Monday, December 31, 2018

the year (2018) in books

Happy New Year! Welcome, 2019, I am so glad you are here. 2018 was another sluggish and isolated year for me. Again, books nurtured and sustained me through an emotionally difficult year. My reading goal was 61 books, which was only a slight stretch from the actual number I had read over the previous few years. Even though reading physical copies of books took a back seat to knitting (during which I listened to audiobooks and podcasts), I managed, finally, to crush my goal.

As always, one of my reading goals is to read more shelf-sitters (or books that I’ve owned for longer than six months). To that end in 2018 I made a list of 12 books, which would account for about 20% of my annual total and only the smallest dent in my personal library. One of these books a month didn’t seem unreasonable or undoable. I managed two—American Fried from Calvin Trillin’s Tummy Trilogy and Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. I won’t be making a similar list in 2018. My favorite way to read is to let one book lead to another organically.

Several themes developed in my reading over the year. One was travel, where my related reading involved preparing for trips to New Orleans and France as well as staying immersed in place after I returned home. You might also notice several books about Alaska on the list. My oldest son spent 40 days this summer hiking north of the Arctic Circle in Gates of the Arctic National Park. Accordingly, I attempted to vicariously experience our largest state without actually stepping foot in it. Some day.

Another theme was reading the first book in a series that I forward to continuing by reading book 2 in the upcoming year. Also, I will endeavor to make a significant dent in the Inspector Gamache/Three Pine mystery series by Louise Penny.

For the third consecutive year, I have participated in the (possibly unofficial) National Short Story Month wherein I read a short story a day. In 2019, I’d like to find a way to indicate these here. The page count for 31 stories is at least one novel’s worth of pages. And, I’d like to be able to refer back to these as I participate in this year’s challenge, if for no other reason than to repeat reading stories as I did at least twice this year.

For 2019, I will continue to aim high by reading another 65 books with a subgoal of 16 shelf-sitters, which would be a record number, but I have a good feeling about this.

1.   House of Spies (Daniel Silva): Gabriel Allon, #17 in the series. Kicked off the new year with a gripping thriller set in St. Tropez and Casablanca. My favorite Gabriel Allon book yet. I would like to go back and read the rest of the series, starting with book one.

2.   Endurance (Scott Kelly): Audiobook. Scott Kelly reads his memoir about the path to becoming an astronaut as well as the year he spent at the International Space Station. It was a smart and thoughtful and interesting book. If you like science or technology or a good story about human achievement, I recommend this book.

3.   L’Appart (David Lebovitz): Easy reading memoir about buying and renovating an apartment in Paris written by one of my favorite food bloggers and social media diarists. I am a sucker for stories like this and should probably read more.

4.   Paper Girls 1 (Brian K Vaughn): Graphic novel. After seeing the three-volume bound set everywhere at the end of 2017, I had to check out the individual volumes from the library. Set on Halloween 1988, the nostalgia factor is high.

5.   Manhattan Beach (Jennifer Egan): I had such high expectations for a new Jennifer Egan novel. After A Visit from the Goon Squad, I vowed I would read the phonebook, if Egan wrote it. This historical novel was largely disappointing, but I loved the descriptions of deep-sea diving and the drama of recovering things from the ocean floor. The stories, photos, and research Egan shared as part of the Pen Pals series motivated me to finish.

6.   Paper Girls 2 (Brian K Vaughn): Graphic novel. More coming of age and aliens.

7.   Paper Girls 3 (Brian K Vaughn): Graphic novel. Two more volumes remain, but I have read as much as I’d like.

8.   Curry (Naben Rathnum): I picked Curry up first for the jacket and the trim size, but second for the subtitle—Eating, Reading, and Race. Under 100 pages, this is a long-form magazine piece that looks at curry and the subcontinent diaspora through literature, pop culture, and history. Fantastic!

9.   The Power (Naomi Alderman): Audiobook. Not as big a fan of Alderman’s novel as Natalie Portman was. It was mostly fine and a little gripping but absolutely marred by a gratuitous rape scene.

10. My Private Property (Mary Ruefle): Book group read. Lovely poems with great imagery that made me temporarily think I should read more poetry.

11. Her Royal Spyness (Rhys Bowen): Her Royal Spyness, #1. As a sales rep, I sold Rhys Bowen mysteries for years without ever reading her. I don’t understand the appeal. This mystery was only okay—a little too cozy, Georgiana (our protagonist/sleuth) a little too bumbling, the reveal absolutely thin.

12. American Fried (Calvin Trillin): Such big love for Calvin Trillin, especially when he’s writing about food. He’s not up for pretentious food but writes in a lush style with keen and funny observations. American Fried is the first in the Tummy Trilogy so I’m looking forward to more.

13. Little Fires Everywhere (Celeste Ng): Audiobook. One of the hottest literary novels of fall 2017, which I read mostly to see what the fuss was about. Rich character studies, slow-paced plot of suffocating suburbia. I wish I had read a physical copy rather than listen to the audio.

14. Decision at Delphi (Helen MacInnes): Started reading this in Seattle while on spring break last year, which, with too many distractions, proved to be the wrong time to enjoy another MacInnes. But I’m glad I picked it up again, skimming the first 300 pages and finally finishing. The midcentury time period and richness of place (Greece) amplified this gripping and stylish old-school spy thriller that is also rich in place.

15. A Rule Against Murder (Louise Penny): Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #4. As promised, Louise Penny hit her stride here in Book 4.

16. Mrs. (Caitlin Macy): This modern-day House of Mirth for the hedge fund set was smart and darkly funny on audio.

17. Dear Fahrenheit 451 (Annie Spence): A lighthearted set of love letters and break-up notes from a librarian to her favorite and least favorite books. Cute, funny, fast but the author’s schtick and style got tiresome quickly. That said, I came away with one book recommendation—The Virgin Suicides, which is the author’s All-Time Favorite Book.

18. Annihilation (Jeff Vandermeer): Southern Reach, #1. Even though I still haven’t managed to see the movie version, I really enjoyed this atmospheric and creepy sci-fi novel. Book 2 is up in 2019.

19. Need to Know (Karen Cleveland): Audiobook. I listened to the audio and may have been distracted, but I didn’t find this spy thriller to be gripping or heart pounding or any of the other things promised by the blurbs. Charlize Theron bought movie rights so I’ll likely have my memory jogged when it’s adapted.

20. Tokyo Ghoul 1 (Sui Ishida): Son #1 asked me to read this graphic novel. The series is one of his favorites. And while I might say “the things we do for love,” I did enjoy it. Half human-half ghoul hybrid with a craving for human flesh…what’s not to like?

21. Border (Kapka Kassabova): I chose Border as my book group pick based on fantastic review attention and other accolades. It’s a travel narrative/memoir—one of my favorite genres—set in Bulgaria. The author examined the concept of borders that keep out people (such as the current day Syrians parked at Greece’s border) and those that keep in people (such as Iron Curtain-era Bulgaria). The narrative was poetic, and I found the entire experience immersive. My book group categorically hated it, which resulted in one of the longest, best discussions we’ve had.

