Tag Archives: Oscar Wilde

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: currently

The Sunday Salon

Currently: In my usual weekend spot on the deck with a Mason jar of water, the Sunday paper and my current read (Belief Is It’s Own Kind of Truth, Maybe by my friend, Pittsburgh author Lori Jakiela). Nothing on the agenda today except reading, preparing a few blog posts for the week ahead, finishing a book review, getting caught up on the two online courses I’m taking, and potentially watching Steelers football on TV tonight.  I can’t think of a better way to spend a gorgeous summer’s day. (Well, aside from being at the beach, that is, but that’s not where we’re at.)

Reading: I was between books earlier this week, not quite sure what I was in the mood for next, and decided to try something unusual for me – finishing an entire issue of The New Yorker. To my surprise, I actually did. I tend to read the magazine piecemeal: an article here, a short story there, and pretty soon I have piles of them around the house with those insert cards bookmarking my spot.

The New Yorker - July 6 and 13 “Five Hostages,” an article in the July 6 and 13 issue, deserves a mention because it was so compelling and heartbreaking. Those families … I simply cannot imagine the anguish they went through, and to not be able to tell anyone that their child was a hostage in Syria while they personally were negotiating with ISIS. The focus of the piece (which I had to read over several days and in brief intervals because it was so emotionally intense) is how the abandonment they felt led them to join forces with each other and David Bradley, the owner of the media company that owns The Atlantic. He took an active, personal interest in bringing the hostages home, as Lawrence Wright has written in this incredible piece of journalism.

Incidentally, if you haven’t listened to the July 21 interview with New Yorker editor David Remnick on WNYC’s podcast “Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin,” it is well worth the 48 minutes. Very insightful and entertaining, as most of the episodes on this podcast are. (This one is quickly becoming one of my favorites.)

Oh, and if you are a listener of “Here’s the Thing,” what the hell was that interview with Paul Simon earlier this week? Holy shit. I’ve never heard an interview where the subject sounded so miserable. Seriously, Paul Simon came across as a total ass, and I say that as a fan of his – although slightly less of one now. Uncomfortable to listen to doesn’t describe that.

Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe

As mentioned, on Friday I started reading Pittsburgh author Lori Jakiela’s new memoir Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe. She had me from her first sentence: “When my real mother dies, I go looking for another one.”  Belief is described as part adoption narrative and part meditation on family, motherhood, and what it means to make authentic connections. So far, 43 pages into this, it delivers.

Listening To: In the car, my listening is still primarily podcasts, which I can’t get enough of. I’m also listening to the audio book of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, which is so incredibly good. I have this on my Kindle and I can’t believe I’ve never read this one, but that’s what The Classics Club is for. (This is one of my selections, mainly because it has been on my TBR forever.)

Counting: Speaking of TBRs, have you guys done that quiz/calculator thing that’s making the rounds on Facebook about how long it will take you to read your entire TBR pile?  My results are depressing as hell. With 1,870 books on my “want-to-read” Goodreads list (yes, really) the TBR calculator informs me that reading all 1,870 books will take me 26 years and 8 months and I’ll finish on March 29, 2042 when I am 73 years old.

It lies: I’ll only be 72 on that date, with 73 looming a few days later. But, hey, what’s a year when it is going to take me 26 of them to read all the books I want – without adding a single thing to said want-to-read list?

Learning: Because a coworker mentioned how much she is enjoying MOOCs (massive online open courses), I decided to see what they are all about. Needless to say, I’m completely hooked on them, too. I told my mom that I was registered for a total of five online courses between now and throughout the fall, and she asked how I possibly found the time for five classes.  (She knows the answer to that: I’m the world’s worst when it comes to cleaning my house, as I have no interest in that crap.)

Anyway, I’ll be spending some time today trying to wrap up what I can of Weeks 3, 4, 5, and 6 of “Literature and the Country House,” my first course and one that is being offered through the University of Sheffield in Sheffield, UK. When I announced to The Facebook that I was doing this, more than a few thought I was actually spending six weeks in England taking this course in person. I wish. Instead, I’m on my deck in Pittsburgh dusting off the English part of my English/Communications degree while reading poetry and excerpts from “Hamlet” and other classics. I’m more than a little behind, but that’s the beauty of MOOCs. Besides being free, they tend to move at one’s own pace.

My second course, “Childhood in the Digital Age,” started this past Monday with The Open University. That’s a bit shorter (only four weeks) and seems like it will be easier to keep up with. This one has some connections with my job, in a sense, so there are practical and personal reasons for participating in this.

Watching: Probably the Steelers vs. Vikings game tonight because … Steelers football, baby! Whoooo!

Hope you’re having a great Sunday!

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