Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Year 2017 in Books: What Rocked, What Did Not

In 2017, I read 60 books. I think.

Keeping track isn't as easy as it should be. Marking e-books as "read" on Goodreads is easy, thanks to a feature that prompts readers to "mark as currently reading" when opening the book and automatically listing them as "read" when flipping the last page.

Alas, print books don't offer the same auto-prompt when a reader cracks the spine. However, I try to remember to record completed print and audio book titles on my cloud drive, and cross-check my drive list against Goodreads from time to time. It's a handy resource to remind myself why a book seems so familiar. (Ahem, Mariana!)

Which is a long way of saying, "In 2017, I am pretty sure I read 60 books, give or take."

It's not a personal best, but it is a healthy number considering my bout of reading ennui this summer. A friend experienced the same thing last year, and I didn't understand until I stood in front of my bookshelves and perused my bursting Kindle and could only muster, "Meh." I managed to recover after a few months by gorging on "junk food" books, mostly rumpled paperback mysteries with titles that had numbers, letters, or other gimmicks. I may not be completely through it, but I feel like I'm on the reading side of my slump.

Of the 60 books I finished in 2017, Goodreads calculates that  I averaged 271 pages per book, so an occasional Inside-Outside Dinosaur balances out Anna Karenina

I discovered some interesting graphic novels this year, which were surprisingly substantial. Before I read them, I was known to confuse them with comics. I understand better the differences between the genres (but still counts as "reading," people!).

Here are my top eight favorite books of the year, in no particular order:

  • What the Hell Did I Just Read? — The latest raucous David Wong novel, whose title is accurate: I couldn't describe what I read in the book.
  • Little Fires Everywhere — A storm quietly brewing in suburban Ohio in the 1990s, reminding us how much our world, and expectation of privacy, have changed.
  • Uprooted — A new fairy tale with a strong female lead character. (Review here)
  • Pride and Prejudice — A wonderful classic that is as good as everyone told me, and I will re-read often. (Related article here)
  • Big Little Lies — Kept me going until the last page. If you watch the series, don't skip the book. (And if you read the book, you may not want to watch the series, I've been told.)
  • The Inexplicable Logic of My Life — Another fabulous novel by Benjamin Alire SΓ‘enz, who can share the truest, deepest parts of a teenage boy's heart.
  • The Handmaid's Tale — Alas, it is not as far-fetched as it seemed when first read it back in 1987.
  • Wrinkles — Old people are people, too.
My least favorite books were:
  • Origin — One of my favorite authors has fallen asleep at the keyboard, and his latest book is almost a parody of his better tales. (Review here)
  • Yesternight — Cat Winters wrote a good book until she went off the rails at Chapter 25.
  • The Case Against Sugar — The author made a case, relentlessly, in chapters that started to blend together. The takeaway, in one sentence: sugar is big business, and the sugar industry has worked hard to protect their investment, at the cost of demonizing other food and throwing up smoke screens. 

Here is a complete list of what I read, and the format in which I read it (print πŸ“–, ebook πŸ“², or audiobook πŸŽ§). 

