Countdown to 2017: 2016 Books

Last year, I read 12 books! This year I read 11, but the drop is due to only reading 1 A Series of Unfortunate Events book with my babysitting charge this year instead of 2. I’ve still read 10 books on my own, like last year. I’m glad I’ve kept up my reading pace.

Overall, I read 4 fiction books (2 classics, 2 new–and this is 2 more than last year!), 3 non-fiction books (1 theater book and 2 investigative journalism/memoir books), 3 Children/Young Adult series books, and 1 book of poetry. All but 1 were by American authors (Proust being the exception). 2 books I read for my new virtual book club. 1 was by an author I used to work with. 1 I read because it related to something I was writing. 5 were women authors (2 more than last year!). 2 were by the same author (Lemony Snicket).

These stats are fairly similar to last year’s but with some improvements. Last year I still hadn’t read even 1 non-American author, but this year I read 1. Last year I had added more fiction books, and this year I added even more. However, one of my resolutions last year had been to read a biography this year, and I did not do that. I also did not read a feminism book, and my resolution has been to read 1 a year. I did, however, keep my resolution to read 1 book of poetry a year. I don’t think I stated this in the past, but I also have a resolution to read 1 Thornton Wilder book a year, and I have kept that up as well. Most exciting, though, is that I kept my resolution to read more women authors. Last year, 3/9 authors I read were women. This year, it’s 5/10. Gender equality! Next year: Continue with my 50:50 ratio and my reading variety–make sure to continue to read 1 poetry book a year and 1 Wilder book a year–but make sure to read a biography and 1 feminism book a year as well.

It should also be noted that this year my friends and I started a virtual book club in the latter half of the year. I read 2 books for that book club (out of 3), and I’m looking forward to more.

I also read 9 New Yorkers (1 fewer than last year, after I had a  nice jump the previous year) and 8 New York magazines (2 fewer than I read last year after a jump, but I’m back to what I was at the previous year) in between each book, as well as various other magazine and website articles. Plus, every Time Out New York. I suspect the slight decrease in New Yorkers and New York magazines read this year is the fact that I read a longer book this year (Swann’s Way) and still maintained my 10 books a year goal. Next year: Try to bring myself up to last year’s numbers of 10 New Yorkers and 10 New York magazines a year.

My favorite book(s) of the year:
Far from the Tree
All the Wrong Questions Book 4: Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights?
The Woman of Andros
Tuck Everlasting
(well, it’s always my favorite book)

The List:
1. Bernstein Meets Broadway: Collaborative Art in a Time of War by Carol J. Oja
I recommend this book for anyone in or interested in musical theater. I received it when I participated in a promotional chorus event and did an interview with the author a year and a half ago, and I’m glad I finally read it. While very scholarly (it helps to have a music background, although one can just skim those parts if not), the meat of this book is the examination of On The Town and its diversity, especially with what is going on today with diversity and musical theater. I also enjoyed the history of Comden and Green’s The Revuers, and I now have a much better appreciation for On the Town and Bernstein, Comden, Green, and Robbins who created something entertaining yet subversively socially relevant.
Finished: March 11, 2016

2. All the Wrong Questions Book 4: Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights? by Lemony Snicket
This series got better and better as it went along, and by the end it got even darker and raised more questions than the original Series of Unfortunate Events series. I hope the actual author, Daniel Handler, decides to continue creating series about these characters. There are so many interesting characters and so much story to tell. I’ve given up on actually getting any questions answered through these books, though. I think the first series made it clear that the point of the story and of life in general is that you will never get all your questions answered.
Finished: April 2, 2016

3. Swann’s Way: In Search of Lost Time Volume 1 by Marcel Proust
I finally made my way through Swann’s Way, a book that has been on my list since 2012 when a stranger recommended it to me as I was getting off the F train (he saw me reading a Thornton Wilder novel and felt the need to converse). This book was quite challenging–not a brisk read by any means–but I’m glad I took the time, even when there was a 12-page description of a church or a paragraph that went on for four pages. I suppose I now have to read all seven books in the series. I may wait another four years though to start book two.
Finished: July 31, 2016

4. Mother Love: Poems by Rita Dove
As part of my “at least 1 book of poetry a year” reading requirement, I read Mother Love by former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove. I had this book from my first year seminar at Barnard (the class was called Cinematernity, looking at motherhood in films, as well as literature–if there was ever a class designed for me…). I think we were either supposed to read a few poems from it or maybe the entire thing but I didn’t remember reading it at all, and since the poems examine the Demeter-Persephone myth–one I’ve spent a LOT of time with–it seemed as though these poems were ones I should read now. I remember George Saunders saying once that good writing is when you read one sentence, and it’s so good that you want to read the next sentence, and then you want to read the next sentence. Well, in this book I read one poem, and then I wanted to read the next, and then the next. Some were more difficult than others–the last one, broken into sections, is literally cyclical–and I think the first one, which sets up the relationship of the poet to the myth may have been my favorite.
Finished: August 19, 2016

