My main year end post was really a “favorite reads” list, and those are kind of predictable, aren’t they? Is anyone surprised I didn’t have a New Adult romance on my list, for instance? So here are some quirkier things about my reading year, in no particular order, as well as my I Refuse to Call Them Goals for reading and blogging in 2014.
Probably My Favorite Literary Novel Read in 2013: Glaciers, by Alexis M. Smith
Three Reasons I Love My Job: The novels I chose for my Children’s Literature class were so good, it was a pleasure to re-read them preparing for class. I have assigned Kit Pearson’s Awake and Dreaming before, so this term was probably at least my eighth read-through of the book. I still love and admire it, and it makes for such rich discussions. New to me were Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Merrie Haskell’s Princess Curse. Loved these, and the discussion they generated, as well. In fact, Haskell’s middle-grade fantasy featured one of my favorite romances of the year.
All of these books are interesting to think about in terms of “craft” issues (structure/form, narrative voice, intertextuality) as well as thematic ones. In my view, they disprove any idea that literature for children is “lesser.” And they tell good stories. All of these could have been on my “best of” list, but I left them off Because Work.
In college I loved moments of synchronicity between courses, when I found myself looking at the same topic through two different disciplinary lenses and thus understanding it more deeply. Something similar happened to me this week, when two books I was reading suddenly seemed related: Sarah Morgan’s Ripped and Lucy Ellman’s Mimi.
Sure, one’s a novella from Harlequin’s partnership with Cosmopolitan and the other is a literary novel frequently described as “feminist,” but they’re both funny and both celebrate love and female sexual pleasure. And both, especially together, made me think (again) about the whole question of “feminist” fiction: is there such a thing? what does it mean to call a novel feminist? I find it more useful to think about feminist reading(s)–by which I don’t mean judging whether a novel is “politically correct” (ugh) or “feminist enough,” but reading through feminist lenses and asking certain kinds of questions–than about feminist fiction. Because my response to “Are these books feminist?” would be, “It’s complicated.”
Interestingly, my absolute favorites of the year were books I listened to rather than read. In every case, I’d say they were excellent books to begin with and a strong narration enhanced my enjoyment, but I think it’s just chance that my top “reads” were audio. Links to my reviews, if I wrote one.
Overall Best, Most Memorable, Most Engrossing Book:
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson, read by Robin Miles. Yep, non-fiction. Wilkerson weaves the stories of three people through her history of the 20th-century migration of many African Americans from the rural South to the cities of the North and West: Robert Foster, George Starling, and Ida Mae Gladney. Wilkerson’s respect and affection for her subjects, and their trust in her, is evident in her intimate record of their lives. I’ll remember these people for a long time. There are stories of racism and tragedy here, yes, but also stories of success and joy. The book moved me to tears more than once.
When I joked on Twitter that I was making a holiday reading list and already had a year’s worth of books on it, a few people said “why don’t you post it!” Since I love spying on/being inspired by what others are reading (here’s Ros’s holiday list, for instance), I figured, “Why not?” It’s more like “I want to read this, and this, and oh yeah, that” rather than a real plan. I guess that way it can take me well into the new year!
Reading Right Now:
Griever: An American Monkey King in China, by Gerald Vizenor (thanks to a conversation with Robin about American Indian writers). Despite my PhD training at an institution steeped in post-modernist theory, I like my fiction realist and traditional, so I feel more than a bit like all the Goodreaders who say “I don’t know what to make of this.”
Scenes of Passion/Scenes of Peril, by Suzanne Brockmann and Jill Sorenson. I bought this mainly for Jill’s novella, because a) I have a soft spot for the snowbound trope, b) I enjoy her books, and c) we’re Twitter “friends.” But I’m reading (rather briskly) Brockmann’s first. So far it’s got too little of the parts I like–hero and heroine doing community theatre together(!!) and trying to improve the business he inherited (there’s one of those complicated category romance will provisions involved)–and too much of the parts I don’t–almost-thirty heroine who has been utterly passive in her adult life and calls herself a loser; really, really obvious secret hero is keeping; heroine feeling bad about having the hots for her best friend’s high school boyfriend even though it’s 10 years later and BFF is happily married to someone else. Continue reading
In case you don’t want to read a post about a non-genre book: I may post my plans for holiday reading in a couple of days (if I can make them more specific than All The Books); I’ll post about my favorite reads of the year after Christmas; and I’ll do a round-up of my recent reading/listening sometime over the holidays, too.
I’ve had Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein, in my TBR for a while, and I pulled it out after a Twitter conversation with a few friends about how we have more trouble than we used to getting into slow books. Is it age? busyness? distractions? All those, but maybe, someone speculated, reading a lot of genre fiction–romance in particular, which emphasizes starting with action–had atrophied our concentration. She was planning to pick up a book that would give her a challenge, and I decided I wanted one too, especially because I haven’t been in the mood for romance. My Brilliant Friend is part of a projected trilogy about two friends from a working-class Naples neighborhood, Elena and Lila; Ferrante describes the books in a fascinating interview as “one long story.” This volume covers childhood and adolescence. (The idea of reflecting on a chunk of 20th century history by depicting a woman living through it reminded me of A. S. Byatt’s Frederica quartet.)
I can think of a handful of books that capture the weirdness of childhood, the parts we’d rather forget once we’re grown: the strange fears and imaginings, the confusion, the cruelty children are capable of. On my list would be Dickens’ Great Expectations and David Copperfield (Dickens is often deeply sentimental about childhood, but he gets it too), Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (and really, Emily’s Wuthering Heights), Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist. And now I’d add My Brilliant Friend.