Category Archives: Reading

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.


Care Instructions

I’ve started yoga this year with my daughter, and have found some great fat yoga teachers online, specifically Amber at Body Positive Yoga and Anna at Curvy Yoga.  I subscribed to Anna’s email list, and I so enjoyed her post about her own care instructions that I was inspired to create my own.

April’s Care Instructions

Make sure to read, write, and walk at least every other day.  Doing all three every day is optimal.  Eat meals regularly, and don’t forget the broccoli and kale, because you will crave them if it’s been too long since you’ve had any.  Don’t forget to have hot or iced tea every morning, because you need the caffeine.  You can have another caffeinated drink with lunch if you really need it, but don’t overdo it because too much caffeine feeds the chattering extrovert.

If you’ve had a lot of meetings during the day, make time to do some yoga, take a walk, or relax alone before making dinner.  You really do need to get to the gym to lift weights twice a week.  You need to create those endorphins for your mental health–don’t persuade yourself that you don’t. If you’re going to schedule being out in the evening, try not to be out more than two evenings in a row, or you are likely to melt down and ignore everything in favor of an introvert hibernation / pajama day as soon as you can.  Take the time to have an orgasm at least once a week (falling asleep on yourself before you’re done doesn’t count!), and get to bed by 10 pm most nights.

Be sure to create often–write, crochet, or cook something new.  Limit the time on your phone scrolling through the news and your feed.  Try not to look at Facebook unless you’re standing up, otherwise you may hyperfocus and be stuck scrolling and reading for an hour or longer, and there are better things to do with your time, like writing or reading an actual book.  If your daughter persuades you to watch TV with her, don’t watch more than 2 shows in a row without getting up off of the couch.

If you feel scattered or restless, it’s OK–it won’t hurt you to feel those things.  But take a walk or sit down with a pen and open up your journal.  Even if you just write down the random thoughts going through your head, there is value in getting them out of there and onto paper.

Be gentle with yourself, and as kind as you would be with your best friends.  You’re doing the best that you can, and that’s good enough.

My 2014 in Books

I love looking at my reading trends for the past year!  At the end of 2013, I said that in 2014, I wanted to read more memoirs, and less books on writing craft.  I met those goals.  There is only one book on writing craft in the list below, and just about one-third, or 26, of the 75 books I read in 2014 were memoir (marked by an (M) in the list below).  My favorite memoirs this year were Autobiography of a Face, Truth & Beauty, LuckyBad Mother, Never Have I Ever, King PeggyOrange is the New Black, Couldn’t Keep It to Ourselves, The Road From Coorain, and Dark Star Safari, which was probably more travel than memoir but I still loved it.

Number two by the numbers were young adult or middle-grade fiction (YA), which is no surprise, because my 11-year old and I jointly read several from this category as audiobooks during long car trips.  And I read a couple she was reading for school. I especially loved The Witch of Blackberry Pond, Fever 1793, and Among the Hidden, but Hoosier writer Barbara Shoup’s Stranded in Harmony and Wish You Were Here were also great reads, written from the perspectives of almost-adult high school boys.

At least 7 books on my list were from my library book club (BK), 7 were historical fiction based on real events or people (HF), and 5 could be or are considered classics (C).  The list is rounded out with a smattering of nonfiction, mystery, popular fiction, and a graphic novel.

Recently, I came across a blogger who wanted to read books that year that were only written by non-white authors.  Because I think that reading fiction and memoir is one of the best ways that we can step into another person’s shoes and have some glimmer of what they experience, I thought that was a great idea.  So I decided to evaluate my list.  Without the specific intention to read authors of color, 10 of my 75 books in 2014 fell into that category: Clay’s Ark, This is How You Lose Her, Love, King Peggy, Couldn’t Keep It To Myself (many of the individual pieces were written by African-American or Hispanic women), The Gift of Rain, The Good Lord Bird, Miracle at St. Anna, Does My Head Look Big in This?, and Behind the Scenes at the Lincoln White House.  Another 6 had a primary story line that dealt with cross-race or ethnic relations or tensions: Strength in What Remains, Dark Star Safari, Mr. Owita’s Guide to Gardening, Kissing Outside the Lines, The Invention of Wings, and The Water is Wide.  I can still do better, but I thought it was a respectable start.

So what is the gender breakdown?  44 books written by women and 31 by men.  I’m not surprised by that, but if it weren’t for Michael Chabon and Carl Hiassen I would have only read 24 books written by men.  I don’t think I read any books written by a transgender person, or by someone who identifies as gay or lesbian in 2014.  I’ll have to make an effort to change that next year.

