2016 // What I Read in Q4

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Backstory // Q1 // Q2 // Q3

Onward to finish out the year's list (I've still got 2 hours til midnight! This is the craziest New Year's Eve ever, ha ha ha).

At the beginning of October, I finished Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (another one of the few paper/non-digital books I read this year, you're welcome for that insignificant detail). I was familiar with Bryan Stevenson from his watching his TED talk, listening to him on a couple of podcasts, and reading about him on a really long (fantastic!) Ta-Nehisi Coates article via the Atlantic, but was nevertheless floored by the skill and readability of this book. As you can see from my year's list, I've not been reading very much nonfiction at all lately, so I was immensely impressed by the pace of this book and how he draws you into his world. Five stars, and would recommend this book to everyone. I thought it was one of the most important books I read this year, and enjoyed it, too.

Thanks to my library hold popping up at the right time again, I moved on to Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. It had been several years since I read Little Bee (which, to this day, I'm not sure if I really "get" that one)—I'd forgotten how downright cheeky his writing style is (in a really, really impressive way). Everyone in his world is so much wittier than mine, unfortunately! I did really, really like this book, but I don't feel gushy over it. I enjoyed reading it, enjoyed the characters, but it didn't sweep me away as much as All the Light We Cannot See, which you cannot help but compare it to, as it's also a WW2 story. His turns of phrase are downright masterful, and in a different way than you expect.

I blew through Rules of Civility by Amor Towles in a couple days, thanks to a long airplane day. I love how books about New York City feel so timeless. This one is set in the Gatsby era, very glittering and smoky. I didn't find the characters particularly endearing at all, nor the book super absorbing, but the writing was good. Again, not super gushy. This one has had even less staying power than Everyone Brave...

Our next book club selection was Last Days of Night by Graham Moore, and apparently out of 9 people, I am the only one who read every word of it (and this is from a book club that supposedly falls on the "hard-core" range like finish-the-book-or-die type thing). Sooooooo dry, I don't know why I pushed through. No reward at the end. It was so disappointing, because the subject matter sounds so interesting at first glance! "New York, 1888. Gas lamps still flicker in the city streets, but the miracle of electric light is in its infancy. The person who controls the means to turn night into day will make history—and a vast fortune. A young untested lawyer named Paul Cravath, fresh out of Columbia Law School, takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul’s client, George Westinghouse, has been sued by Thomas Edison over a billion-dollar question: Who invented the light bulb and holds the right to power the country?" See? Doesn't it sound like it should be good? And another New York City book, at that. Skip this one.

I then bit off a hefty, hefty project next, which took me more than the entire month of November to finish—Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark. My fascination with reading this book was solely based on this post from Hanya Yanagihara's @alittlelifebook Instagram account, ha, how's that for rando? She made this book sound so magical (it was), and not-to-be-missed. I thought the craft of this book was amazing—clever, clever, and definitely absorbing. What I wished was that there was more plot driving you a long. It's a lot to ask for almost 1,000 pages and you're sometimes wondering where the plot went. I'm really glad I read it, but I can understand why one would abandon it (it would be so easy to put it down and not pick it back up because there's not much plot compelling you to finish, especially for the first half). I need to look up and watch the miniseries, because it probably translates well to TV.

My aforementioned friend Erin and I decided to read something together next, which we'd heard much mention of on the What Should I Read Next podcast and had had on my TBR list for a while—My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, which is the first installment in her Neapolitan Novels series of 4. I just loved this book. It kept me up late into the night reading "just one more chapter," a condition I adore. I thought the translation of this book was brilliant (it's originally written in Italian), because I could hear it spoken in an Italian accent almost. I can't explain it, but I thought the phrasing was absolutely superb. This first book is lots of coming-of-age situations (it's my understanding that this series follows a pair of friends from childhood through late-middle age), which may not be for everyone, but I do like. I'm currently reading the second one (after a hiatus of two books), and am excited to finish. This is a series I'd like to have on my shelf in paper copy (though have had no trouble getting on Kindle via the library). Definitely recommend, but not sure everyone will enjoy. Falls in the category "literary fiction," I'd think.

