Last year, I read 10 books! This year I read 11. I am a little over my usual goal of 10 books per year. I also listened to a lot of podcasts, which I have included at the end of this list.
Overall, I read 4 fiction books (2 contemporary, 1 classic, 1 romance–I also read 4 fiction books last year), 4 non-fiction books (1 theater book, 2 books of essays/academic articles, and 1 product/business book–last year I read 5 non-fiction), 1 young adult book, 1 play, and 1 book of poetry. I read 3 non-American authors this year; last year I read 2. This year I read 6 female authors with 0 being a woman of color; last year I read 5 female authors, with 1 being women of color. 3 books were for book clubs (last year it was 8): 1 was for the fiction book club at work–last year there were 3 for that book club, and then 1 was for the product book club at work–last year it was also 1 for that book club, and 1 was for the ERG discussion groups at work–last year it was 2 for those groups. That same book was also for my virtual book club with college friends–last year there was 1 for that book club. Usually I try to read 1 book by someone I know, and I again did not do that this year. Last year I read 0 books because it related to something I was writing/working on, and this year I read 1 (Phantom of the Opera) related to my podcast.
These stats are fairly similar to last year’s with slightly less non-fiction books. I kept up with reading about half of the books by women authors (6/11), although this year I didn’t read any women of color. I did, however, read slightly more non-American authors this year. I kept my good mix of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, and added a children/young adult book and a play.
Last year my goals were: “my main goal is to try not to do any more book clubs. I read too many books for book clubs this year and did not get to read what I wanted to read that much, and I had to cram my personal reading goals in at the end of the year, which was stressful. Only 1 book club/discussion group book allowed! My other goals are to read a feminism book this year, as well as a biography, along with the 1 book of poetry and Thornton Wilder book.” Well, I did only read 1 book club book technically: the book for the fiction book club. The book for the product book club I had started in 2021, and the book for the ERG and college book clubs was one I suggested for both after reading it first. Only reading 1 book for a book club was SO much better than reading 8. Next year I will allow myself to read 2 book club books. Sadly, I did not read a feminism book or a biography this year, so that is a goal for next year. I did read my usual poetry book and Thornton Wilder book (technically 2 Wilder books).
I also read 6 New Yorkers (5 more than last year!) and 6 New York magazines (3 more than last year!) in between books, as well as various other magazine/web articles. I have been trying to bring myself up to previous years’ numbers of 10 New Yorkers and 10 New York magazines a year, or at least 7 each. I got close this year and am proud of this change. I’ll try for 7 each next year.
So, my goals are: Keep up 1 poetry book, 1 Wilder book and make sure to read a feminism book and a biography. Only read 2 book club books. Read more women of color. Try to read at least 7 New Yorkers and New York Magazines.
I’ll still list the online reading/writing classes I was in. This year, I did ModPo this fall, though just barely. I didn’t read any short stories or long articles of note this year.
My favorite book(s) of the year:
People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present by Dara Horn
Putting It Together: How Stephen Sondheim and I Created Sunday in the Park with Georgeby James Lapine
1.The Professional Product Owner: Leveraging Scrum as a Competitive Advantage by Don McGreal
Of all the product books I’ve read, this one has been the most useful and dense in terms of information, while also providing fun theoretical asides (the story about the cows!). For me, what set this book apart is its use of many examples and not assuming the reader had any knowledge coming in (even though this is a book for people with a relatively high level role). While it did get to the point where the examples and scenarios were too theoretical and you just felt like at this point you had to be in the room observing things in action, for the most part I was able to visualize the processes from how they were described. For many years I had wanted to understand Scrum, and now I feel like I understand it as best I can without having actually worked in it. I am not a product owner, but I find reading about product management to be very relatable to life and any project you work on. For example, as a writer, get a minimum viable product out as often as you can for constant feedback and you’ll get to the finished product more quickly!
