The best books I read in 2016 + 2017 Resolutions

Top 11 of 2016
(in the order I read them)

1. Saga Vol. 2-5 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Saga is a comic series about a family caught between an intergalactic space war. It’s fun, sexy-in-a-weird-way, and feminist. What more could you want?!

2. Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell
If I had to pick a favorite of the year…it might just be Mothers, Tell Your Daughters. Read my review here.

3. Killing and Dying: Stories by Adrian Tomine
This turned out to be a year of graphic novels for me, starting with Killing and Dying, which I read last January. I wrote about it here.

4. You by Caroline Kepnes
This got a lot of buzz, and it was well deserved – this was a seriously fun, fast-paced read. Read my review here.

5. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Oh, Jude. You poor thing. Reading A Little Life was an engrossing experience. Read my review here.

6. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Thanks, Obama, for the book rec. Basically, Fates and Furies is the story of a marriage; first told by the husband and then the wife. The first half, Fates (the husband’s side), was good. The second half, Furies, was truly phenomenal. I guess because women have to do everything around here.

7. This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
Junot Diaz is my favorite contemporary short story writer. His stories are quick, simple on the surface but complex underneath, and deliciously unpretentious.

8. Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart
This is a graphic memoir written about Tom Hart’s experience after the death of his toddler daughter, Rosalie. It was really sad and really beautiful, and I think graphic memoir is a perfect medium for such a story.

9. March Books 1-2 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
I haven’t gotten a chance to read Book 3 yet, but I already know that this series is very important, and should be required reading in schools. It’s about John Lewis’s experience in the Civil Rights Movement, including sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, and the 1963 March on Washington. This is an important historical testament to the men and women who bravely fought for civil rights, and I encourage everyone to read it.

10. Alex + Ada, Vol. 1 by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn
Another comic – this time, one about a guy who falls in love with a robot. It’s a fun read, but raises a lot of questions about artificial intelligence, the way technology has invaded our personal lives, and the fear and uncertainty that comes with all that.

11. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
I was only going to make this a list of 10 books, but I listened to This is the Story of a Happy Marriage on audiobook and loved Ann Patchett’s voice in my ear with a fierceness, so I had to include it. She is a very smart, warm-hearted writer and I really enjoyed listening to this collection of essays about her life and writing.


2017 Reading Resolutions

Last year I chose to set my goal at 40 books. I know for some people it’s hard to find the time to read 40 books, but I read every day on my commute to work, so I usually can read about 50 books a year without effort – I probably could read 40 books even if I stopped reading everywhere except on the train. My reasoning for setting my goal low was that I wanted to simply enjoy reading without pressure. I wanted to read long books that take a whole month to read without worrying about falling off pace on my reading goal. I think this was helpful, because I had a lot of stressful things going on this year, and my Goodreads reading challenge was not something I wanted to be stressed out about as well.

In 2017 my goal is to read good books, so I will probably be DNF’ing a lot more books. I plan to be a bit more discerning about galleys and ARCs, too, although I want to keep up with new titles as much as possible. And I plan to set my goal a little bit higher at 60 books. I desperately want to be the kind of reader that can read 100+ books every year, simply because I’m getting older and my bookshelf isn’t getting any smaller. It’s just that I don’t think it’s something that’s really possible for me at the moment, unless I quit my job to be a professional reader. 60 is a good compromise.

Last year I also wanted to read books I already own, but I failed pretty badly on that. I just can’t resist the library. I did stop buying new books – I think I bought less than 5 books this entire year, which is bad for book sales but good for me because I have no space on my shelf. I donated a good amount of my book collection as well, but I’m afraid I still won’t have space for new books anytime soon.

2016 was a good year for me, despite the various disasters. I think we are all entering 2017 with a sense of trepidation, but I think it’s a good thing to not be sure all the time. It’s okay to be uncertain about the future. When we’re uncertain, we pay better attention. I do know that compared to this time last year, I have a clearer vision of myself and what I want out of life. I started the year with a lot of questions that I spent the whole year answering. I have a better plan now, and I hope to achieve a lot in 2017 –  and even if I don’t, I’m grateful for what 2016 has given me. Thank you all for reading, and have a happy new year!

