Category Archives: I read

2015 Book Report

I read 68 books in 2015, which seems low but doesn’t include anything I didn’t finish completely. Nine of the total were read for a professional obligation of some kind, whether for a review or our best books deliberations or they were written by authors who were appearing on a panel I was moderating.

They included:

  • Mystery/suspense/thrillers: 28
  • YA: 17
  • Memoir: 8
  • General fiction/literary fiction: 8
  • Nonfiction: 4
  • Sf/fantasy: 3

The format breakdown is as follows:

  • Library ebook: 26
  • Galley/advance reading copy (print): 14
  • Galley/advance reading copy (ebook): 13
  • Print: 14
  • Library print book: 1

The gender breakdown of authors:

  • Female: 60
  • Male: 7
  • Unsure: 1

As far as standout titles, these are ones that give me a particularly warm feeling when I see them on my list:

  • All of Louise Penny’s wonderful Inspector Gamache series.
  • Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies.
  • Dodie Smith’s classic I Capture the Castle.
  • Felicia Day and Shonda Rhimes’s terrific memoirs.
  • Rachel Hartman’s richly imagined YA titles Seraphina and Shadow Scale.
  • Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
  • Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
  • P.D. James’s The Children of Men.

When I compare the 2015 breakdown to the 2014, the main thing that jumps out at me is that I finished far fewer books this past year than the one before. Otherwise, though, the genre, format, and author gender divisions are about the same. I made some headway in diversifying my reading, but not as much as I’d like—I’d say nine of those 68 titles could qualify as such; more than ten percent, but not yet 20. So my goal for 2016 is for at least 25% of the books I read to have an author or protagonist who is not a straight, white, neurotypical, able-bodied person.

2014 Book Report

I read 82 books in 2014, which doesn’t include anything that I started but didn’t finish. This is, oh, the seventh or eighth year that I’ve kept track of the titles and dates, but the first year that I’ve made notes about what format I read each title in and how I came by the book. Because my full-time job is book-related, I have access to Netgalley and Edelweiss, through which publishers make available advance e-copies of their titles at their discretion, so most of the titles I read this year were e-galleys.

Format breakdown
physical galley: 19
regular physical book (bought, borrowed, or found at the office): 16
regular e-book (bought, free download, or left on the Kindle I inherited when a friend upgraded): 10
library e-book: 7
physical library book: 1

The only surprise to me here is how few physical library books I read. Other years that likely would have been at the top of the list. I’m also a little surprised at how many library e-books there were too, especially since [cough] I spent much of the year over my late-fee limit with the Brooklyn Public Library.

The genre breakdown was hard to do; so many books could easily fall into two or more. I counted Lauren Oliver’s Rooms as general fiction, for example, even though it’s a ghost story since the focus of the book is on relationships and family secrets and whatnot.

Author gender
Female: 65
Male: 13
I’m not sure: 4
Maybe I should try to read more male authors in 2015? (kidding/not kidding) One reading goal I do have, however, is to seek out more authors of color. I haven’t done a count of the 2014 titles to see what that breakdown is, but I know it’s not good.

Genre/subject breakdown
mystery/suspense/thriller: 24
YA: 19
general fiction: 18
memoir: 7
SF/fantasy: 5
nonfiction: 3
romance: 3
self-help: 2

Frankly, I’m stunned that there are so few nonfics on the final list, even if you throw the memoirs into that category too. I actually read a lot of nonfiction, just not so many from start to finish, I guess. And I’m a little surprised at how many general fiction titles there are, though many of those were ones I had to read for LJ‘s best books discussion and voting.