I love, love, love the new Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling mysteries featuring Private Investigator Cormoran Strike.  Carl Hiassen and Janet Evanovich reliably make me laugh, and I have a huge crush on Michael Chabon.  I am in awe of Sue Monk Kidd.  She wrote my number-one book of the year: The Invention of Wings.  If you like historical fiction at all, don’t pass it up.  She tells the stories of Sarah and Angelina Grimke, real South Carolina women in the early to mid-1800’s who were feminists and abolitionists before Elizabeth Cady Stanton and John Brown.  She weaves in the fictional story of Sarah’s slave, Handful, who was given to Sarah as an 11th birthday present. The result is fascinating, heartbreaking, and inspiring.

I am amazed when I read Willkie Collins and Charles Dickens how well their novels stand the test of time, and only wish more women and minority authors had been published then so we would have their wisdom and insight now, too.

I was most surprised that I liked Point of Impact.  It was a book club selection, and the story line centered on snipers, guns, and FBI/CIA conspiracies.  I didn’t have high hopes when it was passed out. There were only two female characters in the entire book!  But I couldn’t put it down.  I liked the main characters and wanted to see them win.

My goals for 2015? More authors of color, some LGBT authors, less young adult, more new authors.  Maybe a little less memoir, but not too much.  And I’d like to read 80 books by the end of 2015.

  1. Cherry, by Mary Karr (M)
  2. Autobiography of a Face, by Lucy Grealy (M)
  3. Bad Monkey, by Carl Hiassen
  4. Truth & Beauty: A Friendship, by Ann Patchett (M)
  5. Takedown Twenty, by Janet Evanovich
  6. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain (C)
  7. The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare (YA)
  8. The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
  9. Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City, by Eric Toensmeier (M)
  10. The Water is Wide, by Pat Conroy (M)
  11. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon (HF)
  12. Mountains beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, by Tracy Kidder
  13. The Woman in White, by Willkie Collins (C)
  14. The Boy on the Bus, by Deborah Schupack (BK)
  15. Clay’s Ark, by Octavia Butler
  16. Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, by Anne Lamott
  17. Destroyer Angel, by Nevada Barr
  18. Manhood for Amateurs, by Michael Chabon (M)
  19. Lucky, by Alice Sebold (M)
  20. Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations About Food & Money, by Geneen Roth (M)
  21. Lift, by Kelly Corrigan (M)
  22. Walden on Wheels, by Ken Ilgunas (M)
  23. So Big by Edna Ferber (C)
  24. The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd (HF)
  25. The Final Solution: A Story of Detection, by Michael Chabon
  26. This is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz
  27. Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA)
  28. Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, by Ayelet Waldman (M)
  29. Behind the Scenes at the Lincoln White House, by Elizabeth Keckley (C)
  30. The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist, by Michael Chabon
  31. Storm Front, by Richard Castle (BK)
  32. The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure, by Rachel Friedman (M)
  33. Speak, Memory, by Vladimir Nabokov (M)
  34. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi
  35. Fly Away Home, by Jennifer Weiner
  36. King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village, by Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman (M)
  37. Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, by Piper Kerman (M)
  38. Top Secret Twenty One, by Janet Evanovich
  39. Labyrinth of Desire: Women, Passion, and Romantic Obsession, by Rosemary Sullivan
  40. I Love You, Miss Huddleston, by Philip Gulley (M)
  41. Kissing Outside the Lines: A True Story of Love & Race & Happily Ever After, by Diane Farr (M)
  42. Love, by Toni Morrison
  43. Couldn’t Keep It To Myself: Testimonies From Our Imprisoned Sisters, edited by Wally Lamb, by the women of the York Correctional Institution (M)
  44. The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
  45. Wish You Were Here, by Barbara Shoup (YA)
  46. Paris in Love, by Eloisa James (M)
  47. The Gift of Rain, by Tan Twan Eng (HF) (BK)
  48. Mr. Owita’s Guide to Gardening, by Carol Wall (M)
  49. Among the Hidden, by Margaret Peterson Haddix (YA)
  50. Stranded in Harmony, by Barbara Shoup (YA)
  51. Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah (YA)
  52. All Fall Down, by Jennifer Weiner
  53. One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One, by Lauren Sandler (M)
  54. Point of Impact, by Stephen Hunter (BK)
  55. Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date, by Katie Heaney (M)
  56. Bossypants, by Tina Fey (M)
  57. Flush, by Carl Hiassen (YA)
  58. Frog Music, by Emma Donoghue (HF)
  59. The Giver, by Lois Lowry (YA)
  60. The Art of War for Writers, by James Scott Bell
  61. The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride (HF)
  62. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green (YA)
  63. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs (YA) (BK)
  64. The Road From Coorain, by Jill Ker Conway (M)
  65. Basket Case, by Carl Hiassen
  66. Favorite Dog Stories, by James Herriott (M)
  67. Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town, by Paul Theroux (M)
  68. The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin (YA)
  69. Miracle at St. Anna, by James McBride (HF)
  70. Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance & Forgiveness, by Tracy Kidder
  71. The Vanishing Violin, by MIchael D. Beil (YA)
  72. Still Foolin ‘Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell are My Keys? by Billy Crystal (M) (BK)
  73. I Am Abraham: A Novel of Lincoln and the Civil War, by Jerome Charyn (HF)
  74. Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens (C)
  75. The Hoarder In You: How to Live a Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life, by Dr. Robin Zasio


Katie Heaney’s Memoir and My (Still Unfinished) Memoir

Katie Heaney wrote and published a memoir, Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date, before she turned thirty. Some people find that tedious, but I found it inspiring. See, Katie’s story is interesting because she has been single for her entire life. Yet she is heterosexual, and for most of her twenty-five years “there has been at least one boy [she] was thinking about and hoping to date, in the abstract….[and] there has been a specific theoretical boyfriend in mind more often than there hasn’t been.”

I wish someone my age had written this kind of memoir when I was in college, and that I had found it then.  I have twenty years on Katie, but I get her completely.  The writing that I’ve been doing is similar in scope and theme to her memoir.  She wrote about every crush from grade school forward, describing her experiences with boys and lack thereof.  I’m writing about every relationship, however ill-advised or doomed, to try to figure out why I’ve felt the need to do what Katie has done–have a specific theoretical boyfriend in mind most of the time–or go even further– have an actual boyfriend or husband a good portion of the time.

It’s funny how the image we have of ourselves when we are teenagers never seems to go away completely, or is really hard to change.  I was the boy-crazy one, the fat girl who was always chasing someone but never catching anyone.  Like Katie, I didn’t date anyone in high school, but in my case, it wasn’t for the lack of trying.  Many things came together so that it never happened for me.  And when it did happen, I wasn’t very picky about who was interested, how I really felt about him, and how he treated me.  That came much later.

Katie got to an “end to the era in my life when I might have felt the need to do something for the first time to get it over with” and ended up writing the book as a twenty-five year old who hasn’t had sex.  She refers to Tina Fey saying that she was twenty-four when she had sex for the first time because she “couldn’t give it away.”  I may not have had the exact same experiences, but I know the feelings.

Why am I writing and thinking about this now, more than twenty years later?  I’ve been deliberately single for more than three years.  This is the longest period of time since college that I haven’t been in a relationship or trying to get into a relationship.  I still think about men often, both specific men I might like to date and in general when I see them out and about.  But at the same time, being with someone after three years of not being with anyone makes it all seem theoretical, like it happened in another life to another person.  And I have a hard time imagining how a man would fit into my life with everything I have going on such as work, raising my daughter, my family and friends, and the things I want to do, like reading and writing.

But I’ve also realized that I’m writing about my sordid past relationships because I’m trying to change the story I tell myself about myself.  I’m not that fat girl who couldn’t get a date any more.  I have dated and married and divorced and broken up and been broken up with.  I’ve got almost two hundred pages with all of the gory details.  Katie’s memoir spoke to me because she has realized a lot of the same things I’m trying to, without the twenty-five-year detour.  That’s why I wish her book had been available to me when I was in college.

The status of a relationship, whether I am in one or not, or dating or not, does not define me.  Katie writes, about dating: “Why would I want to go out to dinner and a movie with someone I’m not completely crazy about when I already know how much I like eating dinner and watching a movie by myself?”  When a friend finally recovers from a bad breakup, she does so partly by realizing that “she could do whatever she wanted, work wherever she wanted, and live wherever she wanted…she didn’t have to think about anyone else’s goals or desires and then try to make them work with her own…It’s not that she wouldn’t do those things.  It’s just that she didn’t HAVE to. She could live for herself and herself alone.”  Katie realizes that her friend never felt this freedom before, but that it was “the same freedom I’ve always had, for my whole entire life.”

Last night, Friday night, there were two other possible things I could have done instead of what I did.  A female friend had an extra ticket to a gala that would have been so much fun, to get dressed up and go downtown to a fancy ballroom and people-watch.  And an online friend was in town with her husband and wanted to try to meet for dinner.  Either would have been enjoyable.  But my daughter isn’t old enough to stay home in the evening by herself, babysitting is expensive, and I am using a lot of my childcare “credits” with friends right now because of a two-week fall break.  So I didn’t do either thing.  Instead, after work, I changed into my sweatpants, made pizza from scratch, and then my daughter and I watched The Voice episodes we had DVR’d from the week, while I knitted a scarf I owe for a charity auction.  Then she went to bed and I read for a blissful hour of peace and quiet.  I don’t know how dating would fit into all this, and that’s all right.  Like Katie, I am “sure of who I am and what I want (and don’t want) in other people.”  I can take wisdom from anywhere, even from a tall, awkward girl twenty years younger than me.  Thanks, Katie.


January Reading

I decided that I liked my year-end reading posts so much that I would try to do them at the end of every month, so I could write more deeply about some of the books that I loved.

Here’s the January list:

Cherry by Mary Karr
Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
Bad Monkey by Carl Hiassen
Truth and Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett
Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich

I had to balance the three serious memoirs with some very light fiction. It seems like I didn’t read much this month, but I have several other books in-progress that should be finished within the next week.  I’m also terribly addicted to Facebook on my phone during times I would otherwise be reading, such as right before bed.  I can see right now that if I want to keep up last year’s reading pace, I’ll need to stop that.

Cherry is the sequel, of sorts, to Karr’s The Liar’s Club.  It’s very different–for most of it, she uses the second-person “you” perspective, which I never quite got used to.  I think it can be effective in small doses, but I didn’t really like it when it comprised most of the book.  Despite the issues I had with the book, there were some great lines:

“The more real the threat of her absence became, the more I felt all the bolts and lug nuts of who I was loosen.” (about her mother’s inconsistent presence during that time in her life)

“I instinctively knew the rules laid down for girls’ comportment, but I wasn’t yet resigned to them, for to place my head into that yoke was to part with too much freedom.”

” . . . he provides escort, his gaze on you certifying your romantic and sexual worth (the only value girls seem to have in that time and place.” (about her first boyfriend)

Despite the great lines, between the second-person perspective and the drugs, it wasn’t my favorite book.  I often have a problem with drug scenes in movies and books, and Carr did a lot of drugs during the time she describes in this memoir.

The second and third memoirs I read this month, Autobiography of a Face and Truth and Beauty, are related, although I wasn’t aware of the existence of Truth and Beauty when I started Autobiography, which has been sitting on my to-read stack for probably a year.  It’s a classic memoir, on many reading lists, published in 1994.  Lucy Grealy had bone cancer in her jaw when she was nine years old, which caused her to have to have several years of chemotherapy and radiation, and left her with part of her jaw missing before she started junior high school.

It is a beautiful memoir.  I could so identify with the way she wrote about not fitting in, about the teasing, about the longing for a relationship.  “If only I could get someone to have sex with me, it would mean that I was attractive, that someone could love me. . . .The longing for someone and the fear that there would never be anyone intermingled to the point where I couldn’t tell the difference.”  I don’t feel that way now, but she described perfectly the way I felt in high school and college.

The end of the memoir is hopeful.  She wrote: “There I was with my short skirts and sharp mind and list of lovers, trying so hard to convince myself that maybe all I really needed to do was learn how to treat myself better. I was on the verge of learning this, yet I was still so suspicious, so certain that only another’s love could prove my worth absolutely.”

Unfortunately, when I looked to see what Lucy Grealy was doing now, hoping that she had found love, or at least peace about not having it, I found that she died of an accidental heroin overdose in 2002.  And then I found out that her friend, the writer Ann Patchett, had written a memoir about their friendship, which was Truth and Beauty.  So I immediately reserved the book at my library and picked it up the next day.  Lucy was such a compelling person, and Ann had chronicled their friendship so well that I gulped it down.

Ann Patchett thought that Lucy never got over her need, her obsession to be in a relationship.  One of Lucy’s favorite questions, one friends and I have also asked, was “Will I ever have sex again?”  Patchett has been criticized for her frank portrayal of how some women talk about sex–but I applaud her.  I think she got it just right.  Several years ago, the Red Ravine blog posted an in-depth discussion of the two books, so I won’t repeat it here, but I will quote that blog author when she wrote that “I came to the conclusion that writing memoir is the most courageous and risky kind of writing one can undertake.”  I’m so glad that both authors had the courage to write these memoirs.

Finally, if you’ve never read Carl Hiassen and need a good laugh, try him!  He is gifted in creating outlandish characters and then setting a scheme in motion that will have them all in the same place at the same time, interacting as only they can.  I suppose he and Janet Evanovich have that in common, although Evanovich’s characters reappear from book to book, and Hiassen’s usually don’t.  Takedown Twenty is one of the better of the higher-numbered Stephanie Plum novels.  I think they were great in the beginning, but have been formulaic recently.  This one was a day’s read for me, and worth it if you are a fan.