  1. What the Hell Did I Just Read? πŸ“–
  2. Do Unto Otters πŸ“–
  3. Miracles and Other Christmas Stories πŸ“²
  4. Adulthood is a Myth πŸ“²
  5. The Little Pup Collection πŸ“²
  6. Drama πŸ“²
  7. OriginπŸ“²
  8. Little Fires Everywhere πŸ“–
  9. One Book in the Grave (Bibliophile Mystery #5) πŸ“–
  10. The Tortilla Cat πŸ“–
  11. The Magician King πŸ“²
  12. Good and Cheap πŸ“²
  13. Uprooted πŸ“² 🎧
  14. The 5 Second Rule πŸ“²
  15. Truly Madly Guilty πŸ“²
  16. The Magicians πŸ“²
  17. Ghosts πŸ“²
  18. Gwendy’s Button Box πŸ“²
  19. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? πŸ“²
  20. Yesternight πŸ“–
  21. Mariana πŸ“²
  22. Paws and Effect πŸ“²
  23. My Cousin Rachel πŸ“–
  24. Murder Under Cover (Bibliophile #4) πŸ“–
  25. The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel, Vol. 2 πŸ“–
  26. Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire  πŸ“–
  27. Other Wordly πŸ“–
  28. Wrinkles πŸ“–
  29. Clockwork Scarab πŸ“²
  30. Star Wars: Jedi Academy 1 πŸ“²
  31. The Case Against Sugar πŸ“²
  32. Pride and Prejudice 🎧
  33. The Handmaid’s Tale πŸ“² 🎧
  34. Forgotten Bones πŸ“–
  35. My Best Everything πŸ“–
  36. The Lies That Bind (Bibliophile #3) πŸ“–
  37. Anna Karenina πŸ“² 🎧
  38. Big Little Lies πŸ“–
  39. The Inexplicable Logic of My Life 🎧
  40. Speaking From Among the Bones πŸ“–
  41. The Burning Page πŸ“²
  42. Ruined πŸ“–
  43. Ida, Always πŸ“²
  44. The Possession of Mr. Cave πŸ“–
  45. The Shadow Land πŸ“–
  46. Once Upon a Poem πŸ“–
  47. The Masked City πŸ“²
  48. The Bookman’s Tale πŸ“²
  49. Slumdog Millionaire 🎧
  50. The Annotated Godfather πŸ“²
  51. Conclave πŸ“–
  52. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them πŸ“²
  53. Congratulations, By the WayπŸ“²
  54. Cast Iron Nation πŸ“–
  55. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 🎧
  56. Toss the Gloss πŸ“²
  57. Hillbilly Elegy πŸ“–
  58. Inside-Outside Dinosaurs πŸ“–
  59. A Cookbook Conspiracy πŸ“²
  60. Turbo Twenty-Three πŸ“²

Have you read any of these books? Which did you like best, or least?

I just finished two good reads, A Gentleman from Moscow and The Dire King: A Jackaby Novel, and I recommend both. In fact, A Gentleman from Moscow ticks off so many boxes with great finesse I am still enamored, even days after finishing it.

Still on my nightstand: Little Dorrit.

What's on your nightstand?


Friday, December 1, 2017

Origin: Robert Langdon by the Numbers

I love Dan Brown. From Angels & Demons to The DaVinci Code, he was on-point. I'll never forget the early excitement and thrill of the chase with the brilliant Harvard swimmer — er, professor.

But my love for Robert Langdon and his adventures thins out in subsequent novels, and Origin doesn't revive it.

In fact, I stopped reading Brown's latest novel about a quarter of the way through.I feel like I kept reading a lot longer than I wanted, but I was trying to get to the "good part" before I surrendered.

Origin made me start counting how many ways smiles could be used as adjectives. The villain nearly twirled his big black mustache every time he appeared on the page. The villain was so much like Silas, deep in his misguided faith in his boss and his deity, I kept expecting references to albinism.

I appreciated Brown's patient, thorough, and loving description of the Guggenheim Bilbao; someday, I may return to the book just to see to what other geographic locations he spreads the love.

If the Robert Langdon series remain as formulaic and tedious as Origin, perhaps Brown can branch out and consider taking up travel writing, or write art catalogs; everyone wants to visit a place or view art someone else loves, and Brown obviously loves his locations, and the museums and art in them.

What I don't appreciate is Brown's repetitive story elements. Robert Langdon's claustrophobia. His athletic swimming abilities, and how that keeps him trim and youthful-looking. His ability to attract perfect specimens of femininity, and for them to have an instant, perfect, and lasting attraction. That aspect of his character is very "daytime drama," falling deeply in love with every beautiful, toned, and brilliant heroine with whom he shares an adventure, then having to explain away the deep, true love in the next novel because he's destined to fall in love as deeply and truly with yet another perfect woman. I've grown tired of the perfect physicality and intellectualism of Langdon and his partners, and the perfect villainy of Langdon's foes.

