Author Archives: bbwesquire

Lunchtime Walk on the Canal

I’ve started dabbling in poetry this year. I blame Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hamilton, because I think good art makes me want to create.

Lunchtime Walk on the Canal

Sun rises high in the sky; time to walk
Elevator slow, let’s go! I need out!
Every step my concentration’s bedrock
The canal—dyed blue—my favorite route
Mallards tuck their iridescent heads. I gawk
Long winter, late spring; will anything sprout?
The sun shines on my head and in my eyes
The joy of movement alone the best prize

So many causes, so many colors—why blue?
For organ donors, I find, curious
With the ducks, geese, is the dye like glue?
Geese stand on one leg, seems precarious
Ducks float still, giving not a clue
Tulips, hyacinths—spring is victorious
Blue dye tendrils infiltrate the river
Invisible below the surface shining silver

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4/26/2018 Taken from pedestrian bridge across the White River

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Reflections on a Decade of Book Journaling

I began my first book journal on April 19, 2008, shortly after my 40th birthday.  Now I’m 50, and in the intervening time I have read 749 books that I’ve kept track of in various journals.

Why have I kept it up?  Sometimes I get busy and I have to journal about 4-5 books at once, but I always catch up to what I’m currently reading.  I like to reflect and see what has caught my interest at different times in my life. I like to set goals for how I’ll read differently in the upcoming year.  I like to see how what I’m reading indicates what I’m thinking about at the time, or, what I want to avoid.

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from The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson, by Bryan Furuness, read 7/30/2013

Reading, for me, is not just an escape from everyday life.  It’s a way to get inside someone else’s head without actually being in their company.  I’ve conceded during this decade that I’m an introvert and people can exhaust me.  My energy is renewed after I’ve had some time inside my own head listening to or reading what has come directly from someone else’s.

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from The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu, read May 2015

Thinking about what I’ve just read extends the time I get to enjoy each book.  Copying quotes that I like from a book helps clarify what values I find important or things I’ve never thought about the way the author does, and that I now want to remember.  Then, when I look back in my journals, I get to return to the world of the book, just for a little while.

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from The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George, read February 2017

Reading, and writing about what I read, is my main spiritual practice.  It’s how I make sense of the world and my place in it.

Books I Started . . . But Didn’t Finish

I used to feel guilty for not finishing a book, feeling like I needed to complete what I started.  I was an indiscriminate reader as a child and young adult–not terribly picky about what I read, and I would force myself to get through a book even if I didn’t like the way I felt when I read it. Introspection and keeping a journal made me aware of the effect that books had on me, so I became more choosy about what I read and critical if I didn’t like how an author had portrayed a character or situation.  I began to give myself permission to move on and quit reading a book if it didn’t work for me.

I have been keeping a book journal, of books I finish, for almost 10 years.  In 2017, I began to keep a list of books that I started, but decided not to finish, along with a short synopsis of why I chose to move on.

A Soldier of the Great War, by Mark Halprin.  A selection of my library book group, this was a massive hunk of a book.  That doesn’t usually discourage me, as I have a “I like big books, and I cannot lie” bumper sticker on my car.  But I was annoyed by the main character, who was a professor of “aesthetics,” or beauty, and the author’s fat-shaming descriptions of more than one character.   Either the main character or Halprin, or both, buy into the fallacy that fat equals ugly and lazy.  Very early in the book, he describes poor women of Rome waiting for the bus, who had once been “sylph-like little girls completely different from the obedient cardigan-wearing barrels they had become,” as if the physical transformation, rather than age or maturity, turned them into “completely different” people.  He describes musicians as “remarkably corpulent” with one having “hands, big fat things like rows of kielbasa.”  As a young boy, he sought the bed of a princess, but instead opened the door to “a huge beached whale of a woman with exceedingly spacious gaps in her teeth, enormous fleshy lips, a porcine nose, and ears shaped like powder horns” who had “been too ugly to come to dinner.”  The book is set in 1964, with flashbacks to the early 1900’s, before and during World War I, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that Halprin echoed the attitudes towards fat people that were prevalent during that time, and that still exist today. But I now know better, even though I was born into our fat-shaming society just after the book’s opening, and I can and do choose to read and listen to media that doesn’t perpetuate those beliefs.

