Tag Archives: Kent Haruf

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.)


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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Book Review: Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf

Our Souls at NightOur Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf
Alfred A. Knopf 
179 pages

Some authors have a talent of using exactly the right prose and cadence thereof to evoke an atmosphere that complements the story itself. Kent Haruf’s final novel, published posthumously after his death last November, is that kind of book.

With both of their spouses deceased, Addie Moore and Louis Waters are the sort of good, decent, gentle persons who – despite decades of living on the same street – are barely more than acquaintances on the polite periphery of each other’s lives. Each knows the framework of details that become embedded in a community: one’s long-ago scandalous affair, the death of the other’s young daughter in a terrible accident.

Loneliness and a need for connection prompts Addie, a widow, to ask Louie if he would consider sleeping with her – not, as many of their neighbors conclude, in a sexual sense but rather as a comfort and a physical presence during the long, dark nights. Initially hesitant, Louis appears at Addie’s door and what unfolds is a genuine connection based on conversation, companionship, trust, respect, and similar life experiences and stages. It is absolutely beautiful.

However, not everyone In their small town of Holt, Colorado (or Addie and Louis’s families, for that matter) views their relationship that way. And that matters because assumptions can be destructive and divisive, especially in the face of so-called traditional or typical relationship constructs that are unhealthy or dysfunctional.

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.


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sunday salon: heat

The Sunday Salon

It’s a scorcher today, the kind of humidity-laden weather that brings with it heat indexes in the triple-digits.  The Husband tells me that said heat index is 110 in our native Philadelphia today and I’ve heard it is only slightly less than that here in Pittsburgh. This, in the midst of a summer that has been very much the opposite of baked days.

Divine NothingnessCoincidentally or not, I’ve just finished a work-related blog post about Divine Nothingness, Pittsburgh-born and current Lambertville, NJ resident Gerald Stern’s latest poetry collection. Among the excerpts I was trying to work into that particular post was “Hell,” which is about a different kind of heat.

“…and who and what we were we couldn’t exactly
tell for we were covered in soot and hopped
away from the heat like hot dancers
for we were creating flames for those on the mountain 
who drove up the steep sides to see the view
and took their visitors with them so they could express
their gratitude …” 
~ from “Hell: Jones and Laughlin” by Gerald Stern

My strenuous output today has been limited to an early morning trip to ALDI for the week’s grocery shopping; at 9 a.m., it was already sweltering and my heat-induced sinus headache/soon-to-be migraine has been raging all day. I’m grateful for central air-conditioning and a chance to stay indoors piddling around on the computer, catching up on blogs and preparing some posts for the week, and listening to some music.

It hasn’t been a particularly busy weekend. I had to work yesterday morning and even though the event itself wasn’t difficult – it was a very enjoyable celebration, actually – afterwards I was so exhausted that I came home and promptly fell asleep for three hours. My sleep patterns are out of whack; I’ve been waking up at 2 a.m. Sometimes I’m able to get back to sleep immediately and other nights it takes upwards of an hour or more.

Earlier this week, a big-name bestseller was sent to me for a freelance book review and I’ll probably take a crack at this one shortly. It is so far removed from my usual genres of choice that I almost declined this particular assignment but that’s not really an option at the moment. The more paying freelancing opportunities that come my way, the better.

To the LetterDoing so will mean temporarily interrupting my current read, which is To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing by Simon Garfield. I picked this one up from the library because of my nostalgia for letter-writing. It doesn’t seem all that long ago when, as a teenager, I would spend summer days like this one in my room writing long letters to numerous pen pals near and far. Part of me misses the writing and receiving of those heartfelt letters, very much. Our Souls at Night

Between podcasts, I’ve been listening to Our Souls at Night on audio. (I saw a print version at the library yesterday and snagged it, so I may switch over to that.) It’s bittersweet that this is Kent Haruf’s last book; it’s told such simply and with such feeling and I’m really liking this story of two people who are struggling with the long-term loneliness that can accompany the loss of loved ones.

What are you reading on this steamy Sunday?

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