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1January
2020

2019 reading list

maura @ 12:06 pm

Oh 2019, let’s cut to the chase: you were a hard year in so many ways, and my lower reading count isn’t the worst of it, for sure. Still (and similar to the prior year), making time to read was challenging for me last year. I managed to read 28 books total — not awful, I suppose, especially since some were quite long. But I also had some bare spots in the year, times when I read very little or not at all. Unsurprisingly the low-reading times were also typically-busy times in the semester, especially May and October through early December.

I’m continuing to struggle to stay awake while reading in the evenings, which I think has more to do with the state of my sleep in general (aging, sigh, not for wimps!) than it does with what I’m reading. Though it’s frustrating to have to go back through a few pages each time I pick up a book when I realize that I dozed off the last time I read it. I did find more success with short stories last month, and I have several books of stories in my to-read pile, so maybe that should for real be my strategy for the busy times of year? (I think I’ve suggested that to myself before.) And over the past week or so during the holiday break I’ve read at my old usual brisk pace, the result of lovely long stretches of time to devote to reading (and cat snuggles).

If you’d asked me before starting to write this post whether I found the fiction or nonfiction that I read last year more compelling, I’d probably have said the nonfiction, though looking through my list now it seems like the books that made the strongest impression on me are all fiction. But I did read some standout nonfiction this year, especially Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Thick and Other Essays, a National Book Award Finalist. I’m as ever in awe of the brilliant way that she writes theoretically-informed popular essays (with endnotes!). I read part of this on a plane with the kid reading over my shoulder, it’s that good. Also terrific (and highly recommended) were All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir, by Nicole Chung, and two other books of essays: What If This Were Enough?, by Heather Havrilesky, and Call Them By Their True Names, by Rebecca Solnit.

Two books that I read all in a rush and that made me kind of queasy were The Last Cruise, by Kate Christensen, and The Power, by Naomi Alderman. The former was recommended by my pal Jenna, and I think I read it because I am scared of/grossed out by cruises and I wanted to indulge that. But wow, it was weird — started slow, building the characters for the first third of the book, then things start to go wrong and keep going wrong, and at the most wrong part it just ends, like that! I saw The Power on the shelf at a volunteer shift at Books through Bars and remembered that I’d wanted to read it so grabbed it from the library. In this speculative future girls and women develop a muscle that lets them shoot electricity out of their hands, making them physically stronger than men. And then the stuff you’d think would happen, happens: power is abused. Oof, I found both of these books disturbing and unputdownable, so recommended, I guess?

Some of my summer reading was kind of intense, in part because the summer was kind of intense: I turned 50 (and dyed my hair purple!), the kid graduated high school and went off to college in Minnesota. Definitely one of the best books I read this year was Family of Origin, by CJ Hauser. She’d written an essay called The Crane Wife that made the Twitter rounds, and her writing was so lovely that I put this book (her most recent) on hold at the library immediately. It did not disappoint: a beautifully written story about the ways that messed up childhoods can mess you up and you can bring that mess with you into adulthood until you finally let that mess go. On a whim I picked up Future Home of the Living God, by Lousie Erdrich while walking by the new books shelf at the library, remembering that I’d heard good things about it. And whoa, also: intense, a dystopian future story about a Native American woman with white adoptive parents from Minneapolis who gets pregnant right at the start of a weird reversal in evolution that leads to political collapse, but also really about her relationships with her birth and adoptive families. Summer family feelings, it was me.

Quite unintentionally I seem to have ended the year on a hopeful fiction note. In early December I read Exhalation, the most recent book of short stories by Ted Chiang, which Jonathan had gotten for his birthday. I felt a bit guilty because there were so many other books in the queue ahead of it, but it was so lovely, and he’s such a thoughtful and smart writer. The final book I read last year was Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie, finally completing the trilogy that I started reading two (!) years ago. I’d sometimes struggled to dig into the first two books — they are plot-heavy and complex, and my tendency to fall asleep while reading made it particularly difficult to stay focused on them. But I’m so glad that I kept going, the finish was so satisfying. Both books have lots to say about time and humanity and the future and the past, and have me thinking about how we can continue to care about and take care of each other as our world hurtles into an uncertain future.

I didn’t make the reading goals I’ve (somewhat offhandedly) set for myself for the past couple of years: to read what we have in the house, and to read more older books that I’ve not yet read. So those are still goals, I guess. But maybe here in the first year of a new decade (and the first year of my new decade) I should instead be a little less prescriptive, a little more accommodating of the unpredictabilities of sleep schedules and work variations and life events?

This year’s goal: read a book most days. That’s it.

Here’s my 2019 list, most recent reads at the top. As usual, the * means ebook and the ~ means we own it (as opposed to borrowed from the library or someone else). I coded The Training Commission as an ebook even though it was really a serial novella delivered via email. It looks like I was proportionally light on ebooks during the second half of the year, compared to prior years. There were for sure books that I’d wanted to borrow from the library as ebooks that weren’t available, which is a drag (yes, I’m glaring at you, restrictive publisher licenses).

~ Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie
~ Exhalation, by Ted Chiang
Our Bodies, Our Selves Menopause, by The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective
The Ship Beyond Time, by Heidi Helig
* Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata
~ On a Sunbeam, by Tillie Walden
* What If This Were Enough?, by Heather Havrilesky
Family of Origin, by CJ Hauser
Weapons of Math Destruction, by Cathy O’Neil
The Casket of Time, by Andri Snær Magnason
Future Home of the Living God, by Lousie Erdrich
Becoming, by Michelle Obama
The Power, by Naomi Alderman
Improving Survey Questions: Design and Evaluation, by Floyd J. Fowler
~ How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N. K. Jemisin
* The Training Commission, by Ingrid Burrington and Brendan Byrne
Infinite Detail, by Tim Maughan
~ Thick and Other Essays, by Tressie McMillan Cottom
* Eloquent Rage, by Brittney Cooper
* Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi
* The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo
There There, by Tommy Orange
* The Last Cruise, by Kate Christensen
* An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon
~ Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie
All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir, by Nicole Chung
*~ Call Them By Their True Names, by Rebecca Solnit
~ Binti The Night Masquerade, by Nnedi Okorafor

Prior year end reading roundups (mostly collected here so I can find them easily): 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012

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