36 for 36.

books I've read

I have always loved to read, but it has been a pastime, like many, that comes and goes based on my stage of life and ability to concentrate. As a kid I read constantly. As an adult, I’ve had short spurts of reading often, followed by long breaks of zero literary pursuit.

2017 has been different, due to three factors.

1. Harry Potter. I re-read the series at the beginning of the year to stay ahead of Ali, and it inspired a quest for more fantastic literature.

2. #TwitForLit, as my husband so literarily coined it. I grew weary of Twitter this year after having been a loyal reader of my timeline for the better part of a decade. The year’s exhausting news cycle and over-politicization of everything might’ve been the impetus for such a decision. So I traded in my Twitter-reading time for even more fiction. It was a fantastically good trade.

3. September. The end of summer hit me with the force of a giant, sticky ogre. I have finally realized that in my newish Dysautonomia-driven life, September is my worst month. I used to despise January – the darkest, shortest-dayed month. But September is the new January. By the end of summer, my reserves of hydration and energy and ability to withstand Alabama’s oppressive humidity are completely used up. I just cannot anymore. As such, I hibernated in September, reading book after book, throwing myself into other worlds and fictional adventure to medicate my personal frustrations.

(All this could be solved if I could reverse-snowbird the month of September. Perhaps a giant northern road trip in 2018.)

To properly catalog my 2017 reading obsession, I joined Goodreads, about seven years later than the rest of the world. I followed three of my most trusted literary friends to copy their reading habits, then set my settings to private. Of all the crazy intimate details of my life that I share, letting the world see what I was reading felt too personal (I know I don’t make sense.) Several days later, I logged onto my Goodreads account on an actual computer to put in some reviews, and somehow by clicking the wrong tab, accidentally friended every single one of my Facebook friends that was on Goodreads.

The horror.

I went from 3 to 164 friends.

Which meant that 164 people got a notification that I wanted to see what they were reading.

I was mortified.

And I had no idea why.

But at any rate, you might as well friend me now – after all, I’m friends with everyone else.

As of today, I’ve read 36 books this year. In fact, I finished my 36th book of the year the day before my 36th birthday (which was yesterday, lest you haven’t sent flowers yet) – so clearly this was how I was meant to fill the cracks in my year.

So after all that ridiculous prologue (this is why I don’t write books), let’s discuss the books I’ve read this year – or at least the absolute BEST books I’ve read that you must also read.

Best overall read: What Alice Forgot.

I thought this book was going to be fluff chick-lit, but it became so important to me. It had such a unique point of view that would benefit nearly anyone in my stage of life (married with kids), and perhaps anyone in any stage of life. Without ever being preachy or overt, it poses a fascinating question for introspection throughout the book that begs a change in perspective on one’s life. And besides all that, it was simply a delightful, enjoyable read from beginning to end. As soon as I finished it, I texted a dozen friends and told them I insisted they read it IMMEDIATELY.

Runners up for best adult reads this year:

Ready Player One. This book was made for people ever-so-slightly older than me, but I enjoyed it despite not getting all of the cultural references. The premise – a world that is so screwed up that everyone lives in a virtual reality rather than IRL, is disconcertingly plausible. The plot – that a treasure hunt using every 80s pop culture reference imaginable to solve riddles and find clues, is immersive and fun. I’d sworn off dystopian literature after re-reading The Hunger Games and finding it depressing at this moment in history, but this is dystopian as Willy Wonka would create dystopian, which totally hides all the dysfunction in a delightful chocolate coating.

 

11/22/63. This is my first and most likely last Stephen King novel. I don’t do horror, so he’s never been an author I was interested in. On a whim, I read this non-horror book, and it was riveting. Without a shred of historical dryness, it immerses you into the 50s and 60s via time travel, which feels a bit hokey at first but is artfully (and very intricately) pulled off. This book is so massive it should have been a trilogy, but it was totally worth the endless read and multiple rises and falls in the plot. I even got the references to another Stephen King book (It), even though I’ve never read nor watched it. I can imagine that someone who does love S.K. would be thrilled by the referential quality of this book.

 
Book I made Chris read:

Neverwhere. (I also made Chris read Ready Player One but it’s already been mentioned.) Chris needed an immersive book to read last Tuesday while I had surgery (did I mention I had surgery last week? No? Well I did), and this is the perfect other world to enter into and then pop out of afterward. It was my first Neil Gaiman read (I have since listened to the audio book of Coraline), and his unique style of writing, in which he doesn’t explain the rules of the worlds he throws you into but you discover them along with the character, is thoughtful and fascinating. For those who love entering into imaginative and supernatural worlds, this is a fantastic book.

As the Harry Potter series are my favorite books ever written, I am not at all opposed to reading children’s literature.

