Book Roundup: May 2017

NUMBER OF BOOKS READ: 11

NUMBER OF FEMALE AUTHORS VS MALE AUTHORS: Great month for ladies! 9 women (one who wrote two of my books), and 1 male.

NUMBER OF DIVERSE (non-American) SETTINGS: Two travel memoirs that take place all over the world, two fantasies, two set in Europe, and one set in a dystopian near-future America… does that count?

RATINGS SPREAD:  Three 5-star; Two 4-star; Four 3-star; Two 2-star. Interesting spread.

 

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WHAT I READ: A Court of Wings and Ruin (ACOTAR #3) Sarah J. Maas

WHY I READ IT: Duh.

WHAT I THOUGHT: *hearts for eyes* FOREVER.

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WHAT I READ: Into the Water (Paula Hawkins)

WHY I READ IT: Hawkins wrote The Girl On The Train, which I did enjoy.

WHAT I THOUGHT: No, thank you. I generally love this style of book and it was one of the most boring and confusing thrillers I’ve ever read.

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WHAT I READ: Windfall (Jennifer E. Smith)

WHY I READ IT: The author is actually friends with my roommate.

WHAT I THOUGHT: It was cute enough, but there was a lot that had me shaking my head and wishing the author had fleshed it out more.

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WHAT I READ: Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass #3), Sarah J. Maas

WHY I READ IT: Still trying to slug through one of my favorite’s authors beloved series

WHAT I THOUGHT: I like it enough to read the next one, but I still don’t love it NEARLY as much as ACOTAR series. Sorry not sorry!

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WHAT I READ: The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)

WHY I READ IT: I first read it 4 years ago (almost to the day, according to Goodreads) and decided to give it a re-read with the new Hulu show.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Worth the hype.

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WHAT I READAll Over The Place: Adventures in Travel, True Love, and Petty Theft (Geraldine DeRuiter)

WHY I READ IT: I’ve been a big fan of the author’s blog The Everywhereist for years.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Just what I wanted – a quick, breezy afternoon read, but utterly delightful, hilarious, and thoughtful.

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WHAT I READ: Beartown (Fredrik Backman)

WHY I READ IT: Backmann, the author of A Man Called Ove, is one of my favorite authors and an automatic read for me.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Utterly different from his other novels, no one would qualify this book as “feel good” or “whimsical.” Despite the challenging subject matter, I absolutely loved it and this was one of the best books I’ve read this year.

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WHAT I READ: At Home In The World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe (Tsh Oxenreider)

WHY I READ IT: I’m always interested in travel writing, particularly with this theme of the pull of being a homebody while also having wanderlust.

WHAT I THOUGHT: As a series of blog posts, I bet this would be great. As a novel with no central theme, it was an incredibly weak read.

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WHAT I READ: First Ladies (Kate Andersen Brower)

WHY I READ IT: The premise – exploring the lives of First Ladies from Jackie Kennedy to Michelle Obama – sounded interesting.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Interesting premise, uneven outcome. It was basically just a series of anecdotes.

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WHAT I READ: The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas)

WHY I READ IT: It’s a very popular contemporary book inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Far smarter people than me have written exhaustively about this book, but I will just say it sunk deep into my bones and I can’t stop thinking about it.

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WHAT I READ: Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? and Other Questions You Should Have Answers To When You Work In The White House (Alyssa Mastromonaco)

WHY I READ IT: I heard the author interviewed on Pod Save America and was intrigued about a memoir written by a woman working in the Obama White House.

WHAT I THOUGHT: The title is terrible, but this was amusing enough to read over a quick two-day period.

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Book Roundup: April 2017

NUMBER OF BOOKS READ: 11 (although one is technically a novella)

NUMBER OF FEMALE AUTHORS VS MALE AUTHORS: 9 authors total; 5 men, 4 women.

NUMBER OF DIVERSE (non-American) SETTINGS: 2 set in a fantasy world, 1 set in a ghost world, 1 in Sweden, and 1 in Ethiopia. So, kind of diverse?

RATINGS SPREAD:  Four 5-star books; Two 4-star books; Five 5-star books. At least no clunkers!

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WHAT I READ: Lincoln in the Bardo (George Saunders)

WHY I READ IT: Well-reviewed book that popped up on my radar.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Mostly meh, an over-the-top creative writing exercise.

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WHAT I READThrone of Glass (Sarah J. Maas)

WHY I READ IT: I decided to reread a book by one of my favorite authors that I had read in 2013 and didn’t really love then.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Turns out, I didn’t really love this book now, but I love Maas enough to keep pushing through to the next book in the series!

