Begun as a blog about an academic year spent in St. Andrews, Scotland; posts now explore living in California, Vermont and New Hampshire, photography, travel, creative writing, book reviews, and reflections on race, religion, and education.
We may be many weeks into the new year, but I love looking back on what I read the year before and as these lists from friends tend to help me in choosing what to read next, I though I'd share some of my favorite books from last year! I didn't include every book I read and I may have read more than one book by Jimmy Carter (they're quick reads!), but included just one here. 13 of these 24 were listened to as audiobooks (plenty of driving last year!). I finally learned too, that non-fiction audiobooks tend to work well, fiction audiobooks, not as much.
Bossypants: Funny and thoughtful. Interesting to learn more about Fey's journey and professional and personal outlook. God Help the Child: Deep and beautiful. I had only ever read The Bluest Eye by Morrison in high school. This felt like a mixture of novel and poetry on modern-day race relations in the U.S. The Lovers: Afghanistan's Romeo and Juliet: Moving and fascinating. Examining an Afghan couple from different backgrounds who fall in love and spend years running away from their families and government. Tragic to understand the society and laws that remain so discriminatory towards women. The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A tiny bit sleepy, but I found it pretty fascinating and would recommend. I'm happy to live in modern times. How to Raise an Adult:A book read for work, but I really loved it! Explored how today's children and teenagers are over-parented, reaching the age of 18 with an inability to live their own life, make decisions and know what they desire, not what society and their parents desire. A Man Called Ove:Funny and touching. A great novel with many important points.
Big Magic: Inspirational! About the creativity in each of us, how we must take time to explore it, not dismiss it, and how much good comes to our lives when we embrace our artistic interests. Devil in the White City: A long-time bestseller I just picked up. Fascinating, historical, eerie, well-written. Men We Reaped: I had wanted to read this book for a couple of years, I was particularly interested in Ward's childhood in rural Mississippi and her account of losing 5 young men close to her including her brother and cousin within a short period of time to accidents, drugs, and suicide. All were under the age of 25. Having lost a friend to suicide four years ago, I found so many parallels in Ward's story and was particularly touched by how she described her community failing its young men through poverty and few opportunities. Hillbilly Elegy: Another one with so much to say about. I loved it and have really enjoyed the conversations I've been able to have with my Mom after she read it recently. I've read the articles arguing that it does not provide a fair look, but if nothing else, it shows an American experience we rarely see. Brown Girl Dreaming: Poetic and lyrical. For adolescents, explores several different layers and perspectives of the 20th century civil rights movement. My Life on the Road: Excellent. I loved learning more about Steinem's experience as a feminist leader, community organizer, and constant traveler. I felt such a connection to her in also loving travel and struggling to be in the same place for long. She's lived a remarkable life.
Night on Fire: Similar to Brown Girl Dreaming. For adolescents, lovely and thought-provoking. Missoula: Very hard to listen to in many parts, but a necessary and very well researched book on how rape on college campuses can far too easily be swept under the rug. The backdrop is Montana's vast wilderness. Life After Life:Quite mesmerizing. I listened to the audiobook of it and would have loved to have picked up on more details. It was excellent historical fiction as the main character is born again and again and again in 20th century England, living a different life intertwined with world history each time. Alligator Lake:Possibly my favorite novel from last year. Very southern, exploring modern-day race relations and family relationships. A great story and I hope Lynne Bryant writes more books. The Book Thief:I had started it a few years ago and didn't finish it. There were moments it didn't completely hold my interest, but I can understand why it's viewed as such an extraordinary book. The ending and very last pages will stay with me for a long time. The Glass Castle:Similar to Hillbilly Elegy but a little bit funnier and from a female perspective. A touching story of overcoming poverty.
Between the World and Me: I don't think I can write anything that would convey how excellent and necessary this book is. It deserves a re-read from me, is incredibly tender and thought-provoking on the ongoing racial division and what it means to be a black man in the U.S. today. Because We Are: A great story, set in modern-day Haiti, part mystery with complex and life-like characters. A Full Life:Interesting and sweet. Carter tells his life story. I particularly loved his childhood in rural Georgia in the 1920s and 30s without technology or modern inventions and how he dissected many of his decisions as president. Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter: Not as sensational as the title suggests. A thorough and tragic look at how intellectual disabilities were viewed in the mid-twentieth century. Etched in Granite: A very local book! It came on my radar when I visited my small town library's website early last year and saw that the author was coming for a visit. I began the book, attended her discussion, and finished it a week or two later. Local and historic, it's set on a "poor farm" in the nineteenth century in the White Mountains, less than an hour away from where I lived. The book was inspired by a small cemetery in the area with tombstones marked only by numbers representing residents of the workhouse. It was well written, haunting and recognizable, as forest cemeteries and country roads and farms all felt familiar. There were so many recognizable towns and scenes and just typing this now makes me long for those empty, winding dark roads in the middle of a New Hampshire winter with so much sky and hills and dense forests. I look forward to reading her second book. At the Edge of the Orchard:I love Tracy Chevalier's books and while this didn't quite compare to Girl with a Pearl Earring or The Last Runaway, it was excellently written and the historical fiction I was looking for.