Everybody’s Got Something, by Robin Roberts.  I wanted to like this memoir, which was read by the author on audio.  I used to watch the morning news shows, and I admired Roberts as a groundbreaking African American, lesbian woman who had also dealt with cancer twice.  But I just couldn’t get into it.  I didn’t even get as far into the book as her breast cancer diagnosis, because it seemed to take forever to get to the parts I cared about, and was about this Oscar party, or that dress, and I lost interest quickly.

The Year of Voting Dangerously, by Maureen Dowd.  I wanted to like this one, too, which was a collection of Dowd’s columns from the 2016 election season.  But I didn’t attempt to listen to it until August of 2017, eight months into the illegitimate Trump presidency.  I couldn’t deal with the criticisms of Hillary Clinton that were written as the election progressed a year earlier.  Luckily, What Happened came out shortly thereafter, and I got to listen to Hillary herself.

When the New Deal Came to Town by George Melloan.  I’ve done a fair amount of research on life in the Midwest during the Great Depression as research for a book I’ve had in my head about my paternal grandmother, and I thought this book might inspire me to continue in that research.  But Melloan’s premise is that there wasn’t all suffering and want during that time, and that the New Deal policies were misguided.  I read the first 50 pages and decided I was done.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy.  I checked this book out from the library twice before I chose it to read next–I very much wanted to read it.  I liked the beginning–it was the story of a Muslim hijra, or transgender woman in India, and I took it with me on my winter vacation.  But through my 10 days away, I never wanted to pick it up and see what happened next.  The plot didn’t engage me, and I spent my free time on vacation doing word puzzles on my phone instead.  I got 100 pages in, wondering why I was not reading on my vacation, when I normally can’t go through books fast enough, and checked Goodreads reviews to see what others thought.  Many people had the same issues.  So I bailed, too.

My 2017 Year in Books: Analysis and Favorites

I read exactly the same number of books in 2017 as I did in 2016 – 77.   I’m going to have to do some serious limiting of my smartphone habit if I’m going to read more than 80, and given the dumpster-fire of politics in 2017, and hopes that 2018 will be an improvement, I don’t see it being easy to keep from checking Twitter constantly.

Of the total, 42 books fit my diversity criteria of being written by a person of color or person who is openly queer, which was 55%–a significant improvement over the past several years.  47 books were written by women; 2 by both a woman and a man or many authors; 1 by a person who is genderqueer; and 27 were written by men.

53 books were fiction; 9 memoir; 3 essays; 5 self-help; and 7 other non-fiction.  9 would be considered classics.  Of the fiction I read, 21 were contemporary fiction; 12 were sci-fi/fantasy; 14 historical fiction; 21 contemporary; 7 mysteries; and 3 young adult.

29 books, or 38%, were audio books.  It’s clear that without my daily commute and audio books, my reading time has plummeted, since I used to read far fewer audio books (9 in 2014, 16 in 2015, and 14 in 2016) but read a similar total number of books.

I liked so many that I don’t have room to specifically list and describe all of the books I felt strongly about. If you have questions about any from the main list that I haven’t mentioned, please comment and I’ll let you know what I thought.

Favorite Series 

The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman (includes The Masked City and The Burning Page). My best friend of 35 years, Becky, did a great review of this series on her Lighthearted Librarian’s Book Club Blog, which I read on her recommendation.   I then recommended this series all year, and didn’t hear any negatives from anyone who has read it.  Imagine if there are different worlds, and librarians can travel between them as spies to collect books for the library that connects all of the worlds.  I was hooked from the very first scene, and my 14-year old has read them all, as well. Cogman’s new book comes out on January 9, 2018!

I also will read anything N.K. Jemisin writes–she is an author of color who builds fascinating worlds and writes stories about systems of power and how people deal with being both the powerful and the powerless.  This year I read her Hundred Thousand Kingdoms series and she published the last in the Broken Earth trilogy–The Stone Sky–which was just as brilliant as the first two, which I read in 2016.

I also discovered a mystery series by Vaseem Khan, set in contemporary Mumbai, featuring the most upstanding and least-corrupt retired Indian police chief, Inspector Chopra, and his sidekick, a baby elephant named Ganesha.  Beginning with The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, and continuing through The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown, I laughed and escaped by following the Inspector dealing with his unwilling retirement due to heart issues and the crimes he is drawn into.  Imagining the scene made by Baby Ganesha following the Inspector through a mall was a treat.

