is a wonderful encouragement. It’s also insightful; some of the writing prompts in here really ask you to dig deep (but in a kindly, non-threatening way). You can plow through it or really spend your time on each exercise—either way, it’s a pleasure.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Underground_Railroad

I was late to the party on this one, and honestly? I probably don’t need to tell you much about it. Everyone has heard of this book. It’s won a zillion awards. But I’m here to tell you, it’s worth the hype.

I tried to read Whitehead’s Zone One and couldn’t finish it. The writing style, the pace—nothing about it worked for me. So I was hesitant to pick up The Underground Railroad…but somehow, in this book, everything that didn’t work for me about Zone One clicked here. The Underground Railroad deals with some dark subject matter (I mean, it’s about a slave escaping the South, so you’re probably not surprised to hear that), but it never feels too heavy. It propels you forward with a classic hero and villain—a classic adventure story that never feels stale.

Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books by Nick Hornby

Ten_Years_Soaking_in_the_Tub

I can’t remember where I first heard of this book, but it had been on my “to-read” list forever. It’s the first book I picked up in 2017, which turned out to be the perfect choice. Light, funny, celebratory—everything I needed at that time.

This is the collected “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” columns that Hornby wrote for The Believer. The magazine had a firm rule: no negative reviews. This meant that Hornby only read books he liked, and the result is a celebration of books and reading unlike anything else I’ve encountered. It’s for people who think reading is fun and don’t want to feel bad about not reading “important” books. (Although some of those books are fun, too.) I felt like Hornby was a friend talking personally to me, that we were sharing our joy of books together.

Another plus of this collection? It added a lot of books to my “to-read” list. Perhaps I’ll tackle some of them in 2018.

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Winter Reading Recap

It feels weird to even THINK the word “winter” when Seattle hit 80 degrees last week. Part of me thought, “Screw it, I’m too late, I’ll skip this recap.” But then again… how can I pass up on talking about the books that kept me company during the 4pm dusks, the crazy windstorms, the rainiest winter on record? The books that you cozy up with next to a fire–those are the books worth talking about.

I’m continuing the trend of 2015 and reading ALL THE BOOKS. Ok, maybe not all. But a LOT. I read five books in March alone. Which I realize for some would probably not be defined as “a lot,” but for slow-poke me is something to brag about.

So I’m not going to tell you about ALL the books I read this winter, because we’d be here for ten years. Instead, you get the highlight reel.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Bernadette

I sometimes do this thing where everyone and their mom recommends a movie/TV show/book, and I say “Ok cool!” and never actually get around to viewing/reading it. That happened with this book. So many people told me how fun it was, and I said “Ok cool!” and never got around to reading it.

Why do I do these things??

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is written in the form of emails, school newsletters, classified correspondence, and random interjections by Bernadette’s 15-year-old daughter. Which COULD make for a terribly annoying book, but Semple pulls it off. This is fun. It’s a quick read with characters who seem at once outlandish and totally relatable. The book is set in Seattle, and man, does Semple nail this city. Or at least, a certain population of the city. Having grown up in Seattle, in a similar community to what Semple describes, the descriptions hit close to home.

There was one thing people hadn’t mentioned about this book–one thing that surprised me. At its heart, Bernadette has a message about creativity and success and what it means to be an “artist”–which is always going to involve some amount of failure. It’s about letting go of the past, picking up where you left off and starting over. Which can be a terrifying thing–until you realize that everyone does it, all the time, and most of the time things turn out alright.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

StationEleven

See story above re: everyone recommending a book and me ignoring it. You’d think I’d learn. Right after finishing this book, I dispatched this tweet to the universe:

This was a beautiful, haunting book about the end of the world—or rather, the end of humanity as we know it. The two are NOT the same, and I’m always struck by books that make that distinction. (Oryx and Crake has a similar theme.) Civilization may end, but the world itself is gonna keep on truckin’, altered and 100% fine without us.

This book explores so many themes it’s difficult to sum up, but I finished with one distinct impressions: it’s a book that really gets it, that gets what it is to be human and see everything that’s broken in the world and also see the tremendous, almost-so-big-it’s-painful beauty of the world.

I was lucky to hear Emily St. John Mandel speak at Seattle Town Hall shortly after reading this book. She is obviously an insanely smart woman. It was interesting to hear all the different sources she pulled from to create Station Eleven, from the history of pandemics to Elizabethan England to Star Trek to Calvin and Hobbes. Like Austin Kleon says–steal like an artist.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Fifth_Season

I don’t read much fantasy these days–which is odd, because thinking back on my childhood reading habits, I almost exclusively read fantasy. My grandparents introduced me to Redwall and I proceeded to read every single book in that series. I wanted to be Cimorene in Dealing with Dragons. And Harry Potter? What would summer have been without counting down the days to the next Harry Potter release? (Late apologies to my parents for insisting that they pre-order two hardback copies so that my sister and I could both devour it immediately.)

The Fifth Season made me realize that I need to read more “grown-up” fantasy. It winds together three separate-yet-connected stories set in a world beset by seismic and volcanic activity. Every few hundred years or go, a “fifth season” arrives–basically, a new “season” trigged by an earthquake or volcanic eruption that kills off most of the population. However, there are people called “orogenes” that can both trigger and control these earthly activities. Can you guess who our hero is?

Jemisin creates an enthralling, complex world full of political intrigue. The Fifth Season is heart-wrenching in parts, but it was so beautifully written that I couldn’t put it down. Apparently there is going to be a second book in this series…I’ll be first on the waiting list.

What have you been reading lately? Now that the weather’s warming up, I’m starting to take the books outside…if there’s anything dreamier than reading in a hammock, I don’t know what it is.