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WHAT I READAnd Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer and Longer (Fredrik Backman)

WHY I READ IT: Backman wrote one of my all-time favorites, A Man Called Ove, and my pledge is to read every other thing he’s written. This is a short novella about a young man losing his grandfather to dementia.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Backman makes all of my emotions come out of my eyes, even in a novella I’m able to read in half an hour.

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WHAT I READAll the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation (Rebecca Traister)

WHY I READ IT: It was one of my bookish resolutions to read more nonfiction!

WHAT I THOUGHT: I would have liked a tad more qualitative research and anecdotes from women and a tad less in the numbers department, but it was an incredibly detailed look at the status of women in American history and where we stand now.

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WHAT I READAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Benjamin Alire Sáenz)

WHY I READ IT: I was literally shamed in book club for not having read it and immediately purchased a copy to remedy.

WHAT I THOUGHT: The hype is real, guys. Absolutely incredible coming-of-age story, beautiful writing.

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WHAT I READMore Happy Than Not (Adam Silvera)

WHY I READ IT: I’m not sure how this ended up on my list, but I read a book by this author a few months ago and really enjoyed it.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Another LGBT coming-of-age story, but totally insane twists I did not expect (and I’m glad I didn’t read the synopsis too closely so I could be surprised).

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WHAT I READ: Crown of Midnight (Sarah Maas)

WHY I READ IT: The next book in the Throne of Glass series.

WHAT I THOUGHT: SO much better than the first. Excellent character development, stakes, and set-up for the next book.

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WHAT I READBlack Dove, White Raven (Elizabeth Wein)

WHY I READ IT: May book club book!

WHAT I THOUGHT: Considering the book love for Wein’s previous works (Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire) – and how much I particularly loved the latter – this one fell flat for me. Uneven first and second half, not enough character development, and while it was interesting to read about this time period in Ethiopia, it was dull at times.

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WHAT I READAmerican War (Omar Al Akkad)

WHY I READ IT: It’s the hottest new book out now.

WHAT I THOUGHT: 5 stars for concept, 3 stars for execution. The story idea of a Second American Civil War is really interesting (and scary), but this book ebbed and flowed from interesting to dull. So much potential that I’m not sure it quite reached. I feel this book will be lauded because of its sexy concept, but the bones don’t quite match.

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WHAT I READThe Upside of Unrequited (Becky Albertalli)

WHY I READ IT: I loved the author’s last book, Simon vs. The Homo Sapien Agenda

WHAT I THOUGHT: Finished in one day, this book was slightly less interesting than her previous work but still a delight to read and wonderful in its intersectional exploration of teenage life. I particularly love how the author let the protagonist have anxiety and be taking medication (without making a huge deal out of it); it’s so important to normalize it in culture, just like someone having to take medication for something like diabetes or a heart problem.

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WHAT I READThe Inexplicable Logic of my Life (Benjamin Alire Sáenz)

WHY I READ IT: This is the author of Aristotle and Dante.

WHAT I THOUGHT: A wonderful and beautiful read (someone might have teared up on the stationary bike at the gym while reading this, y’all), but ultimately a bit thin compared to his last novel.

And that’s April!

A Tale of Two Books

Completely by coincidence, I read two books this month with remarkably similar set-ups – coming-of-age male LGBTQ characters – back to back. Neither book had really been on my radar, either: I picked up Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe at a bookstore after getting shamed at book club for not having read it, and the next day decided to pull More Happy Than Not from my local library without really looking at its plot.

I finished Aristotle first, delighting in its simple but beautiful language and the relatively straightforward set-up of two teenage boys and best friends discovering their feelings for each other (I also loved the secondary plot of these boys being Mexican in a 1980s Texas border town and what that means for their lives and life journeys). The cover alone is also incredibly gorgeous, may I say. Diving into More Happy Than Not, I was surprised (although not upset) when I discovered it was going to be remarkably similar – a teenage boy discovering his feelings for his male best friend. Even its setting in modern-day New York, with a Latino protagonist, allowed for similar motifs to float through.

But then… the *TWIST* in More Happy Than Not occurs, and I was COMPLETELY gobsmacked. It’s hinted in the summary – which I had ignored – but it really takes the book in a different sci-fi direction.

