Tag Archives: Mary-Louise Parker

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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currently … wrapping up christmas

Christmas Eve - presents

Christmas Eve, 2015

Currently
It’s our last night of our Christmas vacation in Philly. We’ve been here just shy of a week, enjoying a nice balance of seeing family and friends (usually over brunch or dinner) while also having some downtime (usually spent reading or writing).  It’s always impossible to fit in everyone who we’d like to see and all we’d like to do, but I think it worked out well this time.

Tomorrow’s a travel day back to the “Burgh, then I’m off on Tuesday. Whenever possible, I try to give myself a “re-entry day” on the tail end of these trips. It’s back to work on Wednesday — along with one final dentist appointment this year to use up some insurance dollars — before another few remaining vacation days segue into a long weekend.

Christmas Reading

Like FamilyRDear Mr. You

I admit, I’m scrambling to meet my goal of 52 books read in 2015.  Right now, my tally is 47 (much lower than previous years).  This may be attainable if I stick to shorter books, but I’m not sure.

Reading short books was my strategy for this trip.  So far on this vacation, I’ve read one —Like Family by Paolo Giordano. I was so excited to see this one at the library because I loved (but, sadly, didn’t review) his previous novel, The Solitude of Prime Numbers.  I really liked this new one, which I breezed through in a few hours (if that). Told in flashback and set in Italy, it’s about a couple who hire a housekeeper, Mrs. A., to help out during a difficult pregnancy and who stays on as a nanny for several years. After Mrs. A. is diagnosed with cancer, she decides to leave the household abruptly. The book, then, is about how she has changed the course of the couple’s marriage and their lives.

Right now I’m reading Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker, which is incredibly well-written and very likely to be on my favorites list. This exactly the reason why I usually don’t post my best-of lists before year’s end; this time of year often brings more opportunities than usual to read and more often than not, something I read while we finish up this trip around the sun surprises and delights me.  Dear Mr. You is going to be that book. The concept is fantastic: it’s structured as a collection of letters that Ms. Parker has written to each of the significant men in her life.

Christmas Not Reading …
For the past few years, I’ve enjoyed spending part of Christmas week with a holiday-themed story. The timing of this needs to be carefully considered and calibrated; I don’t like to start this particular book much before Christmas Eve and I like to be finished by the day after Christmas. This started in 2011 when I reviewed A Clockwork Christmas, a collection of four steampunk tales.

A Christmas Carol was my 2012 selection, followed by The Chimes last year. (I’m not sure what happened in 2013. Maybe A Christmas Carol again, I don’t know.)  I wasn’t impressed with The Chimes, and I was even less enamored with this year’s selection, The Cricket on the Hearth. Slightly less than halfway through this one, there was still no sign of Christmas in Dickens’ long-winded and discombobulated narrative.  This happened to be one of my Classics Club selections, too (although not the one for this most recent spin), so I’ll probably replace it with something.

Christmas Listening …
Between wrapping gifts and a few bouts of insomnia, I’ve been listening to more podcasts than usual. Here are some of the best:

The Writer’s Almanac: “The Meeting” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (12/25/2015)
Such a perfect poem for Christmas when you’re missing someone special.

Burnt Toast: “Someone Put a Diaper on the Turkey” (12/17/2015)
Listeners’ stories of hilarious holiday disasters involving food.

New Yorker Poetry: Ellen Bass Reads Adam Zagajewski (12/16/2015)
Adam Zagajewski’s poem “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” resonated with me.

On Being: Martin Sheen: Spirituality of Imagination (12/16/2015)
Fantastic interview with actor and activist Martin Sheen about his spirituality.

“Yeah, the love that I longed for, and I think all of us really long for, is knowing that we are loved. A knowingness about our being that unites us to all of humanity, to all of the universe. That despite ourselves, we are loved. And when you realize that, and you embrace that, you begin to look at everyone else and you can see very clearly who in your vision knows they’re loved and who does not. And that makes all the difference. And I began to give thanks and praise for that love. You know how, so often, people say they go on this journey — and I said it, too — that “I’m looking for God.” But God has already found us, really. We have to look in the spot where we’re least likely to look, and that is within ourselves. And when we find that love, that presence, deep within our own personal being — and it’s not something that you can earn, or something that you can work towards. It’s just a realization of being human, of being alive, of being conscious. And that love is overwhelming. And that is the basic foundation of joy. And we become enviable joyful. And then we see it in others, and we seek to ignite that love in others. You can’t do it. You can’t force someone to realize they’re loved, but you can show them.” – Martin Sheen

The Moth Podcast: Eve Plumb and The Pittsburgh StorySLAM (12/15/2015) 
Eve Plumb (you know her as Jan Brady) is hilarious in this episode of The Moth where she shares stories about her childhood on and off the set of The Brady Bunch, and her relationship with her mother. In another story (not involving Eve Plumb or Jan Brady), a slideshow of photos intended for an audience of two winds up being shown at a family gathering.

Christmas Shopping …
The Husband, The Girl, and I all received some great books for Christmas — and The Girl and I went on a little bit of a shopping spree (thanks to her Christmas cash burning a hole in her pocket) at two local independent bookstores.  I need to wrap up this post, though, and get to bed, so I’ll plan on doing that recap separately.

Anticipating … 
I can’t believe this is the last Sunday Salon/Currently for 2015!  I really like doing these posts (even though they tend to take me forever) and in looking back over my blogging this year, oftentimes they’ve been the only posts I’ve written in a particular week.  I’m hoping to remedy that in 2016.

In addition to the book haul from this week, I have a few other fun posts planned.  Hope your holidays were good ones and that you have a great last week of 2015!

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