Finished: February 25, 2022
2. Poison for Breakfast by Lemony Snicket
Poison for Breakfast is not like most books while at the same time being very much a Lemony Snicket book. If you enjoyed the tangents and philosophical musings from his other books, Poison for Breakfast is basically only those parts. The plot is very thin, but that’s okay, as this book is more about the bewilderment of living in the world and how literature can help us make sense of it, at least momentarily. Lemony Snicket does receive a note that says he has had poison for breakfast, but as in his Series of Unfortunate Events series, the mystery we think we’re trying to solve is besides the point, which leaves you somewhat disappointed in the moment but in the long term weirdly satisfied because the actual ending is more like, duh, that’s really what we’ve been talking/reading about all along. Sometimes it’s hard to read a book that wanders, even if that’s the point of the book, but for the most part I found it comforting to read about bewilderment because I, too, am constantly bewildered.
Finished: March 18, 2022
3. Motherhood by Sheila Heti
Like the book’s narrator I am also a woman in her late 30s without children, and I see the appeal of this book for my demographic. As someone who feels a strong ambivalence on this topic, this book did resonate with me, even though the narrator’s ambivalence was a bit different from mine. I found this most relatable as a book about ambivalence itself, which I’m feeling more and more about everything in my life as time goes on, and there were a few passages in the book that really spoke to me about how one experiences a very emotional ambivalence. As for the discussion of whether to have a child or not, I know this was from the narrator’s point of view and she was mainly considering whether she personally should have a child given that she ultimately doesn’t want one deep down (which she basically knows the whole time). However, the discussion felt so much larger than what she presented here, and I could have used some musings on some more practical considerations: economics, the state of the world. She also brought a lot of her relationship with her partner into the book, but he also seemed ambivalent about the decision and on the same page as her, so she didn’t consider any consequences to their relationship in her decision, I guess because she just assumed there wouldn’t be any, and that seemed like it would be a factor in a larger discussion on the topic for many people as well. My favorite parts of the book were the musings on ambivalence in ways I hadn’t thought about. I don’t know that they’ll ultimately help me make decisions in life but it’s comforting, in a way, to put concrete words to the soupy thoughts that usually surround my indecision.
Finished: March 31, 2022
4. Beast In View from The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser by Muriel Rukeyser
Beast in View was the next book of poetry in my book The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser, along with the longer poem “Wake Island” (1942), which isn’t part of a larger book and I also read. I enjoyed this collection because of its focus on the experience of war, specifically in the early 1940s. Some poems were more ostensibly about war and some had a passing line or image. Beast in View had three sections: “Beast in View”, “Letter to the Front”, and “The Soul and Body of John Brown”. I enjoyed many of the short poems in the “Beast in View” section, most notably “Bubble of Air.” It was a little simpler, but still in Rukeyser’s somewhat dense style, and it’s one of her poems that touches on being a Jew in America in the 1940s. Another more famous one, “To be a Jew in the twentieth century” is also in this book, as a section of the long poem “Letter to the Front” (which has 10 sections in all). This section has been published as its own poem, and I’d seen it before, but it was good to see it in the context of this larger work about war. In general, I enjoyed seeing many of the themes and images and word choices that I like in one of her later poems (my favorite, “The Speed of Darkness”) show up here in an earlier form.
Finished: April 25, 2022
5. Rock Star by Jackie Collins
Rock Star is not a book I would usually read (it was recommended by a friend), but I’m glad I did because it reminded me what reading was like as a young person. Saying that about a “trashy” novel may seem weird but reading this felt like a YA novel for adults–fast-moving story, simple sentences that make you want to read the next sentence, relationship entanglements. Definitely a lot of sex scenes, most of which were a little silly. What I really enjoyed was following the main characters through their music careers. Two of them–Kris and Bobby–were well-drawn, interesting characters, and the other, Raffealla (what kind of a name is this? Like what is the origin? I think she took the name Raffaella and switched the letters around.), less so. I think because she was younger than the other two so her career didn’t get going until 2/3 through the book. Another critique is that the chapters would flip back and forth between the past and present day, with present day being a big concert where something was going to go down. But other than seeing where our characters ended up, those present day chapters were these quick flashes with characters we barely knew and a vague sense of something being planned, which didn’t become clear until close to the end. I would have rather known more about those characters and plans throughout or just not had those chapters at all. But, overall, a fun book that used words like “Bazoombas” and I would definitely read more of this style every so often as a treat.