Favorite Nonfiction

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah and What Happened by Hillary Clinton were my favorite nonfiction reads, both on audio.  Both were read by the author, and I felt like I had private one-on-one time with each of them.  Trevor is brilliant, hilarious, insightful, and I’m very glad to be able to watch him regularly on The Daily Show.  With What Happened, I both laughed out loud and cried during the the first 35 minute reading/listening session.  It helped to find out her grieving process and how she has dealt with the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election.

Library Book Group Surprises

I have belonged to a monthly reading group at my local library since 2011, and, though our facilitator does a great job, she can’t please everyone all of the time.  These three were my favorites from 2017.

The Little Paris Bookshop was a delightful surprise about a bookseller on a barge on the Seine who goes on an adventure searching for a lost love. I found myself flagging quotes beginning on page 11.  One of my favorites: “It’s amazing how close you are to your essential self as a kid, he thought, and how far from it you drift the more you strive to be loved.”

A Tale for the Time Being is set on Vancouver Island, and is a unique combination of a Japanese girl’s diary, and the story of the author (named Ruth) who found the diary washed up on the beach.  She weaves quantum mechanics and Zen Buddhism with magical realism into a page-turner.  “An unfinished book, left unattended, turns feral, and she would need all her focus, will, and ruthless determination to tame it again.”

I didn’t know what to expect with Mister Monkey, because the book I read had a grotesque-looking orange monkey on the front.  I did not expect to read a bittersweet book about theatre, writing, and life, told from the perspectives of different people involved in a children’s theatre play about a monkey on trial for theft. Prose begins from the perspective of one of the lead characters, and continues telling the story from the perspective of a different person in each chapter–we find out what’s in the monkey’s head through the child actor who plays him; what the author of the book that inspired the play intended; how the play affected the grandfather who took his grandson on an outing to see it; how the play and story became important in the day of the teacher of the grandson; and what happened when a waiter went to see it with his free tickets gifted as a tip by the author.  It’s inspiring to think of how many people could be affected by one person’s writing.

Powerful and intense fiction

An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay (Haitian-American woman is abducted for ransom in Haiti, repeatedly raped and assaulted–how does she deal with life afterwards?)

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue (13-year old child in late 1800’s Ireland starves herself and claims to be living on manna from heaven; an English Nightingale-trained nurse is assigned to watch her and determine if it’s a hoax.)

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie, who died while Lincoln was in office, is buried.  The story is told by the ghosts who haven’t yet moved on in his graveyard, and the ghosts’ dialogue is woven in to quotes from historical accounts of Lincoln’s behavior upon Willie’s death.)

Overall 2017 Favorites 

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See.  I have loved just about everything of See’s I’ve read, and Tea Girl did not disappoint me.  Set in a remote Yunnan village, Li-yan is a member of the Akha people, an ethnic minority in China.  Her family harvests and processes tea leaves and follow ancient customs through the 1980s.  When Li-yan gets pregnant and is unmarried, she takes her child to the nearest city where there is an orphanage, and later does her best to continue her education.  After several chapters of hearing the story from Li-yan’s perspective, See includes case reports and orphanage reports from the daughter, who was later adopted by an American family and named Haley.  Later chapters alternate between Li-yan and Haley, telling the story through the interconnections of both to the world of tea.  It’s beautifully written, and I loved the ending.

The Midwife’s Revolt, by Jodi Daynard.  Audible sucked me in with this book as a Daily Deal, and I’m so glad they did! Lizzie Boyleston is a midwife-farmer living in Braintree, Massachusetts, in the late 1770s.  Her husband dies in one of the early battles of the American Revolution, and she later supports herself as a midwife.  She happens to live near Abigail Adams, and they become fast friends.  But the time is one where you don’t know who to trust because anyone could be a British spy, or even a double agent.  I loved reading about the details of keeping house at that time in history, along with the portrayal of an interracial relationship, solving murders, topped off with a satisfying romance.  And then I was thrilled to find out Daynard has written two more sequels/companion pieces!