22. Temptation of Forgiveness (Donna Leon): Commissario Brunetti, #27. It is always great to be reunited with Brunetti and his family and his coworkers in Book #27.

23. My Life with Bob (Pamela Paul): Since listening regularly, faithfully to the NYTBR podcast, I have become a huge fan of host Pamela Paul. Enough of this book about books and reading habits resonated with me. I think PP and I were separated at birth.

24. Lost Girls of Camp Nevermore (Kim Wu): The plot was very promising—a disastrous camping trip told through the point of view of four characters. Still, it barely passed the 50-page test, and I didn’t much like any of the characters.

25. The Vanity Fair Diaries (Tina Brown): Audiobook/ebook. Delicious—smart and gossipy but never bitchy. Brown’s diaries were the best and the worst of the 80s. And, the publishing setting was very appealing. Great bedtime reading.  

26. Why New Orleans Matters (Tom Piazza): Read this love letter to New Orleans, which had been written shortly after Hurricane Katrina, just before traveling to NOLA with John for Jazz Fest.

27. Four Seasons in Rome (Anthony Doerr): Audiobook. I loved this travel essay about Rome. It made me want to drop everything and go. Still not even remotely interested in the novel—All the Light We Cannot See--that Doerr was writing while in Rome.

28. Tangerine (Christine Mangan): Purchased in hardcover after I was reeled in by the Joyce Carol Oates blurb: “As if Donna Tartt, Gillian Flynn, and Patricia Highsmith had collaborated on a screenplay to be filmed by Hitchcock.” Plus, the jacket was very pickupable.

29. American Pharoah (Joe Drape): Audiobook. Audible Books offered a free download of the audio to honor Audible the horse’s third place Kentucky Derby finish. I was not disappointed.

30. Improvement (Joan Silber): Book group. These linked stories made the New York Times Book Review’s 100 Best Books of 2018.

31. An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, An Epic (Daniel Mendelsohn):  Audiobook. This narrative nonfiction about the author’s father auditing his Odyssey class and then taking an Odyssian cruise in Greece is my ideal memoir. Listening to the audio version was extra personal.

32. A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles): It’s not often that I don’t want a book to end. Amor Towles does a remarkable job of character development and world building. The Metropol was rich in detail. Layered and nuanced. Really lovely read.

33. The Art of the Wasted Day (Patricia Hampl):  Audiobook. Hampl’s latest, a memoir on the essay (Montaigne!) and a love letter to her departed husband, is a little sad, made more so by the author reading the audio. A 2019 Conversation with Books title.

34. Fleur de Sel Murders (Jean-Luc Bannalec): Commissaire Dupin, #3. Bannalec’s Brittany setting and colorful protagonist had a feel similar to Donna Leon’s or Louise Penny’s series, which is good as I’m looking for Gamache’s successor once I’ve caught up to the most recent releases. Fleur de Sel Murders bumped Kurlansky’s Salt and Eleanor Clark’s Oysters of Locmariaquer up my TBR list.

35. Robinson (Muriel Spark): Buddy Read with my friend Caryl. One day, we’re going to be Spark completeists. I took this on vacation to Cumberland Island, which was sultry and humid, just like the island where our protagonist was plane-wrecked.

36. Calypso (David Sedaris): Audiobook. Sedaris’s darkest but funniest. Gross as it was even the tumor joke did not disappoint.

37. Educated (Tara Westover): Audiobook. If someone told me to jump off a cliff, would I? Yes, yes, I probably would, which is what I did with this book. Everyone was reading it this summer and everyone was raving. I listened to the author read the audio and felt a lot of the negative feels—mostly anger and sadness, but eventually relief for this young woman who was raised by survivalists.

38. Brutal Telling (Louise Penny): Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #5. Really good. A mystery imbued with folklore and populated by newcomers to Three Pines. Penny is getting better with each mystery. This time she sent one of the beloved villagers to prison.

39. Tip of the Iceberg (Mark Adams): Audiobook. Son Simon spent six weeks backpacking in Gates of the Arctic National Park so I went to Alaska vicariously while sitting in my armchair. The author reads his travel narrative of tracing John Muir’s 1879 trip and the 1899 Harriman expedition’s 3000-mile journey around the southern coast of Alaska. I loved Adams’s comparison of bush planes flying in and out of Juneau to mosquitoes, which are notoriously thick in the 49th state. Reading Muir simultaneously.

40. Quiet Side of Passion (Alexander McCall Smith): Isabel Dalhousie, #12. As always, very good to be back in Edinburgh with the always nosy, judgy Isabel Dalhousie.

41. Travels in Alaska (John Muir). I read Travels in Alaska both as a companion to Mark Adams’s Tip of the Iceberg and as a way to stay connected to oldest son on his backpacking trip in Alaska. Muir’s narrative was extremely adventurous (perilously traversing a crevasse) and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny (rescuing a young missionary who tagged along on an overnight only to fall off a cliff). I intend to read more Muir in the near future.

42. The Idiot (Elif Batuman): For months, I’d been picking up this book and setting it down at my local bookstore, Common Good Books. Finally I picked it up and started reading it straightway rather than waiting until it became a shelf-sitter. Anyhow, I had hoped for more. Batuman is a gifted writer, and I found the novel clever but the protagonist painful. That said, I do love a good campus novel.

43. Give Me Your Hand (Megan Abbott): Megan Abbott is a genius. No one. No one gets into the head of adolescent girls, friendships, and rivalries like she does. This novel was a little predictable and won’t be my favorite but it was still suspenseful and compelling from the first page to the last.

44. The Other Woman (Daniel Silva) audio, Gabriel Allon #18: At almost 500 pages, Silva’s latest Allon thriller could have used some editing and some better character development. A French woman in Andalusia harbors the KGB’s biggest secret. Allon and Russia have an epic showdown. Not as page-turning as #17.

45. The Man with the Seagull on His Head (Harriet Paige): Book group read. Book group members Steve and Julie always pick the small press gems. In this one, our protagonist turns into a famous outsider artist after a seagull hits him in the head. Often funny and charming but also strange and uncomfortable.

46. Chasing the Heretics (Rion Klawinski): A true shelf-sitter. Purchased at Hungry Mind/Ruminator Books back in the day. Actually purchased after I visited Michele in Bordeaux in 1999 because I wanted to read more travel narratives about France, but also because I wanted to visit the Languedoc one day. And, now she lives in the Languedoc so my mother and I went in September. I came obsessed with Cathars and I saw Cathar castles high on mountaintops and wondered how they ever were conquered (starvation, dehydration but rarely from invasion).

47. Rich People Problems (Kevin Kwan): Crazy Asians, #3. Not as good as books 1 and 2, but still entertaining as an in-between book.

48. Labyrinth (Kate Mosse): Languedoc, #1. I was the first person in St. Paul to check this out from the library when it was published in 2005, but I could never bring myself to read it. Caryl recommended it as I was preparing to visit my sister who lives in the Languedoc, so I took it with me on my trip. At 500+ pages, I knew the book would last for the flight and on the rare occasion that I’d have to read over 10 days. Not only was the prose not as cheesy as I’d feared, but I loved being immersed in the setting. Book number 2 in the trilogy is in the queue for 2019.

