2017 Year-End Reading Wrap-Up

Previously: 2016 year-end reading wrap-up | 2015 year-end reading wrap-up | 2014 year-end reading wrap-up | 2013 year-end reading wrap-up

Number of books read in 2017: 240

Number of reviews by month
Number of reviews by month (2017)

Audiobooks: 15, mostly children’s and YA, and including three of the partially-read books (though one of those was a Neil Gaiman short story that I realized I’d already read in another collection)

Nonfiction: 34, including a couple of nonfiction picture books and a few of the partially-read books. Also, one entire book about compost.

YA/children’s (middle grade) books read: 31

Picture books: 104, including an unspeakable amount of Maisy

Partially read books: 16, including a few cookbooks and gardening books (i.e. not necessarily designed to be read cover-to-cover)

Books read in 2017, excluding picture books and partially read books: 120

Average number of books read per month (excluding picture books and partially read books): 10

Five-star ratings: 13

Total page count: Too damn annoying to calculate from LibraryThing exports. A lot.

Author Gender pie chart
Author Gender pie chart from LibraryThing: now a definite majority of my authors (nearly 54%) is female, while 46% is male.

Looking ahead (well, further into) 2018, I haven’t set any specific goals and am not participating in any challenges.* Some of my favorite authors are publishing new books this year, and I’m looking forward to those, of course – Gayle Forman, Maggie O’Farrell, Jo Walton, Curtis Sittenfeld. Like last year, I’m aiming to read even more in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks area, for myself and for the little one. (Lately, she’s really liked Jabari Jumps, Thunder Boy Jr., and A Different Pond.)

Books that have been recommended to me by more than one person (triangulation: not just for fact-checking anymore!) usually move up on my to-read list. I’ve already made a dent in the to-read list I made in November: I’ve read Fun Home, The Hate U Give, Rebecca; I have Far From the Tree checked out from the library, and my book club just chose The Bear and the Nightingale for February. (I have the cape, I make the whoosh noises! Note: that’s a link to a Cyanide & Happiness cartoon panel.)

*Okay, not entirely true: I do plan to read all of the “Reading Rocks” books [PDF] for the 4th- and 5th-graders in Winchester, where I am now working. Proper blog post about this change to come! So far I’ve really liked Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier and am listening to the excellent audiobook of Stella By Starlight.

I do occasionally read things other than books, though I don’t get credit for it in LibraryThing: most days I read at least one article from The New York Times, and most weeks I read a few pieces from the LitHub (“the best of the literary internet”) email newsletter. I read most of the Library Link of the Day links, and occasionally will find a good piece in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, or somewhere else (Teen Vogue!) via Twitter or Publishers Lunch.

So that’s the 2017 wrap-up. How was your year in books?


Top Ten Books I read ten years ago

Once again, I’m borrowing a co-worker’s Top Ten Tuesday list to inspire my own. Hers was “Top Ten Books I read the first year I had my blog“; because my blog is not specifically a book blog, I looked to my Goodreads and LibraryThing accounts instead. I started my Goodreads account in 2007, though I didn’t start reviewing each book consistently until later.

What was I reading, then? Out of college (no more assigned reading) and into the publishing world (okay, sometimes assigned reading), bombarded with more novels than I could ever read, my reading choices fell into a few categories:

  • Contemporary fiction about which there was “buzz,” e.g. Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, which I loved, and Ian McEwan (I tried and hated Saturday and Atonement; I liked On Chesil Beach better but decided that everyone else could just go ahead and continue loving him, but I was done).
  • Classics I didn’t read in school: No matter how good your education was, there’s no way you could read ALL the classics, but I had missed some key ones. I actually think this was for the better; I loved Pride and Prejudice much more in my early twenties than I think I would have as a teenager.
  • Nonfiction: Left to my own devices, I read barely any nonfiction for almost a year; then I realized I need to read some, so I made it a goal to read one a month. I started with a lot of memoir and biography (Audrey Hepburn, Jeannette Walls, Augusten Burroughs, Alice Sebold, Ann Patchett) and pop psychology (Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Gilbert), but I sought out some feminist books as well, though I didn’t use that term at the time – I discovered Katha Pollitt (Learning to Drive) and read This Common Secret and The Girls Who Went Away. I caught up on classic nonfiction too, from Capote’s In Cold Blood to Joan Didion’s essays.
  • Poetry: I discovered Nick Laird’s poem “On Beauty” in Zadie Smith’s novel by the same title, and Laird’s To A Fault is still one of my favorite poetry collections.