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Year in Review: 2015

2015 was a big year for me: I had a semi-nervous breakdown, I learned how to recover from a semi-nervous breakdown, I realized that being a working adult means you have to smile and nod while everyone around you acts like a crazy idiot and for this they pay you, I got my driver’s license after much anxiety and strife, I trained for a 20k and finished when just the year before I couldn’t run a mile without stopping, I cut out some negative relationships and behaviors, I fell in love, and I read Game of Thrones.

Amongst all the ruckus, I read 64 books (at the time of this writing I am still in the middle of the 64th: The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer). My original goal was to read 80 books, but I adjusted that to 60 because I hate failing and love winning.

My list of favorite books in 2015 tilts heavily towards the beginning of the year. My life got busier in the spring, but in the winter I mostly just sat around crying all the time–which I guess means that conditions were perfect for being hit in the feels by a good book.

15 FAVES OF 2015

#1: YES PLEASE by Amy Poehler (read in January)
This is the first book I read in 2015. It helped me a lot by forcing me to think about personal growth in a new way. Reading this book was like reading a pep talk from a very sweet and funny friend.

#2: THE FIRST BAD MAN by Miranda July (read in January)
I love Miranda July. She is perfect for me. I love her voice, I love the slightly off-kilter worlds and characters she creates. I think I like her because I always feel like such a weirdo, and her stories make the weirdo the normal point of reference. Her first novel didn’t disappoint in this regard.

#3: WILD: FROM LOST TO FOUND ON THE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL by Cheryl Strayed (read in February)
This is one of those books that found its way into my hands at just the right time. Strayed’s story of perseverance in the face of pain gave me a lot of hope and comfort.

#4: 10% HAPPIER: HOW I TAMED THE VOICE IN MY HEAD, REDUCED STRESS WITHOUT LOSING MY EDGE, AND FOUND SELF-HELP THAT ACTUALLY WORKS by Dan Harris (read in February)
I like self-help books sometimes, not gonna lie, but this book actually isn’t as big of a self-help book as it appears. It’s the story of the author’s experiences with mindfulness, from the point of view of a ‘normal’ guy. I started a meditation practice this year, and it was very helpful to me in recovering from my aforementioned semi-nervous breakdown. This is the first book I’d recommend to anyone interested in meditation and mindfulness but who is turned off by the spiritual aspects of other books on the subject.

#5: JANE EYRE by Charlette Bronte (read in February)
This became my favorite classic. I love Jane for being the spunkiest heroine I have read in a piece of gothic fiction. She is smart, she is driven, and she’s not there to look pretty and meek. I even love Rochester, the grumpy weirdo. I felt an actual ache reading this novel, I wanted those crazy kids to smooch so bad. Let’s just say I shipped it.

#6: STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel (read in March)
Of all the books I read in 2015, I think I would recommend Station Eleven the most. It was beautifully written, but not too dense, and I flew through it. It’s a dystopian/speculative novel that is uniquely empathetic and hopeful. On the surface it’s about a future apocalyptic flu pandemic, but mostly it’s about the human spirit and the need to create and survive. I loved this novel because it took something I am comfy with (literary fiction) and mixed it with something I often feel unable to connect with (science fiction). If you like literary fiction and would like to branch out to adult sci-fi/dystopian, this is a must-read.

#7: SHARP OBJECTS by Gillian Flynn, (read in March)
#8: DARK PLACES by Gillian Flynn (read in April)
I read both of Gillian Flynn’s non-Gone Girl novels this year, which only confirmed the fact that I cannot put down anything she writes. I love her insane, unapologetically bitter, in-your-face female characters. Flynn has an exceptional flair for plotting and pace.

#9: THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO by Junot Diaz (read in April)
I just remembered I planned to read more Junot Diaz this year, but I guess I never got around to it. That’s a shame, because this novel was amazing. Diaz’s characters are excellent, and he writes about race and family and heritage in such an accessible yet irreverent way.

