Tag Archives: Jessie Burton

Sunday Salon/Currently: Reflecting on a Year of Reading

Books Transform in Hourglass

Books Transform in Hourglass – courtesy of Getty Images

Here we are … the first Sunday Salon/Currently post of 2016!  As I’ve mentioned before, I am all too happy to welcome a new year and a fresh start, even if not much has actually changed.

I thought I would use this post to reflect on and recap my 2015 reading year.  I would categorize this as a pretty good year, quality-wise.  In terms of quantity, though, not so much. I read a total of 52 books, compared to 75 in 2014. (This is still rather respectable, especially when you consider that this averages to be one book per week).  I try not to fall into the book blogger trap of comparing my totals to others; the reality is that I always am most critical of myself.

I attribute the decrease to two factors: 1) more time spent listening to podcasts in the car  (I listened to 22 audiobooks last year, compared to only 10 this year) and 2) being ruthless in abandoning books that weren’t working for me. At the same time, I have quite a few books in progress. Finishing books was a bit of an issue this year, probably because of reading multiple books at once.

(What can I say? I work for an organization that has five million items available free for the borrowing — and most of them are books. It is hard not to be tempted by the shiny and new. Or the old and classic.  Or, whatever.)

So, we’re not really going to focus much on the amounts. It’s all about the experience, right? And there were some great literary experiences in 2015.

Before we get to the Best Of selections, some stats for my fellow book geeks who love this sort of thing.  (You know who you are.)

2015

Number of Books Read = 52
Number of Pages Read = 10,001
Longest Book:  The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (564 pages)
Shortest Book: Remnants of Passion by Sarah Einstein (37 pages)
Number of Audiobooks Listened To = 10
Number of Hours Spent Listening to Audiobooks = 87.31
How Many Days of Listening That Equals = 3.6
Average Number of Days It Took Me to Finish a Book = 7
My Average Rating of a Book = 3.9
Authors Who Were New to Me = 36
Authors Who I’d Read Previously = 16
Female Authors Read = 33
Male Authors Read = 19
Oldest Book Read = The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (published in 1890)
Second Oldest Book Read = The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (published in 1892)

And now, without further ado, here are my favorite books in Fiction, Short Stories, Memoir, and Nonfiction.  Links take you to my reviews, if I’ve written one. (Writing reviews was also a bit of a challenge this year.) As you’ll note by the years in parenthesis, these include my favorite books I read in 2015, regardless of the publication date.

Best Fiction

Thirteen Ways of Looking

Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann (2015)

None of the Above

None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio

“But once you understood what you were … how could someone not want to be fixed? I couldn’t conceive of a world in which I wasn’t broken.” (pg. 146)  Debut novelist I.W. Gregorio has given her readers a story that explores identity and acceptance through the perspective of a main character who just learned she was born intersex. This is one of those books that I appreciated on a highly personal level and for the sensitive way the author handles a subject matter that’s considered by some to be taboo. Because of books like None of the Above and authors like I.W. Gregorio, there exists the hope for a more caring, sensitive, and accepting world. ~ from my review, 6/22/2015.

Tampa - 2

Tampa by Alissa Nutting (2013)

The Paying Guests

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (2014)

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)

Honorable Mentions for Fiction:

The Edible WomanThe MiniaturistZLike FamilyOur Souls at NightEverything I Never Told YouWest of SunsetMy Sunshine Away

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood (1969)

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (2014)

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Fowler (2013)

Like Family by Paolo Giordano (2015)

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (2015)

Our Souls at Night is a quiet, understated novel about love and grief, family and community.  It challenges the reader to view older people as still having desires and needs rather than individuals who should renounce all vestiges of intimacy the minute their AARP card arrives in the mail.  It is a gorgeous finale for author Kent Haruf.  (From my review 9/22/2015)

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014)