49. Glass Houses (Louise Penny): Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #13. Mr. Bibliotonic gave me a copy of the latest Louise Penny novel for my birthday. And, against my better judgement, I read it anyway, extremely out of order. A few plotlines centered on recurring characters were confusing, and I encountered some spoilers, but it has been Penny’s best mystery so far.

50. 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret (Craig Brown): Audiobook.  A few of the NYTBR editors raved about 99 Glimpses, which, coupled with a Crown binge watch earlier this year, were all the motivation I needed to pick up this unique biography of the more-interesting Windsor sister.

51. Provence, 1970 (Luke Barr): Because of our shared love for Julia Child, my mother-in-law loaned Provence, 1970 to me a few years ago, and I finally got around to reading it.  The travel/food essay focused on the year that Julia Child, MFK Fisher, James Beard, and Richard Olney were all in Provence. Note to self: read more MFK Fisher.

52. Transcription (Kate Atkinson): Even when Atkinson is not at her best, she’s still such a better writer than most. It took me awhile to get into Transcription, which moves through three or four time periods, but when the plot clicked it was very good and darkly funny. Even though the novel is set during World War 2, like God in Ruins and Life After Life, the voice reminded me of Behind the Scenes--classic Atkinson.

53. Outline (Rachel Cusk): Cusk is a genius, and I cannot wait to read further in the trilogy

54. The Library Book (Susan Orlean): Audiobook. Orlean is one of my favorite long-form journalists, and it was such a treat to listen to her read her book. This investigative examination of the 1986 fire that destroyed LA’s Central Library is enriched by a history of libraries and their importance as public spaces.

55. Virgil Wander (Leif Enger): Book group read. Enger’s first novel since Peace Like a River, which was published 10 years ago. On the basis of Virgil Wander alone, I’ve become a huge fan. Set in small-town, North Shore Minnesota, the character development and situations were quirky and earnest. I savored every page as well as the discussion with my book peeps. We love it.

56. Twain’s Feast (Andrew Beahrs & Nick Offerman): Audiobook. Offered as a free monthly selection on Audible. Andrew Beahrs wrote Twain’s Feast several years ago, and instead of reading aloud the book, Offerman hosts a conversation with Beahrs and a few scholars and enthusiasts over a meal featuring Twain’s favorite foods. Surprisingly good.

57. I’d Rather Be Reading (Anne Bogel): I hate to admit that I have a love-hate relationship with Anne Bogel (The Other Mrs. Darcy), mostly by way of her “What Should I Read Next” podcast. a lot of this resonated with me in terms of reading habits and patterns, but some of her generalizations are cringey

58. Shakespeare Requirement (Julie Schumacher): Dear Committee Members was funny, fresh, and page turning. Schumacher’s latest wasn’t, and I couldn’t help think that I’ve already read better campus novels by Kingsley Amis, David Lodge, Jim Hynes. I did laugh out loud though.

59. Bury Your Dead (Louise Penny): Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #6, in which Inspector Beauvoir visits Three Pines to pick up an investigation from the previous books and in which Gamache visits a friend in Montreal while on personal leave only to stumble across a crime scene. Clearly his help was needed. The pace was slow-going and the back and forth between the two storylines was cumbersome, but still enjoyable.

60. My Sister, the Serial Killer (Oyinkan Braithwaite): My friend Tripp R. recommended this book at our last book group meeting in November, and shortly thereafter I started hearing and seeing the buzz generated by end-of-year round-ups. I bought it somewhat impulsively, which was easy given the great jacket and appealing trim size, and I started reading it immediately, which is rare for me. The writing is arresting from the first page. Each short chapter is a gem and kept me turning pages. This novel about sisters and the lengths they will go to for each other is one of my favorites of the year.

61. My Ideal Bookshelf (Thessaly la Force and Jane Mount): Dozens of people—architects, artists, writers, chefs, and more—were asked which books constitute their ideal bookshelf. The definition of “ideal bookshelf” was pretty open to interpretation. Some wrote about favorite books, others wrote about the books that had the greatest influence on them. Almost all were attached to a formative memory. Jane Mount’s illustrations were perfection. The book includes a blank outline of books on a shelf so the reader can add their own collection.

62. The Hangman (Louise Penny): Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #6.5. This short story was terrible. Without space for character development and descriptions of Three Pines, all you have is the mystery. And, always a little weak, the mysteries aren’t why I read this series.

63. The Perfect Nanny (Leila Slimani): Finding The Perfect Nanny in the neighborhood Little Free Library this summer was a coup even though I ignored it until December when the novel was included in the NYTBR’s 10 best books of 2018. The reader learns who committed the crime on the first page (the nanny). Still, it’s unputdownable.

64. Becoming (Michelle Obama): audio. Listened to Michelle Obama read her fantastic story. I am not going to lie. I felt her formative years were boring, but I know they’re important to establishing where she came from. I wept when she told about Barack’s run for president and the challenges he faced throughout his administration. Have been a fan forever. But I also felt encouraged and inspired by MO’s decision to Step Back (rather than Lean In) and prioritize her family while maintaining her career.

65. My Brilliant Friend (Elena Ferrante): Neapolitan Novels, #1. Finally. I truly feel as if I’m the last person on earth to read the first in Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet. It took a few attempts before I settled into the prose, and I think a lot could be said about right place/time for reading it. But, once I did settle in, I couldn’t put down this novel of female friendship set in 1950s Naples. Great development of character and setting as well as a surprising ending that makes one want to immediately pick up book two. I can hardly wait to see what Ferrante did there.

Total: 65 (54 in 2017)
Fiction: 39
Nonfiction: 25
Poetry: 1
Women: 37
Men: 28
Donna Leon: 1
Alexander McCall Smith: 1
Daniel Silva: 2
Louise Penny: 5
Mysteries: 8
Thrillers: 6
Science Fiction: 1
Audio: 17 (20 in 2017)
Travel: 9
Food: 4
Books about books: 4
Graphic novels: 4 (2 in 2017)
Stories: 0
E-books: 2
Shelf-sitters: 7 (6 in 2017)
Books published in 2018: 22 (2017: 23)
Memoirs/bio: 5
Book group: 5
France: 5
Alaska: 2
New Orleans: 1
Book 1 of a series: 9
Longest book: Decision at Delphi, 624 pages (2017: Pillars of the Earth, 973 pages)
Shortest book: The Hangman, 87 pages
Total pages read: 19,338 (14,835 in 2017)

Top 10, in no particular order
A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles)
My Sister, the Serial Killer (Oyinkan Braithwaite)
An Odyssey (Daniel Mendelsohn)
Outline (Rachel Cusk)
99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret (Craig Brown)
Virgil Wander (Leif Enger)
Travels in Alaska (John Muir)
Glass Houses (Louise Penny)
My Brilliant Friend (Elena Ferrante)
Twain's Feast (Beahrs and Offerman)

Sunday, December 31, 2017

the year (2017) in books

Happy New Year! I could not be happier that we are on the brink of a new year. 2017 was a sluggish and isolated year for me. Thank goodness for the entertainment value and enlightenment opportunities held in books. My reading goal was 62 books, which was only a slight stretch from the actual number I had read over the previous few years. I fell a bit short with 54, but I’m not disappointed since the average amounted to a book a week. I blame Pillars of the Earth, which, at 900+ pages, was not the page-turner I had hoped it would be. It took me far longer to finish than I anticipated and kept me from getting to still more books.

