2022 Reading Highlights

January 5th, 2023

2022: another year working mostly from home, another year of finding time to read in places/times other than my commute—although I probably did travel more by subway in 2022 for work and non-work reasons than I did in 2020 or 2021.

I read 42 books in 2022, with the genre breakdown as follows:

Middle-grade and YA: 9 books. Highlights included the humor and excitement of Nightbirds on Nantucket by Joan Aiken, the sweetness of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser, and the atmosphere and emotion of Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo. I also appreciated reading Marguerite Henry’s King of the Wind as an adult/having been to Wandlebury Country Park, where the Godolphin Arabian’s grave is.

Non-fiction: 10 books. I often love books with a travelogue element that also are doing something else/have a bigger scope, so it is not surprising that I loved The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane and Underground by Will Hunt. James Baldwin’s writing is precise and powerful and I loved The Fire Next Time. And while I was not totally smitten by the style or structure of Nineteen Reservoirs by Lucy Sante, I am still very glad I read it because I learned a bunch from it, and because it prompted me to learn some family history as well. (I’m pretty sure my great grandpa worked on the Ashokan Reservoir.)

Fiction for grown-ups: 23 books. Of course I loved Ali Smith’s Companion Piece, because I generally love Ali Smith. Other highlights included The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares (which made me fondly remember reading Piranesi by Susanna Clarke in 2020), Scattered All Over the Earth by Yōko Tawada (which has a very fun and twisty plot and lots of interesting things to say about language and culture and identity) and An I-Novel by Minae Mizumura (which touches on similar themes, actually, though the structure and style are very different).

2020 Reading

January 3rd, 2021

Despite 2020 being a dumpster fire of a year, in general, it was not a bad reading year for me. I worked from home from mid-March onward, which meant I no longer had my normal subway commute as reading time. But I had time at home to read, and when libraries in NYC were closed I made the discovery that I actually enjoy reading ebooks on my phone. I also probably read more books from my own shelves than I otherwise would have, which is nice.

I read 38 books in total, with the breakdown as follows:

Middle-grade and YA: 11. Highlights: re-reading Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, and The Story of the Amulet by E. Nesbit: these are such comfort reads for me. Discovering Terrible, Horrible Edie by E.C. Spykman, which I loved in the same way I love Elizabeth Enright’s “Melendy” books or Jeanne Birdsall’s “Penderwicks” series. And speaking of Elizabeth Enright, I’m glad I finally read Gone-Away Lake: her writing is so so lovely. Oh, and I was totally engrossed by A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Non-fiction: 12, my favorites of which were definitely Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh; My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, and Mudlark by Lara Meiklem. I always love Brosh’s work, and the Durrell was very very funny and engaging, and I was totally into both the style and subject matter of Meiklem’s book.

Fiction for grown-ups: 13. I read some classics I’d been meaning to read (my favorite of which was Howards End by E.M. Forster) but my overall highlights of the year were all newer books: I loved the setting and strangeness of Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, and I really liked Summer by Ali Smith (both as a satisfying conclusion to her seasonal quartet, and also because I like Ali Smith a whole lot in general). I really liked Normal People by Sally Rooney, though not quite as much as I liked Conversations with Friends—but the immediacy and grace of Rooney’s prose is always excellent. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern was a great book to get lost in during an anxious springtime. And I thought Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor was very smart and a ton of fun.

Poetry: 2, both of which I liked, though I really liked Dime-Story Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell by Charles Simic, for reasons of both style and substance.

2019 in Books

January 5th, 2020

In 2019, I read 36 books, with the breakdown as follows:

Picture books: 1 (the delightful Fireboat by Maira Kalman, which I should have gotten around to sooner).

Middle-grade and YA: 10. Highlights: re-reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, which I love as much as ever. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, which combines regular high school stuff with bigger issues in a way I thought worked really well.

Fiction for grown-ups: 18. Interestingly, I only read one translated work of fiction for grown-ups this year, and it was a graphic novel—I feel like I usually read more fictional works in translation than that. Highlights: This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, which just hit so many sweet spots for me in terms of style and details. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which was totally engrossing to me and great to read while I was on jury duty. Fox 8 by George Saunders, which was smart and funny and moving and made me want to read more by him. Spring by Ali Smith, because she’s my favorite. Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney, because it’s so smart and so readable and so good. Crudo by Olivia Laing, for the same reasons.