The Forty Rules of Love, by Elif Shafak.  I love library serendipity–where you just wander the stacks and see what you pick up.  That’s how I found this book.  Shafak alternates between the story of a 21st-century Boston woman of a certain age who isn’t completely satisfied in her marriage, and the story of the poet Rumi in the 1200s.  Rumi is found by his soulmate, a Muslim Sufi who changes his life, and in the process, gives him his poetry and the Forty Rules.  I have several pages of quotes–one example: “We were all created in His image, and yet were were each created different and unique. No two people are alike. No two hearts beat to the same rhythm. If God had wanted everyone to be the same, He would have made it so. Therefore, disrespecting differences and imposing your thoughts on others is tantamount to disrespecting God’s holy scheme.”

It was a great reading year–I could have summarized many more worthy books.  Next year, my goal is to NOT purchase any books, but only read what I own or borrow from friends or the library, because the pile has only grown larger since 2013.  Audible won’t count, because the books are electronic and don’t take up any space.

I want to continue to pursue the 80-book goal in 2018, including at least half that meet my diversity criteria.  I like the mix of fiction and nonfiction, so that doesn’t need to change.  I would also like to read some of the books my 14-year old is obsessed with, including Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson.

 

My 2017 Year in Books: The List

This year I’m going to split the year-end review of books into several posts.  First will be the list of books I’ve read, 77 this year.  Then the analysis, favorites, and goals for next year, and the last will be a short list of books I started but didn’t finish.   I also started a bullet journal this year, so I have both a running quick-reference list (featured photo) and a separate journal with my thoughts and quotes about each book.

(A) = Audiobook; (BG) = Library book group; (Div) = Diversity project, author must be a person of color and/or openly queer, or both.

The list:

  1. Second Nature, by Alice Hoffman
  2. Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah (A, Div)
  3. Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky (BG)
  4. Upstream, by Mary Oliver (Div)
  5. Brother, I’m Dying, by Edwidge Danticat (Div)
  6. Wild, by Cheryl Strayed (A)
  7. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin (Div)
  8. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead (Div)
  9. Turbo Twenty Three, by Janet Evanovich
  10. The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George (BG)
  11. The Farming of Bones, by Edwidge Danticat (Div)
  12. The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman
  13. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury (A)
  14. Notes of a Native Son, by James Baldwin (A, Div)
  15. Under the Udala Trees, by Chinelo Okparaanta (A, Div)
  16. The Broken Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin (Div)
  17. Kingdom of Gods, by N.K. Jemisin (Div)
  18. The Masked City, by Genevieve Cogman
  19. The Burning Page, by Genevieve Cogman
  20. An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay (Div)
  21. Freedom is a Constant Struggle, by Angela Davis (A, Div)
  22. You Can’t Touch My Hair, by Phoebe Robinson (Div)
  23. The Vegetarian, by Han Kang (Div, BG)
  24. Another Country, by James Baldwin (A, Div)
  25. Letters to a Young Muslim, by Omar Sarif Ghobash (Div)
  26. The Forty Rules of Love, by Elif Shafak
  27. Rani Patel, In Full Effect by Sonia Patel (Div)
  28. Razor Girl, by Carl Hiassen
  29. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See (A, Div)
  30. God Save the Child, by Toni Morrison (A, Div)
  31. Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James (BG)
  32. The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, by Vaseem Khan (Div)
  33. Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo
  34. Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
  35. The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown, by Vaseem Khan (Div)
  36. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison (Div)
  37. A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki (Div, BG)
  38. Call the Midwife, by Jennifer Worth (A)
  39. The End of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe (Div)
  40. Of Mules and Men, by Zora Neale Hurston (A, Div)
  41. Children of the New World, by Alexander Weinstein (A)
  42. Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin (A, Div)
  43. The Fishermen, by Chigozie Obioma (Div)
  44. Gabi: A Girl in Pieces, by Isabel Quintero (Div)
  45. Ashfall, by Mike Mullin (BG)
  46. The Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu (A, Div)
  47. Finding Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  48. Mr. Potter, by Jamaica Kincaid (Div)
  49. Flower Net, by Lisa See (Div)
  50. The Wonder, by Emma Donoghue (A, Div)
  51. A Separation, by Katie Kitamura (Div)
  52. The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson (A, Div)
  53. The Flying Circus, by Susan Crandall (BG)
  54. The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin (Div)
  55. Lucky Boy, by Shanthi Sekaram (Div)
  56. What Happened, by Hillary Clinton (A)
  57. Rescue, by Anita Shreve (A)
  58. White Like Me, by Tim Wise
  59. Ten Little Indians, by Sherman Alexie (Div, BG)
  60. Breath, Eyes, Memory, by Edwidge Danticat (Div)
  61. The Midwife’s Revolt, by Jodi Daynard (A)
  62. Tools of Titans, by Tim Ferriss
  63. Art Before Breakfast, by Danny Gregory
  64. Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson (A, Div)
  65. Mister Monkey, by Francine Prose (BG)
  66. Virginia Woolf, by Nigel Nicolson (A)
  67. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston (Div)
  68. Footsteps: From Ferrante’s Naples to Hammett’s San Francisco, Literary Pilgrimages Around the World, by various authors
  69. The Art of Possibility: Transfroming Professional and Personal Life, by Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander (A)
  70. The Falls, by Joyce Carol Oates
  71. Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery (A)
  72. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (A)
  73. Loving: Interracial Intimacy in America and the Threat to White Supremacy, by Sheryll Cashin (Div)
  74. An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon (Div)
  75. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens (A)
  76. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing (A)
  77. Discipline Equals Freedom: A Field Manual, by Jocko Willink

