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?