Non-fiction: 6 (of which three were translated from other languages). None of the nonfiction books I read in 2019 totally blew me away, but I liked them all. If I’m picking highlights, I think I’d say The Philosopher in the Kitchen by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, which had some very interesting and very funny bits, even if I didn’t love all of it, and Walking by Erling Kagge, because I like walking and I like reading about it and I really liked the parts where Kagge talks about his own more offbeat walking experiences, like walking in LA or walking through sewer tunnels in New York with an urban explorer.

Plays: 1 (the excellent The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe, which I read one weekend morning).

I don’t really have specific 2020 reading goals, though there are some kids’ series I’ve never finished reading that I’d like to pick up where I left off (the Anastasia Krupnik books and the Dido Twite books come to mind) and also some books I’ve been gifted that I want to read (including Normal People by Sally Rooney and Black Wave by Michelle Tea).

2018 year-end wrap-up

December 31st, 2018

I definitely didn’t read as many books in 2018 as I did in 2017, but it was a good reading year nevertheless. I read 32 books in total:

Middle-grade and YA: 6. Highlights: Re-reading The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, which I find as fun and quirky now as I did when I was a child. Finishing up Jeanne Birdsall’s Penderwicks books with The Penderwicks at Last, with its warmth and sweetness. (I especially love how Birdsall writes about dogs. Aww.) Kat and Meg Conquer the World by Anna Priemaza, which was smart and fun and depicted a story of teen friendship with lots of heart.

Fiction for grown-ups: 17. Highlights: Winter and How to be both by Ali Smith, who is one of my favorite authors: I love how linguistically/stylistically playful her books are, and also how full of empathy. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, with its themes of history and memory and family and its compelling plot. Inferno by Eileen Myles, with its wry humor and descriptions of life as a queer writer in New York. Malacqua by Nicola Pugliese, with its descriptions of Naples and water and weather and a city/society that just doesn’t work properly.

Non-fiction (including autobiographical comics): 9. Highlights: Calypso by David Sedaris, which made me laugh a whole lot even though I’d read a lot of the pieces before. Going into Town by Roz Chast, because Chast captures the things she likes about New York City so well (and because I like a lot of the same things she does), and also because her art is always so fun to look at. The Lonely City by Olivia Laing, because it was interesting to learn more about artists whose stories I only knew slightly, and because I liked the way that Laing included bits of her own New York experience.

I don’t know what 2019 will hold for me, reading-wise, but I’m looking forward to reading more books from my own shelves (I know: I say that most years) and seeing where my reading moods take me.

2017 year-end wrap-up

December 30th, 2017

It’s not quite the end of the year yet, but I think it’s unlikely I’ll finish another book over the next two days, so here goes. I think 2017 was the first year ever in which the number of movies I saw was greater than the number of books I read, which I attribute to having started to date someone who a) is very into/knowledgable about film b) has a MoMA membership and frequently gets us tickets to film screenings there and c) convinced me to join MoviePass, which has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. But it was a solid reading year for me, too. I read fewer books than last year (50, as opposed to 52 last year) but enjoyed most of what I did read. The breakdown:

Picture books/middle-grade books/YA (including one play): 15. Highlights: Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea, with its magic of intuition and empathy, and the way it mixed fantasy/Chosen One elements with real-world/coming-of-age elements. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry with its smart/no-nonsense protagonist and its depiction of a Black family in the South in the 1930s. The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez with its mix of prose and visual art, and its mix of plot-focused narrative and lovely descriptive passages. I also loved re-reading The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper in December.

Fiction (for grown-ups, including graphic novels): 23. Highlights: Empty Streets by Michal Ajvaz, with its gradually unspooling connected stories, The Chimes by Anna Smaill, with its gorgeous and musical writing, and Autumn by Ali Smith, which is so full of heart. I also was totally engrossed by Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood, both of Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children books, and Max Gladstone’s latest in the Craft sequence: but, really, I read a lot of good fiction this year. More of what I read this year was of the plot-driven/delicious variety than the thorny/challenging variety, and I’m OK with that.

Non-fiction (including autobiographical comics): 12. In the books-about-other-places category I really liked Marcelino Truong’s graphic memoir about the Vietnam of his childhood, Such a Lovely Little War, and Nell Stevens’s Bleaker House, about going to the Falkland Islands to write. In the books-about-sex category, I was delighted by Emily Witt’s really really smart book of essays, Future Sex, and by Toni Bentley’s memoir about sex/submission/transcendence, The Surrender. And of course I loved Tamara Shopsin’s Arbitrary Stupid Goal, which includes a lot of great bits about the NYC of decades past and about Shopsin’s quirky/interesting family.