My favorites
These aren’t all 2014 books. Some are older and at least one comes out in 2015, but they’re the ones that make me say oooooh, yeah! I loved that book! when I spot them on the list.
Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh. Hilarious, heartbreaking, perfect.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Caitlin Doughty. Memoir of the author’s time working in a crematory. Fascinating, often funny, occasionally gross, frequently sad.
The Secret Place, Tana French. The latest Dublin Murder Squad book unfolds over the course of a single day at a girls’ school. One of the best depictions of the mysterious, slightly dangerous workings of the minds of teenage girls, maybe ever.
An Untamed State, Roxane Gay. Brutal and beautifully written story about a woman kidnapped and held for ransom in Haiti. Not for the faint of heart or stomach, but when I was reading this book, my first thoughts when I woke up in the morning were of the characters.
Cruel Beauty, Rosamund Hodge. Lovely and absorbing reimagining of the Beauty and the Beast story.
Summer of the Dead, Julia Keller. The third in Keller’s rural West Virginia-set mystery series. A character-driven mystery with a satisfying ending.
How to Build a Girl, Caitlin Moran. Another sharp, finely realized novel about being a teenage girl, this one a lot funnier and dirtier than French’s.
Attachments, Rainbow Rowell. IT guy falls in love with one of the newspaper employees whose emails he’s been hired to monitor. A little dated tech wise, but a pure delight to read, which I did three times in 2014.
Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin. The Happiness Project author’s latest is about how our personalities shape our habit formation and how we can use our self-knowledge to support developing habits that make us happier.
Family Life, Akhil Sharma. There’s a lot of warmth, humor, and sorrow packed into this slim volume.
The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion. Logical-in-the-extreme scientist decides it’s time to marry, develops The Wife Project to find his ideal mate, meets a woman who’s the opposite of everything he thinks he wants. Super charming and funny.

Five for Friday

1. Current projects on the needles: a Cobblestone pullover in some gorgeous Blue Sky Alpaca melange I was lucky enough to get when a friend was cleaning out her stash. I think it’ll make a really great knockaround sweater for this fall. I’m making the smallest size and my gauge is a little tighter, so it won’t be as loose-fitting, but the drape of the alpaca is so fluid and dreamy, I think it’ll still read as a relatively flowy garment. And my Stripe Study is back on track. I tried a few different cream yarns, but preferred my original selection (Swan’s Island merino/silk) in the end. It’s a little lighter weight than the gray, but I don’t have anything in the stash that’s the right color and the exact right grist; the Blackberry Ridge wool/silk I tried was a little heavier and that looked inelegant and clunky, while a couple of other wedding-dress-option yarns whose labels are lost were even lighter than this. I think it’ll even out pretty nicely when it’s blocked, anyway.

20140718-090442.jpg2. I really like Colette’s new pattern, Myrtle, and the face that it can be made in either knit or woven fabric. I’ve been keeping an eye out for a pattern to use with this fabric and I think Myrtle might be it. I’ve been picturing it used in a dress or skirt that was ankle-length and sweeping to show off the gorgeous pattern and take advantage of how well that fabric will move. It’s 58″ wide, so there should be plenty of room to lengthen the skirt and make sure it’s very full at the lower edge

3. I know it’s hot and humid and so very, very July out there, but I have fall knitting on the brain already. Partly, I think it’s because I’ve been dipping my toes into Project 333, which really deserves a post of its own–I think I’ve mentioned it before, but the idea here is that you choose 33 items, excluding underwear, workout clothes, and sleepwear, and that’s what you wear for the next three months–and I’ve been thinking about what sweaters I’d want in a very limited wardrobe. When my friend Rachael did Project 333, she didn’t count handknits at all toward the 33 items, but I already give myself so many outs, I’d like to reign myself in a little if I can. So for fall, I’d really like to have a black Baby Cables and Big Ones Too. It’s patterned enough to be interesting, but not so much so that it would look weird with patterned clothing. And I’d like a fair isle cardigan in a relatively small gauge with small geometric patterns in natural sheep shades of gray, white, and black and raglan sleeves. I haven’t been able to find one that meets my specifications, so I’ll have to come up with one. This is the closest I’ve come across, but the gauge is too big and it has drop shoulders and while I love the cross motifs, I’m not wild about the floral ones. I have the cable pattern and some gorgeous black Italian finewool on cones that’ll be perfect for it, so should start that sooner rather than later.