Finished: June 8, 2022
6. Putting It Together: How Stephen Sondheim and I Created Sunday in the Park with George by James Lapine
Sunday in the Park with George was my favorite musical in high school, and what I loved about this book was that even though Sunday is one of my favorite shows, this was really my first window into the story of its creation. I knew it had been at Playwrights Horizons first before going to Broadway and that it came after the flop of Merrily We Roll Along and Sondheim’s break with Hal Prince, but that’s it. I was most intrigued by the early part of the process, how James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim came together and settled on this idea and put together the workshop at Playwrights. When the show went to Broadway, I felt like the momentum slowed a bit, but maybe that’s just my preference for the early parts of a process and how work and careers come to be. I also loved the frank discussions of how tense a working environment it was and Lapine’s honesty with his inexperience as a director at that time. The interviews are great, although sometimes I wished they were a little longer, but I appreciated the intention to keep the storytelling focused, especially since there were so many interviews. Even though I know the show pretty well, I forced myself to read through the libretto at the back of the book as closely as I could. It was definitely worth it for the stage directions and what in the show is a lot of incoherent overlapping dialogue. It also made me look more closely at certain lines and moments, some of which made more sense upon reading and some of which made less sense–like when Dot talks about what George has given her toward the end–do we ever really see that or does she just tell us that he taught her about concentration (the description of it we would now call mindfulness)? Now I’m not sure that that line really lands for me. Overall, I’m glad to understand more about one of my favorite shows and feel closer to it.
Finished: July 16, 2022
7. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
This was a very good read, although I didn’t quite love it. That may be because it felt like it should be a page turner but wasn’t quite one. It was a big story, and sometimes it took a while for certain threads to come together, and one thing I don’t love when reading or watching something is being asked to go along with a narrative thread without knowing why or where it will end up. Overall, though, I enjoyed the characters and the writing, and when certain threads did come together it was satisfying. Clearly the author loved writing these character and the historical setting they were in (1899/1900 New York City, mainly, in the Jewish and Syrian neighborhoods). I read that the author is Jewish and her husband is Arab-American, so she wanted to bring together their two worlds in this story, and that merging felt very authentic, both from her research and from her lived experience. The titular magical creatures were very well drawn as characters in their own right and also served as metaphors for various human behaviors, as well as for a meeting of old world vs. new and how the secular world overtook more religious practices at that time, a time before more modern movements in religion. I also enjoyed how the writing used different languages and weather in the storytelling, and I was relieved that a certain rich WASP character that lived on 5th Avenue was not as big a part of the story as I originally thought she’d be. Ultimately a good and enjoyable book, just one I wish I wanted to tear through more.
Finished: August 21, 2022
8. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
What a weird book. I did like the conceit of having the story told in reports from various sources with author as narrator (kind of a combination of Dracula‘s found text/diary storytelling and Les Miserables‘s authorial perspective), but it didn’t seem to be consistent–sometimes chapters or scenes seemed to just happen instead of coming from somewhere, like the scene with Christine and Raoul on the roof. Was that account from Christine’s papers, which we learn about only at the end? I guess. I read this book to prepare for a discussion on the musical adaptation, which I saw for the first time 5 years ago. I’d had the book on my shelf for many years, but I needed something specific to spur me to read it. It was time. Since the musical premiered, I think most people read the novel to compare it to the musical. This phantom is more clearly a monster than in the musical. He is described as looking like a skeleton and it isn’t until the epilogue that the author contemplates his possible goodness, or at least the idea that he should be pitied. I never found myself pitying him, however, even in his final moments when he, like in the musical, feels what he believes is genuine love for the first time. I prefer the book’s unambiguous characterization, so when the epilogue started to complicate his character–we finally learn his backstory–I felt confused, especially since it came at the very end. I guess it’s supposed to be that you, the reader, spend the whole book thinking he’s a monster, but then once you learn his backstory does that change your attitude towards him? My answer was: no, he’s still responsible for torturing and traumatizes multiple people. But there’s at least a way to understand him: he grew up feeling othered and as an outcast, believing that he wasn’t a person so it didn’t matter if he did bad things. It’s not an excuse, but at least in those final moments we get a character rather than a monster. For a short book, a lot of it was slow, especially the middle section. It seemed to be spinning its wheels a little bit as the managers again and again did not believe in the opera ghost. There was some business with a safety pin that was particularly saggy. But then, once Raoul and the Persian went looking for Christine, the story picked up, and I loved reading about them trying to outsmart the Phantom and get through his lair. The whole sequence of the torture chamber and the scorpion was pretty riveting. I think if I ever see the musical again I’ll be sad that the chambers underneath the opera house aren’t a funhouse full of tricks.
