Year round-ups are some of my favorite blog posts to write, not just for the obvious reasons (having an overview of my reading accomplishments, giving the books that deserve a shout out a shout out, reminiscing on new favorite books and authors) but also because I get to play the game of stretching my memory to try to remember anything about some of the bland books I read.
It’s the bland ones you have to watch out for. If a book is terrible, I tend to remember it because rage is great fuel for memory, but when something is as bland as the weird chickpea puff chip balls that my roommate accidently bought because she thought they were chickpeas, I’m hard pressed to remember anything. Even the main character’s name.
Those weird chickpea things are actually a great analogy, because even though they tasted like absolutely nothing, we kept eating them until they became stale after sitting on the table for roughly three weeks just like how I keep reading books and promptly forgetting them when they have nothing to offer me. Also, no, I don’t know what those chickpea things really were, Austria is a strange place.
One of my big goals for the year was reading non-fiction. I started at one a month but I loved it so much I ended up reading more than that. Didn’t see that one coming.
- The People Look like Flowers at Last (Charles Bukowski): My favorite story about this is that someone on my Facebook asked me when I posted the photo of the book whether this was the same guy who wrote Perks of Being a Wallflower. I’m just going to leave that there.
- Never Courted, Suddenly Wed (Christie Caldwell): See, two books in and we’re already at a book I remember close to nothing about. I could be completely wrong, but I think there’s a line in this book about gardening being an illicit activity that made me chuckle. Do I remember the MC’s name? Nope, but I gave it 3 stars so I’m assuming it was inoffensive. EDIT: Damn! I looked at my 2015 year in review and actually, the gardening line is from Caldwell’s other book, Forever Betrothed, Never the Bride, so I suggest you go read that one instead. (You don’t have to read very far, that line is maybe in the first chapter). EDIT p2: I found a document in my blog folder called “books 2016” and I opened it up to find the gem below. Unbelievable.
- Dead Until Dark (Charlaine Harris): Wow this books series is so poorly written. The prose is terrible. I’m not sure if it was from this one, but there’s an iconic line in this series that goes something like “That’s fascinating,’ Eric said, sounding fascinated.” Yikes. I’d say just go watch True Blood instead.
- The Play (Karina Halle): This modern romance features a lot of dogs and loving dogs, so I’d recommend it for that reason alone with the caveat that the romance was a little dicey/bordering on too aggressive for me at times. But…dogs…
- Guy in Real Life (Steve Brezenoff): This book had one of those endings where, while the rest of the book is somewhat believable, it detaches from reality. What the end being completely off the rails was aiming for, I have no clue, but it wasn’t well executed. I’ve said this before (and before and before) but why do books targeted at “geeks” tend to attack “geek” culture at the same time? It’s alienating to the audience that you pulled in by advertising it as a book about them. Reminded me of The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak in those ways.
- Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Richard Feynman): Growing up, this is probably one of the books I heard referenced the most in our household. The anecdote where Feynman talks about ferrying ants around on paper boats for an afternoon is top quality content.
- The DUFF (Kody Keplinger): I wrote a longer blog post about this here.
- Oedipus Rex (Sophocles): Why, you ask, am I reading this play, as I’ve surely read it multiple times throughout my education? Good question! Oedipus Rex would not have been on the top of my list of plays I enjoyed learning about (the line where he says “my daughters, no, my sisters!” is a good reason why) but seeing Antigone performed in Vienna was on my itinerary so I went back and read not only Rex but the two other plays that survived from that cycle. My conclusion was that it is a shame we don’t teach Oedipus at Colonus along with Rex because it addresses interesting philosophical questions that are raised in the first play. For example: is Oedipus responsible for his wrongs if he committed them in ignorance? Who has the right to judge him? And so on.
- Living Dead in Dallas (Charlaine Harris): My love of True Blood kept me trucking on when I should have pulled the emergency break and gone off to get a coffee instead because even greasy gas station coffee would be more pleasant than reading this book. (Harris has sold a lot of books, so I can say that, right? She’s not hurting. You do you, Harris. Thanks for True Blood).
- Vampire Academy (Richelle Mead): In what sounds like a fake story but is true, my psychology professor told me to read these books (she also told me to watch The Vampire Diaries. She used clips from that show to highlight verbal product placement “So I looked it up on Bing”). This series is way better than it has any right to be!!! It’s so entertaining! Dang it! I ended up buying all of these books, from used book stores, but still. I wanted it to be terrible so I could mock it as much as I did Harris’ books. If you couldn’t tell, I am deeply resentful that I enjoyed these.
- Lingo (Gaston Dorren): If you like linguistics, you’ll like this. My favorite word that I learned from this book is vrtíčkar—“strictly speaking no more than a hobby gardener, but the word also suggests that the person is more interested in drinking beer with other vrtíčkars that in growing vegetables and flowers.” That’s such a good word! It throws shade and describes a type of behavior so well at the same time.
- The Final Empire (Brandon Sanderson): This book makes a lot of lists with titles like “best system of magic.” Magic in this book is all about using metal inside your body to various effects, and the world-building around that is really robust. But what Mistborn should be praised for more than the magic system is the way it subverts the Evil Ruler is Evil for Evil’s Sake trope, by creating an antagonist that is maybe the most interesting character in the book. Mistborn is sold as a book that imagines a world where the hero of prophecy failed but it goes more in depth than that might lead someone who has read a lot of cliché fantasy to read. That being said, I have a hard time recommending this book because I think it has some pacing problems in the middle—it moves sloooow.