4. A few things I’ve enjoyed lately: Rosamund Hodge’s debut novel, Cruel Beauty, which mixes Greek mythology and the Beauty and the Beast story in very smart, well-crafted story. Happy hour at Maison Premiere in Williamsburg, where I enjoyed some $1 oysters and a couple of French 75s yesterday while sitting at a marble bar with my husband in one of the prettiest spaces in New York City. And I finally watched Frozen, which is thoroughly charming. I was struck by the fact that Elsa has gotten so much attention when it’s really Anna’s story–she’s the one who meets new people and goes on the quest and makes things happen. Elsa spends most of her time shut away, either in her room or in her fancy ice castle.

5. My office is moving this weekend from west SoHo to the Financial District. I don’t really know that part of town very well and am looking forward to exploring a bit. I know about Les Halles and The Dead Rabbit, but any other leads on good places for lunch/after work/interesting things in the neighborhood would be much appreciated.

Five for Friday

20140502-081301.jpg1. My experiment with infusing oil as a way to scent soap didn’t work out especially well. There’s a pretty mild spice scent in this batch, but not enough to justify the time and effort. So that’s good to know! I also added some finely ground coffee to this batch. Again, it doesn’t seem to have been enough to provide much in the way of scent, but it might be nice as a mild exfoliant. I’ll see once it’s cured completely and I can use it.

2. The Kentucky Derby is this weekend! My mother-in-law is having a big party with a blind draw (so we don’t have to choose a winner or top three or anything at all, if I’m understanding it correctly), but if I DID have to pick, I would have to go with Vicar’s in Trouble since I only bet on horses with amusing names. He’s seeded first though, which makes it less fun though. Underdogs forever!

3. One of the librarians who writes about music for me (for me! not for the venerable publication I work for! for meeeee!) has a Kickstarter tied to his 365 Days of New Music project. He’s already met his goal, but I bet he’ll do more fun stuff with more money. Plus, every supporter gets a postcard with puppy stickers on it!

4. I had a lovely dinner with an old friend at Edi & the Wolf last night. I didn’t take any pictures, but the space is beautiful–the sort of warm industrial setting I like–and the food was delicious (I had spaetzle with wild mushrooms, she had wiener schnitzel, we split a side of black kale with sausage and chickpeas). I was a little early and she was running late, so I had half an hour or so to hang out at their gorgeous copper bar with a beer and a book. It was thoroughly delightful.

5. The book I’m reading is a dishy, relatively erudite nonfiction account of the fashion landscape of the early ’90s, focusing on Alexander McQueen, Kate Moss, and Marc Jacobs. It’s not out until September, but it’s worth putting on your fall to-read list if the topic appeals at all.

Five for Friday

fuzz1. My wedding was featured on Rock and Roll Bride earlier this week!

2. I’m still really digging making soap. I upgraded my equipment a bit this week and bought a no-line acrylic slab mold that comes with dividers to make evenly sized bars. Lining the mold has always been just about my least favorite part of the whole process, at least partly because I’m so bad at it, so I’m really happy to have a way around that. I made a batch of bay laurel and vetiver–scented soap last night that’ll be ready to unmold when I get home tonight. I’m pretty excited about this one, I can tell you. My apartment smelled AMAZING while I was working on it. I just want to make soap all the time; my bullet journal is rapidly filling up with ideas for scent combinations and different proportions of oils to use and things to mix in.

3. A few days ago, I got a galley of Kim Werker’s new book, Make It Mighty Ugly, and I’m pretty excited to spend some time with it this weekend.

4. I was down with a nasty, brutish cold for most of this week—I took two days off in a row because I was feeling so lousy, which I can’t remember doing maybe ever before in my working life. The only good thing to come of it is that I’ve remembered how much I love a good bowl of orzo in broth when I’m feeling poorly.

5. I just started watching True Detective. Now I get why the entire internet was obsessed with it a month or so ago. That is what you might call some compelling shit.

Best books of 2013

A lot of people I know had a pretty rough 2013, but mine kicked a lot of ass, I have to say. There were the big things, of course,–a new position at work, getting engaged, planning a wedding, and getting married–but plenty of tiny, wonderful moments as well. Finding the exact bias-cut red wool plaid skirt of my dreams for $2 at a North Fork thrift shop, figuring out how to make the best kale salad, getting my first full-size Christmas tree at home.