The hold on Before the Fall by Noah Hawley from the library came to me at the perfect time after finishing My Brilliant Friend, and I finished this in just a few days. It's a very fast-paced, thrilled-type book and easy to breeze through/absorbing. I do have to admit that I was a little disappointed with the ending, but it's always nice to get through a book quickly because you're so absorbed. This wasn't brilliant or anything, but a good read.

And finally, last night, I finished The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano for book club (we'll meet to discuss it on Tuesday), which is interestingly another Italian translation. It kind of reminded me of Eleanor & Park in several ways, though a bit more quirky and quietly heart-breaking. I'll be interested to hear what everyone else thought of it, too. I didn't think the language was quite as masterful, but it was definitely a quick read.

On audiobook in Q4, I listened to:

- The Boston Girl by Anita Diamante (ABSOLUTELY charming, loved this, especially on audio!)
- Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (A new Pride & Prejudice retelling that was actually fairly clever!)
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (soooo good, can't wait for the Spielberg movie in 2018. Lived up to the hype! Actually bought this one in paperback because I knew Jonathan would enjoy reading it, and he did!)
- A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (I'm not sure this was the book/audiobook for me. I could appreciate that it was a really well-done audio version, but the story did not captivate me, and I'm not sure it would have in paper version either (I'd heard sev people say they preferred the audio). Meh.)

I'm currently listening to the second Louise Penny book, A Fatal Grace (which is perfect since it begins during Christmas!), and reading the second Neapolitan Novel, The Story of a New Name. I've also been listening to Gretchen Rubin's Better Than Before off and on, on audio, for months now, ha. It's like a podcast I listen to when I feel like it (I actually wouldn't mind owning a hard copy of it for reference).

I'll be back with my plans for 2017 in a separate post! Thanks for indulging me if you made it this far. :)  (I finished these before midnight!!!!)

2016 // What I Read in Q3

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Jonathan's working tonight, and I'm sort of determined to finish this series of posts before 2017 rings it in! Ha!

Backstory // Q1 // Q2

July/August/September we cruised right along and hit some more highlights (serious highlights) of the year.

A close second to Mudbound for fave of the year is The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. I should pause here and put in a plug for a big component to my reading year, which was listening weekly to the What Should I Read Next podcast. I look forward to it every week! Anyway, sometime in the summer she recommended The Thorn Birds to someone and made it sound so intriguing. Then my pal Leanne started it/immediately loved it, and I started not long after. What a perfect summer read—I freaking loved that book, and loved the experience of reading it too. It was kind of like watching Friday Night Lights for the first time—so sad when it was over and jealous of people who hadn't experienced it yet. The writing, the story, the sweeping grandeur of everything it covered, generations, love, loss, etc...ooooh, it has everything. If you haven't read it, DO IT.

Next was another big chunk of book with 11/22/63, my very first Stephen King read. I think I heard it mentioned on that podcast too—what often happens is that I'll hear a book mentioned, add it to my to-be-read list on Goodreads or somewhere, and then request it via Overdrive (kindle) or OneClick Digital (audiobook) and then whenever it comes up my turn on either format, I'll go ahead and start it. What happened with this book is that it came up on audiobook first, and I listened to a few hours of it (it's easily over 30 hours I think, read aloud!) and then switched to paper version (one of the few books I read in paper this year). I've always been intrigued by the Kennedy assassination because 11/22/63 was my dad's 9th birthday, and he lived just down the road from Dallas (in Waco, Texas) when this world-changing event happened. Then, Amazon Prime (or was it Hulu?) made a miniseries of this book, which I have yet to finish... Anyway. Solid 4 stars, good summer read. And Stephen King... I get it. A man for the masses! (Can I say that?)

Book club rolled around again, and with it was The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith. I enjoyed reading this book, but it was not life-changing or mind-bending by any means. The subject matter was pleasant and interesting enough (a jump between New York City of the '50s, 12th or whatever century Netherlands, and modern-day Australia), but it wasn't enthralling.

I'm nervous to even write about this next book. This was also for book club, and being such a hefty book, I started it early, not realizing I'd fly right through it (sometimes against my own will). A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. Oh boy, what to say. This falls in the category I've heard described as a "before and after" book—you thought one way before you read it, and you think another way after. I may think of this book at least once every day and it's been months since finishing it. The writing is absolutely superb, she takes you right through the most difficult subject matter (almost imaginable), but the reading experience itself feels...effortless. I've never experienced anything like it before. I can't say I'd recommend this for everyone, because it is so, so difficult at parts to get through. If you qualify as a "highly sensitive person" in any capacity, I'd skip this one. But wow. A real, true masterpiece of a book.