I ticked off 14 of the 24 categories for the Book Riot 2017 Read Harder challenge, and am probably going to approach the 2018 challenge in a similar way as I did the 2017 one: keeping an eye out for books that might fit the challenge, but mostly reading according to my whims. I hope 2017 was a good reading year for you, whatever that means for you, and that 2018 is full of bookish delights.

Library book stack

February 5th, 2017

Library books

I went to the library yesterday to return one book, and ended up checking out four more – oops/yay! From top to bottom: 1) The Bone People by Keri Hulme – I already had this checked out, just took it out of my bag for the picture. This one’s another pre-New-Zealand-trip reading recommendation. I started it last night and it’s really satisfying so far, with lots of satisfyingly-rendered quirky inner monologue. 2) Attachments by Rainbow Rowell, because I’ve been meaning to read this for ages but haven’t yet. 3) Public Library by Ali Smith, because I generally love her playfulness/smarts/inventiveness. 4) The Chimes by Anna Smaill, because I’ve been vaguely meaning to check it out since this 2015 post by Teresa over at Shelf Love. 5) Crosstalk by Connie Willis, because I want to get lost in a story and in the past I’ve found her work really good for that.

2016 Wrap-Up

December 31st, 2016

I read 52 books in 2016, which is not as many as I read last year or the year before, but that’s OK. The break-down:

Picture books for kids/middle-grade books/YA: 15. Highlights included Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, which was gripping and made me cry; several of Luke Pearson’s charming “Hilda” books, and Brian Selznick’s beautiful Wonderstruck. I also listened to my first-ever audiobook, which was How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell, narrated by David Tennant. I continued pleasantly working my way through Lois Lowry’s “Anastasia” books with Anastasia Has the Answers and am looking forward to the next in the series.

Fiction (for grown-ups): 21. I unexpectedly loved Toby Barlow’s Sharp Teeth, a werewolf novel in verse. I had way more fun with Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age than I thought I would. I loved Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor even though alien-arrival stories are not normally exciting to me. I quite enjoyed re-reading Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, especially because I was in England for part of it and it felt really apt. And I finished the year really strongly with the delicious writing of Danielle Dutton’s Margaret the First and the unputdownable Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple and The Seed Collectors by Scarlett Thomas.

Non-fiction: 16, including autobiographical comics. Hyperbole and a Half was as amazing and funny as I expected it to be. I liked the essays in Vivian Gornick’s The Odd Woman and the City and Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things, differently. And I had lots of fun with Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal, not just because of the interactive/text-messaging element, though that was pretty neat.

I did about half of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, and am undecided as to whether I want to try the 2017 one or not particularly: I like the idea of these challenges, but I also like reading without a plan.

Library Books

June 29th, 2016

Library books, Thai basil

It’s been a while since I had a proper stack of library books checked out. I went today to return a book/pick up a hold, but ended up browsing the new books section too, and this is the result. And this is with me showing restraint/not checking out a few of the books I was pondering.

From top to bottom:
Hildafolk by Luke Pearson: I read this post on the New Yorker’s website about this series of graphic novels for kids and was intrigued.

The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick: I heard about this book from a few people on Goodreads, and saw the author speak at McNally Jackson Books (which is very worth a visit if you are ever in NYC) back in October. This is a memoir that involves walking in NYC so clearly I am interested in it.

The Uncommercial Traveller by Charles Dickens: Rebecca Solnit mentioned this in Wanderlust, and the title stuck in my mind. Like the above, it’s at least partly about city-walking, so yeah.

We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge: There was a free copy of this in the kitchen at work earlier this year, and I almost grabbed it but didn’t, and then regretted not having grabbed it after reading about it at Reading the End and elsewhere.

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick: I first heard about this via the New Yorker ages ago, but was reminded of it when a dear friend recently read it/recommended it to me via Goodreads.

Do you have anything good checked out from the library right now?

Read Harder 2015, etc.

December 29th, 2015

I generally like my reading to be directed by my whims, so I didn’t fully commit to the Book Riot 2015 Read Harder Challenge. But I did think it looked interesting, so I decided that for 2015 I would track my reading against the challenge categories and see what I was (and wasn’t) reading on my own, perhaps with an eye to further diversifying my reading choices in the future. At this point in the year, I might read another book before the start of 2016, but given what I have checked out from the library at the moment, I doubt I’m going to be ticking any new boxes on this list. So, here goes.

