HIGHLY anticipating

Cover of Northern LightsAt the end of my 2016 wrap-up I started to look ahead into 2017 for books to look forward to, but didn’t have any specific titles at the time. This morning (I went to bed even earlier than usual last night) I woke up to the good news that Philip Pullman is publishing another trilogy, The Book of Dust, and that the first one comes out this fall – specifically, on my daughter’s birthday. (She will be thrilled about being dragged to a bookstore first thing in the morning and then being ignored all day while her mama reads. Best birthday ever!)(Kidding, of course. She will be in daycare that day and I will probably take a vacation day. Or just read during her naps and after she goes to sleep, like a normal person.)

So anyway, I’m definitely looking forward to that one. Sometimes when an author of a beloved book or series announces a new book or series, I am a little nervous that it won’t measure up, but I have faith that this one will.

Cover image (not yet final) of All the Crooked SaintsAnd because October is always a big month for publishing, Maggie Stiefvater’s novel All the Crooked Saints comes out then too, another one I’m looking forward to, but not with quite the insane devotion, because I haven’t been reading and re-reading her since I was twelve.

Still waiting on Audrey Niffenegger for Alba, Continued.

2016 Year-End Reading Wrap-Up

Number of books read in 2016: 201

Picture books: 90

Partially read books: 8

Books read in 2015 minus picture books and partially read books: 103

YA/children’s books read: 40

Average number of books read per month (including YA, excluding picture books and partially read books): 8.58

Audiobooks: 11

Nonfiction (adult/YA): 22

Total page count: 27,536 (This seems suspiciously low, given that the last two years my page count was just over 50,000, but exporting the data I want from LibraryThing is frustrating, and honestly I don’t have the patience to dig into this. It’s still a pretty good chunk.)

Male or

Female/male authors: Tipping female for the second year in a row but still pretty close to 50-50.

Five-star ratings: 23, including re-reads; lots of childhood favorite re-reads this year, including The View From Saturday and Ella Enchanted. And Greenglass House, again.

Previously: 2015 Year-End Reading Wrap-Up

Again, no specific reading resolutions for the year. I have continued to winnow down my book collection at home, and have just a few books on the shelf that I’ve been meaning to read; one of these is The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, which I suppose would be appropriate to check off the list.

I have enjoyed reading without the lurking feeling of each book being part of a “to do” list. I’ve discovered (and revisited) many, many picture books, from my own childhood copies (One Woolly Wombat!) to the brand new and delightful (too many to name). I’ve ventured more into children’s chapter books and met Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine.

Like many others, I’m also trying to read a broader variety of perspectives: books by women and people of color and other minorities, books whose subjects or main characters are something other than straight, white, middle-class Americans. There have been some spectacular collections of scathingly funny and serious feminist essays (Lindy West, Caitlin Moran, Mindy Kaling), and Rebecca Solnit has a new book coming out in March). And YA authors have been at the forefront of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks charge from the beginning, which means we’re growing a generation more open-minded than any before it.

“And so to read is, in truth, to be in the constant act of creation.” -Caitlin Moran, Moranifesto

Best books I read in 2016

There were many books published this year that I was looking forward to eagerly, and which I devoured as soon as I could get them. Other books sneaked up on me (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!), some were recommended by friends or librarian-friends, others discovered serendipitously (my toddler pulling them off the library shelf), some a combination of the above. Links go to my LibraryThing reviews.

Cover image of My Real ChildrenAdult Fiction

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne, John Tiffany, and J.K. Rowling

My Real Children by Jo Walton

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

“And we can’t know the lives of others. And we can’t know our own lives beyond the details we can manage. And the things that change us forever happen without us knowing they would happen. And the moment that looks like the rest is the one where hearts are broken or healed. And time that runs so steady and sure runs wild outside of the clocks. It takes so little time to change a lifetime and it takes a lifetime to understand the change.” -Jeanette Winterson, The Gap of Time

Adult Nonfiction

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

“Shame is a tool of oppression, not change….You know what’s shameful? A complete lack of empathy.” -Lindy West, Shrill

Teen/YA

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando

My True Love Gave to Me (short stories, edited by Stephanie Perkins)

Cover of I Am the Wolf...And Here I ComeChildren’s board books and picture books

Wow! Said the Owl by Tim Hopgood

There Is A Bird On Your Head by Mo Willems

I Am the Wolf…And Here I Come! by Benedicte Guettier

I Kissed the Baby by Mary Murphy

One Was Johnny by Maurice Sendak – I can’t believe I missed this one as a kid. It is the perfect counting book for introverts.