It would've been difficult to follow A Little Life (in fact, it took me a while to come down from the experience of reading it and being so completely absorbed)... next, I read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I took a race relations class at church in the fall, which was amazing, and this book was part of the reading list. It was a timely read, considering all of the current events/impending election, etc. Coates is definitely a commanding contemporary voice, and I'm glad to be familiar with his work.

A good follow-up to Coates was a highly-acclaimed book of the 2016—which happened to pop up on my Kindle from the library at just the right time—was Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. This story follows two African sisters from centuries ago, one who was sold into slavery, and one who stayed in Africa, and where subsequent generations found themselves, taking the reader through the Civil War, Jim Crow, integration, and on. I found this book fairly easy to feel engaged in (and again, timely!), although I did read people say that they would start to feel invested in a character and then the story would move along, and I identified with this. But definitely, a really worthwhile read!

On audiobook, I went through:

- The Nest by Cynthia d'Aprix Sweeney (meh...I do not get all the hype. At all. Yes, it has a pretty cover?)
- The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes (maybe I would've gone through this faster and enjoyed it more in non-audio? It fell a little flat to me.)
- The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Gailbraith (pseudonym for JK Rowling... good, but took me a while to get into on audio, even though again, yay for British accents where they're due.)

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2016 // What I Read in Q2

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Backstory // What I Read in Q1

April, May and June I picked up some speed, though we started off with a real dud for April book club.

I did not enjoy Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson, which was a disappointment because I LOVED Devil in the White City several years ago, and thought the premise of this book sounded so interesting. It was super dry, and didn't pick up until the verrrrry end when the ship sank and of course then the book was over! I even tried the audio version for a minute, which was excruuuuciating in its pace (slowwww). We all agreed this was the dud of the book club year (I believe it even won the official superlative for it).

Next was one of my FAVORITE books of the year (probably even my very favorite!!!), Mudbound by Hilary Jordan. Five stars FOR SURE! This book captivated me from the very first chapter. It takes place in the delta of Mississippi (right down the road from us here in Memphis, with a few scenes in Memphis), post WW2. The pace was amazing, the writing very clever (word economy was perfect) and the story really put you into Jim Crow South unlike anything else I've read in my life. I recommend this book to anyone. I borrowed from the library on my kindle but bought myself a paperback for Jonathan to read and to be able to lend out.

I deviated a little into middle grade on a trip to Asheville, NC for our 10th anniversary and read Serafina and the Black Cloak, which takes place inside the Biltmore, so that was fun!

Next I finally read some Kate Morton, which I'd heard lots of people talk about, and I did the Lake House. I really enjoyed it! It wasn't as quick of a read as I'd anticipated, and the ending was a bit tidy for my taste, but I did love the setting and the atmosphere she created. I bought Forgotten Garden on a kindle sale a few months ago but haven't made it there yet...

Our next book club selection was Delicious! by Ruth Reichl which was major eh. It was very clearly a food writer's attempt at fiction, which was probably harder than she thought. Some parts were bright and interesting, but mostly it was just overdone and too much (like a WW2 sub-plot thrown in? What?).

On audiobook, I listened to:
- When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (wonderful, and special to listen to with Jonathan on our road trip to Asheville)
- Landline by Rainbow Rowell (truly mediocre, maybe it was audio?)
- Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (can't believe I hadn't read it yet, but it was superb on audio. I love British accents where they're due.)

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2016 // What I Read in Q1

Saturday, December 31, 2016

While not necessarily a "New Year's Resolution" (I don't really do those anymore), I read more in 2016 than I have in many, many years, and I'm chronicling what I read this year in a series of posts by quarter. Read about the backstory here.

Q1 started off immediately with a book club meeting on January 4 (we're doing it again this year on January 3—we meet every 6-7 weeks and it's the perfect amount of time).

