Friday, December 29, 2017

Year-End Book Wrapup '17

My goal this year was to read 50 books and to complete the Read Harder Challenge. Check and check — I finished the challenge and read 79 books this year: 50 by women and the remaining 29 by men.  The other thing I did was figure out how to check out ebooks from Amazon through my library (actually, through three libraries) and so I cut my book budget down to almost nothing.  Probably should have done it years ago, but better late than never.

Top five books of the year:

1.  The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This edges into the top spot by virtue of its timeliness. So much more than an entertaining young adult novel, The Hate U Give also made me confront and consider my own lingering prejudices. And it’s fun to read, with a great and very real main character! Worth all the hype, and a must-read even if you only rarely read young adult.

2.  The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton
I almost made this a tie for the first-place spot because it is so magnificent. My new favorite Wharton, maybe. I loved the lush writing and Undine Spragg, the anti-hero. Weirdly, it was also pretty timely — I enjoyed reading about a ruthless woman who just goes for what she wants.  It’s like the anti-House of Mirth.

3. Version Control by Dexter Palmer
I recommended this near-future sci-fi book to several friends and none of them loved it. It also was my sleeper pick for Tournament of Books winner, and it got some hate. In other words, I think this is a book that I might have loved more than most people! But it was still one of my favorite reads of the year so here it is at number three, damnit. 

4. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Shocked this did not make it into the Tournament of Books longlist, but I am seeing it on other best-of lists, so I think this one wasn’t just me. I thought the writing was excellent — my favorite straight-up litfic of the year.

5. The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel
I always love Bechdel, and really enjoyed the collection of her strips. However, I could easily make an argument to swap out this spot with anything on the honorable mention list — I read a lot of great stuff this year, and recommend everything on the mentions list as well.

Honorable mentions: All the Birds in the Sky, Moonglow, The Handmaid’s Tale, Kindred, Big Little Lies, Wild, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Texts from Jane Eyre, 11/22/63, How to Murder Your Life, IQ, The Unit, Six Wakes, Holding Up the Universe, Magpie Murders, The Animators.  (I love how many genres are encompassed in this list — what a fun and eclectic reading year.)

Bottom five books:

1. Half a Life by Darin Strauss
Read it for book club and found it lacking in perspective and just irritating. I mean, of course a whiny, privileged white dude would show up in first place here. It is 2017, after all, and I have no patience for it anymore. NEXT.

2. Landline by Rainbow Rowell
I adore Rainbow Rowell so I’m sorry that I hated this. The premise was dumb and forced, and the character of the husband was so awful that you don’t root for a happy ending, so it doesn’t even work as enjoyable fluff. Sorry to say, I disliked this.

3. City of the Lost Monkey God (by Douglas Preston)
Read for the same book club as #1 — I think we need to pick better books.  (And also, I no longer feel compelled to finish a book if I dislike it unless I promised to read it for book club, so maybe that explains it.) Anyway, vaguely interesting, but needed more people eaten by snakes (i.e., some drama).

4. A Place of Execution (by Val McDermid)
Not terrible, but it really dragged as an audiobook.

5. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Here’s my totally unpopular pick, but as good as the audio production was, I had no patience for how penisy and white this was. Sorry about it.

Next year I will up my goal a tad: read 70 books and complete the Read Harder Challenge. I'll be updating this post as the year goes on, as I did last year, with my selections for the challenge, so keep checking back.

I like this year’s challenges better than last year’s —although still a bit repetitive. (I will probably triple up the comic ones. Or quadruple, since I tend to read comics all in one sitting. Maybe if I extend the challenge to graphic novels, I will get more out of it.)  I will probably read Huck Finn for the last category, but am tempted to re-read A Passage to India, which I loathed and is also colonial literature and set in India.  (I like to read something different for each category, but I also like thinking how I can game the system.)

Total: 24/24!

[X] Published posthumously: The Bright Hour
[X] True crime: I'll Be Gone in the Dark
[X] Classic of genre fiction (i.e. mystery, sci fi/fantasy, romance): A Study in Scarlet
[X] Comic written and illustrated by the same person: Your Black Friend
[X] Set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa): Shirley, Goodness and Mercy
[X] About nature: A Walk in the Woods
[X] Western: The Sisters Brothers
[X] Comic written or illustrated by a person of color: Your Black Friend
[X] Colonial or postcolonial literature: Homegoing
[X] Romance novel by or about a person of color: The Wedding Date
[X] Children’s classic published before 1980: A Wrinkle in Time
[X] Celebrity memoir: So Close To Being the S***, Y'all Don't Even Know
[X] Oprah Book Club selection: Love Warrior
[X] Book of social science: Nickel and Dimed
[X] A one-sitting book: Catch Me If You Can
[X] The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series: Space Case (Moon Base Alpha #1)
[X] Sci-fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author: vN
[X] A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image: Your Black Friend
[X] Genre fiction in translation: Inkheart
[X] Book with a cover you hate: Down and Across
[X] Mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author: Righteous
[X] Essay anthology: Nasty Women
[X] Book with a female protagonist over the age of 60: Florence Gordon
[X] Assigned book you hated (or never finished): Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

I can’t wait to dive into more books for 2018! Happy new year, everyone.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Weekend Reads (Magpie Murders and Geekerella)

I read these two delightful genre books over the weekend.

The first is Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. It's actually a murder mystery inside a murder mystery -- the main character is an editor, who gets the latest manuscript from her star author, the final book in a murder mystery series he's been writing.  We get most of that manuscript, then... complications ensue. If you like old fashioned Agatha Christie mysteries crossed with some postmodernist shenanigans -- in other words, exactly my sweet spot -- you will enjoy this!

The second novel I read, Geekerella by Ashley Poston, is a super charming and adorable love letter to fandom. Reminded me of the equally charming Queens of Geek, as well as my unpublished young adult novel, which has one or two similar plotlines! The Cinderella formula just works, even though it is a bit odd that Cinderella apparently exists in the Geekerella world (it is referenced at the end) and yet the story is so on the nose  -- down to the glass slipper.  I also noticed moments that paid homage to that great Angelica Huston classic, Ever After.  (The main character's name, Danielle, seems like one.) This one is recommended for nerdy YA fans who enjoyed Queens of Geek.

It's always nice to have a fun page turner going over the weekend. This time I got two!

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