WHAT I READ:

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Benjamin Sáenz) and More Happy Than Not (Adam Silvera)

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 coming-of-age stories, I give Aristotle 5 Texas summers and More Happy 5 mysterious neurological procedures.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

More Happy Than Not:

In his twisty, gritty, profoundly moving debut—called “mandatory reading” by the New York Times—Adam Silvera brings to life a charged, dangerous near-future summer in the Bronx.

In the months after his father’s suicide, it’s been tough for 16-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again–but he’s still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he’s slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely.

When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron’s crew notices, and they’re not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can’t deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is.

Why does happiness have to be so hard?

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe:

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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In short, even though these books seem to be very similar, they take off in wildly different directions – and I thoroughly enjoyed both. Must-adds to your reading list.

Stuff You Definitely Missed In History Class

A few years ago, I listened to an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Stuff You Missed in History Class, about a subject I had definitely never been taught: “The Tulsa Race Riots and Black Wall Street.”  I HIGHLY encourage you stop reading this immediately and spend the next 30 minutes listening to that episode. This extremely traumatic episode in recent American history is more than merely a race riot: it is a black holocaust and one that was virtually scrubbed from American history books until very recently.

Essentially, in 1921 a suburb of Tulsa populated mainly by black people was looted and destroyed over a two-day period by a mob of white Tulsa citizens, including law enforcement and National Guard members. Hundreds of people (mostly black people) died, many thousands of black people lost literally everything, and it was deliberately scrubbed from any official historical mention until the 1990s – with no official recognition by the state until 2001. (And, of course, survivors and their descendants have received no insurance payments or reparations to this day.)

All this to say, I had no idea my most recent book club read was about these race riots until I was well into it, sparking my memory from years past that I had once spent thirty minutes learning about this historical episode via a podcast. I am extremely thankful for both this podcast and this wonderful book for exposing me to this forgotten part of our dark history.

WHAT I READ:

Dreamland Burning (Jennifer Latham)

SNAPSHOT REVIEW:

On a scale of 1 to 5 baby detective teenage girls, I give this 4 Victrolas.

#FirstFifty Synopsis:

SOMEONE (me) returned this book to the library before remembering to do this, so I’ll just copy the Goodreads description:

When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her family’s property, she has no idea that investigating the brutal century-old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the past, the present, and herself.

One hundred years earlier, a single violent encounter propels seventeen-year-old Will Tillman into a racial firestorm. In a country rife with violence against blacks and a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will must make hard choices on a painful journey towards self discovery and face his inner demons in order to do what’s right the night Tulsa burns.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL:

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This book does a wonderful job at making ignored history come alive, and I liked both the present-day mystery and the past-day retelling of the horrible events. The few quibbles I had with it (hence the 4/5 stars): first, some of the characters were very one-dimensional. In particular, the present-day lead’s best friend is really just there so she has someone to say her thoughts out loud to, and has no other role in her life. Second, I wish the villain wasn’t QUITE such a caricature. The author gave him some interesting dimension at the end, but I think it would have been more powerful had the villain been a more major character who was nuanced and seemed like a “good guy” whose true colors are revealed when the riots break out.

But, all quibbles aside, this book is incredible for its historical impact and highly recommended.

Book Roundup: March 2017

NUMBER OF BOOKS READ: 8. A bit of a slow month for me.

NUMBER OF FEMALE AUTHORS VS MALE AUTHORS: All ladies!

NUMBER OF DIVERSE (non-American) SETTINGS: Technically 2 had many scenes set outside of the U.S., but since those two were set in 1) England and 2) various locations visited by an American, I don’t know if it counts. Whoops! What I DO like is a lot of the books I read – especially All the Ugly and Wonderful Things and Dreamland Burning – explore parts of America and its ugly underbelly in ways I did not previously explore.

RATINGS SPREAD: Four 5-star reviews, Two 4-star reviews, Two 3-star reviews. Good month!

 

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WHAT I READ: All The Ugly and Wonderful Things (Bryn Greenwood)

WHY I READ IT: On many Best of 2016 lists.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Incredibly challenging, hard to decide how I feel, but such a well-written slice of life that kept me compelled the whole time.

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WHAT I READ: My Husband’s Wife (Jane Corry)

WHY I READ IT: One of my favorite lifestyle bloggers was reading it!

WHAT I THOUGHT: A fun read, but it could have used some structural readjustment to decide what kind of book it was going to be.