Reading also took a back seat to knitting. I should clarify to say holding a physical copy of a book took a back seat because I “read” twice as many audiobooks in 2017, mostly while knitting. Many of these tended to be memoirs because I really enjoy hearing the author read their own book, which tends to happen most in this genre. I plan to continue listening to books in new year.

For 2018, I will continue to aim high. Part of my annual shelf-sitter goal includes a list of 12 books that I have been meaning to read for a long time. Managing one a month seems realistic. I’d certainly like to try.

1. Cruelest Month (Louise Penny): Book three in the Gamache mystery series. It felt as if Penny struggled to set up the plot and find her voice, yet the last 20 pages were swift. The mystery was kind of lame, but Penny did some fantastic character building, and she advanced a secondary plot line that was juicy. I have heard that Penny hits her stride in book four, and I’m willing to give her another shot.

2. Day of the Jack Russell (Colin Bateman): We listened to this fun mystery on a road trip. This Carl Hiaissen-esque mystery was set in Belfast and featured a bookseller-sleuth. Great characters and an unexpected ending.

3. The Princess Diarist (Carrie Fisher): A really funny account of filming the first Star Wars movie, including her affair with Harrison Ford. It was poignant to hear her voice so close on the heels of her untimely death weeks prior. Apparently the book version has facsimiles of the diaries she kept on set, so while I would like to have seen them, Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd (my favorite Chanel! Chanel #3), read the excerpts.

4. Big Magic (Elizabeth Gilbert): Part of this self-help book was inspiring and motivating, the other part was smug and unhelpful. Still, I enjoyed hearing Gilbert’s voice giving me assurances.

5. A Really Good Day (Ayelet Waldman): After having been (mis)diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Waldman participated in a self-reporting study of microdosing with LSD to manage her moods. I enjoyed listening to the audio, read by the author, which felt extra-personal. But, the science and history of controlled substances proved fascinating too.

6. Our Souls at Night (Kent Haruf): Book group read. Although this was my first Haruf, the plot seemed very familiar to me, as if I had read it before, possibly in an Alice Munro story. Then my friend Caryl gently reminded me that it had been a Conversation with Books selection a year or so earlier. I enjoyed the ease with which Haruf told this quiet story of late-life friendship.

7. Roller Girl (Victoria Jamieson): Fantastic graphic novel/memoir of a 12 year old girl who comes of age in the rough, fast, colorful arena of roller derby. Set in one of my favorite cities—Portland, Oregon.

8. The Hour of Land (Terry Tempest Williams): A Conversation with Books 2017 title. In Williams’ literary celebration of the national parks, she offers personal narrative combined with classic nature writing. The book was beautiful and provocative and important. It gave me a call to action as we faced a national nightmare. The connection between land, people, and our future is strong, and it need our attention. One of my favorite books this year.

9. People of Privilege Hill (Jane Gardam): Compared to the door-stopper Collected Stories, this was but a wisp of a book. Also, not Gardam’s strongest work, but I did, as always, enjoy spending time with her short, concise, eccentric tales.

10. Angel, Catbird, vol. 1 (Margaret Atwood): Margaret Atwood + graphic novel. I was so excited about the possibilities but was left underwhelmed. I don’t even remember the story or why I felt meh, and I certainly don’t care to read future volumes.

11. High Dive (Jonathan Lee): I picked this up on the basis of one artfully written shelf-talker at Common Good Books. The novel is about a 1986 IRA plot to assassinate Margaret Thatcher while at a conference in Brighton. The story follows the hotel manager and his daughter as well as a young IRA thug. Really sharp writing and very sympathetic characters.

12. Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett): A long-time shelf-sitter. My friend James recommended PofE to me in 1998 while we were on vacation in France. Valuing his taste in all things stylish, I picked it up. And I made it 20 pages before I cast it aside. I tried reading it again in 2002 right after the birth of my second son. And I made it to page 25. So, 15 years later, with great determination I finished all 973 pages of this epic novel about building a Gothic cathedral. It took months to read. I neither loved it nor hated it, but if you want to read a book with good battle scenes, Bernard Cornwell’s are gripping. And, if you want to read a smart historical novel, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are beyond satisfying. I will not be reading Follett’s sequels.

13. Earthly Remains (Donna Leon): As always, very good to be back in Venice with Brunetti and company.

14. Building the Book Cathedral (David Macauley): A delightful companion to Pillars of the Earth. This edition is a revision of the classic that checked lots of my boxes with drafts, process drawings, thumbnails, and editorial notes.

15. Meet Me at the Bamboo Table (A.V. Crofts): A winning combination of armchair travel and stories about shared meals around the world. Photos and sketches enliven the prose.

16. In Cod We Trust (Eric Dregni): Dregni, who won a Fulbright Fellowship the same day his wife announced she was pregnant, spends a year in Trondheim, Norway. The cross-cultural tale was read in preparation for my summer travel to Norway.

17. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley): Winston was reading Frankenstein in English class, which gave me a great opportunity to join him. I was occasionally blown away by the character development and suspense, especially when I remembered that Shelley was 18 when she wrote this.

18. The Rules Do Not Apply (Ariel Levy): A memoir about resilience and rebuilding a life following unexpected tragedies.

19. Exit West (Mohsin Hamid): Influenced by hype, I read Exit West. A love story involving refugees is difficult to describe but absolutely met expectations. The New York Times selected it as a best book of 2017. I wish I had read a physical copy rather than listening to the audio.

20. Difficult Women (Roxane Gay): Another Christmas book stack title that was extremely well chosen. Gay is a fierce writer and her stories feature a range of characters and situations as well as writing styles (“Requiem for a Glass Heart” uses magical realism, for example). Always intriguing and worthy of the accolades.

21. Ms. Marvel, vol 1: No Normal (G. Willow Wilson): My friend Scott F. recommended this graphic novel featuring an unexpected superhero. The coming of age story is enriched by religious and cultural issues.

22. Woman No. 17 (Edan Lepucki): I had enjoyed Lepucki’s first novel, California, and so looked forward to reading her sophomore effort. The story follows the complex relationship between an artist, her two sons, and the nanny (unreliable narrator) who lives in the pool house and cares for the youngest son. So much promise, but ultimately meh.

23. End of the Affair (Graham Greene): I’d forgotten how much I love Graham Greene and his existential angst. This short novel is crisp. The audio read by Colin Firth is perfection.