So here are my favorite children’s books this year:

All around best children’s book: The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict. The fourth in the series of The Mysterious Benedict Society and also the prequel, this book made me so happy. It was a joy to read, and the ending, though not a huge twist, was unexpected and so lovely. I absolutely cannot wait for Ali to read this series – I told her she must read them as soon as she finishes her current series (she’s been immersed in The Land of Stories series – thanks to Heidi for the blog comment recommendation.) Back to Benedict. The first three books in the series were fun as well, though I felt they had slightly too many coincidences and the character of Nicholas Benedict was not nearly established enough to make him as lovable as the books implied. Once I read the prequel, the rest fell in place, and now I want to read the first three again. I would never suggest anyone read books out of the author’s preferred order (especially the Narnia series – those books ARE NOT MEANT TO BE ORDERED CHRONOLOGICALLY no matter how they package them – I was recently in a new acquaintance’s home and helped myself to rearranging them the way they were meant to be read), but this series makes me come close to recommending it. But don’t. It’s such a fantastic series, do this: read 1-4, then go back and read 1-3 again.

Surprisingly good read of the year:

Nooks and Crannies. I bought this because Amazon said “Hey! This book is only $3.49 and you’ll like it since you bought these other books!”, so on a whim I added it to my cart. It was extremely clever and immersive (though as a kid’s book, it surprisingly contained a maybe-murder and the discovery of a dead body – how very un-Dora-The-Explorer of them – but I kind of appreciated the author’s 1980s take on children’s literature.) After reading, I decided that the only thing putting this book in the Amazon Bargain Bin is the title – it’s so stupid and not at all representative of this well-written story. Rename it and raise the price – free advice from me to the author.

Book I want to read again:

Counting by 7s. I read this book altogether too quickly, though I blame the book – it begged to be read in nearly one sitting. It was a beautiful tale of friendship and growth, loss and recovery, grief and rebirth. The characters were beautifully crafted and I really want to know them all in real life.
So. What should I read next? What are you reading this year? What have you loved and not loved?

Leave your comment below!

Comments

  1. Thank you for your post. I love hearing book recommendations. I’ve read a few of these that you mentioned and enjoyed them. I read, The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah, and loved it! Now, I’m wanting to read, The Great Bridge : The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge, by William McCullough. Actually I’ve been listening to books recently through Audible while I walk. I enjoy it so much! Would love to hear updates on what books you read. I’m so sorry you had to have surgery. I hope your are recovering well and feeling better than before the surgery. Take care. I love your blog and your beautiful Instagram photos, Thank you for sharing.

  2. I’m having a Book-friend crush on you this morning. Major bonus points have been awarded to you for both the mandate to read Narnia in the RIGHT order and for the fact that you rearranged them in someone’s house. I’m so proud of you. Also, you read great books. I Know we’ve had a few misses between the two of us, but overall, we’d probably rock a venn diagram!

    • Silly. You helped me do that Narnia covert op. In Michigan!!

      • This is going to drive me crazy! What is the correct order for reading the Chronicles of Narnia? I plan to read the series soon since it’s been over 42 yrs since I read it previously. I need to know the right way to read them so I don’t screw it up!! Thanks.

        • OH MY! Yes, you absolutely MUST.
          Here is the only acceptable, the way CS would want you to read them, the way he intended them to be written, order:

          The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
          Prince Caspian
          The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
          The Silver Chair
          The Horse and His Boy
          The Magician’s Nephew
          The Last Battle

          Enjoy!!!

  3. For the record, many of King’s short stories are not horror; the short-story/novella collection Different Seasons for instance are not horror (although there are some less-pleasant aspects to all of them, but the story The Shawshank Redemption was adapted from is in there).

    Also for Gaiman you should read Stardust, which is one of my favorites of his and sort of an off-kilter fairytale.

  4. I enjoyed the Benedict Society books too. Will have to check out that prequel- Thanks! Have you read The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander? Children’s/YA books that had the teachers and students fighting over all available copies at SMCS library years ago. High fantasy, humorous and filled with humble and (eventually) honoring choices.
    Thanks again for the list.

    • Those sound great! I added them to my wish list. Maybe for our next read aloud series? We’re moving through The Incorrigible Children at Ashton Place very quickly (they’re such fun books!)

  5. You’re inspiring me to read fiction again. I don’t very often because I tend to get pulled in and get nothing else done.

    Yes and amen about the order of the Narnia books. My old set is falling apart, but I cannot bring myself to buy a new set when they’re all in wrong order!

    You may think less of me for admitting this, but I don’t love the Harry Potter books. I tried, but just didn’t fall in love, despite great little moments throughout the books. Like Neville turning into a giant canary.