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WHAT I READ: The Diviners (Libba Bray)

WHY I READ IT: A podcast I listen to recommend this (and its sequel) as one of the Best Books They Read in 2016.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Totally scared the piss out of me (I’m very ladylike) and is definitively NSFchildren, but I’m pumped to dive into Book #2.

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WHAT I READ: Lair of Dreams (Libba Bray)

WHY I READ IT: See above!

WHAT I THOUGHT: Still totally scary, but I liked this one even more than the first. Too bad we aren’t closer to October and the release of the third!

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WHAT I READ: A Court of Thorns and Roses (Sarah J. Maas)

WHY I READ IT: I first read this book in 2015 and decided to give it a reread when I was sick and had little brainpower for anything else.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Ugh, I love this book SO much. I’m so glad I decided to give it a reread – it just hits everything I need in a book, AND it turns out the 3rd book comes out in early May so I had good timing in my reread!

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WHAT I READ: A Court of Mist and Fury (Sarah J. Maas)

WHY I READ IT: BECAUSE THESE BOOKS BLOW MY SKIRT UP AND I LOVE THEM!!

WHAT I THOUGHT: May 2nd cannot come soon enough. GIMME MORE!

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WHAT I READ: Dreamland Burning (Jennifer Latham)

WHY I READ IT: Book club!

WHAT I THOUGHT: An incredible and important re-telling of a deliberately hidden historical event. More to come next week.

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WHAT I READ: What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding (Kristin Newman)

WHY I READ IT: Even though her name is spelled incorrectly in my opinion, I do like travel memoirs.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Well-written, albeit a little eye-rolley at times as all travel memoirs are, but I still slammed through this book and enjoyed reading it.

 

Need more thorough reviews? Goodreads, baby.

Book Roundup: January 2017

This was the first month into my 2017 resolution to read harder books more deeply, and I expected that each month my total number of books read would be a little lower than usual. But at 9 books read this month, I was actually pretty on-par with my normal reading schedule, and I still feel like I had a good combination of heavy and light books. On to the stats!

NUMBER OF BOOKS READ: 10

NUMBER OF FEMALE AUTHORS VS MALE AUTHORS: All ladies this month!

NUMBER OF DIVERSE (non-American) SETTINGS: 3, although two of those are in Ireland (well, technically one in Ireland and one in a apocalyptic probably former Ireland).

RATINGS SPREAD: Two 5-star, One 4-star, Five 3-star, Two 2-star,

Want more? Goodreads, baby.

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WHAT I READ: The Wonder (Emma Donaghue)

WHY I READ IT: Big fan of her Room.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Meh on my end. Good atmosphere-building, but as a full-length novel it dragged.

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WHAT I READ: Spare and Found Parts (Sarah Maria Griffin)

WHY I READ IT: Book club!

WHAT I THOUGHT: If not for book club, I don’t think I would have kept reading it. I just didn’t get a lot of why the characters did what they did, and it was hard to get into the world.

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WHAT I READ: Today Will Be Different (Maria Semple)

WHY I READ IT: This book was all over the blogs as super-good, and I did mostly enjoy her Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

WHAT I THOUGHT: I liked the book, but didn’t love it. I wanted it to be a better exploration of adult mental health, but it didn’t do a deep dive into a whole lot.

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WHAT I READ: Talking As Fast As I Can (Lauren Graham)

WHY I READ IT: Love me some Graham crackers, and especially Gilmore Girls! 

WHAT I THOUGHT: It was very similar to a lot of other celebrity memoirs – some interesting chapters (mostly about the making of GG) but ultimately just a lot of fluff that was clearly written to get her a boost in sales coinciding with the new episodes.

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WHAT I READ: This is Where It Ends (Marieke Nijkamp)

WHY I READ IT: Another one popular on the blogs.

WHAT I THOUGHT: I REALLY did not like it.

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WHAT I READ: Boy, Snow, Bird (Helen Oyeyemi)

WHY I READ IT: One of those “must-reads,” lent from a friend.

WHAT I THOUGHT: Really more of 1.5 stars than 2 stars for me, I really did not like it. It just wasn’t compelling enough to read to the end, and I ended up skimming a lot.

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WHAT I READ: Strangers In Their Own Land (Arlie Hochschild)

WHY I READ IT: Part of my read harder pledge, this nonfiction narrative explores the “Great Paradox” of conservative America (specifically in Louisiana).

WHAT I THOUGHT: I’ll have a lot more to say in a later post, but I LOVED this book – both as a piece of writing (very well done and compelling) and as a piece of research.

