Turns out, living in a home with no TV equals lots of reading. I had a record year, reading 67 books. There were many that I immersed myself in, books that took me to new places both geographic and emotional.

Here are some of my favorites in the order, as always, that I finished them:

Janice Nimura, Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back.

Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You.

Jenni Fagan, Sunlight Pilgrims.

Jenny Offill, Department of Speculation.

Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life.

Chimamanda Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun.

Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride.

Kazuo Ishiguro, A Pale View of Hills.

David Treuer, The Translation of Dr. Apelles.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me.

A Little Life really blew me away. I found the story so compelling--yet so painful to read. I was really immersed in the novel but don't recommend it to the faint of heart. I also really loved Sunlight Pilgrims, a quiet, end-of-the-world story with well developed characters, including a trans teen who wants to transition but can't because of the increasing isolation due to climate change. A Pale View of Hills frustrated me because of the narrative style and the unresolved ending--but it has also stayed with me and led to a good discussion with my friend Lixian who had read the novel a few years ago. Lastly, I fell in love with the Treuer novel and am so excited that I'll be able to teach it in my American Indian literature course this semester. It's a gorgeous novel about love, language, and translation with two equally compelling story lines.

I've already finished a book I love this year and am in the middle of a memoir I'm really enjoying--so I hope that 2017 will be another good year of reading.

Just finished my second book for 2016 and remembered that I haven't blogged my annual favorites of the books I read this year. Yet again, it wasn't a big reading year for me--but I did read some books that I really loved. Here they are in the order I read them:

  1. Jessica Santillan, Inheritance. (This was an MFA thesis--but I loved it and hope it will be published some day soon.
  2. Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See.
  3. Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train.
  4. Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace.
  5. Liz Prince, Tomboy.
  6. Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist.
  7. Paula Vogel, How I Learned to Drive.
To fill out the list, here are some books I enjoyed:
  1. Olen Steinhauer, All the Old Knives.
  2. Margi Preus, West of the Moon.
  3. Nellie Bly, Around the World in Seventy-Two Days.

And here are some facts related to last year's reading:

I read 33 books.

11 of the books I read last year were 2nd or 3rd reads.

I can barely remember many of the books.

I still like to read.

So, yeah, this hasn't been a year for blogging. There are many reasons for that. I'm busy, I'm doing other things, I've lost interest. But here's my traditional list of my favorite books I've read this year (in the order in which I read them).

  1. Benjamin Alire Saenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.
  2. Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch.
  3. Chimamanda Adichie, Americanah.
  4. R. J. Palacio, Wonder.
  5. Linn Ullman, The Cold Song.
  6. Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast.
  7. Willa Cather, A Lost Lady.
  8. Rainbow Rowell, Attachments.
  9. Lynn Darling, Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding.
  10. Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven.
One of the things I find interesting about the reading experience is that I have lingering impressions of the place I was when I read some of these books. For example, I read The Goldfinch and Americanah curled up on my couch while I was recuperating from foot surgery. Similarly, I'll now associate Out of the Woods and Station Eleven with hotels in Annapolis and D.C. since I read those books while traveling.
One night in DC, I had tickets to go to an interview with Dorie Greenspan. I'd already walked a lot that day, said goodbye to friends, but arrived quite early to the venue. I sat on a bench in what was a combination of hallway/lobby/art gallery reading Out of the Woods and thinking about the adjustments I'm making at this particular moment in time. The metaphor Darling uses in her text really spoke to me--learning to find direction again after big changes in life. I'm glad to have read that memoir this year.
Opposite of this is my experience reading The Cold Song, a novel about a dysfunctional family in Norway. I don't have vivid memories of images in that book--which seems appropriate since there's something about the plot that is ghostly and insubstantial.
I enjoyed reading at a more leisurely pace this year after 2013's frenzy to meet my goal of reading 50 books. In 2014, I read only 36 books.
So that's my year in books.

2

Usually at the end of the year, I blog about my reading life. Last year, my friend John challenged me to read 50 books during 2013, and I accepted his challenge. Now, normally, I'm not a goal setter, and when I do set New Years resolutions, it's rare that I see them through. For some reason, this challenge stuck. Probably in part because it had a social aspect, but also because I felt it was doable. I was staying more or less on track until September.

What happened in September, you may be thinking? Well, I had to create a binder documenting all my work for the last 8-9 years in order to apply to become a full professor. Basically, that binder took over my life (and my home!) for both September and October--I had piles of papers everywhere and spent a lot of time writing about how wonderful I am. 😉 My reading took a back seat, and I only managed to complete one book during each of those months.

Once I handed the binder in, I tried to catch up. I thought I was going to be forced to count picture books on my reading list . . . but I went on a reading frenzy during December and completed 10 books! I ended up reading 52 "real" books in 2013. I did choose which books to read by length and, now that I've completed that goal, my new goal is . . . to NEVER set a reading goal again. I'm excited to read longer and more complex books this coming year.

Here's a list of my ten favorite books from my 2013 reading list (in the order that I read them).