How to Cheer Up Dad by Fred Koehler

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Children’s chapter books/series

Cover image of ClementineThe Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker – I listened to all seven of these audiobooks (narrated by Jessica Almasy) and loved every single one. Clementine reminds me of Ramona Quimby (especially when adults tell her to “pay attention” and she says that she was paying attention…to something else. Perfect kid logic). The parents are great characters too.

Coming soon…2017

I haven’t looked too far ahead into 2017, publishing-wise. The book I am most anticipating, of course, is the sequel to The Time Traveler’s Wife, but there is no new news about it, as far as I can tell, and the last I heard, it was looking like ballpark 2018. I’d be excited to read anything new by David Mitchell or Nick Hornby, but they each had books out in 2015 (Slade House and Funny Girl, respectively). I’d love to read whatever Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus) is cooking up next, too. I’m sure plenty of wonderful new books will come along while I’m waiting for these…what are you excited to read this coming year?

What Makes a Good Book Club Book?

I refreshed my “What makes a good book club book?” blog post from 2012 for the library blog. See the “What makes a good book club book?” 2016 edition.

My own book club is still forging on with a small but devoted group of us that meets monthly, give or take. Some of our recent books include:

  • The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (a bit longer than our usual choices, but excellent historical fiction/mythology/magic)
  • The House of the Spirits by Isabelle Allende (no one read this who hadn’t already)
  • Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (a delightful take on Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice)
  • My Real Children by Jo Walton (a Sliding Doors-style split narrative, easily one of my favorite books I’ve read this year)
  • Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer (a children’s book, a song by The Cure, and a good choice for those who like historical fiction and time travel)
  • Becoming Nicole: the transformation of an American family by Amy Ellis Nutt (this was on the my library’s community read shortlist – and indeed, is the 2017 Arlington Reads Together book! – so I was reading it anyway for that committee)
  • Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld (a re-read for a few of us, and most of us empathized more with protagonist Lee Fiora the first time around)
  • Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, a tale of love & fallout by Lauren Redniss (our December book, and our group’s first graphic novel)

Has a book club helped you discover any books that you might not have read otherwise? Which books have lent themselves best to discussion? What’s your best advice for book clubs?

Caitlin Moran discusses her Moranifesto

Cover image of MoranifestoOn November 30, journalist and author Caitlin Moran (pronounced CAT-lin mo-RAN) spoke in conversation with Boston Globe columnist Meredith Goldstein at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, hosted by the Harvard Bookstore. It was dark and rainy, but good to be in a room full of feminist librarian types. I haven’t yet read Moran’s newest book, Moranifesto, but I loved her book How to Be A Woman and her previous essay collection, Moranthology. I initially discovered her via her essay “Alma Mater” in The Library Book, and I still think of a passage from it often:

“The shelves were supposed to be loaded with books – but they were, of course, really doors….A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination….They are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead.”

-“Alma Mater,” Caitlin Moran

Like most of the audience, I was prepared for Moran to be her unselfconscious, energetic, hilariously uncensored self, and she launched in right away about having just gotten her period and being on codeine (which I’m pretty sure you cannot get over the counter in this country) and coffee. The coffee was winning, I think, because she was talking faster than Lauren Graham.

In shifting from writing about pop culture and feminism, Moran said that at first she had felt “ill-qualified” to write about politics, but gained confidence when she realized that many political figures were former journalists. She stated, “Politics does not work anymore,” and said that we need to form new political parties in the U.K. and U.S. Moran believes in action: “If you started complaining three minutes ago, you should’ve started doing something two minutes ago.”

Of certain of our current political figures, Moran said, “These are not politicians, they are agents provocateurs.” She said that the tone of politics has been set by the Internet, which is  largely young, male, and lawless – “like California during the Gold Rush.”

“EVERYTHING is going to change in the next twenty years.”

Moran believes the left’s biggest enemy is itself. Whereas the goal of conservatism is to keep things as they are (the status quo), the left has two goals: to redistribute power and to invent a future. It is far harder to create something new than to preserve something, which leads to greater dissent, even among those who agree on a progressive agenda.

Moran read from one of the essays in Moranifesto, “Advice to Teenage Girls.” Some of her advice:

  • “‘Yet’ is a very useful word.”
  • “When in doubt, listen to David Bowie.”
  • “Go out there and change the world so it works for you.”

“I think everyone should write a manifesto,” Moran said. What will her next book be? How to Be Famous. “Celebrities are the Greek gods of our time.”

