As I did last year, I want to take some time to go over my non-academic reading choices of the past year, establish new goals, and recommend a few new literary favorites!
In 2013 I finished 40 non-academic books for a total of 14,887 pages (up from 26 books and 10,611 pages in 2012). Some were for the book club I attend (which meets about once every 6 weeks), others were recommended by friends and family, and others were found online via Tumblr or Goodreads. Here are the books I read in 2013, with occasional thoughts and comments (for full reviews, see my Goodreads page) (also, my must-read favorites are marked with *’s):
- The Omnivore’s Dilemma*, Michael Pollan
This one took forever. I started it in early December 2012. Let’s just say that non-fiction, no matter how engaging, can take me a while to get through. Nevertheless I very much enjoyed it and would highly recommend to everyone (get to know your national food system, people).
- Child 44*, Tom Rob Smith
Excellent thriller I read for book club. Was surprised that I loved it so much. Can’t wait for them to turn this one into a highly suspenseful movie.
- Love Begins in Winter: Five Stories, Simon Van Booy
Lovely language and turns of phrase that only occasionally become a bit overly sentimental.
- Different Seasons*, Stephen King
Fantastic novellas, three of which have been turned into movies, two of which I’ve seen (Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me). All are lovely and wonderful, some are scary and some are sad. Would highly recommend to all.
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
I seem to be the only person my age who didn’t read this book during adolescence. Nevertheless, understood why people like it and was pleased with the movie adaptation.
- Learning to Love You More, Harrell Fletcher
Lovely art project that consisted of posting instructions and accepting/displaying output submissions. Interesting concept; loved the book.
- The Great Escape, Paul Brickhill
Ah, my attempts to read “classics.” This book was entertaining, though not my favorite war story by any means. Interesting glimpse into a WWII POW camp, a setting with which I was not previously very familiar.
- A Game of Thrones*, George R.R. Martin
Yep, I took the plunge. Mostly because I wanted to watch the HBO show and couldn’t stand the thought of doing so without reading the books first. Very much enjoyed the first one and was sufficiently hooked.
- A Clash of Kings, George R.R. Martin
Still hooked but this one felt a bit slower. Needed to plow through it so I could keep watching the show though.
- Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter
Read this one for book club; short and sweet rom-com novel that surprised me a number of times by not taking the typical rom-com easy outs.
- A Storm of Swords, George R.R. Martin
Ugh so much death! I love me some sad fantasty plot, but goodness gracious! Definitely a number of interesting plot twists; cannot WAIT until the TV show catches up with the end of this book.
- Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls*, David Sedaris
Love him. Will continue to do so. Got my copy signed this fall. He drew an owl in it. It made me soooo happy.
- My Life in France*, Julia Child
Really enjoyed this memoir about France, love, food, and life. Very engaging and offers much more detail than the related movie (Julie and Julia, which I also enjoyed).
- The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Read this before seeing the new movie. Hadn’t read it since high school; the good news – it totally held up and I enjoyed it just as much. Yay, resilient high school reads!
- Revolutionary Road*, Richard Yates
Normally when I read a book after watching its movie I am newly disappointed in the movie. However, in this case, I was doubly impressed by the direction and performances in the movie (which I already adored) as they did an amazing job standing up next to Yates’ incredible writing.
- A Feast for Crows, George R.R. Martin
I anticipated this book being harder to get through (since it only covers half of the main characters) but found myself pleasantly surprised by the development of a variety of characters old and new (Jaime, Brienne, etc.).
- Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt
Finally got around to reading this on my vacation on Tybee Island (very close to Savannah, GA, where the book is set). Loved Berendt’s neutral, non-judgmental narration.
- A Dance with Dragons*, George R.R. Martin
Oh, George R.R. Martin. You devil, you. Very much enjoyed this book, all the while lamenting the fact that I started an unfinished series. Now I’ll just have to wait around like all of the other SOFAI chumps for the next book.
- The Wayward Bus, John Steinbeck
Read this for our “classic” selection at book club. Was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Steinbeck’s character studies and sense of time/place (seeing as how I hated Grapes of Wrath in high school).
- Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Mindy Kaling
Yay for female comedians and The Office and light-and-fluffy, post-Song-of-Fire-and-Ice reads!
- This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Díaz
For how many lists I’ve seen this book on I really didn’t enjoy it that much. Díaz definitely has a talent for evoking specific places/cultures very effectively, but I felt like the narrative was too disjointed.