24. Give the Girl a Knife (Amy Thielen): I love Thielen’s memoir of becoming a chef and returning home from NYC to northern Minnesota. She can cook and she can write. I listened to the audio on vacation while knitting on trains and ferries in Norway. Her descriptions of living in Park Rapids, one of my favorite places in Minnesota, as a child and as an adult will stay with me.

25. The Nix (Nathan Hill): Aside from audiobooks, I only took on fat novel with me on vacation this summer. I suspected that I would spend more time knitting than reading, but then I picked up The Nix and was hooked from the first page. Hill’s Dickensian novel of love and politics was filled with great characters and crazy situations, including a stint in Norway. Plus, the pacing made this 750-page book the page-turning-est novel I read all year.

26. Homesick for Another World (Ottessa Moshfegh). This collection of stories was published around the same time as Moshfegh’s acclaimed first novel, Eileen, had been recommended to me. Also, it was available during short story month. Weird, raw, disturbing characters and situations. I liked some of it, even when the stories made me uncomfortable. Bumping Eileen.

27. Al Franken: Giant of the Senate (Al Franken). Ugh. Oh, Al. Why? My book group discussed this while I was on vacation so I listened to the memoir instead. At the time, it seemed preferable to listen to Al tell his story. I loved it. I laughed. I cried. The book had a great thumbnail history of Minnesota politics, and it served as a primer for government, especially how the Senate fulfills its role in the balance of powers. It established Franken’s efforts to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans in Congress. Franken also attempted to clear the air re: his work on SNL (usually off-color), his wife’s alcoholism, and other matters. Seems there were even more “other matters,” which led to his resignation from the Senate. So despite my initial impression that this book appeared to be groundwork for future (higher) political office, my hopes have been dashed.

28. Dog Gone It (Spencer Quinn): Another dog mystery. This one listened to as Mr. Bibliotonic and I drove to Ely to retrieve oldest son from camp.
29. A Distant View of Everything (Alexander McCall Smith): Always good to revisit Isabel Dalhousie in Edinburgh.

30. Fellowship of Ghosts (Paul Watkins): Because Paul Watkins and Norway. Watkins was one of the beautiful Picador authors in my bag c. 1997 (Archangel). This memoir of the author’s hiking/walking journey through the mountains and around the fjords of Norway was a near-perfect way to extend my summer vacation. Plus, he’s a killer storyteller.

31. Commonwealth (Ann Patchett): Another shelf sitter. A year ago, I found it really important to buy Patchett’s latest on its release date. Then, I let it sit in a pile to mellow. Not many likeable characters and a pretty forgettable plot. Oh well.

32. Lives Other Than My Own (Emmauel Carrere): This unusual memoir came to my attention by way of the New York Times Book Review podcast, where many of the editors had been reading and discussing it over the summer. So much so that I had to check it out myself. The story starts with a chilling description of surviving the 2004 tsunami that hit Southeast Asia before moving to the cancer death of his sister-in-law. Grim stuff but so much beauty and uplift in examining life through the lens of others’ lives.

33. Meddling Kids (Arturo Cantero):  I thought I would like this more especially since is was described as a “tour de force of horror, humor, and H.P. Lovecraft” with a serious nod to Scooby Doo. The Lovecraft part made it a little less than I had hoped for.

34. Magpie Murders (Anthony Horowitz): I loved this fun, stylish, sly take on the classic whodunit mystery, plus it’s set in publishing. Initially I listened to the audiobook until the library loan ended, then switched over to the physical copy. Both/either are recommended. I wish I could say more, but just read it.

35. Portage (Sue Leaf): Another shelf-sitter. This memoir was a satisfying account of the author’s family’s adventures through Minnesota and other parts of the US by canoe. Great armchair travel that John and the boys picked out for me on my birthday last year.

36. A Paris Year (Janice MacLeod): In an effort to improve my odds of meeting the year’s reading goals, I dipped into this heavily illustrated memoir by an American in Paris. A delight.

37. Lying Game (Ruth Ware): Unfortunately, I found Ware’s third book to be so similar to her first two books as to be utterly unpredictable. Certainly it didn’t help that even the audio is read by the same performer as to sound identical.

38. Coming to My Senses (Alice Waters): Waters’ sometimes quaint memoir about cooking and the counterculture was perfect read by her.

39. A Stash of One’s Own (Clara Parkes): These essays by popular knitters about their yarn stashes was cozy.

40. Rabbit Cake (Annie Hartnett): A book group read. This quick reading novel was about a strange but loveable 12 year old dealing with the grief inherent in her mother’s death.

41. Heather, the Totality (Matthew Weiner): Weiner’s Mad Men was some of my favorite TV storytelling this century so far. Naturally I was curious to see what he might do in book form. It was dark and twisted and short.

42. Vacationland (John Hodgman): The audio version of this memoir, read by the author, was funny and clever, and I loved it!

43. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (John le Carre). I was inspired to pick up TTSS after reading the NYTBR cover review of his new book and watching his interview on 60 Minutes. Tinker is the first Smiley book in the Karla series. It was absolutely unputdownable. I loved the voice, the atmosphere, the language, the characters, and the Cold War history.  A lot of the time I had no idea what was going on, but somehow, the plot comes together in the end. My goal is to finish the series as well as to read more spy novels.

44. A Florence Diary (Diana Athill): This beautifully packaged, slim travel diary was charming. The brief notes on a week spent in post-war Florence. It was delightfully pre-Internet, pre-Chunnel, pre-high speed trains, pre-Euro travel.

45. Artemis (Andy Weir): I hadn’t expected to enjoy The Martian, but I did. Enough so that I vowed to read whatever Weir wrote next. The premise of his follow-up sounded promising so imagine my disappointment when it turned out to be terrible. Perhaps it would be more accurate to have categorized Artemis as a thriller or a space opera, but to call it science fiction is far-fetched. Sure the novel is set on a moon colony, but there is little that legitimizes it as sci fi. Also, his main character was so one dimensional, I actually imagined her as played by Matt Damon.

46. A Field Guide to the North American Family (Garth Risk Hallberg). I picked up this curious little thing on impulse at the library. Curious because Hallberg’s first novel, City on Fire, was a doorstopping 900+ pages, and Field Guide is a wisp of a novel at 144 pages. But, I was also intrigued by the “choose your ownvadventure” about two families whose lives are intertwined.  

47. Norse Mythology (Neil Gaiman). Neil himself read the audio in his plummy British accent. I wish I had been more familiar with the myths before listening. Still, I couldn’t help but picture Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as Loki.

48. Perils of Morning Coffee (Alexander McCall Smith): I’ve owned this short story for ages even though it has been hiding on my ipad. Not much of a mystery. Rather Isabel was enlisted to clear up a rumor. Still, I had a hard time getting into it, and there just wasn’t much there.

49. Almost Nearly Perfect People (Michael Booth). I was thrilled to find this Bill Bryson-esque, country-by-country survey of Scandinavians and what makes them tick in my Christmas bookstack. I had read Booth’s travel essay about Japanese food and was looking forward to reading ANPP in anticipation of a summer trip to Sweden and Norway.