Somehow, other series I read don't inflect this tedium. Stephanie Plum, Flavia de Luce, Encyclopedia Brown, and Jackaby all seem to be fresh and new (though, to be fair, I'm not sure I can take Stephanie's love triangle much longer). I understand some familiar story elements needs to be re-introduced, or at least referred to, in each book to clue in new readers. However, it isn't supposed to seem to readers as if the author globally replaces words in an old manuscript to create a new book.

Robert Langdon doesn't have to save the world from God yet again. Maybe he doesn't have to save the world at all. Like Indiana Jones, who also doesn't know how to retire, maybe it's time for the Pilgrim to hang up the Mickey Mouse watch. Being a cranky professor who can recite his lectures verbatim from memory isn't a good look for such a dashing adventurer.

Have you read Origin? What did you think? Am I wrong? Comment below or email me!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Wednesday Poetry: Sekhmet, The Lion-Headed Goddess Of War

Sekhmet, The Lion-Headed Goddess Of War

He was the sort of man
who wouldn't hurt a fly.
Many flies are now alive
while he is not.
He was not my patron.
He preferred full granaries, I battle.
My roar meant slaughter.
Yet here we are together
in the same museum.
That's not what I see, though, the fitful
crowds of staring children
learning the lesson of multi-
cultural obliteration, sic transit
and so on.

I see the temple where I was born
or built, where I held power.
I see the desert beyond,
where the hot conical tombs, that look
from a distance, frankly, like dunces' hats,
hide my jokes: the dried-out flesh
and bones, the wooden boats
in which the dead sail endlessly
in no direction.

What did you expect from gods
with animal heads?
Though come to think of it
the ones made later, who were fully human
were not such good news either.
Favour me and give me riches,
destroy my enemies.
That seems to be the gist.
Oh yes: And save me from death.
In return we're given blood
and bread, flowers and prayer,
and lip service.

Maybe there's something in all of this
I missed. But if it's selfless
love you're looking for,
you've got the wrong goddess.

I just sit where I'm put, composed
of stone and wishful thinking:
that the deity who kills for pleasure
will also heal,
that in the midst of your nightmare,
the final one, a kind lion
will come with bandages in her mouth
and the soft body of a woman,
and lick you clean of fever,
and pick your soul up gently by the nape of the neck
and caress you into darkness and paradise. 

by Margaret Atwood

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veterans Day, Armistice Day, Remembrance Day

At 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918, soldiers from nations around the world put down their weapons and climbed out of the trenches to end The Great War, The War to End All Wars. 

The United States joins nations worldwide to honor its veterans on this day. 

Whether it is in the hospital, the office, or in the modern-day trenches, whether in times of peace or war, we remain grateful for and to those who have pledged to protect us. May we stay as true to them as they are to us.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row, 
That mark our place, and in the sky, 
The larks, still bravely singing, fly, 
Scarce heard amid the guns below. 

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, 
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields. 

Take up our quarrel with the foe! 
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high! 
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

by John McCrae

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Halloween Poetry: Halloween Party

Happy Halloween! Enjoy this poem, and share it with everyone you can so poetry takes its place as a Halloween treat!

Halloween Party

We’re having a Halloween party at school.
I’m dressed up like Dracula. Man, I look cool!
I dyed my hair black, and I cut off my bangs.
I’m wearing a cape and some fake plastic fangs.

I put on some makeup to paint my face white,
like creatures that only come out in the night.
My fingernails, too, are all pointed and red.
I look like I’m recently back from the dead.

My mom drops me off, and I run into school
and suddenly feel like the world’s biggest fool.
The other kids stare like I’m some kind of freak—
the Halloween party is not till next week.

by Kenn Nesbitt
from When the Teacher Isn’t Looking from Meadowbrook Press