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WHAT I READ: Dear Mr. You (Mary-Louise Parker. Yes, that Mary-Louise Parker)

WHY I READ IT: One of my favorite (travel) bloggers highlighted this as a favorite of 2016.

WHAT I THOUGHT: My god, I loved this book. One of my two five-star books of the month. This is the most unique celebrity memoir I’ve ever read, as Parker uses a combination of prose and poetic prose to convey key moments in her life via a series of letters to men – some significant men in her life, like her father and grandfather, others seemingly less significant (but you come to see how they keyed into her being) like a cab driver or a firefighter she passed on the street. So beautiful, so tear-worthy.

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WHAT I READ: Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

WHY I READ IT: I was tragically behind the curve on this beautiful book.

WHAT I THOUGHT: One of my other five-star books for the month; I can’t believe I waited this long.

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WHAT I READ: My Name is Lucy Barton (Elizabeth Strout)

WHY I READ IT: Her Olive Kitteridge is something I moderately enjoyed.

WHAT I THOUGHT: I bumped this up to 3 stars, but it was really more like 2.5. Beautiful writing, but pretty meh.

My 2017 Bookish Resolutions

This is my first year setting resolutions specifically linked to reading. I’ve always been a voracious reader but in the past year I’ve gotten more deeply involved in the book community than ever – following blogs and podcasts, joining a local bookstore bookclub, and keeping a finger on the best new releases from multiple genres. And so, what better way to start 2017 (which will probably be a terrible year for a lot of other reasons) than by setting intentional and varied book goals?

Read fewer books than I did in 2016

Last year I read the most books I ever have – well over 100, peaking at about 135 books. At a rate of about 2.5 books a week, that makes sense to me. If it’s a normal work day, I usually get about 3 hours of reading in between my commute and my lunch – and you can get a lot of pages read in 3 hours, never mind what I add on when I get home.

But, I found that reading so many books meant I read a lot of fluff books. I detest when people decry Young Adult literature or use the demeaning phrase “chick lit,” so I’m not referring to my propensity to read books in those genres. In fact, most of my favorite, most meaningful, and oftentimes very serious books come from those categories. But, there were still many books that were instantly forgettable, and I regret that I can’t remember anything about the book when someone asks me about it later.

So, this year I’m trying to read fewer books. I’ll accomplish this by picking meatier books (more below) and reading a little bit more slowly and more deeply.

Read one classic novel written by a female every three months

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I did all your usual high school reading list books (To Kill a Mockingbird, etc), but there are so many classic – and, by all accounts, excellent – books that somehow have either gone unread by me or I only know it via the zeitgeist. So, I’ve pledged to read a classic oversight every quarter, and to stick to books written by women because I’ve had just about enough of white men (more below).

So far I’ve pegged Jane Eyre, Mrs. Dalloway, and The Age of Innocence for this project, but am always looking for more ideas!

Read more nonfiction

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As part of my resolution to read more deeply, I’m adding in more nonfiction to my repertoire – particularly nonfiction about contemporary America. I fully admit to living in a mainly liberal bubble, both online and in real life (hi, living in Boston and working in higher education). So, I want to understand more about how the hell we got to where we are today.

As I write, I’m finishing up Strangers in Their Own Land -a sociologist’s attempt to understand “The Great Paradox” in Louisiana based around the question: “why do the people who would seem to benefit most from ‘liberal’ government intervention abhor the very idea?”  I’m also excited to read EvictedHillbilly Elegyand All The Single Ladies. 

I also really enjoy recent-history nonfiction and have put In The Garden of Beasts and First Women on my TBR.

Be more discerning and wide-ranging

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In general, I’m going to be pickier about what I put on my TBR and much more careful in putting a book on hold at the library. In the past, I’d put a book on hold at the library the second I read about it and would usually get about 5-10 books come in all at the same time – which would put the pressure on me to read incredibly quickly. So, I’m going to be a little pickier about what I read, write it down instead of put it on hold, and then check out books in an organized fashion (Do I sound cool or what?). Two books I’m especially excited to read soon are A Gentleman in Moscow and My Name is Lucy Barton.  

I’m also going to be intentional about picking more diverse books set in locations besides the United States and Europe, and written by diverse authors. In my TBR pile next to my bed as we speak is Americanah – I can’t wait to report back on that.

 

So, there you have it! I’m interested in seeing how many books I end up reading this year, but mostly I’m excited to see how I end up liking them. And don’t you worry – I’ll still be reading way too much YA and female-centric literature.