I’ve already shared the books that kept me reading the last six months of 2017. (If you missed that post, you can read it here.) Of those twenty-five books, I knew I wanted to write a review for one fiction book and one non-fiction book, but I vacillated quite a bit while trying to decide which non-fiction book I wanted to talk about. I finally settled on The Anatomy of Story even though I know Truby’s book isn’t the most accessible or engaging non-fiction on my list. For example, Queen Bees and Wannabes would be much more applicable to the parents out there. It was a helpful and insightful read. Son of Hamas was fascinating. I learned so much about Israel and Palestine and the history of the conflict there, and the story was told in a gripping autobiographical account of a spy working for the Israelis. It was a non-fiction book that taught me a lot, but I was so engaged, I didn’t want to put it down. The memoir I Have Lived a Thousand Years was touching. I love books that make me cry, and I Have Lived was definitely one of those.
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
From the book blurb on Goodreads:
For popular high school senior Samantha Kingston, February 12—”Cupid Day”—should be one big party, a day of valentines and roses and the privileges that come with being at the top of the social pyramid. And it is…until she dies in a terrible accident that night.
However, she still wakes up the next morning. In fact, Sam lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she ever imagined.
Back in June, I shared the first twenty-five books I read in 2017 (if you missed that post, you can check it out here). From July through December I read another twenty-five. The list is pretty heavy on Young Adult (YA) fiction, but I did try (perhaps unsuccessfully) to vary the genres I picked up to read.
Just as before, I had some really amazing surprises. One of the novels was written in verse and published back in 2008. It was so beautiful and tragic and scary and hopeful . . . so many conflicting emotions all at once. I can’t believe it took me ten years to find it (Crank by Ellen Hopkins). There are thrillers on this list . . . fun, easy reads that kept me engaged and turning pages (Little Monsters by Kara Thomas). There are old tales from my childhood that I read out loud with my kids and now understand why, after the decades it’s been since I read them for the first time, I still remembered them so well (Charlotte’s Web and James and the Giant Peach). I still feel the stirring of emotions I had when reading lines from a memoir so poignant that I could probably still quote sentences from the book (I Have Lived a Thousand Years by Livia E. Bitton-Jackson).
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts that I love reading Young Adult (YA) fiction, but these books sometimes make me so disgusted that I want to throw them across the room. Yes, there are a million elements that work together to make a book extraordinarily good (or bad), but for me, what draws me or repels me is usually the use of emotion. And it seems that YA books seem to portray emotion either very well or very poorly. If complex human emotions are replaced with melodrama—poorly-justified teenage angst—it makes me want to throw up a little bit. But every so often, there is a YA book that, in the simplest of language, tells a story that leaves me gutted—that turns me into a snotty mess and gives me a new appreciation for the unanswered questions and the hard truths and gray areas of life that youth (and adults) wrestle with as they discover who they are or want to be.
In January, I made a goal to read fifty books in 2017.
Well, it’s the end of June and with twenty-five books completed, I’m on track with my goal. I’m exploring all kinds of genres and topics, both fiction and non-fiction. My reading is all over the place, and I’ve made some really amazing discoveries.
Several months ago I reviewed a couple books that I loved so much I couldn’t wait until the end of the year to talk about them. You can read what I have to say about The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien and Most Dangerous by Steve Sheinkin in the reviews I wrote earlier this year. I read them back in February and they brought new perspective when remembering the role my Uncle Lonney played in my own family history. These two books continue to be among my favorite reads of 2016.
I always hesitate to write reviews. When I find books that I love, I feel like I can never say enough to really encompass the many things that make them great. Writing is complex and incredibly difficult and even with the books that I don’t enjoy all that much, I usually put the book down thinking that, even if not my favorite, the author still did better than I could have done myself.
Last week I posted a review of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Because O’Briens’ book haunted me so much, I felt the need to pick up others also dealing with the same topic—the Vietnam war. One of my favorite non-fiction authors is Steve Sheinkin, and his most recent book, Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War gives the non-fiction and political side of the Vietnam war that The Things They Carried did not, making it an excellent companion to O’Brien’s book. Together, the two books provide well-rounded insight into the politics and experience of the time period—both in Vietnam and at home in the United States.
I read Kindle books almost exclusively these days. It’s not that I prefer e-books. Actually, I would much rather have a paper book in my hand—feel the breadth of pages thin on the right as I spend more time pouring over the words. I’d rather read with a pencil in my hand to underline and write in the margins. (Yes, as sacrilegious as some might think it, I underline and write notes in my paper books.) But since most of the reading I do these days is on the go or in the dark (laying down with my kids while they fall asleep), reading Kindle books is the means by which I can continue reading at this busy stage in my life.
Most of the books I read, even those I enjoy, I finish and then forgot as I become engrossed in the another book. The next story immerses me in a different world, and the characters of the previous one become a blur, the plot points jumbled until the scenes no longer fit into a neat storyline. As much as I enjoy a book the first time around, I don’t usually feel a need to pick it up again. Reading most stories a second time wouldn’t mimic the same initial joy; it’s not worthwhile to bother with it again.
Every so often, though, there is book that hits me. It haunts me. And I can’t get it out of my head. Every once in a while, I find a book that is special enough that I need to also get the paper copy because I know I will read it again and again until the pages are frayed and the text is a mess of underlining and pencil notes in the white spaces. Tim O’Brien’s book The Things They Carried is one of those.
My husband tells me stories of his family history that are filled with such adventure that the pictures and emotions they conjure up in me linger for hours. In 2007, his grandparents sent us a letter that recounted the details of their expulsion from China in their own words. They spoke of gold strips carried in their shoes, books buried for for their possible return, and a communist officer carefully stepping over their vomit on the deck of the ship. Their descriptions piqued my interest in a time and place I couldn’t quite imagine. Their experiences were so far removed from the world I know.
I remember back in my pre-mommyhood days, I would spend an entire Saturday curled up on the couch reading a book. Those days are gone. At this stage in my life, the reading I do is usually done in small segments on the kindle app on my phone—twenty minutes while I wait at the doctor’s office or thirty minutes while I wait for my daughter to finish her ballet lesson.
Even so, there are thirty-five books that I’ve read in 2015, and I picked a favorite in each of four (very broad) categories. These are not books that were published in 2015. I’m simply picking my favorites of the books I happened to pick up this year.