#10: WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE by Shirley Jackson (read in April)
This novel is so deliciously, wonderfully creepy that it is now my go-to Halloween recommendation. It’s about two little girls who live alone with their disabled uncle after a mysterious “incident” killed their family, and it is one of those short novels that are perfect in every way.

#11: SELF-HELP by Lorrie Moore (read in May)
Lorrie Moore’s first short story collection was a real treat to read. She is like Raymond Carver if Raymond Carver had a lighter, less masculine, less whiskey-stained point of view. She is better than Raymond Carver is what I am telling you! Her stories are simple, realistic, funny and heartbreaking.

#12: TENTH OF DECEMBER by George Saunders (read in May)
I liked this short story collection for the same reason I liked Lorrie Moore’s. These stories have a great mix of heartbreak and empathy, with an extra distaste for consumerism and the corporatization of America.

#13: OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout (read in June)
Reading over this list, it is clear the way to my heart is a headstrong, kind of weird female main character, which is exactly what Olive Kitteridge was. Not exactly likable, but not exactly unsympathetic either. Still, kind of an asshole. I love when writers give the women in their stories full permission to be an asshole.

#14: MODERN ROMANCE by Aziz Ansari (read in September)
I listened to this on audiobook, which was the right choice. Aziz Ansari is hilarious and I loved hearing his voice in my ears every morning while I made my way to work. This is a great book for anyone trying to navigate dating in the online world, if only because it will make you laugh and realize you’re not alone, with bonus Aziz Ansari.

#15: MISSOULA: RAPE AND THE JUSTICE SYSTEM IN A COLLEGE TOWN by Jon Krakauer (read in October)
As much as I hate ending this list on such a bummer note, here’s a really great book about date rape I read in 2015.

Check out my Year in Books on Goodreads for the full list of what I read this year!


Now onto the resolutions.

I have decided to not set a goal for myself this year re: the Goodreads Reading Challenge. I would like to read longer books this year without feeling rushed–I want to continue the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin, and I also have my eye on A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Basically, I want to sink my teeth into books that are more of an experience.

Suggested reading from another book blogger abstaining from the challenge in 2016: 5 Reasons Not to Do the Goodreads Reading Challenge in 2016 on brokebybooks.com. It convinced me. I will still be on Goodreads, of course, because I don’t think anything can convince me to not obsessively log what I read. I just don’t need to challenge myself this year to a specific number of books. I’d rather just focus on having a good overall reading experience, one that informs my life and my work in positive ways.

I also have about 300 unread articles saved on Instapaper at the moment. So, I’d like to make time for that, as well as the unread literary journals I have lying around.

That all being said, I signed up for the #readmyowndamnbooks challenge, which is kind of loosey-goosey, but I’d like to read at least 30 books off of my shelf by the end of the year. I want to read books I own and then donate them, because I don’t have the space and do I really need that copy of The Art of Fielding? Who knows–not I, as I haven’t ever read it.

Let me know what your favorite book of 2015 was, what your resolutions for 2016 are, and what you think of the books I listed above. Happy new year, everybody–I hope the coming year is full up with good books and no new Harper Lee novels.

Best Lit Podcasts

I’ve never gotten into audiobooks. I’m not really the type to choose listening to a story over reading it, with the exception of podcasts. A lot of podcasts, like This American Life, Radiolab, and Serial, to name a few notables, are all about the story. But there’s something so delicious about Ira Glass, and something (at least to me) so snooze-inducing about audiobooks*. So, what do I do in situations where I can’t read, but want to feed my bookish fire? I listen to podcasts ABOUT books! I know, crazy, right? I had no clue such a thing existed until recently, and now I can’t get enough.

*Disclaimer: I am fully expecting that in about two years I will love listening to audiobooks, just as I used to not “get” e-books and now my Kindle is my beloved life partner. So please don’t hassle me when I post my “Best Fave Audiobooks” list in three years.