A preview of the analysis–55% (42 books) met my diversity criteria this year–I think that I’m finally doing justice to the project.   And without audio books at 38% (29), I would have fallen far short of my average of between 70 and 80 books per year.

In my next post, more analysis, more description of some of my favorites, and my goals for 2018.

 

National Coming-Out Day

It’s National Coming-Out Day and I want to share my story.  I realized that I am sexually attracted to both men and women–that I am bisexual–when I was in my early twenties, while I was married to a man.  I would share this fact with my intimate partners after he and I divorced, but it took me more than twenty years after my realization to have the courage to attempt to have a primary romantic and sexual relationship with a woman.  I hid my queerness with hetero-passing privilege during that marriage and afterwards, through many failed relationships with men.  I thought about dating women during the times I was single, but I was afraid.

Only after deliberately not dating anyone of any gender for more than five years was I able to articulate what I felt and then act upon those feelings.  I now realize that my sexuality is expansive–I am physically attracted to men, women, transpersons of any gender, and nonbinary persons.  Essentially, I’m pansexual–I like people.

Emotionally and intellectually, I’m far more attracted to women than to men, though, and I no longer can tolerate most cis-men’s bullshit.  Also, as a fat woman, I had to reconcile the perception that dating women would be perceived as a choice that I made because I couldn’t find a man who desired me. Instead–it was me–spending time with most men outside of work was annoying, and I really had little interest in trying to date a man.  I made some half-hearted tries with men towards the end of the five years of not dating, but I realized I just didn’t want to enter the hetero dating world again.  I dated online before it was common, and spent many years in the early 2000s obsessed with dating profiles and trying to meet a man.  When I thought about going online to date men again, I just didn’t want to.

So about a year ago, when I decided to try online dating again I wrote my profile so that I would be open to dating someone of any gender or who is nonbinary.  I corresponded with a couple of men, but I was annoyed, and really didn’t want to meet any of them.  I went on my first dates with women, though, and it was thrilling, and felt right.

I met my girlfriend in December, 2016, and when we announced that we were “in a relationship” on Facebook in late January, it was the first indication to many of my extended family and friends that I am queer.  I’ve been lucky that my family and friends have been supportive and I wish all LGBTQ people were as lucky.  My 14-year old daughter even started pointing out same-sex couples in commercials after I came out to her.

I am queer.  Happy Coming-Out Day!

My 2016 Year in Books

Time for the annual year-end reading post!

I read 76 books total, about the same as last year.  I was not successful in surpassing 80 because of the smartphone.  27 books qualify for my diversity book project because they were written by someone non-white and/or non-straight.  That’s a lot better than 2015; fully one-third of what I read in 2016 fit into the diversity category. The different types (including some overlap) were: 13 memoir; 47 fiction; 18 other non-fiction; 4 young adult/middle grade; 19 historical fiction; 3 fantasy-science fiction; 6 that could be considered classics.  I read 46 books written by women authors, 28 by men, and 2 by transpersons.