50. Other People We Married (Emma Straub): In May, I read a few of these stories for my short story month challenge. Despite occasional stories that felt workshopped, I still think Emma Straub is a goddess.

51. Origin (Dan Brown): True confession: I liked Brown’s fifth Robert Langdon thriller. It was not as horrible as Inferno (I had promised myself I’d never read Brown again after this one). As usual the pacing was ridiculous but as an audiobook, I thought it was perfectly entertaining.

52. Less (Andrew Sean Greer): I had planned to skip this one but my friend Kathy W, recommended it to me while I was in a fiction slump. She did not steer me wrong. The novel follows a writer on the cusp of his 50th birthday and is filled with satire and dark humor that reminded me of Jonathan Ames. I love it.

53. Gondola (Donna Leon): I listened to this microhistory about the iconic Venetian mode of transportation.

54. Child Octopus (Matthew Amster-Burton): Found this on my ipad while looking for something short to read. Amster-Burton’s voice is familiar from the Spilled Milk podcast he co-hosts with Molly Wizenberg. This travel guide to Hong Kong had me obsessing about dim sum.

Total: 54 (59 in 2016)
Fiction: 33
Nonfiction: 21
Women: 27
Men: 27
Donna Leon: 2
Alexander McCall Smith: 2
Mysteries: 8
Thrillers: 3
Science Fiction: 0
Elin Hilderbrand: 0
Audio: 20 (10 in 2016)
Post-apocalyptic: 0
Travel: 7
Food: 4
Graphic novels: 2 (7 in 2016)
Stories: 4
E-books: 3
Shelf-sitters: 6
Books published in 2017: 23 (2016: 16)
Memoirs/bio: 11
Book group: 3
Kid’s: 1
Sheep: 0 (last year 2)
Norway: 2
Trilogies: 0 (last year 2)
Longest book: Pillars of the Earth, 973 pages
Shortest book: The Perils of Morning Coffee, 45 pages
Total pages read: 14,835 (over 16,000 in 2016)

Top 10, in no particular order
The Hour of Land (Terry Tempest Williams)
Exit West (Mohsin Hamid)
Difficult Women (Roxane Gay)
Give the Girl a Knife (Amy Thielen)
The Nix (Nathan Hill)
Less (Andrew Sean Greer)
Fellowship of Ghosts (Paul Watkins)
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (John le Carre)
Vacationland (John Hodgman)
Lives Other Than My Own (Emmauel Carrere)

Sunday, January 01, 2017

the year (2016) in books

Happy New Year!! 2016 was another spectacular reading year. Since 2015's goal of 75 books proved to be unrealistic, I set a challenge to read 61 books, just one more book than I actually read in 2015. Among those books, I vowed to read more short stories and more shelf-sitters. During May, I read at least one short story a day, which you isn't reflected in the total number of books read for the year. I'd like to think the stories added up to at least two books. Throughout my choices, a theme developed--trilogies. I finished the Jane Gardam Old Filth trilogy, which set the bar unbelievably high for literary fiction. It was about the most perfect thing I have read since Kate Atkinson's Ursula Todd duo and the first two of Hilary Mantel's Cromwell trilogy. The second trilogy I read this year was Ben Winters' Last Policeman trilogy. And, I read two more shelf-sitters this year than the year before. Again I continued to supplement reading physical books with ebooks and audio, and I tracked my reading on Goodreads. 

1. Man with the Wooden Hat (Jane Gardam): The second book in the Old Filth trilogy. The first book Old Filth was such a wonderful surprise that it wasn’t difficult to pick up the sequel almost immediately. This was the story of Feathers’ wife Betty, and I think I liked it best.

2. Before the Fall (Noah Hawley): Book group read. A quick and satisfying thriller on many levels, except for the ending, which was weak. Hawley writes for TV and the pacing was often set for that genre. This thriller starts with a private plane crash that has two survivors--a struggling artist and the 4 y.o. son of a media mogul. The story is told through the passengers' backstories. Not surprising, this book was one of the summer's biggest beach reads and landed a place on the NYT bestseller list.

3. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl (Carrie Brownstein): Raw and powerful. It was a quickish read that covered Brownstein's Sleater-Kinney career and emphasized how the band "kept it read," never selling out to the big record labels. As a result, their tours were pretty gritty. 

4. Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt (Caroline Preston): Fun novel told mostly through visuals—vintage ads, postcards, candy wrappers, menus, and more. This 1920s Bohemian romance contained collegiate life (Vassar), ocean liner travel, and a stint in Paris.

5. Last Friends (Jane Gardam): The final book in the Old Filth trilogy is Terry Veneering’s story. Veneering was Feathers’ nemesis and his Betty’s occasional lover. Each book in this series had a unique feel as each focused on a different character. No volume felt retread, but instead revealed more of each character in a layered and satisfying way. High recommend!

6. Tamara Drewe (Posey Simmonds): Shelf sitter. This graphic novel's take on Far From the Maddening Crowd was started, abandoned, started, abandoned. Watched movie. Picked up again. Finally finished. Wish I had Hardy’s novel under my belt before reading Tamara Drewe.

7. Girl with All the Gifts (M.R. Carey): Read at my friend Suzanne’s recommendation. Although it had a slow start, I enjoyed seeing how this zombie novel unfolded. Occasionally too intense for bedtime.

8. Lumberjanes, vol. 2 (Noelle Stevenson et al): Friendship to the max! Kick-ass teenage girls battling the supernatural at summer camp. 

9. Brown Girl Dreaming (Jacqueline Woodson): A Conversation with Books 2016 title. Brown Girl Dreaming, a memoir about growing up African-American in the 1960s and 70s, felt so brave and beautiful. Written in verse, it knocked my socks off. I was not alone in feeling this way as Woodson was bestowed with countless honors, including the National Book Award and a Newbery Honor. Woodson is a national treasure.

10. The Road to Little Dribbling (Bill Bryson): In which the author retreads Notes from a Small Island. Bryson read the audio version, which was a selling point for me right up to the moment early in the book where it appeared that BB seemed to have lost his funny.

11. The Outsiders (M.E. Hinton): My boys have been insisting politely for years that I read The Outsiders, which I somehow missed when I was a teen. True confession: I also haven't seen the movie. The boys each read the book in 7th grade, which was the same year they read To Kill a Mockingbird, a book that I hold dear but the boys don't. The Outsiders resonated more with them, and I was curious to see why. As a result, we had some great conversations, sharing notes on the parts of the book that moved us most. More SE Hinton, please.

12. Bloodlines in Berlin (Paul Schue). My friend Paul, a history professor, wrote this novel in his spare time, and generously shared the manuscript with me. Bloodlines is a pre-WW2 mystery/thriller set in Berlin in the 1930s. There is a serial killer whose motivation is racial purification. There are Nazis, natch. The protagonist is a journalist. The novel has great potential despite having been rejected by every publisher and agent to which it was sent. (update: I spoke with Paul on NYE. He's revising the ms., this time dropping the serial killer and focusing on the mystery elements. I'm in favor of that and look forward to reading his revision.)

