2017 In Review: My Year In Books

CaptureIn a year marked by tragedy—both personal and political—I turned to books, as usual, for solace, answers, escape, and laughter. I had set out to read 20 books in 2017 (I’d forgotten about this goal until I recently logged into my Goodreads account) and ended up reading only eight books. Better luck next year! Despite the many challenges of 2017, I found lots of pleasure in the books I read this year, and so I present to you (in hopes that you might enjoy a few, too) my year in books, in chronological order:

1. South and West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion

Only Joan Didion can publish excerpts from her notes and captivate an audience. As a fan of Joan Didion, I greatly appreciated this book. Written in 1970 after a month trip to the South without a specific story in mind, Didion’s notes offer a unique outsider’s perspective on life in the South and the reader can see through her observations how the mostly unchanged South has influenced our current political climate.

2. No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering by Thich Naht Hahn

I purchased this book shortly after my mom’s passing in order to start to grapple with grief (which as many of you know is a lifelong journey). Many of the ideas in this book resonated with me–particularly the idea that one shouldn’t try to push away suffering in order to find happiness; both have to peacefully coexist. Hahn also talked about the idea that we often let “les petites miseres” of life cause us more suffering than its worth. I’m pretty new to meditating (as in, I’ve done it a handful of times), but the mantras at the end of the book providing helpful centering exercises.

3. A Farm Dies Once A Year: A Memoir by Arlo Crawford

I’d come across this title on a list of promising nonfiction to read in 2014. I’d picked up the book in 2014 at a time when I relate to the narrator-a young 30-something who was questioning his purpose in life and searching for meaning. Also like the narrator, I fantasized about simplifying my life and moving to a farm to live and work of the land (instead I opted to return to the field of teaching). I finally read this book it in its entirety this year when I decided I was going to rotate fiction and nonfiction. I found that by now, I no longer could relate to the narrator and the story felt a little trite, the narrator a little whiny, and the idea of showing up to one’s parents’ farm to live and work for a year and then move a little too classic millennial for my tastes.

4. Moonglow by Michael Chabon

This book was given to me last Christmas by my mom and it turned out to be the last book she would ever give me, so this book has a lot of sentimental value to me in addition to it being a beautifully-written and intriguing story. We’d first heard of the book a couple summers ago while watching a segment on PBS Newshour where Michael Chabon spoke about his process for writing Moonglow, which is billed as a “faux-memoir novel,” and we were intrigued. The story takes place in 1989 while the narrator’s grandfather is on his deathbed. While on medication, he tells the narrator stories about his life, which is also interspersed with the narrator’s memories of his childhood. The novel plays with the conventions of fiction and memoir and I was pleased to hear Michael Chabon read from Moonglow and talk about his process this past fall at the 92 Street Y. I even waited in line and had the copy of the book my mom had given me autographed.

 

5-8 The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

     5. My Brilliant Friend

     6. The Story of a New Name 

     7. Those Who Leave, and Those Who Stay 

    8. The Story of the Lost Child 

I ended the year by reading the Neapolitan Novels. This was a delightful adventure that I recommend to anyone who loves coming-of-age tales that last over four thick novels. The story chronicles the life of Elena Greco and her lifelong friendship with Lila from elementary school until the present. The first novel is set against the backdrop of 1950s Naples, in a poor neighborhood where few residents go to school beyond elementary school, and the novels that follow trace Elena’s life through the decades amidst varying political changes and struggles of the time and relationships with family, friends, lovers, neighbors. One of the blurbs on the front cover of the first novel summarizes these novels best, “Imagine if Jane Austen got angry and you’ll have some idea of how explosive these works are.”

There is also some mystery surrounding the actual identity of Elena Ferrante,  the author’s pen name, which adds an even more exciting buzz to these already intriguing novels.

That’s all for 2017! I’m looking forward to reading more in 2018 (hoping to hit 20) and of course I’m looking for your suggestions! Here’s to another great year in books!

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Please Stop Saying that Kids Don’t Read Anymore By Andrea Koleck

A great post written by my friend and colleague about how our own generational bias impacts how we view children’s literacy.

learning curves nyc

The generation gap is an American institution. Every generation experiences it and technology exacerbates it. We don’t talk about the impact the generation gap has on our perception of children nearly enough. Specifically, we need to start talking about how our generational bias is impacting our perception of literacy.

We think of the classics as the books that have been loved for generations. And we think of it as a tragedy if these books aren’t being cherished by new generations. But we create readers or nonreaders by what we provide. They might not care about the Babysitters Club, and aspiring author and tomboy Jo March might not speak to your favorite 12 year old. Some kids need Harry Potter in their lives, but some will reject the entire wizarding world. All of this is fine. The very idea of a “good” book is subjective.  And honestly, as a collective group…

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The Key to a Woman’s Heart is Through Her Library

There is nothing more wonderful than receiving a book as a gift, especially if the gift giver is someone with whom you are romantically involved (or wish you were). Romance aside, I absolutely love it when someone, anyone, gives me a book. It doesn’t even have to be for a special occasion.

A book gift is very personal. It means that someone has taken the time to think about you and to find a book that will speak to you specifically. Someone wants you to have an enjoyable experience so much that they bought something that will aid in the process. I also love it when someone listens to you rant and rave about a book you’ve always wanted to read and then a few days later, that book magically appears on your front door step.

My aunt was a book editor for a newspaper for many, many years and each Christmas, she always sent everyone in our extended family a book. Each book was tailored to our own preferences and the types of works that we most enjoyed reading. Each Christmas, I could look forward to a delicious new work of fiction, often with a literary tie as my aunt knew my love of writing. These were the types of books that were pager-rippers–so engaging, that I practically tore the pages from the spine.

Another fond memory I have of getting a book as a gift came at the end of my senior year of college. It was Valentine’s Day weekend and I was competing in my final swim meet of my 14 year swimming career. My mom and dad drove all the way to watch me swim as they so often did throughout my life as a swimmer. At the end of the meet, after my final race, my mom and dad gave me a rose, a card, and a copy a childhood favorite, Goodnight Moon. On this milestone of getting older, receiving Goodnight Moon was a nod to my younger days. The book still sits on my bookshelf.

There is something so special about being given a book.  Here are five books that I would be delirious with delight if someone gave to me as a gift:

  1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. You can never have too many copies of your favorite book!
  2. Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade by Barthe DeClements. I received this as a gift from a cool baby-sitter in first grade, when I was sick. I read this book so many times that the cover fell off. I loved reading about the drama of fifth grade girls who were forced to get along with a new girl that they didn’t like.
  3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (an older edition). Another one of my all-time favorite books, it would be cool to have an older edition of this book for my collection.
  4. Any collection of Yeats’ poems. Who doesn’t love to receive poetry as a gift, especially when its written by your favorite poet?Bonus if “He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven” is included in said collection.
  5. The Best Loved Doll by Rebecca Caudill. My grandmother, who also happened to collect dolls, had given this book to my sister and me. We loved this book because we loved to play with dolls and we could relate to the main character and her “best-loved” doll.
So gentlemen, if you’re puzzled on how to win over your lady-love interest, the answer is simple. Buy her a book!