Q&A

The questions from the audience were mostly serious, but the answers ranged. In one case Moran’s answer skittered so far from the topic of the question so quickly that the only possible explanation is a tesseract. Suffice to say that Moran has clearly given the issue of Muppet sex some thought. Her answer offended an audience member; Moran listened to the complaint and responded that she was glad the person had spoken up: “I try to make everyone feel like they can say anything.”

Another audience member asked how we can encourage a cultural shift so that sexual violence and rape is taken seriously? Moran’s idea is to drop the word “sexual” in front of the word “assault”; “physical assault” sounds more serious.

Moran also talked about the online environment and social media. She said, “If you had a town planner, they’d never build the Internet the way it is. There are no safe public spaces….We need to find a new way [of designing and using social media]. This is a “problem of culture, not politics.” There is more money in argument and dissent than in agreement, thus “the world becomes angrier and more afraid.” The U.S., Moran pointed out, will never be invaded – our biggest danger is ourselves (internal dissent).

Ending on a serious note, Moran said that the Brexit vote and the Trump election are part of the same phenomenon, dating back to the 2008 crash. Neither approach of the current political systems – austerity or stimulus – brought anyone to justice for the events of 2008. Instead, the strategy of those in power to stop a revolution was to create a sub-class so people’s anger was directed down instead of up (to the elite).

And back out into the rainy night we went.

Books enjoyed and anticipated in 2016

In terms of politics and world events, 2016 has perhaps not been the best year. But in terms of books, it has been stellar. I’m going to combine two Top Ten Tuesday topics: favorite releases so far this year, and most anticipated releases for the rest of the year. As usual, Linda has beat me to it and we’re anticipating many of the same titles.

Once again, this has sat half-finished in the draft folder for so long that several of the titles I was anticipating I have now read. When I started this, the two categories were more evenly balanced. Well, now you know what I was doing while I wasn’t writing blog posts.

Looking at this list, it’s almost as if all my favorite authors got together and said, “We know she has a baby (now a toddler) and reading time is precious, so let’s each publish a book this year and see if she can still read them all.” Challenge accepted! (Just one question: Why wasn’t Audrey Niffenegger invited to the party? I am going to have the teaser section of “Alba, Continued” memorized by the time she publishes the rest of the novel. Come on, Audrey…)

The Pharos Gate by Nick Bantock: I thought my precious boxed set of Griffin & Sabine books was complete, but – surprise! – there is a new one. I received a copy through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program and am happy to say that it fits in perfectly with the other six books; the magic remains intact.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave: Chris Cleave is one of my favorite authors, and I love historical fiction. This is a good book, but there is so much WWII fiction that the bar is quite high, and I think Cleave’s contemporary fiction is stronger. This one didn’t stay with me the way that Gold did.

The WonderThe Wonder by Emma Donoghue: Donoghue switches fluidly between contemporary and historical novels, and she excels at both. The Wonder is the story of Nightingale-trained English nurse Lib Wright, who takes a two-week job watching Irish eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell, who claims not to have eaten in four months. Is it a miracle or a hoax? Lib is sure it’s a hoax and that Anna is a liar, but she quickly comes to care for the girl, and concern at her deteriorating condition compels her to ask not how Anna is maintaining her fast, but why she feels the need to fast at all. The answer is a tangle of religious beliefs and a dark family secret.

Leave Me by Gayle Forman: A mother of four-year-old twins can’t get a break even when she is recovering from a heart attack, so she simply leaves town to find the rest and recovery she needs. Difficult to read at times, but Forman (If I Stay, Where She Went, Just One Day, Just One Year) has such compassionate for and empathy with her characters; she makes the transition from YA to adult seamlessly.

The TrespasserThe Trespasser by Tana French: I’ve been devoted to Tana French’s psychological suspense novels since In the Woods, and I’m always eager to read her new books, though I think The Likeness will always be my favorite. The Trespasser takes place largely in the police office and interview rooms rather than out on the scene; it was a touch long but never felt sluggish, as Conway and Moran dug into what was apparently a domestic murder but turned out to be more complicated than that.

The View from the Cheap SeatsThe View From the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman: This one sneaked up on me; it was not preceded by a lot of fanfare. I’d read a few of the pieces already but enjoyed them again, particularly “Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading, and Daydreaming: The Reading Agency Lecture, 2013.” Nearly every piece in the collection is quite short, and I browsed rather than read straight through in order, so there are some pieces I missed.