That book club selection was (mine) and it was a doozie:

- Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray. Boy, I don't read books like this often (ever?) but this one was recommended by my dad and I took a chance on it and chose it for book club, craving the accountability to finish. We all agreed that reading this book was very timely, considering this year's presidential election and all that's been subsequently said/written about it. If you can get past all of the numbers/graphs at the beginning of the book (necessary as they are!), his analysis of what everything means in the back half of the book is indeed fascinating. Or, just read the final chapter and feel your mind stretch. This book won the superlative in our 1st annual book club ballot: "Book You Thought Most About Afterward."

- Still Life by Louise Penny (the first installment of the Inspector Gamache series). I really, really liked this book, but the pace of it wasn't super-quick. It was a more thoughtful mystery than I'd ever read before (I do adore the main character, Gamache). I'm currently listening to the second one on audiobook.

I think right before or after that (can't remember exactly, I wasn't faithfully using Goodreads yet!), I finished Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll. It was a quick page-turner, and will make a good movie (I believe Reese Witherspoon's production company bought the rights to that book before it was even released).

I DEVOURED The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah in February. The writing wasn't super smooth to me (superfluous, if that description fits?) for the first half or so (especially compared to the true masterwork of All the Light We Cannot See), but the story was really, really good, and I was captivated in the end.

In March, our book club selection was Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, and I was super impressed. It's always refreshing to read something that feels brand-new—the writing was definitely singular, and the structure of the book itself into two distinct, almost self-contained halves provided so much interest to me.

I also really started getting into the swing of having an audiobook going all the time. I think (can't remember exactly back that far), but I listened to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (excellent) and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (LOVED LOVED LOVED and probably especially good on audio).

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2016: The Year of Reading // Backstory

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Without much preamble so I don't get psyched out by writing in this space for the first time this year really (!!!), I'm going to jump right in (and break bloggy rules about not including photos or anything pretty to look at...Sorry!).

I read more books in 2016 than I've read in the past 5 years combined. I'm so thrilled to be back in the swing of reading, as it has been my favorite pastime for all of my life. I give full credit to two things: number one, my Kindle Paperwhite, and number two, my bff Erin—we had newborns around the same time in 2015, and she kept mentioning to me some of the kindle reading she was doing while nursing. Through two babies, I'd lamented (to myself) all of the wasted time spent surfing my phone or watching TV while nursing, and the idea of using that time for reading was so appealing (and good for your brain!). For some reason, I'd let myself get caught in this self-perpetuating cycle of "needing" to be reading either really worthwhile parenting books or literary fiction "worth my time." Erin's example helped me throw this out the window for this season of life, which was so refreshing/freeing—I just needed to be reading books that would keep my eyelids open! So last summer (2015), I got back in the swing with page-turning type reads like JoJo Moyes and Liane Mortiarty. I'd look forward to 2 AM nursing sessions and even stay up sometimes finishing a book.

I loved this little graphic I stumbled across via Modern Mrs Darcy's Facebook posts:

With the exception of #1 (ha) and sort of #5, I can vouch for all of these recommendations!

I also learned (game-changer!) how to check out kindle books from the library via Overdrive app, and also audiobooks through the OneClick Digital app, saving me tons of $$! (Reading this post helped me to get familiar and comfortable with OverDrive!)

In 2015, I read books like:

- Light Between Oceans
- Me Before You
- Big Little Lies
- What Alice Forgot
- One Plus One
- Eleanor & Park
- Attachments
- Little Beach Street Bakery
- All the Light We Cannot See (my fave of 2015, hands-down)

When I got back to work after George (fall of 2015), I was sitting in my office one day feeling like the edges of my brain were fraying. My short-term memory was awful, and I felt like I was being pulled in a million directions. Solution? I wanted some accountability to reading books so I could (try to!) keep my mind sharp. From here, my friend Leanne and I hatched our plan to start the "Read It or Leaf Book Club." Having never been in a book club before, I was really inspired by this post, and we tried to adhere to the spirit of what she outlines when we began. (The bonus of this book club was that we tried to compile a group of people that didn't really know each other before—at most, someone knew 3 people, which is a super fun way to do it if you can figure it out.)

I'll continue this series with posts of what I read in 2016 for each quarter. Boring perhaps, but I have grown to LOVE reading these lists on the internet and getting ideas.

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