13. Ready Player One (Ernest Clines): This novel, rich in 80s pop culture, came highly recommended to me, but I have to admit that it started slowly and didn’t gain momentum until Wade started the game. And, then the pace galloped with the speed of a video game. Thrilling. Took me right back to junior high when I stole quarters from my father’s change caddy and hit the arcade with my friends Ann and Kim to play Ms. Pacman, Qbert, Galaga, and Frogger. Much about this book is in oldest son’s wheelhouse so I included a copy in his Christmas bookstack.

14. Knitlandia (Clara Parkes): I found this quick read at the library. The slim volume contains vignettes of knitting and travel destinations, and it was super satisfying. Currently following Parkes on Instagram with no regrets.

15. The Shepherd's Life (James Rebanks): Two summers ago, we spent a week at Yew Tree Farm in the Lake District of England. One of its draws was that it had a small flock of Herdwick sheep. We were obsessed with all the sheep. They were everywhere. And on our many long walks, the boys would collect the wool they found on the ground, on bushes and plants. Rebanks is a third-generation sheepherder in the Lake District and this memoir is a testiment to hard work as well as a portrait of a beautiful landscape, one of my all-time favorites.

16. Crazy Rich Asians (Kevin Kwan):  Looking for an escape novel to take with me to Belize, CRA’s juicy, candy-colored cover called to me. It was funny and light and perfect vacation reading.

17. The Last Policeman (Ben H. Winters): At Mr. Bibliotonic’s strong recommendation, Last Policeman, book one in Winters’ near-apocalyptic trilogy also came on vacation with me. The setting was the last months of Earth. The Last Policeman is still fighting crime even though his mission seems pointless. He’s a modern gumshoe, which made for a great character. There are several subplots that are equally compelling. My favorite read of vacation week.

18. Sheepish (Catherine Friend): This memoir told in vignettes was written by a MN sheep farmer who sells fleece for wool, thus touching on two obsessions--sheep and knitting. However, I didn't love the author's voice and would rather the story have had a solid, continuous narrative. 

19. The Nest (Cynthia d'Aprix Sweeney): This novel about a seriously dysfunctional family was captivating and darkly funny. The nest in reference is the inheritance they’re about to receive. Each sibling is counting on the money to save them from their bad life choices. At times, the characters reminded me of Jonathan Franzen’s largely unlikeable characters, and I almost liked these better.

20. Gardens of Awe and Folly (Vivian Swift): Another delicately rendered travel journal from Swift. This time the focus is on gardens, particularly those in France. Once again, I have been inspired to flex my watercolor skills.

21. Countdown City (Ben H. Winters): The continuation of the Last Policeman trilogy in which former detective Henry Palace continues to solve crimes against the backdrop of the destruction of earth.

22. World of Trouble (Ben H. Winters): The concluding volume of the Last Policeman trilogy. There is no stopping the asteroid that is on a collision course with earth. Former detective Palace finds sanctuary in the woods with fellow police officers, then goes on one final mission to find his sister’s killer. The series was fantastic.

23. China Rich Girlfriend (Kevin Kwan): Once home from vacation, I also continued to read Kwan's satires of Asia's socially mobile. Very funny and sly. Perfect escape reading.

24. Redeployment (Phil Klay): Winner of the 2014 National Book Award. Last year I dipped into this book during National Short Story Month, and this year, I decided to finish it. These stories are all moving and detail the challenges faced by soldiers at war and at home. I will read whatever Phil Klay writes next.

25. Eligible (Curtis Sittenfield): I listened to the audio version of Sittenfeld’s modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, which was fun. In fact the first 11 chapters got me through crown repair at the dentist, and I was grateful for the sly, stylish, funny writing.

26. The Only Street in Paris (Elaine Sciolino): The author, a NYT correspondent, wrote about the street she lives on in Paris. This anecdote-filled narrative about the characters who live and work in the shadow of Sacre Couer/Montmartre on the Rue des Martyrs made me want to travel to Paris.

27. The Edge of Nowhere (Elizabeth George): Set on Whidbey Island (WA), where my friend Krista lives, this YA mystery featured a girl on the run who can hear other people’s thoughts. The need to suspend disbelief was taxing, and I found the book disappointing. George came highly recommended. I should try her adult novels.

28. The Waters of Eternal Youth (Donna Leon): If it’s April, then it must be time for a new Brunetti mystery. I look forward to the newest installment each year so I can reacquaint myself with Venice and the characters of Brunetti’s precinct. The mystery hardly matters and this one was rather meh (was the granddaughter of his mother-in-law’s friend intentionally pushed into a canal and left for dead only to live and be brain damaged?).

29. Everyday Matters (Danny Gregory): An illustrated memoir in which the author teaches himself to draw. Inspiring.

30. Sweetbitter (Stephanie Danler): My friend Martin, a bookseller at my local indie bookstore, put this book in my hand. It had buzz. I can see why. This modern bildungsroman was set in the restaurant industry and had a feeling and narrative that was familiar to me (swap the restaurant for publishing). Sometimes I wanted to shake the protagonist, but mostly the author had a nice way with pacing and imagery.

31. The Long Secret (Louise Fitzhugh) A classic. My friend Caryl loaned me this book after I had re-read and enjoyed Harriet the Spy. The continuing adventures of Harriet were even better. So evocative of a time and place. Harriet’s spunkiness was ever-present.

32. A Murder of Magpies (Judith Flanders): I listened to the audio version of this mystery, set in the British publishing industry. The author presented setting and characters with great authenticity. The mood was lighthearted, which was perfect for summer reading.

33. The Singer's Gun (Emily St. John Mandel): Last year I read and loved Mandel’s Station Eleven, and since then have been curious to read her backlist. John and I listened to The Singer’s Gun on a road trip. It’s crime noir with several unreliable narrators and a story that unfolds in unexpected ways. Mandel is a talented writer, and I look forward to reading more.

34. Modern Lovers (Emma Straub): I enjoyed Straub's latest almost as much as The Vacationers, which I read in the Lake Districk (2014). Straub builds great characters and keeps the situations light but smart.  

35. Above Suspicion (Helen MacInnes): The first in a spy thriller series written in the late '30s. MacInnes is in a class with John le Carre and Graham Green. This particular book is set in 1939 just before the outbreak of WW2, and Europe was tense. Our protagonists, an Oxford professor and his wife, have been asked to find a missing asset on the Continent. The narrative never disappointed.

36. Nimona (Noelle Stevenson): What was not to love about Nimona? She was, hands down, one of my favorite characters of 2016. Based on Stevenson’s web comic, this graphic novel was charming and funny and featured one of the best supervillain-sidekick combos ever. Looking forward to a re-read and to pretty much anything Stevenson writes.

37. Exit Wounds (Rutu Modan): Modan’s The Property was one of the last books I read in 2015. Eager to read more, I ordered Exit Wounds, a graphic novel set in Tel Aviv, without hesitation. The protagonist Koby Franco investigates a suicide bombing in which his father may have been a victim. Looking forward to more of what Israel’s bestselling graphic novelist does next.