BEST LIT PODCASTS

(AKA a list of mostly all the Lit-related podcasts I listen to in no particular order)

1. DEAR BOOK NERD

This was my “Wait, they make podcasts for this?” moment. It’s also my favorite. Rita Meade is the host of Dear Book Nerd, and she answers reader-submitted questions every episode, usually with a co-host. I love this podcast because it’s unabashedly about book nerdery. Sure, it’s about books, but this is a podcast meant for people who work with books and/or live for books–with topics ranging from the pressure to read fast, book clubs, and making bookish friends. It’s not about the books themselves as much as the beloved place books have in our lives.

Meade is a librarian, and there was an awesome episode about going to grad school for Library Science. So, yeah, pretty nerdy, but actually also very interesting, informative, and entertaining.

2. BOOK RIOT – THE PODCAST

Many of the podcasts on this list are products of Book Riot, so sorry if it seems like I’m just plugging Book Riot really hard. They’re not paying me, but if they want to look at my resume I’m open to the opportunity.

This podcast is like Dear Book Nerd, but it isn’t about bookish advice as much as bookish news. For instance, a recent episode focused on Book Expo America. As someone with a book blog, it’s nice to be able to have something that can sum up any news in the literary world, like awards, new releases, author controversies (I love those), etc. I haven’t been listening to this one long enough to have any favorite episodes, but I am glad I found it, because one of my unofficial goals this year is to keep up a bit more with new releases and the current discussions going on in the literary world.

3. BOOK FIGHT

I have a strange fascination with this one. It’s hosted by two former Iowa MFA graduates who have a lit mag/publishing press called Barrelhouse. I’ve only listened to the Writer’s Ask episodes so far, because I like hearing advice from working writers/editors.

I don’t mean to overgeneralize, but most of the book bloggers I pay attention to are women, and most of the podcasts I mention here are either hosted by women, are cohosted by women, or have a lot of female guests. This podcast is just a total litbro podcast, but in a good way, like if you expected to hear sports radio but instead heard two guy friends talking about the favorite novel they read in high school. If only the world was always like this.

4. READING LIVES

This one is hosted by one of the hosts of the Book Riot podcast, but it’s an interview format. The premise is that each episode focuses on a new person, which could be a writer or blogger or anyone else who has something to say about books. Each episode is an hour long interview about how they came to be the reader they are today. If you’re the kind of person that likes to hear about what kind of books a person read in middle school (I am, duh), this is the perfect podcast for you.

5. ALL THE BOOKS

This is a shorter podcast, meant essentially to announce notable new releases each week. I like it a lot because it’s actually very hard to hear and know about new books as they are released. It often takes months for a new release to gain any attention. This podcast makes it a lot easier for me to hear about a new release before other people have, which makes me feel like a better book blogger–I just have to get through my TBR list enough to justify reading brand new releases so I can write about them. #bookbloggerproblems

6. THE NEW YORKER: FICTION

This one is completely different! I’ve mentioned this podcast a few times on this blog already. Basically, each episode features a writer who has been published in The New Yorker, reading a short story of their choosing that has also been published in The New Yorker. What’s so great about this is that 1) you get to hear an excellent short story 2) you get to hear a little about the guest writer’s psyche, because at the end of the episode, the guest writer explains why they chose the story they did. It’s a must-listen for anyone who writes short stories.


That’s about it for my favorites. I listen to a lot of podcasts. It’s actually a problem. I could make a lot of these lists about different topics, like, “Best Comedy Podcasts” or “Best Cat Podcats” or “Best Episodes of the Leonard Lopate Show” or “Why Ira Glass is My Boyfriend.” What can I say, I like people I can’t see speaking directly in my ears. Let me know if you have any podcasts recommendations, book related or otherwise. My current favorite non-book non-Ira Glass related podcasts are Strangers, The Bugle, and Dear Sugar. Podcasts are my life. I don’t even remember what TV looks like…kind of square, right?

I’ll talk to you guys soon–with a review of Olive Kitteridge. It’s about to get sexy in here, finally.