As I’ve done for the last several years, I’ve tried to capture the essence of each of the books I read this year in as few words as possible.
- Far from the Tree (fiction, by Robin Benway): separated biological siblings discover a deeper understanding of family
- My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (fiction, by Fredrik Backman): a precocious 7-year-old goes on a modern fairy tale scavenger hunt adventure, devised by her eccentric granny
- The Panama Hat Trail (non-fiction, by Tom Miller): following the entire process of making a Panama hat leads to travel all over Ecuador, and memorable stories about the people and places involved
- The Great Alone (fiction, by Kristin Hannah): a family moves to Alaska to live off the land, but the father’s post-POW mental state declines and everyone’s love and survival is tested
- Educated (non-fiction, by Tara Westover): after an unconventional and sometimes dangerous upbringing in a large rural Mormon family, a young woman tries to merge her insights from a prestigious education with her conflicted love for her family
- Hate Hurts: How Children Learn and Unlearn Prejudice (non-fiction, by Caryl Stern-LaRosa and Ellen Hofheimer Bettman): information and advice from the Anti-Defamation League to help parents to understand and stop prejudice in their children, with age-specific tips
- James and the Giant Peach (fiction, by Roald Dahl): the title really says it all
- A Place for Us: A Novel (fiction, by Fatima Farheen Mirza): Indian Muslim immigrant parents raising their kids in California face unique cultural challenges over the years
- We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World (non-fiction, by Malala Yousafzai): Malala shares heartbreaking and inspiring life stories from refugees around the world
- The Bluest Eye (fiction, by Toni Morrison): racist culture ruins a girl’s life
- A Street Cat Named Bob (non-fiction, by James Bowen): a street cat wanders into the author’s apartment building and helps him turn his life around
Some books on deck for 2020 are White Fragility (by Robin DiAngelo) and The Bean Trees (by Barbara Kingsolver). Do you have any book recommendations?
- The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way (non-fiction, by Bill Bryson): how the English language developed, its future direction, and funny tidbits about swearing, spelling, and whatnot
- The Hate U Give (fiction, by Angie Thomas): at the age of 16, two of the protagonist’s best friends have been murdered, most recently in an unprovoked police shooting
- A Leg to Stand On (non-fiction, by Oliver Sacks): a neurologist injures his leg and experiences the feeling of limb loss and learning to walk again
- Kilmeny of the Orchard (fiction, by L.M. Montgomery): another charming story on Prince Edward Island
- The Member of the Wedding (fiction, by Carson McCullers): a peak into the mind of a girl on the cusp of becoming a teenager
- The Ecuador Reader (non-fiction, edited by Carlos de la Torre and Steve Striffler): a collection of essays about the history and culture of Ecuador
- Living Poor (non-fiction, by Moritz Thomsen): a forty-something Peace Corps volunteer lives in coastal Ecuador for several years in the 1960s, working on projects with the local villagers to alleviate their extreme poverty
- The Nest (fiction, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney): a dysfunctional family of selfish adult siblings copes with a sudden change to their financial prospects
- On Beauty (fiction, by Zadie Smith): conflict, romance, and friendship between various members of two families affects their college town community
- Notes from a Feminist Killjoy (non-fiction, by Erin Wunker): reflections on rape culture, friendship, motherhood, and how the “so-called joys of patriarchal culture” affect all of these things.
- My Heart and Other Black Holes (fiction, by Jasmine Warga): teenage suicide partners bond over their shared experiences with depression
- When You Reach Me (fiction, by Rebecca Stead): homage to A Wrinkle in Time involving a mysterious time traveler in New York City
- The Book Thief (fiction, by Markus Zusak): Death tells the story of small-town Germans, centered around one fascinatingly resilient girl, during World War II
- Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman (non-fiction, by Lindy West): a truly laugh-out-loud funny take down of misogynists and fat shamers
Some books on deck for 2019 are A Place for Us: A Novel (by Fatima Farheen Mirza), Brown Girl Dreaming (by Jacqueline Woodson), and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (by Fredrik Backman). Do you have any book recommendations?