Things I didn’t read in 2015:
– A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25
– A book that takes place in Asia
– A book by an author from Africa
– A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture (Native Americans, Aboriginals, etc.)
– A sci-fi novel (the closest was probably Speak by Louisa Hall, but I’m not sure I’d count it).
– A romance novel
– An audiobook
– A collection of poetry
– A book published before 1850

Hm, so: left to my own devices, I’m not that great with geographical diversity or genre diversity, and I skew towards middle-aged (or older) contemporary authors. And I’ve actually never read an audiobook—I generally can’t even manage podcasts, honestly. I really strongly prefer reading things to hearing them.

Things I did read in 2015:
– A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65: I think I read five books that might fit this category, but the most obvious (because it’s explicitly about aging) is Pondlife by Al Alvarez.

– A collection of short stories: The Hollow Land by Jane Gardam.

– A book published by an indie press: I think I read twelve of them over the course of the year, but let’s say Ten Walks/Two Talks by Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch (Ugly Duckling Presse).

– A book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQ: I think I read six books that fit this category; the most recent (and probably my favorite!) was Dryland by Sara Jaffe.

– A book by a person whose gender is different from your own: I read 27 books by men this year. 10:04 by Ben Lerner was probably my favorite.

– A microhistory: I think three books I read could count for this, but let’s say Photobooth: A Biography by Meags Fitzgerald.

– A YA novel: I read six of them. My favorite this year was definitely Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

– A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade: The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (which won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2005).

– A book that is a retelling of a classic story (fairytale, Shakespearian play, classic novel, etc.): can I count Oreo by Fran Ross here, as a retelling of the Theseus myth? I think I can.

– A book that someone else has recommended to you: six that my boyfriend recommended, one that a friend recommended, and one that my mom recommended. Most recent was the recommendation from my mom, which was Shadow Castle by Marian Cockrell.

– A book that was originally published in another language: I read two: An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris by Georges Perec, translated by Marc Lowenthal and Of Walking in Ice by Werner Herzog, translated by Martje Herzog and Alan Greenberg.

– A graphic novel, a graphic memoir or a collection of comics of any kind: I read six books that could fit this category, my favorite of which was El Deafo by Cece Bell.

– A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure (Read, and then realize that good entertainment is nothing to feel guilty over): Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger.

– A book published this year: eighteen of them, most recently The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks.

– A self-improvement book (can be traditionally or non-traditionally considered “self-improvement”): Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin, and perhaps also The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer.

And yes, Book Riot has already put together the 2016 Read Harder Challenge, which I may approach in the same spirit as this year’s. (I also kind of feel like maybe I should carry over the 2015 challenge categories for the ones I didn’t do in 2015.) Meanwhile, though it’s not a challenge, I feel I should also mention that I’m signed up for James’s TBR Triple Dog Dare again for 2016, meaning that between January 1 and April 1, I’ll be trying to read exclusively books I already own. Surely some of the books I already own will tick some of the categories on Book Riot’s 2016 list!

Library Books!

May 16th, 2015

Library Books

Top to bottom:
Wittgenstein Jr by Lars Iyer
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler
Nightwalking by Matthew Beaumont
(Oh, and that’s Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle to the right, which I read recently.)

I have been on a bit of a library spree lately, as evidenced by my stack of checked-out books, shown above. I started Wittgenstein Jr today and am liking it so far – it’s the third book by Iyer that I’ve read, and it’s deadpan funny in the same way the others were. I read The Penderwicks and The Penderwicks on Gardam Street in 2008 and really liked them (they’re kids’ books that remind me of Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy Quartet —sweet well-written realistic fiction about a family) but I haven’t yet read the next two books in the series, so I decided to get them all and have a Jeanne Birdsall reading spree. The New Yorker said Satin Island is an “experimental novel” that “takes the form of a brilliant series of numbered digressions on parachute accidents, Lévi-Strauss, hub airports, and many other things,” which sounds pretty great. I haven’t read anything by Miranda July or Daniel Handler and saw these two books on the New Books shelf today. And Nightwalking is nonfiction, subtitled “A Nocturnal History of London”: I like both walking and London, so am looking forward to it.