Living in suburban Ohio in the 1970s, the Lee family is one full of secrets, of regrets, of unfulfilled dreams and hijacked ambitions. Of letters never sent nor received, of tchkotches stolen, of misunderstandings big and small, of innermost feelings repressed and silent pacts. And sometimes – yes, oftentimes – our lives turn out differently than we planned. Terrible things happen. But by listening to what the people we love are and aren’t saying, admitting to our deepest wishes and exposing our most fragile insecurities, our lives and those around us have a chance to change for the better. (Reviewed 5/4/2015)

West of Sunset by Stewart O’Nan (2015)

Stewart O’Nan, a Pittsburgh author, more than succeeds in capturing legendary F. Scott Fitzgerald during the legendary author’s final troubled three years.  At 40, Scott’s literary success is well in the past and his wife Zelda is institutionalized for psychiatric issues. When Hollywood (finally, thankfully) comes calling with work as a screenwriter, Scott is emotionally and financially broke, “borrowing against stories he has yet to imagine.” (Love that line!)

Dust off the Hollywood glitter, though, and there’s something universally relatable about West of Sunset. Anyone who has ever gone through a difficult professional or personal stretch of time (which would be …oh, all of us) will likely find something to identify with in the F. Scott Fitzgerald that Stewart O’Nan presents. West of Sunset is about coming to terms with real and perceived failure, the drumbeat of self-doubt and loathing that accompanies it, the quest for self-redemption, and what happens when our self-reliance runs out.  (“Somewhere in this latest humiliation there was a lesson in self-reliance. He’d failed so completely that he’d become his own man again.”)  Reviewed 2/5/2015.

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh (2015)

Best Short Stories

The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892)

Best Memoirs

Dear Mr. You

Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker (2015)

Whatever ...Love Is Love

Whatever … Love Is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves by Maria Bello (2015)

Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe

Belief is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe by Lori Jakiela (2015)

M Train

M Train by Patti Smith (2015)

Best Nonfiction

Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015)

This book’s moment in the spotlight comes at precisely the right time, given the current racial climate and rhetoric in our country. Between the World and Me is an important book, a classic of our era that deserves to be widely-read and taught in schools long after the accolades and the “best of” lists fade into the New Year and the ether of the Internet. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes that he “would have [his son] be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.”  Reading this book and talking with others about it is one small way we can do the same.  Reviewed 12/29/2015.

Big Magic

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (2015)

You may be thinking that Big Magic is just another gimmicky book about creativity and following your passion, the likes of which you’ve probably read before. And you also may be judging this based on perhaps a negative impression of Eat Pray Love or any other of Gilbert’s work. And you would be wrong on both counts.  (I can say that because I did both of those things.)

Elizabeth Gilbert isn’t advocating that we creative types go into the office tomorrow and quit our jobs or commit to waking up every morning at 3 a.m. to write The Best Novel Ever or build a wing onto our house for the studio of our dreams. If you are able to do those things, more power to you. That’s not reality for most of us, however. And if we’re looking to our creativity to solve the bigger questions of our lives, we might be missing the point altogether.

“Perhaps creativity’s greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are. Best of all, at the end of your creative adventure, you have a souvenir — something that you made, something to remind you forever of your brief but transformative encounter with inspiration.” (pg. 172)

I really enjoyed this book and Elizabeth Gilbert’s direct and down-to-earth approach to creativity was exactly what I needed at the time.  Reviewed 11/3/2015.

Letters to a Young Poet

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainier Maria Rilke (1929)

As I said, this was a wonderful year. Thanks so much for reading my reviews and bookish banter. Looking forward to another fun year here together in 2016!

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sunday salon: october

 

“…and who, after all these centuries, can describe the fineness of an autumn day? One might pretend never to have seen one before, or, to more purpose, that there would never be another like it. The clear and searching sweep of sun on the lawns was like a climax of the year’s lights.”