On our Christmas vacation, we visited the Springfield Museums. This museum complex includes five museums and a sculpture garden, so you could definitely spend the whole day exploring (if you can handle that much museum time in one day). The Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden has been here since the 1990s. In 2017, it was joined by the newest museum in the complex, the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss.
Housed in a beautiful old home, the first floor of this museum includes many rooms with interactive kid-friendly exhibits and lively, colorful representations of characters and scenes from popular Seuss books such as The Lorax, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, and Horton Hears a Who!.
The upstairs of the museum has more adult-oriented biographical and historical information about Seuss himself, and the basement offered some hands-on craft opportunities for children.
Like I did last year, I’ve tried to capture the essence of each of the books I read this year in as few words as possible.
- Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (non-fiction, by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik): a girl nicknamed “Kiki” grows into an activist supreme court judge and feminist icon
- All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood (non-fiction, by Jennifer Senior): sociological studies show how kids affect parents
- The Old Man and the Sea (fiction, Ernest Hemingway): an epic showdown between a tough old fisherman and the potential catch of his life
- The Cow in the Doorway: Love and Loss in the Time of Pot and Protest (fiction, Gino B. Bardi): a young man’s incredible yet relatable freshman year at Cornell during the Vietnam War
- Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (non-fiction, Trevor Noah): funny stories interspersed with profound observations from the experience of growing up mixed-race as apartheid ended
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (fiction, by Junot Diaz): a geeky Dominican-American boy struggles with life and love, probably thanks to a generations-long curse on his family from an evil dictator(!)
- The Blue Castle (fiction, by L.M. Montgomery): in the 1920s, a single young woman leaves fear and convention behind
- Jane Steele (fiction, by Lyndsay Faye): a young woman’s journey as a murderer/hero in 19th century England
- Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town (non-fiction, by Jon Krakauer): systemic issues in Missoula, Montana led to controversy over the number of uncharged rapes occurring at the University of Montana
- Ways to Disappear (fiction, by Idra Novey): a literature translator finds adventure in Brazil when her author suddenly disappears
- Feminist Fight Club (non-fiction, by Jessica Bennett): a cheeky, fact-based guide to working while female
- The Dead (fiction, by James Joyce): an Irish dinner party followed by revelations about love and death
- Heart of Darkness (fiction, by Joseph Conrad): an English captain’s mission on the Congo River in the 19th century
- Valley of the Dolls (fiction, by Jacqueline Susann): following three women through friendship, love, fame, and self-destruction in the 1940s-1960s
- Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (fiction, by Ransom Riggs): peculiar children are living in a time loop managed by a bird-woman, but none of that seems so crazy when you’re reading the book
- Dear Emma (fiction, by Katie Heaney): a very loose recapitulation of Emma in the age of social media, with a college advice columnist as the protagonist
- Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (nonfiction, by Claude M. Steele): an examination of how stereotype threat can affect anyone in specific conditions, and some evidence-based advice to mitigate this effect
- Anatomy of a Misfit (fiction, by Andrea Portes): the third-most-popular girl at a cliquey high school makes decisions that could ostracize her from high school society, or upgrade her to the most popular girl in school
- At Fault (fiction, by Kate Chopin): questionable romantic choices are made by several parties on a Louisiana plantation
- The Virgin Suicides (fiction, by Jeffrey Eugenides): five teenaged sisters in 1970s suburban Detroit commit suicide, as their community watches and tries to understand why
Some books on deck for 2018 are The Book Thief (by Markus Zusak), My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (by Fredrik Backman), Notes from a Feminist Killjoy (by Erin Wunker), My Heart and Other Black Holes (by Jasmine Warga), and The Hate U Give (by Angie Thomas). Do you have any book recommendations?
I visited friends in Charlotte, NC in late March. The weather was beautiful, so we went for a morning hike around Lake Wylie in McDowell Nature Center and Preserve.
In the afternoon, my friend gave me a brief walking tour of uptown Charlotte. We relaxed in a quiet literary-themed pocket park called The Green. I enjoyed the book sculptures and colorful mosaic stools.
Speaking of mosaics, the Firebird sculpture in front of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art is a sparkling mosaic wonder, reflecting bits and pieces of everything around it.