  6. cresta shawver says:

    Anything by Susanna Kearsley! And if you haven’t read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon yet, get busy! The series will take you awhile.

  7. Do you follow Read Aloud Revival on FB or IG? Her reccomendations may be above Ali’s age/reading level. I subscribe to the monthly email, and then just request all of the titles from the library. We’ve been introduced to lots of books and authors that way. She also has an Audible deal page. We’ve spent many happy (read: quiet) hours in the car listening to Audible books (no subscription needed) that we got for a song.

  8. I love your recommendations and would also add some of my recent adult favorites, A Gentleman in Moscow, A ManCalled Ove, and All the Light We Cannot See. I’m hoping that your surgery recovery continues to go well!

    • Thanks!! I’m 99% recovered – it was a minor surgery, but *may* prove to be the best surgery ever. I’ll write about it soon and keep y’all posted. (p.s. it wasn’t cosmetic. But still could be the best.)

      • Oh, that would be wonderful! Crossing my fingers that it is indeed the best surgery ever! Glad you are almost recovered.

  9. WE Used this list extensively when we homeschooled. I have shared it with lots of friends—homeschoolers or not!

    http://www.classical-homeschooling.org/celoop/1000.html

  10. I’m jumping between classical lit to keep up with my high schooler, middle grade books recommended by my daughter’s, and inane fiction to relax with. The Penderwicks was a fun kid’s read. You’re reminding me I need to read two more fit my high schooler, though. Hoping they are more enjoyable than The Scarlet Letter.

  11. If you enjoy some adventurous sci-fi, I highly recommend the Expanse series by James S. A. Corey. The first book is Leviathan Wakes and I totally loved it. For me, the way I know if a book is actually good, rather than I just liked something mindless, is I ask my mom to read it. She’s a serious reader, and she reads all the time. ALL the time. So she read it and loved it and reread it about 10 times and bought all the rest of the books in the series. So, this is why I can recommend it to you. Very, very good book.

  12. I loved What Alice Forgot! I also really liked Big Little Lies by the same author.

    I read a lot of books, and for a couple years I’ve been writing reviews, posted in groups of “what I read in the last month or so,” which makes them hard to find…so I made a book review index! I hope you’ll find some new things to read there.

    I’m currently reading The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, which plays with “What if I lived my life differently?” in kind of the same way as What Alice Forgot but also very different. It’s kind of overwritten in places, but it’s giving me a lot of mind-bending stuff to think about!

  13. I just finished the first two books in the green ember series by sd smith on audiobooks. The audio books were superb- my kitchen was super clean all week.

  14. I also really enjoyed Ready Player One, although like you I didn’t get all the references – a bit before my time.

    I second the recommendation for A Man Called Ove – such a good book! I read it and immediately called one of my sisters to tell her to read it. Also the Penderwicks series – great children’s books, though the last one was definitely at a higher maturity level than the first ones. Some other children’s book recommendations: Talking to Dragons (1st in a hilarious series by Patricia Wrede), Tuesdays at the Castle (1st in a series by Jessica Day George), and Beauty by Robin McKinley.

    If you liked Neil Gaiman, you might like Terry Pratchett – also an English fantasy writer with an alternate universe – very satirical and funny. I generally suggest starting with his title Going Postal.

  15. Just finished What Alice Forgot yesterday. And have read several of these, but some are still on my ‘list’. I love e-books from Hoover Library. My sanity I tell you. Between work and homeschooling, this is my ME time.

  16. Ah, I must have been part of that massive facebook following. Ha!. What Alice Forgot is already on my list so I’ll have to make sure to move it up. I read Ready Player One several years ago and LOVED it! (I think I’m slightly older than you) It took me forever to get my hubby and a couple of friends to read it too but they became obsessed with it too. Did you know they’re working on a movie for it? While I was working on my first quilt a few months ago, I listened to it on Audible because I really wanted to hear Wil Wheaton read it. It was just as good as I remembered. I’m so pleased you liked it too. I’m adding the other two adult mentions to my list now. Thanks so much for the recommendations!

  17. Barbara Cain says:

    Took your #1 recommendation and just finished it! Really enjoyed the perspective and learned some priceless life lessons. Thank you!

  18. Nikki Marques says:

    My oldest usually buys me books he thinks I’ll like as gifts. It’s my favorite. Anywho, “More Than This” by Patrick Ness, such a good book. I have “What Alice Forgot” on my list. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan is another really good book.

  19. Woot! My first shout out from a blogger! I’m humbled. So glad that Ali is enjoying Land of Stories.

    My latest recommendation (not for kids) is The Alice Network. British women who spied in World War I. I couldn’t put it down.

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