Some themes I noticed were that I read several books about the trends in women remaining single, which makes sense since 2016 was the anniversary for me of five years of deliberately not dating.  (Dating again may be the topic of a future post!)  I backed way off of writing craft and creativity books, but I didn’t do much in the way of creative writing, either, so maybe regularly reading books about writing helps to keep me inspired to keep writing.

I can’t say that I have a single favorite book of 2016, but there were several that I really loved, with a quick synopsis of each:

  • Life After Life and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson.  These are companion books; not quite sequels, but they have many of the same characters and same settings.  Life After Life is the story of Ursula, a young girl in Great Britain on the eve of the first world war.  It seems that she has many opportunities to get things right, from a Buddhist perspective, and the book goes back and forth in time.  It may be a little confusing to follow at first, but it’s lovely and heartbreaking and the characters stay with you for a long time.  A God in Ruins tells the story of Ursula’s brother Ted, a bomber pilot during World War II, and his family.  They are different books, but both satisfying in their own way.
  • The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.  The story of an almost-spinster botanist scholar of mosses in the 1800s doesn’t seem like it would be that exciting, but Alma Whitaker got into my heart and stayed there.  Great historical detail, feminist story, spirituality infused throughout, including quite a bit of sex–this book has it all.  I absolutely loved it.
  • The Hummingbird by Stephen Kiernan.  Combine a hospice social worker with a Iraq war veteran-wounded husband and a disgraced terminally ill professor who seems to have researched a too-incredible story and you have The Hummingbird.  It’s fascinating and hopeful, even though you know that someone dies at the end.
  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell.   This is young adult romance, set in the 1980s, but it also deals with serious themes such as domestic violence, interracial romance, fat acceptance, and bullying.  It is so well-done!  I wanted the story to keep going, and so we can always hope for a sequel.  I’ve read some criticism that it contributes to the fetishization of Asian folks, so it’s not perfect, but I loved the fact that the main female character is a fat teenager and her size isn’t a primary part of the story line.  It’s who she is, and she finds love anyway.
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz.  Another young adult coming of age novel, along with a romance for the main character who doesn’t realize he’s falling in love with another boy.  I loved the dialogue and the fact that some of the story was told via letters from Dante to Ari.
  • Wonder, by P.J. Palacio.  Another young adult novel, read by my daughter in school. It’s the story of a boy with severe facial deformities who is starting 5th grade after being homeschooled his entire life.  Again, very well done and so glad to know that my daughter is reading this kind of book in school.
  • The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin.  These are the first two books of an unfinished trilogy, set in a possible-future earth that is plagued by frequent earthquakes and “seasons” where volcanic ash obscures the sun for a long time. But oragenes–persons born with the power to control the quakes–are feared, hated, and necessary for the future of humanity. It’s a fascinating look at oppressed people and systems of power.  I couldn’t put them down and am anxiously awaiting the final installment.
  • The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton.  A 14-year old boy comes of age in a small town in Kentucky affected by mountaintop removal mining, after witnessing a horrific accident that killed his 3-year old brother.  It sounds grim, but it is beautifully written and has a good ending.  It surprises you as you read it–you think it’s going to be a standard coming of age novel, but turns into quite a mystery-thriller. It has environmental, LGBT, and race relations themes, and a philosopher-grandfather whose every other word I wanted to write down.  Highly recommend.

I read a lot of African American classic nonfiction and fiction this year.  I don’t think I’ve completely processed my feelings about all that I’ve read, except that I am certain that we as a country have a lot more work to do to resolve our race issues.  I said it last year, and I’ll say it again.  If you are white, and read, and want to understand race in the United States, you have a duty to read as many books written by authors of color that you can.  Books written by white folks about people of color don’t count.  I cannot claim to know what it’s like to live as a black person in the United States.  But I learned a lot in 2016 from W.E.B. DuBois, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Alice Walker, Mychal Denzel Smith, N.K. Jemisin, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Michelle Alexander, and Jesmyn Ward.  I encourage all of my white friends to do the same.

Goals for next year:  I’d like to read at least 80 books, at least one-third (27) meeting the diversity qualification. I’d like to maybe read fewer nonfiction, more memoir and writing/creativity books. I’d also like to do some more analysis of the portrayal of fat women in the fiction that I read, with the goal of reading more authors who portray fat women in a positive light.  So I will probably be keeping some kind of record of that, as well.  Happy New Year of Reading!