With everything else that was going on, for the first time in the last decade or so, I read less than a book a week. Still, there were a decent number of good ones and a handful of great ones, the kind that make me practically inarticulate with love when I try to explain why I like them so much (a coworker and I just stared at each other in rapturous incoherence the other day when I asked how she’d liked Fangirl; we just kept saying “it’s so goooooood,” at each other, over and over):

  • Among Others, Jo Walton. Boarding school setting: check. Fairies with their own agendas: check. A misfit finding her tribe through a love of books: check. This book is, as Rob would say, very Stephanie-friendly, but I’d put off reading it for a few years because I was afraid it couldn’t live up to the fantastic reviews. Happily, it did.
  • Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains, Catriona McPherson. I actually put off reading this for a long time too, but because I’d met the author at a party her publisher had a few years ago and had found her thoroughly charming. I prefer my mysteries dark rather than cozy and hated the idea of not liking the book as much as I’d liked the author. (I don’t know if other people who meet a lot of authors professionally have this hangup, but it’s exhausting.) I was relieved to find that the book is a delight in the vein of Christie and Sayers, and, even better, that there are seven more entries in the series.
  • Where’d You Go Bernadette?, Maria Semple. This is an example of marketing and taglines doing a book a disservice. I had picked it up, read the plot summary (woman abandons family, heartbroken daughter goes looking for her), and dismissed it as Lifetime-movie pap. But people whose tastes I trust kept recommending it, and I ended up loving it. Bernadette is a singular, sharply drawn character–smart and frustrated and fascinating and funny.
  • Awakening, S.J. Bolton. You know, I put off reading this one for a long time too–maybe that’s the trend of 2013: books I forced myself to read and ended up loving fiercely. I really love Bolton’s Lacey Flint series (the most recent entry, Lost, would have gotten its own entry on this list if this one hadn’t knocked me over the way it did), and often when I love an author’s ongoing series, I tend to not like her stand-alones as much or vice versa. It’s an older book about a wildlife vet with terrible scars on her face who gets reluctantly involved in investigating some murders where poisonous snakes are the weapons. It’s incredibly compelling and creepy–there was a point when I was in bed reading a scene in which the protagonist is exploring an abandoned (OR IS IT?!) house and actually had to put the book down and pick up a book of Simon Doonan essays because I was getting so freaked out. And all she was doing was walking around a house. That’s good writing. Side note: I think Lost is the first book she’ll be publishing using her first name instead of her initials. She wrote about making that change here.
  • No One Else Can Have You, Kathleen Hale. This is a 2014 release, but I think it’s going to be available in the next week or so. A good friend in the YA publishing business called me up a month or so ago and told me that I had to read this book immediately and, moreover, that if I didn’t like it, we probably couldn’t be friends anymore. The last book she reacted that strongly to was The Hunger Games, so I found a copy at work, devoured it in a day or two, and have been urging it on people ever since. It’s a perfectly satisfactory mystery novel, but with a weird, super awkward protagonist who is just fantastic. The author writes about writing weird while avoiding manic pixie dream girl tropes here.
  • Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park and Fangirl. These are both basically perfect books about being an outsider and making connections and moving outside your comfort zone that also address issues like poverty and being the child of someone with mental illness in a way that manages to be illuminating and nonsaccharine.

The happiest of New Year’s to all of you — here’s to an amazing 2014!

Four weeks to go

With less than a month to go until the wedding, things seem to be in a strange state where they’re both ramping up and winding down. All of the decisions are pretty much made, it’s just a matter of executing the various projects and crossing them off my various, very detailed lists. The pieces of my wedding dress are carefully laid out in the office waiting to be assembled. I have an elaborate post-it constellation on the hallway wall, there are stacks of washi tape all over the kitchen table, a huge roll of kraft paper sits in the middle of the living room floor, tripping us both up at least once a day. My mother-in-law’s basement is full of boxes of mason jars I rescued from my dad’s attic and the beautiful lanterns she’s making. I have a shopping list in progress that contains the entry “4 lbs. butter (more? — figure out).” When I started all of the fun detail planning, I had been trying to avoid certain tropes of the modern eclectic wedding, but have since given in to it and have started describing the aesthetic as “if Etsy and Pinterest had a baby and then that baby exploded all over everything.” I really love the way everything is coming together. It feels personal and warm and somehow both fancy and unfussy.