But of course it was mostly fiction. I was just starting to separate out the authors I thought I should read from the ones I actually liked; there was some overlap, of course, but there was also Ian McEwan and Special Topics in Calamity Physics. So here’s the list part – what did I read then (mid-2007-early 2009) that I still love now?

  1. Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman
  2. To A Fault by Nick Laird (poetry)
  3. In the Woods and The Likeness by Tana French
  4. Ursula, Under by Ingrid Hill (I feel this one was overlooked, and I often put it on my Staff Picks shelf at the library, hoping others will discover it)
  5. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer
  6. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (the right book at the right time)
  7. The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett
  8. An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken
  9. Magic for Beginners and Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
  10. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  11. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  12. The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (nonfiction)
  13. Overture by Yael Goldstein (found this on a remainder table at the Strand; overlooked in the same way as Ursula, Under)
  14. Stardust by Neil Gaiman
  15. Touchy Subjects by Emma Donoghue

It’s more than ten. Of course it is. And this is not to be confused with my all-time Top Ten list (either the one from 2007 or the one from 2017).

What books have stayed with you over the years? Which authors do you follow faithfully, which ones have you parted ways with?


We Need Diverse Books

The most recent issue of Kirkus is a “diversity issue,” with about 40 pages of articles and essays that give different perspectives on diversity in literature. I’m still making my way through it, but I loved this quote from author Padma Venkatraman:

“Books are more than mere mirrors or windows; they are keys to compassion. And novels don’t just expose readers to differences, they allow readers to experience diversity. They allow us to live within another’s skin, think another’s thoughts, feel the depths of another’s soul. Novels transport, transform, and, most importantly, allow us to transcend prejudice. When we immerse ourselves in characters whose religions are different than our own, our empathy is enhanced. We move closer to embracing people of all religions.”

It reminded me a bit of the way Neil Gaiman talks about fiction (“Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been”), and what Caitlin Moran wrote in her essay “Alma Mater” about growing up in the library:

“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.”

When Venkatraman writes about mirrors and windows, she is referencing Rudine Sims Bishop’s 1990 article “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” Books that are mirrors reflect the reader’s self and own world back at them; books that are windows show the reader another person or people and world; books that are sliding glass doors allow the reader to “enter” another world.

The San Antonio Public Library page “Diversity in the Classroom: Building Your (Early Childhood) Library with Mirrors and Windows” has a video clip of Bishop from January 2015. In it, Bishop says, “Children need to see themselves reflected, but books can also be windows, so you can look through and see other worlds, and see how they match up or don’t match up to [your] own. But the sliding glass door allows you to enter that world as well, so that’s the reason diversity needs to go both ways.” She says that just as children of color need to see themselves in books, white children – who see plenty of themselves in books – need to see characters of other cultures, races, and religions as well, to provide a more accurate picture of the world as it is (“colorful”).

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement FAQ page cites an infographic produced by multicultural publisher Lee & Low Books (“About everyone. For everyone”), which used statistics from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center and census data. Although 37% of the U.S. population are people of color, only 10% of published children’s books contain multicultural content. Note that that includes books where the main character might not be a person of color, and it also doesn’t mean that the author was a person of color.

We Need Diverse Books virtual buttonWhere do we go from here? We need more diversity at all levels of publishing, in libraries, in schools, in the bookselling business. We need to write, publish, read, and promote diverse books; “multicultural books don’t sell” is no longer a valid argument, if it ever was. We need more stories about more different people and places. We’re getting there, but too slowly.

8/17/17 Edited to add:

As I made my way through the rest of the issue, I found two more quotes I wanted to share. The first is from Megan Dowd Lambert, an author, senior lecturer in children’s literature at Simmons, and Kirkus reviewer; she in turn is quoting Mary Robinette Kowel:

“It’s not about adding diversity for the sake of diversity, it’s about subtracting homogeneity for the sake of realism.”