The 2016 list, in order of reading:

  1. The End of Men and the Rise of Women by Hanna Rosin (NF)
  2. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris (F, BC)
  3. Towelhead, by Alicia Erian (F, Div)
  4. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard (NF)
  5. The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. DuBois (NF, Div, Classic)
  6. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (F, Hist)
  7. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith/ J.K. Rowling (F)
  8. Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg (F, Div)
  9. Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He was Black, by Gregory Howard Williams (Mem, Div)
  10. My Brilliant Friend, by Elana Ferrante (F, Hist)
  11. Native Tongue, by Carl Hiassen (F)
  12. The Beautiful Struggle, by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Mem, Div)
  13. The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold (F)
  14. The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (F, Hist)
  15. The Birth House by Ami McCay (F, Hist, BC)
  16. The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (F, Hist, Div)
  17. The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr (NF)
  18. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (F, Hist, Div)
  19. Big Magic: Creative Lving Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (NF)
  20. The Return of Simple by Langston Hughes (F, Div)
  21. The Only Pirate at the Party by Lindsey Stirling (Mem)
  22. Lit by Mary Karr (Mem)
  23. The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler (F, BC)
  24. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (F, Hist)
  25. The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay (F, Hist, BC)
  26. Minecraft: The Unlikely Tale of Markus “Notch” Persson and the Game that Changed Everything by Linus Larsson and Daniel Goldberg, translated by Jennifer Hawkins (NF)
  27. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston Mem, Div)
  28. The Signature of All Things  by Elizabeth Gilbert (F, Hist)
  29. Your Heart is a Muscle The Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa (F, Hist)
  30. The Story of a New Name, by Elana Ferrante (F, Hist)
  31. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, by Elana Ferrante (F, Hist)
  32. The Story of the Lost Child, by Elana Ferrante (F, Hist)
  33. Stop-Time by Frank Conroy (Mem)
  34. Boar Island by Nevada Barr (F)
  35. The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian (F)
  36. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (F, Div)
  37. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander (NF, Div)
  38. All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister (NF)
  39. The Hummingbird by Stephen Kiernan (F, BC)
  40. Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick (Mem, NF)
  41. Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America by Linda Hunt (NF)
  42. The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore (F, Div)
  43. A Queer and Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornstein (Mem, Div)
  44. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (F, YA, Hist)
  45. Here if You Need Me: A True Story by Kate Braestrup (Mem)
  46. Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul by James McBride (NF, Div)
  47. Gutenberg’s Apprentice by Alix Christie (F, Hist, BC)
  48. Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living by Jes Baker (NF, Mem)
  49. The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children by Shefali Tsabary (NF, Div)
  50. Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education by Mychal Denzel Smith (Mem, Div)
  51. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz (F, YA, Div)
  52. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloane (F)
  53. Native Son by Richard Wright (F, Div, Classic)
  54. Wonder by Raquel J. Palacio (F, YA, Div)
  55. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (F)
  56. James Baldwin: A Biography by David Leeming (NF)
  57. The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic by Ginger Strand (NF, BC)
  58. I am Malala  by Malala Yousafzi (Mem, Div)
  59. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (F, SF-Fantasy, Div)
  60. The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin (F, SF-Fantasy, Div)
  61. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald (F, BC)
  62. The Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters (F)
  63. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (F)
  64. Waiting  by Ha Jin (F, Hist, Div)
  65. Three Men in a Boat; to Say Nothing of the Dog by Jerome K. Jerome (F, BC, Classic)
  66. I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong (NF, Div)
  67. The Littlest Bigfoot by Jennifer Weiner (F, YA)
  68. Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett (NF)
  69. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (F, Hist, Classic)
  70. Monastery of Writers by Abe Aamidor (F)
  71. Go Tell It On the Mountain  by James Baldwin (F, Div, Classic)
  72. Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing by Jennifer Weiner (Mem)
  73. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (F, Div, Classic)
  74. LaRose by Louise Erdrich (F, Hist, Div)
  75. The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton (F)
  76. The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race edited by Jesmyn Ward (NF, Mem, Div)