Something New by Lucy Knisley: Relish is still my favorite book of hers, but this story of engagement and wedding planning is perfect for those who are in the same stage of life, particularly those with an artsy-craftsy hipster DIY style.

This Must Be the PlaceThis Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell: O’Farrell is another of my favorite authors and I read an e-galley of this novel in a few huge gulps, the result being that I don’t remember it as well as if I’d read it more slowly. It’s the story of Daniel Sullivan and his various family members, in various parts of the world (Donegal, Paris, California, New York, Chile), at various times (from the 1980s to 2016). O’Farrell has a genius for character; I would read this again and probably enjoy it just as much.

CommonwealthCommonwealth by Ann Patchett: On my admittedly long list of favorite authors, Patchett is firmly in the top five. Commonwealth is the story of two families who break apart and combine, leaving the children to cope with divorce, cross-country moves, and a singular tragedy. Various family members (but not all of them) narrate over a long time frame, during which their personal tragedy is made public in a famous author’s thinly fictionalized account.

On Bowie by Rob Sheffield: I was a Bowie fan without realizing it; when he died, I checked a greatest hits CD out from the library and discovered I knew plenty of Bowie songs, I just hadn’t known they were Bowie songs. Sheffield’s book is somewhere between a Bowie biography and a personal memoir – an fan’s extended paean to a cultural idol.

EligibleEligible by Curtis Sittenfeld: I had high expectations for this book (Curtis Sittenfeld! Pride & Prejudice!), and though some reviews were negative or mixed, I thoroughly enjoyed it, as did the other members of my book club. Sittenfeld brings the P&P story and characters into present-day Cincinnati, and she does it very well: with cleverness and wit and invention. She makes one or two significant changes from the original plot and characters, but remains true to the heart of the story.

Last Painting of Sara de VosThe Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith: I do love a good art history story, and this one didn’t disappoint. It takes place in three time periods: Holland in the 1630s, when the painting is created; Manhattan in the 1950s, when the painting is stolen and copied; and Sydney, Australia in 2000 when both the original and the forgery arrive at a museum show. Suspenseful and satisfying, a good choice for those who liked The Art Forger (B.A. Shapiro) or The Miniaturist (Jessie Burton).

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefavater: I have inhaled each of these four books, reading them so quickly it’s hard to remember the details. This was a satisfying conclusion to this uniquely magical quartet.

Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down by Anne Valente: The title snagged my attention, and the description and comp titles were enticing, so I requested and received the e-galley. For a story about a school shooting and a series of subsequent fatal house fires, I found it to be pretty slow-paced, and ended up skimming the last third just to find out who/what was causing the fires. On a political note, stories like this make our lack of national legislation on gun control even more frustrating.

Father’s Day by Simon Van Booy: Yet another of my favorite authors, Van Booy never disappoints: his poetic language, beautiful settings, and gift for bringing characters together in unexpected ways is delicate and touching.

Anticipating

The Muse by Jessie Burton: The second novel by the author of The Miniaturist takes place in Spain in 1936 and England in 1967. I like historical fiction in general, and Jessie Burton’s writing, and Spain in the 1930s is particularly interesting. I’m hoping to pick this up in the next month or two.

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple: Plenty of buzz about the new novel by the author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? A library copy just came in so I’ll be giving it a try soon.

A Gentleman in MoscowA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles: I loved Rules of Civility so much that I was doubtful his next novel could be nearly as good, but my library colleague raved about it and it’s gotten very good reviews. I’ve just started reading and am enjoying it so far.

See also:

Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far in 2015 (7/1/15)

Best Books I’ve Read in the Second Half of 2016 (12/25/15)

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories

Cover image of My True Love Gave to Me
The teen librarian at our library has been bringing up (or perhaps I should say swooning over) this story collection since she first read it, and now that I have read it as well, I have to agree that her starry-eyed state is completely justified. There’s not a dud in the bunch, and while I was looking forward to the authors I already knew (Rainbow Rowell, Gayle Forman, Kelly Link, David Levithan, and Holly Black), I really enjoyed encountering the others for the first time as well, and will probably look up some of their other books in the next few months.

For once, I read this book the way I always intend to read short story collections (but rarely do): I parceled out one or two stories at a time over the course of several days. It was a perfect way to absorb each story and let it settle before reading the next one.

In order of appearance:

“Midnights” by Rainbow Rowell: After years of New Years’ parties with the same crowd, Mags finally gets her midnight kiss with her longtime best friend, Noel.