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, in Amherst, MA, is a fantastic museum for little kids. It’s spacious, bright, and modern, and has all sorts of things for little kids to enjoy. First of all, there is a great art gallery with picture book art by Eric Carle (author and illustrator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and illustrator of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?) and other well-known picture book illustrations. I really enjoyed this area, but it is probably the only part of the museum that is more appreciated by adults than little kids. Budding bookworms will love the library, and finding books scattered around the museum (even inside the very hungry caterpillar himself, on a cozy little bench).
There is also an art studio with suggested projects for kids to work on, and a small movie theater that shows short (~15 minute) movies based on picture book stories. My three-year-old’s favorite part of our visit was the scavenger hunt for footprints from the various Brown Bear animals, which also encouraged us to explore the museum fully (and she got a temporary tattoo as a prize when we found everything!). I would definitely recommend visiting this museum if you’re looking for a special activity for little kids on a winter afternoon. With all of the things to see and do, you can easily spend two to three hours here.
I thought it would be fun to try to capture the essence of each of the books I’ve read this year in as few words as possible.
- Extraordinary Means (fiction, by Robyn Schneider): medical ethics explored through young adult fiction in an alternate reality
- The Art of Hearing Heartbeats (fiction, by Jan-Philipp Sendker): transporting epic love story
- Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (non-fiction, illustrated edition, by Michael Pollan): sensible eating with fun pictures
- The Beach House (fiction, by Mary Alice Monroe): mothers, daughters, turtles
- Made You Up (fiction, by Francesca Zappia): lovable mentally ill protagonist surviving high school
- The Magicians (fiction, by Lev Grossman): Harry Potter meets Narnia, but more cynical and with some R-rated content
- A Man Called Ove (fiction, by Fredrik Backman): love and death, laughter and tears
- The Risk Pool (fiction, by Richard Russo): fathers, sons, small-town upstate New York
- Bewteen the World and Me (non-fiction, by Ta-Nehisi Coates): poetic description of life in a black body
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane (fiction, by Neil Gaiman): a spooky little fairy tale
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (non-fiction, by Rebecca Skloot): the woman whose cervical cells revolutionized biomedical research, unfortunately without informed consent
- Best Boy (fiction, by Eli Gottlieb): dramatic times at an assisted living center, from the perspective of a homesick autistic man
- The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice (fiction, by Jennifer Paynter): the story of Mary, the Bennet sister that is left out of most of the action in Pride and Prejudice
- Americanah (fiction, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie): an outspoken young Nigerian woman moves to the US (where she loves, blogs, and encounters racism), and years later, returns to Nigeria
Some books on deck for 2017 are Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik), The Book Thief (by Markus Zusak), Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (by Trevor Noah), All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood (by Jennifer Senior), and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (by Fredrik Backman).
I managed to read some books this year! Most of these were pretty light, but I would recommend them all.
- Twelve Years a Slave (by Solomon Northup). After all of the Oscar hoopla over this movie, I was interested in reading the book, though I still haven’t found time to watch the movie yet. I became especially interested in reading this book when I learned that it was a true story and Solomon was living in my hometown, Saratoga Springs, when he was captured. This book was a gripping account of human strength through all sorts of atrocities.
- Yes Please (by Amy Poehler). I was ready for a change of pace after Twelve Years a Slave, but stuck with the autobiographical format to read Yes Please. I love Amy Poehler, mostly from her work on the TV show Parks and Recreation. I didn’t love this book as much as Tina Fey’s or Mindy Kaling’s books, but I did enjoy reading it and still love Amy.
- Me Before You (by Jojo Moyes). Ready for a novel, I used Amazon’s suggestion for people who enjoyed Where’d You Go, Berenadette? (which I enjoyed immensely pre-motherhood) and found this popular and well-reviewed tear-jerker. It apparently has at least one sequel, but I don’t know if I want to spend more time crying in my office during my lunch break.
- Big Little Lies (by Liane Moriarty). A funny page-turner of a mystery novel, told with various narrators.
