I admit that one of the reasons I started a blog is because I love these “year-end” posts. I love being able to have the opportunity to look back on a year and analyze it.
I have always been a voracious, insatiable reader whenever I have not been occupied by school. But I would often not remember the names of the books I read and would be disappointed that I couldn’t spend more time with books I fell in love with.
In 2008, I came across a display case of pre-printed journals, specifically http://journalsunlimited.com/shop/books-ive-read-a-readers-mini-journal/, and had an epiphany. I resolved to fill in the blanks of one page after every book I read. Thus, the book journal was born.
This small act–writing a little bit after every book I read–has enriched my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined: First, I have a record of what I read, so I can do a post like this. Second, as I read through the book journal, it takes me back to the time I was reading each book, so I get to remember the joy of being immersed in it. And third, by summarizing a book, picking out quotes, and writing them down, I get to spend more delicious time in the world of each book.
I’m now in my fifth book journal, and I’ve graduated from the pre-printed journal form to a blank notebook, because I found as I was going along that there wasn’t enough room on the form for all the things I wanted to remember. When I’m done, if a book is especially good, it is graced with a sea of multicolored post-it flags where I’ve marked quotes I want to write down in the journal.
In On Writing, Stephen King’s combination book of writing craft and memoir, he says “if you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” He usually reads seventy or eighty books a year. I’ve been pushing towards that goal—and I think this is the first year I’m close. The “read a lot” part is easy for me, but the “write a lot” part is harder. But I’m working on it.
The entire list is at the bottom of this post, but here are my general thoughts looking at the list as a whole:
At the beginning of the year, I was on a Louise Erdrich kick—I love her books, especially the way that many are structured, told from several viewpoints, with only part of the story revealed by each person. Many are told over decades and several generations. I am inspired by and in awe of her work and would love to take her structure and apply it to my own stories.
I read a few classics: Jane Eyre; Villette; The Heart is a Lonely Hunter; Marjorie Morningstar; Alice Adams. I couldn’t believe I waited so long to read Jane Eyre, and I loved The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. It was bleak, but held many truths.
I read a few children’s books because my daughter was reading them: Everything on a Waffle; Bud, Not Buddy.
I read a couple Pulitzer winners: Olive Kitteredge; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
Eight books were for my library reading group: Alice Adams; Behind the Scenes at the Museum; The Night Strangers; Claude & Camille; The UnCommon Reader; Step · Ball · Change; The Love of a Good Woman; The Eighty-Dollar Champion. I love reading books I otherwise wouldn’t have read and then being able to talk about them!
I read a couple of feminist classics: A Room of One’s Own; The Feminine Mystique. I was surprised and find it unfortunate that these are as relevant today as they were 75 and 50 years ago.
My favorite books on the writing craft from the year: Thunder and Lighting or Writing Tools
My favorite audiobook in 2012: Romancing Miss Bronte. This was a ficitionalized version of Charlotte Bronte’s life, taken from many of her letters and of course, her books. Listening to it, I felt like I was there in the 1850’s.
Memoirs I could most relate to: In Her Own Sweet Time, How Reading Changed My Life; My Reading Life
Memoirs I couldn’t put down: The Color of Water; Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You; Apron Anxiety
Fiction that had elements of my own life: What Came First (single mom by choice, relationship dynamics); Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (bookworm, nerdy teenager who was obsessed by the opposite sex).
Two nonfiction books that helped me sort out some of my own issues: Women, Food, and God; and Singing at the Top of My Lungs
Most disappointing book I should not have finished: Marjorie Morningstar. Ick. The story of a girl with dreams of being an actress, written by a male author, in the 1950’s. She’s independent for most of the book, then, somehow, she ends up married, because “that’s what she really wanted.”
I re-read some books I’d read as a child to see what I thought now compared to what I remembered: Trixie Belden (I think it was dated when I read it in the 1980s and is even more so now); The Swiss Family Robinson (I was annoyed that they seem to shoot everything they find, and the narrator only calls his wife by name one time in the entire book—otherwise, she’s referred to as “the mother” or “the wife”; Forever; Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (Judy Blume is awesome and her books hold up to the years very well.)
