It’s taken me longer to draft this post of my yearly book challenge than it usually does, partly because I haven’t used this blog in a year and struggled to remember how to even log in. I’ll try to rectify that this year. We’ll see.
So, by the end of 2015 I finished reading 53 books. It was my third year in committing myself to such a challenge. The first year I knocked off 50 books. It was tough, but doable. The next year I got cocky and decided I’d read a book a week, pushing my goal number to 52. Again, doable, but hard. Then, at the end of 2014 my husband goaded me on to up the number yet again to 53.
Fifty three books is a lot when you have a full time job, a family and like to occasionally watch TV or talk to people or go see a movie. Yet, by the waning days of 2015 I finished the last page on my last book and then decided to go back to the respectable, but less stressful 50 book goal for 2016.
Part of the problem with finishing 53 books in 2015 was that I didn’t read a lot of books that I LOVED. In previous years I had books like The Goldfinch and Station Eleven on my virtual shelves that got me really excited about what I was reading. This year…not so much. I read a number of good books, some were even great, but nothing blew me away.
Here’s what I can tell you. Out of 53 books:
- 77% were written by women
- 17% were memoirs
- 13% were written by people famous for things other than writing books
- 19% had the word “Girl” or “Girls” in the title
And I haven’t crunched the numbers, but it felt like a lot of the books I read this year were about illness – Huntington’s disease, ALS, mental illness, blindness, alcoholism. I also read a lot of books about war.
Again, this year, most of my books were borrowed from the Toronto Public Library and read on my Kobo.
So what was good? What sucked? Here’s my take:
- Home is Burning by Dan Marshall. This is a memoir (one of the 17%) that I read about in Entertainment Weekly and that Chad really wanted me to read so I could tell him all about it. It’s a raw, profane, heartbreaking and hilarious story of a 20-something PR guy in LA who moves home to Salt Lake City to help take care of his vibrant, marathon-running dad who has been diagnosed with ALS. Oh, and his mom also has cancer. The author is honest and outspoken about his own selfishness, his guilt, his frustration and his sadness about his situation. It’s a great read and one that I’ve thought about a lot since finishing it. Oh, and in looking for a photo I just found out that it’s going to be a movie starring Miles Teller. I’m okay with that.
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. These were both excellent (the first won a Pulitzer Prize if you need some proof). Both deal with WW2 and both take place in France. Both focus on strong women who make dangerous choices to protect people in need. My only recommendation would be to leave some space between them so you’re struck more by their individual excellence versus their similarities (I read one book in between and it wasn’t enough space).
- Everything is Perfect When You’re a Liar by Kelly Oxford, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day, Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling, Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin and Not that Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham. I’m bracing for the haters on this one. This year I was really attracted to reading autobiographies by people I find kind of interesting, including the four women listed above. None of these books were masterpieces, but Kelly Oxford made me laugh out loud, Felicia Day was super relatable to my nerdy side, Mindy Kaling has had a really interesting path to where she’s ended up, and Lena Dunham just kind of fascinates me. I truly don’t know anyone else who actually liked Dunham’s book, but I appreciated the unvarnished, whiny-with-no-apologies aspect to it. I also didn’t pick it up expecting it to be funny, so that probably helped. As for Primates of Park Avenue: not sure if anyone without kids would relate, but it really hit the nail on the head for me.
- In the Unlikely Event and Summer Sisters by Judy Blume. After re-reading all of her teen and pre-teen novels with my kid, I became a bit obsessed with Judy Blume this year. When she came to Toronto to promote her new novel, In the Unlikely Event, I was first in line (okay, probably about 300th, but still). She was as perfect and smart and funny as you’d imagine her to be – that amazing aunt who gives it to you straight. The book is good, too. It pushed me straight back into that Judy Blume comfort zone I loved as a kid. To keep the glow going, I also read Summer Sisters this year. It’s pulpy and the ultimate beach read, but it did the trick.
- How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran and The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant. The girls in these books would never relate, but I kind of loved them both equally. Caitlin Moran’s book is about a surly teen trying to find her voice as a music writer in the late ’80s/early ’90s in the UK and is funny as hell. The Boston Girl tells the story of a Jewish Girl growing up in Boston in the early 20th century. It’s lovely.
- The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins,Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll, Her by Harriet Lane, Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight, Disclaimer by Renee Knight, The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson, The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel, Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes, My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh, The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain,Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave, The Good Girl by Mary Kubica and Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. These are what I’d call the twisty-turny books I read this year. Some were better than others, but all would do in a pinch on a plane ride or a Saturday nursing a cold.
- Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont, Us by David Nicholls, Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper by Hilary Liftin, Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova, The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg, At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen and The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. I’m lucky to be married to an amazing man – something each of these books reminded me of as I read them. These books show marriage at its worst, its hardest and its most frustrating. They’re all pretty good, too (especially the Julia Pierpont book).
- Bennington Girls Are Easy by Charlotte Silver, The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North, The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler, Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum, China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan and The First Bad Man by Miranda July. I’ll call these the “nice knowing you, but I really have no empathy for these characters” books. There are some bad choices going on in these books by some seriously self involved people. Not saying they’re not good books (except for Hausfrau which I hated), but the characters are frequently not likeable.
- A Sudden Light by Garth Stein, A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson, A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Illuminations by Andrew O’Hagan, Funny Girl by Nick Hornby, All Together Now by Gill Hornby and Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. These are all books I really wanted to like, but just didn’t do it for me. Most disappointing were the Jenny Lawson book (I REALLY wanted to like it) and A God in Ruins (I loved Life After Life). These weren’t necessarily bad, just not what I was hoping for or took way too long to get into. In a year when I’m trying to read 53 books a slow beginning is a definite strike. All of that said, Furiously Happy has the best cover, hands down.
- Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer, Bream Gives me the Hiccups and Other Stories by Jesse Eisenberg (yes, that Jesse Eisenberg), Lost & Found by Brooke Davis, A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade by Kevin Brockmeier, Number Two: More Short Tales from a Very Tall Man by Jay Onrait. These books slam you straight back, in one way or another, to the awkward years of growing up and trying to figure things out. Meg Wolitzer is always brilliant (and is here, too) and Eisenberg isn’t a bad writer – there are some real gems in this book of short stories.
- Stranger than We Can Imagine: An Alternative History of the Twentieth Century by John Higgs. This is a definite outlier. It’s a non-fiction look at themes of the twentieth century, focusing on topics like Modernism, War, Sex and Teenagers. It’s cleverly written and is like listening to your favourite university professor. Don’t take this one to the beach.
So, where does this all net out? Frankly, I’m excited. There are so many books I didn’t get to read last year that I can’t wait to dive into in 2016. I’ve already started Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy by Judd Apatow and I’m loving it so far. I’ve got Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl lined up to read next, so I guess I am going to continue on this memoir kick for a while longer. I’m also dying to read Elena Ferrante‘s Neapolitan books, and have several more queued up on my Kobo.
Knowing I’ve got at least 50 books ahead of me this year is a good thing, even if they aren’t all amazing.