- I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (by Malala Yousafzai). Malala Yousafzai is such an inspiration, and now she is also the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner as she works tirelessly for education for all girls around the world. The book takes a little while to gain momentum, but is definitely worth the effort. Malala spends a lot of time introducing the reader to her family and cultural history, which is maybe not quite as engaging as her personal story, but important to understand in terms of how the Taliban came to power in Pakistan. Stick with it and become a Malala superfan like me. I am very excited to see the documentary He Named Me Malala when I have some time.
- The Royal We (by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan). I’ve been reading Heather and Jessica’s witty fashion blog, Go Fug Yourself, for many years, so of course I was excited to read their novel. I only have a passing interest in the British royal family that this novel is loosely inspired by, but this is a fun story that is full of engaging characters. It was a great airplane read!
- The Rosie Project (by Graeme Simsion). I love a quirky narrator, and this book’s narrator and protagonist is a great one. Don Tillman is an eccentric genetics professor who has begun “The Wife Project,” a quantitative search for a partner to share his life with, and hilarity ensues.
- The Rosie Effect (by Graeme Simsion). The sequel to The Rosie Project is not quite as funny and touching as the initial book, but it was an enjoyable and quick read.
I got some new books that I am looking forward to reading over Christmas vacation and beyond. They are Extraordinary Means (by Robyn Schneider), Made You Up (by Francesca Zappia), The Beach House (by Mary Alice Monroe), The Art of Hearing Heartbeats (by Jan-Philipp Sendker), and The Magicians (by Lev Grossman).
Have you read any good books lately?
In preparation for our upcoming trip to Prince Edward Island, I re-read L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series (through Anne of Ingleside). I first read these treasured books when I was about eleven, and this was my first time revisiting Anne and friends as an adult (other than the occasional viewing of the classic CBC movie from the 80s). While I remember loving reading about imaginative, romantic Anne’s humorous scrapes and coming of age, re-reading the books now makes me wonder if Anne was more of a role model for me than I realized. I’ve mentioned before that these books were a non-negligible factor in my decision to move to Nova Scotia. But upon reflection, my focus on education, engagement ring preferences, wedding location, and house of dreams by the ocean all may have been influenced by subconscious impressions left by an enthusiastic childhood reading of these books.
The buzz about the Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter movie reminded me that I had been meaning to get around to reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for several years. I finally read it, and thought it was a lot of fun. It was basically all of the joy one expects from re-reading Pride and Prejudice, with occasional zombie silliness sprinkled in. There are amusing illustrations, too!
Next up was Daisy Miller, a novella by Henry James. This book was referred to many times in Reading Lolita in Tehran, and I tried several times to borrow it from the library, but it was always out. This situation led me to the unfortunate attempt at reading The Wings of the Dove (just watch the movie on Netflix). In contrast, Daisy Miller (which I finally got a free version of for my Kindle) was eminently readable – it was one of James’ earlier works. I found this story to be a captivating analysis of a traveling young American woman’s personality and the response of genteel European and expat society to her.
Now I’m reading The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje. I decided to read this book because a couple of people had mentioned that he is a great writer, and John Irving recently posted on Facebook that he thinks this book is a “really outstanding novel.” I’ve enjoyed enough of John Irving’s novels for his opinion on that topic to carry some weight.
I’ve read quite a few good books lately, so I thought I’d share some mini reviews of them:
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. The translation I read was a bit abridged (the Barnes and Noble Classics edition), but this 634-page edition still contained more than enough plot for this reader. It’s a brilliant story.
Bossypants, by Tina Fey. I love her. A fun and quick read.
The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, all by Jasper Fforde. I got sucked into the Thursday Next series, which is a delightful mixture of detective/adventure/fantasy targeted at literature geeks.
What’s Bred in the Bone, by Robertson Davies. A novel about the life of a Canadian artist/spy during the late 19th century and well into the 20th century, with an emphasis on factors that shaped his character and fate. Lots of great supporting characters.
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. For me, this popular novel is Margaret Atwood’s dark visions of our future society meets young adult fiction featuring a teenage female protagonist caught in a love triangle (though composed of more functional relationships than in Twilight). Although the plot is driven by the horrific spectacle of children forced to fight to the death, compassion and decency are at the true heart of the story.
Currently reading: Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
On deck: Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins, and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns), by Mindy Kaling
What have you been reading lately?