Finished: September 30, 2022
9. The Thornton Wilder Journal Volume 1, Number 1 edited by Jackson R. Bryer, Mary C. English, Lincoln Konkle, Edyta Oczkowicz, and Terryl W. Hallquist
The Thornton Wilder Journal came out in 2020, but my pattern is that unless I’m reading a book specifically for something coming up. This was the first number of the first volume, and it had some great essays on Wilder, some of which I remember hearing about at the Thornton Wilder Conference in 2018.
Finished: October 28, 2022
10.People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present by Dara Horn
I am planning to lead a discussion group on this book so read it once through at my own pace and am reading it through again to take notes. What I liked most about this book is that it offered very different perspectives on Jewish events and instances of antisemitism from what I’m used to hearing in our society. Some topics were a bit more familiar to me–like I’ve thought a lot about Anne Frank and Jews in fiction–and others not at all, like the Jews of Harbin and Varian Fry. I found this book especially useful in trying to make sense of what is happening right now with antisemitism and the rise of fascism in the United States and elsewhere. I’m excited to discuss this book with people, actually in two book groups, because I think the conversations that the author introduces are and will be very rich. I’ll just say one thing about the chapter on Jewish names, which goes into the myth of names changed at Ellis Island. I’ve long known about how names in my parents’ generation were more anglicized for Jews, and reading that chapter hit home for me about how my very Jewish-sounding name is in direct response to how secure my secular parents felt when I was born in the early 1980s in our Jewishness. They said they had very common names growing up and wanted my sister and me to have interesting names that no one else had, which is kind of another way of saying, we want you to have a name that makes you stand out in your Jewishness. I feel so proud of my name as being representative of that change.
Finished: December 1, 2022
11.The Alcestiad: Or, a Life in the Sun: A Play in Three Acts, with a Satyr Play, the Drunken Sisters by Thornton Wilder
Even though I have seen Wilder’s final full-length play and just this year participated in a read-through of it, I felt I needed to read it to really get everything, all the nuances. I did remember a lot more than I thought, especially the first act of Alcestis not wanting to marry the king and instead serve Apollo, as well as parts of the second act. There was a lot I didn’t remember about the third act and final moments, and overall on this re-read I paid more attention to how Wilder is using the play to talk about how we live with belief, or not, and whether the gods are apart from us or within us. I’ve heard others say this before, but for such a heavy play, it’s also very funny in parts, especially with Hercules–both his character and others’ reactions to him. The more I watch/hear/read this play the more I like it and find it very complex.
Finished: December 31, 2022
ModPo, 10th Year (University of Pennsylvania)
Podcasts (listened to all episodes)
Scene to Song
Moonlighting the Podcast
On the Nose: A Jewish Currents Podcast
This is Reality
Three on the Aisle
Celebrating Lucy Simon
Out for Blood
The Big Burn
And episodes of:
The Original Cast with Patrick Flynn
The Neurotic Vaccine
The Gospel of Musical Theatre
Partial View Podcast
Down the Yellow Brick Pod
Learn Buddhism Podcast with Alan Peto
Let’s Get Chatty about David and Maddie
You are Good
Disney Inside Out
You’re Wrong About
Millennials are Killing Capitalism
Thesis on Joan
Token Theatre Friends
Know the Show
Little Known Facts
Death, Sex, & Money
Where Should We Begin with Esther Perel
Mayim Bialik’s Breakdown