  1. Deborah Heiligman, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith.
  2. Matt De La Pena, Mexican White Boy.
  3. John Green, The Fault in Our Stars.
  4. Meg Wolitzer, The Interestings.
  5. Margaret Atwood, MaddAddam.
  6. Sherman Alexie, Reservation Blues.
  7. Tom Perotta, The Abstinence Teacher.
  8. Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor and Park.
  9. Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook.
  10. Elizabeth Strout, Amy and Isabelle.

You'll notice a lot of Young Adult literature on this list--I taught a YA lit class last spring, but it also helped me keep up on my reading since they are usually easier to read. Like I said, I'm eager to read more complex books in the coming year.

1

I kept track of all the books I read again this year. It's a much shorter list than last year's (44 as opposed to last year's 54), in part because I read some pretty long books. Although there's still time to finish more reading before the end of the year--my grading and travel schedules pretty much assure that won't happen. Also, I'm in the middle of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, a book I'm enjoying but one that I don't anticipate finishing any time soon.

The books that I repeatedly recommend to others tend to be non-fiction; one of this year's favorites in that genre was Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts, a fascinating portrayal of the American ambassador to Germany and his daughter's simultaneous (but very different) experiences before World War II. It's such an interesting exploration of how difficult it is to see what's happening in the present clearly. Our ability to assess wrong doing and figure out appropriate responses can be obstructed by passion, love, fear, dishonesty--which makes clear thinking during stressful times all the more heroic.

Another book I loved was Cheryl Strayed's Wild (count me among many others). Strayed unflinchingly describes her own foolishness, yet a dogged persistence to complete a seemingly impossible journey. Her ability to rethink who she is and reset her course in life are remarkable.

The last two books I'll write about are ones that I assigned to my graduate students in an American Indian literature seminar. I'd read them both before, but re-reading them gave me an even deeper appreciation for these writers. Louise Erdrich's The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse is a powerful examination of secrets and the ways that who we are can't be defined by gender or biology. Her cross-dressing main character, a woman who lives most of her life as a Catholic priest, tries to document the seeming performance of miracles by a troubled nun.

The other book I studied with my classes was LeAnne Howe's Miko Kings: An Indian Baseball Story. To be honest, I don't think I really understood the book the first time I read it--I just tried to figure out how the permeable boundary between past and present worked in the fragmented narrative. This time, however, the book made me think about how language can be powerful enough to change how we see the past, allowing us to transform and even redeem ourselves.

Here are the books that have stayed with me this year (in the order I read them):

  • Scott Lyons, X-Marks: Native Signatures of Assent.
  • Erik Larson, In the Garden of Beasts.
  • James Welch, Fools Crow.
  • Lauren Groff, Arcadia.
  • Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.
  • Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl.
  • Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.
  • Sadiah Qureshi, Peoples on Parade: Exhibitions, Empire, and Anthropology in Nineteenth-Century Britain.
  • Louise Erdrich, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse.
  • Kate Atkinson, Case Histories.
  • LeAnne Howe, Miko Kings: An Indian Baseball Story.

A year ago, I joined a Facebook group for people who agreed to read 110 books during 2011. Then, I did the math and realized that there was no way I could accomplish that goal so I quickly left the group. Still, I decided that I wanted to step up my commitment to reading, so I've spent the last year reading much more than I normally do. Because much of the time I read on the treadmill, I didn't read a lot of heavy books, but I have still managed to complete 54 books this past year--and since I'm in the middle of three other books, there's a chance that I'll add to that list before the year's end.

Some of the books have been forgettable; others keep coming back to me. I had purchased Richard Flanagan's Wanting a long time ago but had never read it. It isn't the type of book that I'm usually drawn to, but I find myself thinking about it occasionally and wishing that one of my friends had also read it. The novel combines several story lines: an aboriginal girl in what is now Tasmania, the British colonizer John Franklin who first takes care of and eventually destroys her, and Charles Dickens who creates a play about Franklin's disastrous trip to the Arctic. It's a meditation on desire and colonization--and the destruction that we can leave in our wake.

Another book that I've recommended to several people is Annia Ciezadlo's Day of Honey. Ciezadlo and her husband are journalists who spent several years in Iraq and Lebanon after 9/11. While there, she became obsessed with discovering local food traditions and their origins--so her account of being in the midst of the Iraq war includes recipes and stories about food.

I also really enjoyed Henrietta Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the story of the African American woman whose cells, now labeled HeLa, are used in scientific research all over the world. However, her cells were taken without her informed consent and her family didn't even know about let alone benefit from their sale. Not one to read a lot of scientific work, I was still fascinated by this story.

I look forward to another year of reading. For now, here are my favorite ten books of the year (in the order that I read them):

Richard Flanagan, Wanting

Jim Burke, What's the Big Idea?

Annia Ciezadlo, Day of Honey

Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Patti Smith, Just Kids

Dorothy Wickenden, Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West

Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake

Tom Perrotta, The Leftovers

Philip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice

Michael Ondaatje, The Cat's Table