- Frostbite (Richelle Mead): see Vampire Academy
- Oedipus at Colonus (Sophocles): see Oedipus Rex
- Juliet Immortal (Stacey Jay): Books by Stacey Jay are consistently off the rails bonkers. They’re wild and weird and confuse the heck out of me, but like spinning around on a spin chair when you’ve had a lot to drink, I kind of like it. Keep on making me stumble around, dizzy and befuddled, Jay, keep on. Recommended if you like Romeo and Juliet but not so much that an interpretation with the above-mentioned effect would make you feel like the source material is being violated.
- Someone Else’s Fairytale (E.M. Tippetts): Do you like the trope where the super famous actor/singer/celebrity falls in love with Average™ person? This book is for you! I mean that in all seriousness, it’s a very sweet story without any alpha male buffoonery and the main characters are endearing. I gave this little gem 4/5 stars because so few romance novels have men who aren’t POS and bought a copy on my Kindle in case I ever had a craving for a chocolate chip cookie story when life is grim.
- Antigone (Sophocles): Antigone is a feminist queen of classic literature and I want her to be recognized as such. The production I saw of the play was modern (and in German) with an Antigone that screamed about the patriarchy with such unbridled rage that I can only sit here and sigh, satisfied.
- Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman): I wrote a longer post about this book here. Whitman’s poetry was the most unexpected read of 2016 for me because I went into the book expecting to hate it. I did, at times, hate Whitman, grass, boats, poetry, and how anyone let the man put out a 600 page volume of poetry. However, recent political events have made Whitman’s poetry all the more important to read because he has a vision of America that is so fervent and so good that it makes me hate the country less and hate where people have taken it (compared to where we could have taken it) more. Whitman will be one of the first authors I bring up in the future when it comes to authors that capture the American spirit. He really did, from sea to shining sea (and buff, handsome dock workers). More amusingly, check out this Top Ten list I made for things Whitman wants to have carnal relations with.
- Shadow Kiss (Richelle Mead): see Vampire Academy
- Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov): Oh, Lolita. This is one of those books I don’t want to discuss with many people because it has the common problem of being interpreted as being sympathetic to H.H., despite the fact that the book opens with a PSA that H.H. is deplorable. I’ve read so many reviews/articles/opinions on this book. Responding to one criticism, Lolita has been attacked for giving Lo no character traits, no voice, no personhood. To me, this is where the genius of Lolita lies. Lo is described and conceptualized by H.H., it’s his memoir, after all, and the fact that he strips her of her personhood is vital to that narrative. She is silent because she has been silenced. Her breakdowns, which H.H. finds puzzling, are enough to show the reader that there is a person in there. Lolita is a portrait of how twisted men’s perception of women (or girls) can become and, to that degree, it reduces Lo to H.H.’s fantasy. To attack the novel for doing this is to ignore the purpose of this reduction. There’s no essay from me incoming on Lolita because there’s such a rich body of literature on it already, but I had to get this one thought out there since it’s been bothering me.
- New and Selected Poems (Mary Oliver): A recommendation from a friend who majored in poetry, this volume tipped the scales on how I feel about the genre as a whole. Having never had a class on poetry, I’m not good at interpreting or talking about it, but I love Oliver’s work. There’s a deep peacefulness to her poems that takes me straight to the feeling of hiking through the woods or in national parks. Oliver’s poems have been a balm to painful rash of feelings the election broke out. She’s my go-to author when it comes to recommending poetry to people who don’t have a lot of history in reading the genre now.
- Abandon (Meg Cabot): According to Goodreads, I’ve read 36 books by Meg Cabot. Nostalgia is so strong when it comes to Cabot as The Princess Diaries were some of the first books I remember loving and reading and rereading. Despite books like Abandon, I just can’t abandon Cabot. Skip this one though (yikes).
- Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies (Ben Macintyre): Here it is, the book that convinced me non-fiction was a genre for me. There are so many highlights in this book that I have nowhere to begin. There’s the guy that biked with a canoe on his head…the fact that one of the spies demanded the British government buy him chocolate for his health…that Garbo had a degree in chicken farming…the various plans for Pigeons…how bad German spies were at infiltrating England…oh it just is the gift that keeps on giving. I also made this fun tag-yourself-as-the-D-Day-Spies post.
- Underworld (Meg Cabot): I know this is the sequel to Abandon but I have no memory as to how it ends. There were a lot of scenes in graveyards…
- The Body Finder (Kimberly Derting): A good, solid, YA rec for anyone who likes books like Fingerprints, Wake, or mysteries being solved with supernatural abilities as a niche genre. The idea of bodies having a unique aura after death has really stuck with me. It’s a simple enough plot device but it is used well in the narrative.
Wow. That was a lot for one post, I know, but I read 178 books in 2016! If I don’t do 25 books a post, will I ever get done??? (Will I ever get done anyway…is the question…)
The plan is to intersperse these round-up posts with regular content. I’m still looking at creating a schedule, so I’ll post that when I get it figured.