- Sleepwalk With Me, Mike Birbiglia
I’m a pretty big fan of Mike Birbiglia. This book has more sad/poignant bits than his stand-up, and sounds more like his Moth podcast stories. Overall, a great read, but I would suggest the audiobook (as his delivery really makes it).
- Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love, Thomas Maier
Read this one for book club. Interesting biography of the two researchers, though fairly one-sided in favor of Johnson. The best parts were when Maier situated Masters and Johnson within the larger historical context of American feelings about sex, relationships, and sex research throughout the 20th century.
- All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps, Dave Isay
Very lovely little collection of true stories by people all over the country in StoryCorp booths. Laughter, tears, all of it. ALL OF THE FEELINGS.
- The Secret Garden*, Frances Hodgson Burnett
I loved this movie when I was a kid and decided it was time to see if the book held up just as well. Conclusion: it is amazing and maybe even better than the movie. Beautiful descriptions of nature and articulate portrayals of the selfishness and loneliness of being a child.
- The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant, Dan Savage
I enjoyed Savage’s podcasts and was interested in his story of adoption. Very funny, sad, and honest.
- Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian*, Avi Steinberg
I really enjoyed this memoir. From the library/librarian references to the hilarious observations to the heartbreaking realizations, it was lovely. Read this on my own and then got it in at book club, where most members didn’t end up liking it. 😦 Not for everyone, I suppose.
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote
Enjoyed this novella SO much more than the movie. Can’t see why they made so many changes, as the novella is lovely as it is, completely different ending and all.
- A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers
Decided to side-step the hype and finally give this book a try. I… sort-of enjoyed it… Can’t say I’m a huge fan of the stylized/internal/reflective/constructed bits, but they’re not for everybody.
- Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
Another reread from high school, though I did not enjoy this one as much as I remember enjoying it in high school. Mostly just ended up wanting a corresponding novel told from the point of view of the female characters.
- Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps, Kelly Williams Brown
I’m a fan of the blog this book is based on and of the concept that 20-somethings often have “I’m not a real adult!” moments. Some pretty sound advice, some of which was new to me.
- Ender’s Game*, Orson Scott Card
Another case of wanting to read the book before seeing the movie. Very much enjoyed the book – good sci-fi, realistic portrayal of childhood cruelty, and an interesting starter novel for a narrative world (am interested in reading more in the Ender series).
- The Light Between Oceans, M. L. Stedman
Another surprisingly good book club read. Historical fiction set in 20th century Australia with ambiguous moral/ethical situations. Would recommend to those who enjoy historical fiction.
- The New Kings of Non-Fiction, Ira Glass
Yay for compilations that introduce me to new writers! The only bummer being that merely two of the “new kings” are ladies. 😦
- The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
- Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
Reread these two in anticipation of the Catching Fire movie. Still love them. 🙂
- The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism, Naoki Higashida
An illuminating book that attempts to shed some light on the inner life of a person on the autistic spectrum. Would recommend to those wishing to broaden their mindset.
- Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed
This book will make you want to hike. This book will make you judge naive hikers (looking at you, Cheryl). This book will make you want to tell your mother you love her. Overall, very enjoyable. My only critique is that there were no pictures! (Though I did find some by googling.)
- I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, Nora Ephron
- I Remember Nothing: and Other Reflections, Nora Ephron
Picked up these two as they were on display at a local library and I love Nora Ephron’s screenplays. While both have a tendency to get a little first-world-problems at times they also each include a number of poignant observations on aging, femininity, death/dying, and being a human in the 20th/21st century. Pretty light/fluffy, but worth a read nonetheless.
Overall, a very good year. Definitely met my goal of keeping up with 2012 me (at least 25 books and 10,000 pages). One series, a handful of “classics”, 20 non-fiction books (including 14 memoirs), and a variety of novels and short story collections.
As for 2014, I’m stepping up my goals a bit, to match my new speed. Seeing as how my workload will be the same, I’d like to accomplish about what I did in 2013: around 40 books or 15,000 pages (whichever comes first?). I’d like to maintain a goal of at least one new series a year. Despite any misgivings, I’d like to continue pushing myself to read non-fiction for pleasure, and I want push myself to read more older (19th century?) classics. Yay for for-pleasure reading!