“It’s going to get worse,” he said. “You’re going to keep changing.”
“Well, so are you,” she said.
“I never change.”
Mags laughed. “You’re a kaleidoscope. You change every time I look away.”
-Rainbow Rowell

“The Lady and the Fox” by Kelly Link: Miranda is the goddaughter of Elspeth Honeywell, and spends every Christmas at the grand Honeywell house. Year after year, she encounters a man – a ghost? – in the garden, but only when it’s snowing.

“Angels in the Snow” by Matt de la Pena: Shy is catsitting for his boss – and slowly starving – over Christmas, when Haley, another tenant in the building, comes down to ask about a plumbing problem. She’s Shy’s age, beautiful, and a great cook, but Shy has to overcome his pride to accept her help.

“Polaris Is Where You’ll Find Me” by Jenny Han: Natalie lives with her adoptive father, Santa, at the North Pole, and has a crush on one of the elves, Flynn; her Christmas wish is a kiss from him.

“There are two kinds of children. The kind who believe and the kind who don’t. Every year, it seems there are fewer in the world who do. Papa says it’s not an easy thing to ask a child to believe in what they can’t see; he says it’s its own magic. He says that if you have that magic inside you, you should protect it all your life and never let it go, because once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.”
-Jenny Han

“It’s A Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown” by Stephanie Perkins: Marigold visits the Christmas tree lot next to her apartment building, trying to get up the courage to ask one of the guys who works there if he will voice one of her animation videos. Before coming out with her question, she accidentally buys a Christmas tree that North helps her bring home – then he helps her reorganize her whole apartment, which she and her mother haven’t bothered to unpack since they moved in (after discovering that they were Marigold’s father’s other, secret family). And then it starts to snow.

“I’ve always felt lucky to live someplace where snow is rare, you know? It’s the rareness that makes it so special.”
“That could be said about a lot of things.”
-Stephanie Perkins

“Your Temporary Santa” by David Levithan: A boy dresses up as Santa to help his boyfriend’s little sister keep believing for one more year.

“Krampuslauf” by Holly Black: The narrator and her friends Penny and Wren throw a New Years’ party in her late grandmother’s trailer to trap Penny’s two-timing prep school boyfriend, but some magical guests show up as well.

“Sometimes I felt like I was waiting for my life to begin and more than anything, in that moment, I wanted to force some kind of beginning. I wanted things to be different than usual.”
-Holly Black

“What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?” by Gayle Forman: The title character is regretting her decision to leave New York for the Midwest for college, but things begin to look up when she meets someone who shares her sense of humor (e.g. making fun of reindeer sweaters) at a caroling night.

“Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus” by Myra McEntire: Prankster Vaughn has to save the church Christmas pageant (which he inadvertently ruined by accidentally setting fire to the church barn) and if he can impress the pastor’s daughter Gracie at the same time, well…that’s just extra motivation.

“Welcome to Christmas, CA” by Kiersten White: Maria lives in a tiny California town called Christmas; she can’t wait to graduate and move away with her savings (tips from working in the Christmas Cafe). But when the cafe gets a new chef named Ben – someone who has a knack for knowing (and cooking) exactly what each person wants to eat – Maria thinks she might stick around a little longer.

“Star of Bethlehem” by Ally Carter: Teen pop star Liddy Chambers swaps tickets with a stranger at an airport to escape her tyrannical manager, Derek; she flies to Oklahoma, where she pretends to be an Icelandic exchange student visiting her boyfriend Ethan and his family, who rally around her even when they know she’s a fake.

“The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer” by Laini Taylor: Neve is a poor orphan whose closest friends perished in a fever last summer; her highest hope is to reach “Age” and be set free so she can settle a plot of land in Fog Cup (as gloomy as it sounds). When the town’s fire-and-brimstone preacher declares his intention to marry her, Neve begs for help from an old god – and the Dreamer answers. A bit Maggie Stiefvater (The Scorpio Races), a bit Neil Gaiman (“The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains”).

“Some kinds of misery make you hate the world, but some kinds make you hate yourself…”
-Laini Taylor

Cover image of Summer Days and Summer NightsThese stories are set in different places and times, real and imaginary, past and present. The characters are different as well: optimistic and pessimistic, gay and straight, poor and middle-class and wealthy, Christian and Jewish and pagan, Black and white, skeptical and romantic. (One can see why it’s YA authors who are leading the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign.) All in all, it’s a pretty near perfect collection, and I’m looking forward to Stephanie Perkins’ other anthology, Summer Days and Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories.