Best Books I’ve Read in the Second Half of 2015

See Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far in 2015 from July 1. I will still talk your ear off about Greenglass House and Graceling. And Trigger Warning and NPH’s Choose Your Own Autobiography are superb audiobooks. Here are ten of the books I’ve enjoyed in the second half of the year:

Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway: Cover image of Emmy & OliverEmmy’s best friend (and boy-next-door), Oliver, was kidnapped by his father when he was seven; he returns at age 17, and reconnects with Emmy and her friends. Good realistic/romantic fiction for those who liked The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney and Sweethearts by Sara Zarr.

Slade House by David Mitchell: This haunted house story is a companion to The Bone Clocks, so of course I loved it; there’s no need to read The Bone Clocks to enjoy Slade House, though, so if this is your first foray into Mitchell’s universe, you can start with this more concise novel. The titular Slade House appears every nine years so its inhabitants can harvest a soul to prolong their lives, but the last victim it lures in is on to them. Deliciously creepy. (I got an early copy and wrote the blurb for LibraryReads.)

We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh: Just as good as The Language of Flowers, but with illegal immigration instead of the foster care system and homelessness as the central issue. Not to say that it’s an “issue book”; the Mexican-American characters at the center of the story are real and complex, their dilemmas hard and heartbreaking.

Useful, Usable, Desirable by Aaron Schmidt and Amanda Etches: I’ve already written about this one here. If you work in a library, or design any kind of product or service or platform for library users, read this book!

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande: Cover image of Being MortalI’m consistently impressed with Gawande’s writing ability, and the clarity with which he communicates his message. In this case, he addresses the issues presented by an aging population, on both the societal and the individual level. An important book that is also easy to read.

The Dive from Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer: If you’ve been having second thoughts about settling down with the guy you’ve been dating for years and are now engaged to, and he becomes paralyzed in an accident, do you stay with him? Or do you go? This is Carrie Bell’s decision, and The Dive From Clauden’s Pier is a character study of a young woman making a difficult decision about what she should do, and what that might mean about the kind of person she is.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg: Though I’m no longer in the dating pool, I enjoyed listening to how romance has changed and how it has stayed the same in recent history. The audiobook was great; it’s stand-up comedy backed up with smart social science.

Cover image of Unfinished BusinessUnfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter: The author of The Atlantic article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” has written a book about the unequal value American society places on competition (ambition, putting oneself first, breadwinning) and care (providing care for children, aging parents, other family members or friends); the former is traditionally male, the latter traditionally female. In order to address gender inequality, we must also adjust the value we place on competition and care.

George by Alex Gino: George is a fourth grader who was born a boy but knows she’s really a girl. But how does she tell her family and friends? And how will they react when she does? This is most likely – hopefully – just the beginning of transgender lit for children and teens, and it’s a sweet, realistic story that avoids extremes: there’s no horrific bullying, but not everyone is instantly accepting either. George’s friend Kelly is a great character also.

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg: Cover image of Did You Ever Have a FamilyA story of grief and guilt, told by multiple narrators – the survivors of a tragedy and those related to them. For those who liked The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy, How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz, The Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer, Fellow Mortals by Dennis Mahoney, The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen.

That’s it for me for 2015. If I read any outstanding books in the next week, I’ll tell you about them in January. Meanwhile, what were your favorite books of the year?

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TBR Challenge, 2015 wrap-up

The Official TBR Challenge, hosted by the Roof Beam Reader.

We’re nearing the end of December now and I don’t anticipate reading the rest of the books on my official TBR challenge list before the 31st, so here’s the wrap-up. I read 9.5 books out of the fourteen (twelve and two alternates) that I chose at the beginning of the year.

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Link to LibraryThing TBR tag.

Of those that I read, Graceling was far and away my favorite, but I also enjoyed (and would recommend) Kitchen Confidential, God’s Hotel, The Art of Fielding, The Starboard Sea, and Between Shades of Gray (not to be confused with Fifty Shades…).

I haven’t decided definitely not to read the remaining books, but I’m clearly not that excited about them or I would have read them already. I may pick up Quiet before the end of the month, but we’ll see. Sometimes, a book loses its appeal the longer a book sits on the shelf, through no fault of its own. Part of the reason I did this challenge this year was to read or get rid of books I owned that I hadn’t yet read – a way of pushing them to the front of the queue, ahead of library books, which have due dates.

While I didn’t read all twelve of my original choices, I did get to read several books this year that were on my unofficial TBR list, i.e. books I’d been wanting to read for some time but hadn’t gotten around to until this year. I enjoyed all of the following:

  • And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass
  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
  • A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash
  • Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon
  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
  • Breasts by Florence Williams
  • Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug
  • Howards End by E.M. Forster

What did you read this year that you loved? What are you looking forward to reading next year? Will you be signing up for a challenge, inventing your own, or letting serendipity be your guide? Do you have a TBR list, in your mind or on paper (or Goodreads or LibraryThing)? Maybe this will be the year that I finally pare down my TBR list…or scrap it altogether.

Quotes from books, III

I’m continuing to run with this Top Ten Tuesday idea from The Broke and the Bookish; here’s a third installment of quotes from books I’ve read (semi-)recently. (See Part one | Part two.) This set spans my reading from June 2015 back to January 2015 (I’m going in reverse chronological order). Most of these are from adult literary fiction, but there are two from children’s books (actually three, there’s a bonus one from Harriet the Spy), one from a memoir, one from a classic, and one from a nonfiction book about the Finnish educational system.

  1. He wanted to travel but lacked any desire to arrive.The Waterproof Bible, Andrew Kaufman
  2. “The hardest part of making a sacrifice isn’t the moment when you do it. That’s the easiest. You’re too busy being proud of yourself for being so noble. What’s hard is the day after that and the following one and all of those days to come. It’s needing to make that sacrifice over and over again, the rest of your life, while in your mind, you can still taste that which you lost. Or what you think you lost.” Mambo in Chinatown, Jean Kwok
  3. I remembered my memory of the moment, because after so long that’s what memory is: the replaying of a filmstrip that’s slightly warped from having gone through the projector so many times. I’ll never know what actually happened and what distortions I added.The Children’s Crusade, Ann Packer
  4. What we read as adults should be read, I think, with no warnings or alerts beyond, perhaps: enter at your own risk. -“Little Triggers,” Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman
  5. She never minded admitting she didn’t know something. So what, she thought; I could always learn. 5.5 Is everybody a different person when they are with somebody else?Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh
  6. People who called her a pest did not understand that a littler person sometimes had to be a little bit noisier and a little bit more stubborn in order to be noticed at all.Ramona the Pest, Beverly Cleary
  7. I can’t imagine a better example of Things to Be Wary Of in the food department than bargain sushi.Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain
  8. Disappointed a hundred times, she still hoped. Howards End, E.M. Forster
  9. I did not think I had rooms enough in me for this kind of love.Vanessa and Her Sister, Priya Parmar
  10. It is better to have a dream of your own than to rent one from others.Finnish Lessons, Pasi Sahlberg

Do these quotes stand alone, or do they need context? Which one(s) do you like best?

Coding in libraries

Does your library offer coding programs for kids, teens, or adults? These programs are becoming more popular in libraries (e.g. Girls Who Code). If your library offers, has offered, or has considered offering a learn-to-code program, take this quick 4-question survey to help the developers of a webinar for LITA (the Library Information Technology Association) understand the state of coding programs at libraries.

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For most people, it’s not necessary – and may not even be useful – to learn any one particular coding language, but having an understanding of how code works can be really helpful. More and more, how stuff works is becoming opaque and mysterious. We have a culture of obsolescence that encourages consumers to replace rather than repair something when it breaks. In addition to being wasteful, this can have dangerous implications, especially for privacy. Also, I believe that user experience will improve when the people who write the code behind the tools, platforms, and services we use are more diverse. People tend to design things with themselves in mind as the typical user, which often leads to poor design (this is why usability testing is so important!).

What do you think of offering coding programs in libraries?

A book about wizards

Book recommendations work in funny ways, or perhaps I should say that people’s responses to recommendations are variable. I tend to react with either enthusiasm or skepticism, depending on (a) who is doing the recommending, (b) what they’re recommending, and (c) how they describe it. If two or three trusted fellow readers all tell me I have to read a certain book, I’m quite likely to add it to my list or bump it to the head of the queue. But if a book is riding a wave of popularity, and the buzz is inescapable, I’m likely to go the other way and avoid it, figuring that no book could live up to the hype. (I’ve been wrong about this in a number of cases – Life of Pi comes to mind – but often books really don’t deserve the hype surrounding them and I don’t regret missing them.)

cover image of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneHere’s a case where my initial skepticism gave way to devoted enthusiasm: Sometime in 1997 or 1998, my mom brought home a hardcover copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. “Aw, Mom, I don’t want to read a book about wizards,” I said.

Let the record show that she was right and I was wrong.