38. The Travelers (Chris Pavone): After having been disappointed by the first two Pavone novels not meeting the high expectations of sparkling jacket copy, I was going to skip this one. However, I was glad to have stuck with him for one more go. In The Travelers, the author delivered a satisfying spy thriller with a great unpredictable ending. And, the book is set in travel magazine publishing--what's not to like?

39. How to Cook a Moose (Kate Christiansen): This easy, delicious, sometimes inspiring memoir--a riff on MFK Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf--is set in Maine. My Down East summer vacation was prolonged whenever I dipped into it.

40. Lab Girl (Hope Jahren): This truthful and hopeful memoir rooted in lab/field science was on many Best of 2016 lists. I listened to the audio, which was read by the author. Such immediacy. 

41. Cook Korean (Robin Ha): Surprisingly, the St. Paul Public Library carries Cook Korean, a comic book memoir/cookbook that walks the reader through many favorite Korean dishes making them accessible. Unfortunately, I had to return the book before I could test drive the kimchi or bibimbap recipes. Next time!

42. The Woman in Cabin 10 (Ruth Ware): Perfect dog-walk audiobook. This locked-room thriller is set on a "soft opening" for a luxury cruise ship. The protagonist, a travel magazine writer with evident neuroses, sees a woman jump overboard. Or did she? 

43. You Will Know Me (Megan Abbott): Always happy to read the latest Megan Abbott psychological thriller. She writes about teen girls in a creepy, authentic way. This book takes a dive through the world of elite gymnastics and the messed up parental control, athlete perfectionism, and cutthroat competition.  

44. The Shadow Hero (Gene Luen Yang): My oldest son persuaded me to read this sweet, funny take on comic book origins.

45. Siracusa (Delia Ephron): The novel was told in four points of view--two couples on vacation together in Italy--and the audio was read by four actors/actresses who are actually two husband-wife couples. So many uncomfortable situations and characters pushed to the edges. The audio captured the drama well. I'm glad I chose this medium.

46. A Man Called Ove (Frederick Backmann) Book group read. My biggest complaint about this incredibly popular novel is that it felt sentimental and predictable, but I read on because I thought my perceptions would be changed. Ove was quite a character. I liked what the author did with the novel even when schmaltzy. Ultimately, I couldn't help but love Ove.

47. Stories of Jane Gardam (Jane Gardam): Smart, crisp writing. Intriguing situations and characters in every single story. This was a massive collection--475 pages--with recurring themes (expatriates, abandoned affairs, ghosts), but the stories all varied in style and tone. Gardam is so subtle and clever, I look forward to getting back into her longer fiction because it always rewards.

48. A Fatal Grace (Louise Penny): Penny's second book in the Inspector Gamache series. These are not fast-paced, escapist mysteries. I love all the details of community and characters, even when the mystery is lame. This book featured a curling match (bonspiel), and I appreciated that. Sweep! 

49. Dark Matter (Blake Crouch): This sci-fi thriller was our audiobook pick for a fall road trip to Itasca State Park. Fast paced and complex Crouch's novel plays with alternate realities and time. I was never 100% sure about what was going on until the very end. We had a great time as a family trying to figure it out.

50. Being a Beast (Charles Foster):  The author got down on the ground (and in the air) and experienced the rhythms of the animal world by emulating a fox, badger, redtail deer, and swift.

51. Today Will Be Different (Maria Semple): Released on my birthday. Happy birthday to me!! Where Did You Go, Bernadette was an all-time favorite of the 20-teens so I eagerly awaited whatever Semple would do next. The follow-up has let down a lot of readers, but not me. I recognized myself in the main character, which made me alternately laugh and cry. I suspect it hit home with others too, which may be what they didn't like. Still, I would encourage readers to hang in there (or just go ahead and re-read Bernadette).

52. Fine Romance (Susan Branch): This book is similar to Vivian Swift's illustrated travel narratives, which is why I picked it up. However, Branch and her artwork are schmaltzy, and there were many points in the books where I felt I should have put it down. That said, Branch demonstrated an occasionally interesting point of view, which helped me to see the books through to the end. And, what can I say? I'm a sucker for England.

53. Howards End Is on the Landing (Susan Hill): I loved the premise of this book. After the author made herself a challenge to read only books she already owned for a year, she toured her house making her selections. Her shelves provided a collection of essays base themes and habits in reading. I would love to have written this book!

54. Something New (Lucy Knisley): Lucy Knisley is a long-time favorite. I have read her comic book memoirs about traveling to Europe with her mother, being an artist, and learning to cook, so naturally I would read her treatment of being a bride. I wasn’t disappointed. She’s smart, talented, and honest.

55. Man at the Helm (Nina Stibbe): Last year I read Stibbe’s hilarious letters, which she wrote to her sister when she was a nanny for Mary-Kay Wilmers, the long-time editor of the London Review of Books. Her keen eye and comical turn-of-phrase compelled me to run out a buy MatH, her first novel. It was slow-going but because I thought I would love it, I ran out to buy Stibbe’s follow-up, which I have yet to read. Despite occasional draggy-ness, there was an undeniable charm and wit to this, and I look forward to reading the sequel.

56. There Is Something I Want You to Do (Charles Baxter): Baxter’s linked story collection was a book group selection. While I was unable to attend the gathering during which the story was discussed, I started it and read in earnest until something shinier distracted me. I decided to finish it as the end of year approached. The last quarter of the book was fantastic.

57. In the Dark, Dark Woods (Ruth Ware): DH and I listened to most of this audio book on a road trip Up North (Park Rapids and Itasca State Park). It’s about a hen party gone awry. The setting was a glass house in the deep woods, and as such there is a moody atmosphere and a bit of a locked room feel. This was Ware’s first book.  

58. Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Marie Kondo): That Marie Kondo is a handful. I've taken away as may good ideas as those I've rejected because they just don't compute, such as having a wardrobe for only one season, which is just silly (sez a resident of a four-season environment). That said, I am now read to start purging and organizing in the new year. AS I do every year. Maybe some LCMoTu technique will work this time.

59. Super Sushi Ramen Express (Michael Booth): The last book of the year was a travel/culinary memoir in which the author took his family to Japan. To eat. It's smart, breezy entertainment and always left me hungry (for food, for travel). Booth filled the void that Bill Bryson left when he stopped writing witty books about his travels. 

Total: 58 as of 12/18/16 (2015: 60)
Fiction: 42/37
Nonfiction: 16 /23
Women: 39/39
Men: 19/21
Donna Leon: 1/1 (all caught up now)
Alexander McCall Smith: 0/2
Mysteries: /5
Thrillers: /7
Science Fiction: /6
Elin Hilderbrand: 0
Audio: 10
Post-apocalyptic: 3
Travel: 6
Food: 3
Graphic novels: 7
Stories: 3
E-books: 2
Shelf-sitters: 10
Books published in 2016: 18
Memoirs/bio: 8
Book group: 3
Kid’s: 6
Sheep: 2
Trilogies: 2

Total pages read: 16,442