Though our society is far more segregated than it ought to be, and some kids may rarely see people outside of their own race, culture, or class, the world is “colorful” and literature ought to reflect that. In fact, books are where many people encounter new ideas and perspectives and learn about the world. “Armchair traveling” isn’t just for seeing the lives of ancient royalty, dangerous mountain-climbing expeditions, or sea voyages; it may be a way to see into the next neighborhood.

“…Disability comes from scarcity and environment and other people’s prejudices as much as the body. Silencing the word can silence real injustices, emotions, and experiences. Diverse books are tools for empathy, but we can’t address what we won’t say.”

This is from Amy Robinson, children’s librarian and Kirkus reviewer. She makes an important point about environment contributing to disability. Are our built environments inclusive, or do they present barriers? (Do elevators work? Are aisles wide enough? Are there ramps or only stairs? Is signage large and clear? Are there curb cuts on sidewalks? Are sidewalks even or broken, covered in snow or cleared?) In many cases, a disability may only present extra difficulty because of obstacles in the world – in the built environment or as part of prevailing cultural and societal ideas. Let’s figure out what those obstacles are (it’s often very hard to imagine, so ask people who confront them) and start removing them.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I was/am looking forward to

This list is a combination of two recent Top Ten Tuesday topics: most anticipated books for the second half of 2017, and books I’ve recently added to my to-read list.

The Pearl ThiefRecently finished or in-progress:

  • The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein: I added this to my to-read list the instant I heard about it, and got a library copy as soon as it came out. It was a delight; I devoured it in two days. So lovely to see Julie (from Code Name Verity) again, at home in her native Scotland. With the first-person narration, her pride and courage are even more immediate, though the stakes are a bit lower this go-round, as she’s not a Nazi prisoner.
  • Holding Up the Universe and All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven: I’ve been hearing good things about Jennifer Niven for a while now – the Not-So-Young-Adult book group at my library read All the Bright Places – so I finally picked up Holding Up the Universe on audio. I finished it on the way to a meeting at the Medfield Public Library at the end of May (more on Medfield later) and picked up All The Bright Places while I was there; I’m about halfway through now. I really like her writing: it reminds me of Cammie McGovern, Julie Murphy, and Rainbow Rowell.

Published recently(ish)

  • Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy: I loved Dumplin’ and was thrilled to learn about Murphy’s new novel; a co-worker has already read and liked it. I’m waiting for a library copy.
  • Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister: I liked Macallister’s first novel, The Magician’s Lie, and the description of this one looks equally intriguing.Eleanor Oliphant
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: How can you not want to read a book with this title? And it has a great cover. And it’s set in Scotland.
  • The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson: Again, I’m cribbing my co-worker’s list; I too loved Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and I don’t know why I didn’t read The Summer Before the War as soon as it came out.
  • Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen: I had this in my hand a couple months ago but didn’t bring it home on account of the already precarious height of my to-read stack. But I haven’t read Anna Quindlen in ages, this got great reviews, and the description is appealing.
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: The word “essential” has been used in every review of this book that I’ve seen, and it’s a short book. There’s no reason I haven’t read it yet and I intend to read it before the end of the year.Life on Mars
  • Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith: I don’t pick up new poetry collections often, but she’s the new poet laureate, and this sentence from a review compelled me: “As all the best poetry does, “Life on Mars” first sends us out into the magnificent chill of the imagination and then returns us to ourselves, both changed and consoled.”

Not Yet Published

  • The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman, obviously. The first installment comes out October 19 (though I’m hoping to snag a galley before then) and is called La Belle Sauvage. There was already an extract in The Guardian.
  • Jane, UnlimitedJane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore(!!!): Just heard about this from a co-worker. Beyond excited for a new (standalone?) book from Kristin Cashore (Graceling).
  • Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin: I’ve loved Zevin’s books in the past, and the Kirkus (starred) review said it’s pleasingly feminist.
  • The Runaways by Rainbow Rowell: I don’t read graphic novels or comics that much but I will follow Rainbow Rowell across genres and formats and anywhere else she goes. I want to catch up on the earlier volumes first, and Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga has also been on my list.

6/23/17 Edited to add: Turtles All The Way Down by John Green(!!!!!), coming October 10! And new E. Lockhart, Genuine Fraud, coming September 5.

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.

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


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?

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.”


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.