I decided to wait until after the wedding to show any pictures of these projects publicly though—I’m not superstitious, except when I am—but what I will share is a wedding-adjacent discovery: my new favorite supremely affordable yet awesome pen. I got my kickass  diamond-patterned one at PaperSource, but don’t see it on their website or anywhere else online. Writing with a nib feels great, but the pen cost less than $4 and I don’t have to deal with ink. It is the greatest of all widely available disposable pens. I know a lot of fountain pen enthusiasts and I see the appeal of going that route, I totally do. I just don’t want to go down that rabbit hole at this point.

In news of other things I recommend wholeheartedly, I loved Where’d You Go, Bernadette? I had gone out of my way to avoid this book for more than a year; I thought a story about a woman who abandoned her family and found fulfillment while her daughter searched for her sounded, frankly, both trite and dreary. I was imagining scenes of her being filled with wonder at getting to drink a whole latte by herself or getting to listen to the music she wanted to listen to in the car, then seeing a baby or something and realizing how much she missed her daughter. I was mystified by the awards and good press it got everywhere and only got around to reading it after a friend whose tastes line up with mine almost exactly said it was one of her favorite books she’d read this year. It turned out to be nothing like what I thought it was (though in my defense, the cover copy and cartoony cover are misleading). Bernadette is an ascerbic, brilliant, hilarious, difficult, loving, heavily medicated architect who moved to Seattle for her husband’s job and hates it. Her 15-year-old daughter is going to be going to boarding school on the East Coast, and Bernadette’s only friend is her virtual assistant, who lives in India. After a series of altercations with neighbors and other parents at her daughter, Bee’s, school, Bernadette takes off and Bee pieces together her recent and past histories by means of letters, emails, transcripts of conversations, and the occasional police report in order to figure out what set her off and where to go to find her. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. My only regret is that I didn’t save it to read on the beach or in a hammock somewhere. It’s pure fun.

Odds and ends

1. I finished this sweater over the weekend. Still need to give it a final blocking and get a photo of it on me though.

2. I started writing a column for Serious Eats NY. Each week, I’ll be profiling a local food artisan and reviewing one or more of their products. I’m really excited about the gig; it should be a lot of fun.

3. I made a long list of New Year’s resolutions. I *love* making resolutions. For me, they’re not at all about focusing on negative things that I want to stop and more about adding positive stuff. 2011’s include writing here on a more organized schedule (I’m thinking MWF, but haven’t decided for sure), trying one new recipe a week, which will surely help with the first one, and reading literary mystery authors I’ve either missed entirely or not read much of: P.D. James, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ian Rankin, Patricia Highsmith…

4. I finally got around to watching all of Party Down over the holidays. Holy cats, that was an awesome show! Too bad it was canceled before I even knew it existed.

5. And I did a fair bit of work on my ripple blanket over the holidays. I had to add a few colors, since I’m not going to get as many stripes out of each skein as I expected, but I think it’s working out fine.

BBC book list

Kim tagged me in one of these Facebook memes that turn up every couple of months. It’s kind of an odd list (separate entries for The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and the Chronicles of Narnia as a whole?), but it’s always fun to check myself against some random list that someone possibly at the BBC might have put together. If nothing else, it’s a good reminder to me to read some freaking Dickens already. And get around to Cloud Atlas while I’m at it. And, say, haven’t I been meaning to read Swallows and Amazons for ages now?

Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here.

Instructions: Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety. Italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish or read only an excerpt. If you decide to do one of these too, let me know!

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien

3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

6 The Bible

7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell

His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare

15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk

18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

20 Middlemarch – George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis

34 Emma -Jane Austen

35 Persuasion – Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

40 Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne

41 Animal Farm – George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving

45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery

47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding

50 Atonement – Ian McEwan

51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel

52 Dune – Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt

64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville

71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

72 Dracula – Bram Stoker

73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses – James Joyce

76 The Inferno – Dante

77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal – Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray

80 Possession – AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

94 Watership Down – Richard Adams

95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute

97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo