Elizabeth posted yesterday that she’d made the goal to read 52 books this year and she’s at 51. This got me thinking about the books I’ve read this year. Nowhere near 52*. I used to read quite a lot, and then when I was in law school I got out of it, and I’ve slowly been ramping back up. Book club has helped immensely with this.
I mostly like to read fiction. Mid-year this year I got really frustrated with depressing books (it seems like most of the best-reviewed books involve cancer, dead children, or Nazis, and I’m not enjoying reading about these things at this point). I am also not necessarily always interested in “beach read” books (sometimes! but not always). This has put a cramp in my reading because I’ve decided to try to be a little choosier about what I read.
So here’s my 2013 list, compiled with the help of Goodreads because I’d have no idea otherwise. Chronological order.
Call Me Irresistible by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
This is a modern romance novel. I listened to this book on CD in my car. I’ve listened to a few of her books on CD because they are extremely light and yet still very engaging, and I enjoy that in a book on CD. This one was about two best friends (whose parents were characters in previous books) and one breaks up the wedding of the other (and of course SPOILER the one who breaks up the wedding ends up with the groom but it is fine because it works out better that way for everyone). I mean, totally predictable like all romance novels, but it’s about the journey when you’re reading a predictable book, and I like this journey.
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
I just finished reading The Lowland, which has echoes of some of the same themes that were in this book. Unaccustomed Earth was a series of short stories, all involving first or second generation Indians in America. As with all short story collections, some were really good and others were not as engaging. I listened to this on CD as well, and overall I enjoyed it.
Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron
I read this on recommendation of NPR. It was about a nurse who goes to a country house in 1950s England to care for an elderly woman, then the woman dies and the nurse marries her son, who is gay. The book didn’t really go where I was hoping it would go. (What was I hoping for, a re-enactment of The Birdcage? I’m not sure.) It was interesting but it didn’t sing out to me.
The Interestings by Meg Wolizter
Another NPR recommendation, but this one I enjoyed much more. It’s about teenagers who meet at an art camp in the 70s and become very close through their lives. One becomes extremely successful with his art, the others not so much. They still all have that artistic yearning, so there’s some predictable tension. This is exactly the kind of book I love – what I’d call “literary” fiction, not too light but not too depressing. You can really sink your teeth into it and enjoy what’s happening and feel enriched afterward.
The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
This is a semi-fictional book. It involves a real person, Louise Brooks, and her trip to NYC as a teenager to take a dance class, accompanied by a local woman hired to act as her chaperone. The action dragged a little. I think the same thing could have been accomplished with less book. Nevertheless I like where I ended up reading this.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
This is another book that was just up my alley. I read this on recommendation of Elizabeth (link to her review) and it was a fast read and an interesting story. I love that it’s more modern and actually uses recognizable technology. Years from now we can look back at this book and say, remember when 3D printers were brand new things?
We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy by Yael Kohen
This was a book club read that I wouldn’t have read otherwise (since I normally read fiction) but very much enjoyed as a student of comedy. It was written in interview style, which isn’t for everyone, but it was fascinating to learn and learn more about women in comedy over the past 50 years.
The Last Word (Spellman Series #6) by Lisa Lutz
My friend Barb got me in to the Spellman series a few years ago. The series is set in San Francisco and it’s about a family private detective business told from the perspective of Izzy, who is both the most skilled and the most directionless of the family. Izzy is hugely entertaining and also extremely infuriating, and in this book she was the most infuriating of all. You just want to hug her or shake her or both. Nevertheless I love reading about a flawed yet relateable female character, I feel like we don’t get too many of those.
Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro
I didn’t read all these stories but I count this because they are stories and I read some of them to completion, and because Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize this year, yo. Finger on the pulse, what? The stories are set in 1950s to modern day Canada and are very engaging snippets of life. I love about Alice Munro that her characters are very well crafted so months later, I don’t really get the stories confused in my head about what happened in which story.
The Dirty Secrets Club (Jo Beckett #1) by Meg Gardiner
This is another series of books I’ve been listening to on CD. I started with #2 in the series, last year, and I found #1 at the library this year. Jo Beckett is a forensic psychiatrist (with a Tragic Past) who helps the SFPD solve weird and high-profile cases. The books are written so you know who the murderers are and generally what they are up to, so the tension is focused on how they will be captured rather than who they are. I’ve enjoyed these books because of the weird and high-profile cases. They are interesting and disturbing to listen to in the car.
The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips
I love Arthur Phillips and I’ve read all of his fiction. There aren’t too many authors (possibly no other authors) I can say that about. All of his books are very meta, such that you don’t really know what’s real and what’s not, and none moreso than this one, which is actually “about” the author but not really. It’s a self-aware, fictionalized memoir. I guess that’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely for me. If you like The French Lieutenant’s Wife, you’ll like this. If you hate that book, don’t bother with this one.
March by Geraldine Brooks
When I dropped Zoe off this morning, Bea was watching Little Women, which is her favorite story, and I suggested this book to her, as it’s told from the point of view of the father from Little Women. She LOVED this book and has already read it twice. I felt neutral about Little Women and didn’t actually finish this book, but I think I read enough of it to include it here. It felt like something that we would have read in high school – like Mark Twain, I felt like the literary conventions were sort of hitting me over the head. But I like literary conventions to hit me over the head so I’m not sure I hate that. The reason I didn’t finish it was because we talked about it in book club and after I knew how it ended I didn’t care enough to read how it actually ended. So I guess I didn’t love this book.
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
I just finished this – it focuses on two brothers born in 1940s India and affected by political unrest in India in the 1960s, and the wife and child of one of the brothers. I felt torn reading it – I found the book alternately readable and unenjoyable. I think this may have been because while the story and relevant history was interesting, I found the characters to be unsympathetic, which is a sticking point for me. I definitely preferred the Lahiri short stories over this novel.
What are my reading goals for 2014? I don’t know if I have any. I would like to read more, but I don’t see myself being less choosy about what I read, so I may just continue along as I have been and see what I get in.
*As it turns out, 13 is my number. I didn’t include some books here that I started but could not/did not finish.