5. In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
The first in my virtual book club with my college friends! Only a few weeks after the rest of them finished it, but it was actually really fun to participate in the online discussions while I was reading instead of after the fact. I was super engaged and noticed and thought of things as I was reading that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I’ve already discussed a lot of aspects of this book elsewhere but I’ll say here that while this wasn’t the perfect book, I enjoyed reading it and I especially appreciated that it was extremely Jewish, and the main character was a young Jewish girl. I guess that’s typical in Judy Blume books but it’s been a while since I’ve read one.
Finished: September 13, 2016

6. Unpublished book by a friend
I am so excited that a friend and former co-worker asked if I would read his next book before his next round of edits. I don’t want to say too much about the book because it isn’t published yet, and the version I read may not be the finished version (hence my not revealing the title or author here). But I will say that I very much enjoyed reading it and offering my feedback, and I can’t wait to read the finished version.
Finished: October 21, 2016

7. Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon
I read this book off and on for a little over three years (I started it August 31, 2013). It lives at my parents’ house, so every time I visited I would read a little. It turns out, it’s the perfect book to read in tiny chunks. The books is divided into many small sections within each chapter, and you don’t have to hold any one narrative in your head over time. At first I was reluctant to read this book because, well, my family could be one of its stories, and I thought, why do I need this book then? I needed this book because I learned so much about what other families deal with (not just with autism, that’s pretty familiar) but with deaf children, children with extreme disabilities (the most difficult chapter for me), children with down syndrome, children with schizophrenia (another difficult chapter), even children who are prodigies (a lighter chapter but interesting it was included). The family stories are what make this book, and there are so many stories. In a way, it was comforting to know there are others out there dealing with similar issues in their families, and I found the idea of “horizontal identities” (when you have a child with an identity different from you) to be a good way of looking at people and the parent-child relationship. I often read books one at a time, and then they’re done. It was such a great experience to read this over a few years. It was part of my life, and I’m sad to say goodbye. It’s been quite a journey.
Finished: October 30, 2016

8. Without You, There is Only Us: Undercover Among the Songs of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim
The second book I read for my virtual Barnard friends book club. I was interested in this after I read about the controversy over having it be deemed a memoir and not serious journalism, but going undercover as an English language teacher in North Korea sounded pretty serious to me. It was interesting reading about North Korea, especially in this last week, just saying, and I enjoyed the focus on her relationship with her students (college age), who were very much like children. She also drew interesting parallels between their culture and religion and invited us to glimpse a country we have very little access to.
Finished: November 17, 2016

9. The Woman of Andros by Thornton Wilder
One of my reading goals is to read one Thornton Wilder book every year, and this year’s selection was The Woman of Andros. Criticized for not addressing the themes of the day (it was published at the start of the depression), the book deals with classical characters and references ultimately addressing something more universal, and true to Wilder’s aesthetic, of greater cosmic significance. The story also highlights women’s issues and goes deep into the psyche of its female characters (even though both end up dead, one from illness, one from childbirth, sorry, spoiler). One section contains a story about women trying to tell men that they are just as steadfast and brave as them, but the men don’t believe them. Another section has the story that grew into the climax of Our Town–that of a character wanting to live one ordinary day over again after dying. The book is full of aphorisms, spoken by the main woman, Chrysis. One that stood out to me and made me think a lot about today is: “The mistakes we make through generosity are less terrible than the gains we acquire through caution.” I read that as, we may not know if what we’re doing and how we are living is right and effective, but if our actions are coming from a place of generosity and goodness, then we are living correctly.
Finished: December 18, 2016

10. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
For my last book of this year, I decided to go with something old, familiar, and comforting: my always and forever favorite book Tuck Everlasting, which I first read in second grade and have read many times since. I still think this book is the reason I became a writer, or at least made me understand what words could do. I realized it had been over ten years since I last read it, however, so with the musical and the author’s death this year, I figured this was a good time to revisit to it. It was interesting returning to the details of the story, especially after seeing the musical which changed some things, as musicals do. What I love about the book that doesn’t really show up in any dramatic version of it, aside from the lush descriptive language, is the focus on Winnie’s journey to do something important and make a difference in the world. In fact, the descriptive language and that desire come together to make the reader feel that the enormity of the cosmos exists in the tiniest act: that something so small–running away from your home into your very own wood and stumbling upon a family there–can actually lead to something quite big, just as enormous power can come from a sip of water. And the epilogue hit me hard, well, harder than usual, this time–the fact that, while the Tucks can’t change, they must still change to accommodate the changing world. As I read it now, I keep thinking how ripe this story is for more story. I’d love to learn more about how the Tucks move along through history separately and together–do they meet others who have somehow drunk the water? Even if they can’t age and change, how much does life experience affect them, especially Jesse and Miles? I can see Miles somehow meeting one of his descendants but not being able to let on who he is. I guess as much as I love Winnie’s journey in this book, this go around I really longed to get more inside the Tucks’ everlasting lives.
Finished: December 30, 2016

11. The Carnivorous Carnival (A Series of Unfortunate Events Book 9) by Lemony Snicket
I remembered liking this book (although not as much as books 8 and 10), but I didn’t remember a lot of the details so it was good to revisit while reading it to my babysitting charge. As with much this series, the details are easy to forget but the themes (and many of the great lines) are what stay with you. Book 9 is a solid entry in the deeper latter half of the series.
Finished: Summer, 2016

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