Funniest authors I’d never read before: Carl Hiassen, Carol Snow
Other books that were delightful: The UnCommon Reader (what if the Queen of England started reading?); Step · Ball · Change (smart family drama with dancers and lawyers); Haroun and the Sea of Stories (a boy goes into another world where he must save the sea of stories from being polluted so his father can continue to be a storyteller); Bud, Not Buddy (during the Great Depression in Michigan, an African-American boy sets out to find who he believes is his father and finds much more)
These books left me in awe of the writer’s accomplishment—the authors had a lot to say, and said it in a way that I couldn’t put down: Day After Night; Caleb’s Crossing; The Heart is a Lonely Hunter; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; The Casual Vacancy; The Life of Pi
These books gave me insight into an unfamiliar culture: Fear of the Dark, Fearless Jones (1950’s Los Angeles—Watts neighborhood); The Bonesetter’s Daughter (pre-WWII China); Day After Night (post-WWII Palestine); The Long Walk (a bomb technician’s during the Iraq war); Caleb’s Crossing (Puritan settlers’ interaction with the first Native American to attend Harvard, in the 1600’s); Gold (Olympic cyclists’ training).
A creepy book I loved: The Ridge
Books I should have bought because I wrote down so many quotes: In Her Own Sweet Time; The Feminine Mystique; Women, Food & God; Writing Tools; Breasts; Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake; My Reading Life; Thunder & Lightning.
What have you read this year?
The Full 2012 List:
- Plague of Doves, by Louise Erdrich (audio)
- A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
- Tracks by Louise Erdrich
- Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
- The Bingo Palace, by Louise Erdrich
- Romancing Miss Bronte, by Juliet Gael (audio)
- The Beet Queen, by Louise Erdrich
- The Rope, by Nevada Barr
- Writer with a Day Job, by Aine Greaney
- Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1940, by David E. Kyvig
- Fear of the Dark, by Walter Moseley (audio)
- The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan
- Story Matters, by Margaret Love-Denman and Barbara Shoup
- Day After Night, by Anita Diamant
- Olive Kitteredge, by Elizabeth Strout
- Villette, by Charlotte Bronte
- Star Island, by Carl Hiassen (audio)
- The Wisdom Trail: In the Footsteps of Remarkable Women, by Janet Lieberman and Julie Hungar
- The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, by Melissa Bank
- Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks
- Night Watch, by Barbara Shoup
- The Long Fall, by Walter Moseley (audio)
- Everything on a Waffle, by Polly Horvath
- The Master Butcher’s Singing Club, by Louise Erdrich
- Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel, by Jeannette Walls
- Alice Adams, by Booth Tarkington
- The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers
- Women, Food & God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything, by Geneen Roth
- Behind the Scenes at the Museum, by Kate Atkinson
- The Ridge, by Michael Koryta
- Nurtureshock: New Thinking About Children, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
- Writing a Woman’s Life, by Carolyn Heilbrun
- The Bonesetter’s Daughter, by Amy Tan (audio)
- The UnCommon Reader, by Alan Bennett
- Claude & Camille, by Stephanie Cowell
- Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, by Roy Peter Clark
- Marjorie Morningstar, by Herman Wouk
- The Love of a Good Woman, by Alice Munro
- Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie
- Fearless Jones, by Walter Moseley
- Nature Girl, by Carl Hiassen (audio)
- The Night Strangers, by Chris Bohjalian
- Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis
- Singing at the Top of Our Lungs: Women, Love, and Creativity, by Claudia Bepko and Jo-Ann Kristan
- Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey, by the Countess of Carnarvon
- Chomp, by Carl Hiassen
- What Came First, by Carol Snow
- Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History, by Florence Williams
- The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, by James McBride
- How Reading Changed My Life, by Anna Quindlen
- Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, By Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler (audio)
- Getting Warmer, by Carol Snow
- Step · Ball · Change, by Jeanne Ray
- Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, by Anna Quindlen (audio, then also hardcover)
- Trixie Belden #2, The Red Trailer Mystery, by Julie Campbell
- The Swiss Family Robinson, by Johann Wyss
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
- The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling
- Forever . . , by Judy Blume
- Rules of Thumb: 73 Authors Reveal Their Fiction Writing Fixations, edited by Michael Martone and Susan Neville
- In Her Own Sweet Time: Unexpected Adventures in Finding Love, Commitment, and Motherhood, by Rachel Lehmann-Haupt
- The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows, by Brian Castner (audio)
- My Reading Life, by Pat Conroy (audio, then also hardcover)
- Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
- A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers
- Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft, by Natalie Goldberg
- The Eighty-Dollar Champion, by Elizabeth Letts
- Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, by Sue William Silverman
- The Round House, by Louise Erdrich
- Apron Anxiety: My Messy Affairs In and Out of the Kitchen, by Alyssa Shelasky
- Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
- Gold by Chris Cleave
- Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (I’m still reading it as of 12/28/2012, but I expect to finish it by the end of the year)