~ “The Brigadier and the Golf Widow” by John Cheever

October — now, already. With the turn of the calendar page, we’ve been thrown a bit too quickly into fall, it seems. I broke out the turtlenecks this week and on Friday, a coat was definitely needed in the morning as I set out for work. Yet, yesterday’s rains (remnants of Joaquin, maybe) have yielded to a crisp day that hints at the slightly warmer temperatures to come this week.

California Dreamin’ 
I was resenting last week’s seasonal change a bit more than usual because three months ago, we had booked a trip to San Diego — just me and The Husband. We had talked about the possibility of this trip for awhile. Had this actually occurred, we would have been in California last week – missing the dreary rain and autumn chill that besot Pittsburgh. All the reminders of that trip over the last few days shouldn’t have bummed me out as much as it did — not to mention, made me as cranky — but, dammit, I really wanted to be there and we should have been there. Yeah, yeah, yeah, everything happens for a reason and all that bullshit, I know, and as these things go, such a trip would have been difficult (if not impossible) with all that’s happening on the homefront … but that doesn’t make me any less disappointed.

Anticipatin’
There are several fun things to look forward to during this month, however, so I’m trying to concentrate on those instead of wallowing in my woulda-coulda-shoulda pity party.  On Thursday evening, Rainbow Rowell will be at the library for a kids and teens event and my girl is beyond excited about this (she loves Rainbow Rowell). I actually haven’t read any of her books, but I know a lot of bloggers rave about her novels.

Then, on October 21, guess who’s coming to the library? Margaret Atwood! I cannot wait for this. Tickets sold out in less than seven hours. I only wish I could find my copy of The Handmaid’s Tale (which I think is one of the best books in the history of the written word). I might have to buy another one for Margaret Atwood to sign. We’re limited to two books per person for the book signing portion, which I understand, but still.  I think we get a signed copy of The Heart Goes Last with our ticket price.

Readin’
The MiniaturistYesterday I finished The Miniaturist, which I think has one of the most gorgeous covers I’ve ever seen.  This debut novel by Jessie Burton is set in Amsterdam, in 1686. Petronella (who goes by Nella) is 18 when she marries a wealthy merchant named Johannes Brandt. After moving into his mansion, Nella quickly learns that this is a household full of secrets. Even more puzzling are the miniatures that are sent to Nella to furnish a dollhouse — an exact replica of their home — that Johannes has given her as a wedding gift. The items are very specific and tend to be messages about future events.

I read this as a selection for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril X (RIP X).  I’ll have more to say on this one in a future post, but suffice it to say that I really liked it. There have been comparisons to Sarah Waters, and I can definitely see that.

Tonight I’m hoping to start Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I am a huge fan of hers; I’ve read all of her books and love every single one of them — which is not something I can say about many writers (usually there’s a dud or two in the mix). It’s #7 or something on the New York Times bestseller list and my copy is due back to the library on Wednesday with no renews, so I need to read this fast (won’t be a problem, methinks).

Listenin’
Because I’m listening to more podcasts these days, my audiobook consumption has kind of suffered. My solution? Listening to short story collections. That way, if there are several podcasts that have caught my interest and I go a day between listening to a book, I’m not hopelessly lost.

The John Cheever Audio CollectionI spotted The John Cheever Audio Collection at the library and decided to try his stories.  This is where I confess that I’ve never read any John Cheever, which is something I think I should have done by now. Someone who loves short stories as much as I do really should have some familiarity with Cheever.

The narration is key to this collection of 12 stories. Meryl Streep is brilliant on “The Enormous Radio” (how could she not be?) but that doesn’t take away from this being one of the best stories in the bunch. “The Five Thirty Eight” is another great offering. These stories evoke another time — a simpler world — which is why I’m enjoying them. I’ll probably wind up reading some others in print — although I’m not sure if Cheever will wind up on my favorite authors list.  I’m only halfway through this audiobook, so we shall see.

Hope all is well in your world (reading and otherwise) as we begin this new month.

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