This year’s reading project is pretty ambitious. So, first, I decided that I wanted to focus on books that I’ve always meant to read. Several books came immediately to mind. I own copies of a lot of them because in a strange bit of irony, I tend to ignore books I own in favor of library books. It’s not something I do consciously, though I am aware that I do it. Something about due dates just keeps me honest.
So. The plan was to read books I’ve always meant to read (and “always” means different things in each case). And I *am* doing that, but I’ve added layers to the 2017 Reading Project. More on that when I write about February’s reading.
For now, some highlights of my January reading:
The Winter Circus, me – The first book I read this year was my own. I finished a cover-to-cover re-read. It’s pretty good, in my very biased opinion.
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates – I’ve been wanting to read this book, a letter from Coates to his son, since it was published in 2015 and I decided that I would listen to the audio, which Coates narrates. I’m a big fan of audiobooks, especially when it comes to non-fiction, because there’s nothing like hearing someone tell you their story in their own voice, as if it was just the two of you having a conversation and you’re listening with everything you’ve got. Then, Tubby and Coo’s Book Shop selected Between the World and Me as the first read in the Brave New World Book Club, so I knew this was the right time. The book is slim, and it’s powerful. It’s a 3-hour listen and there’s no excuse not to read or listen to this book. If you don’t understand what people are talking about when the issues of police violence, microaggressions and systemic racism come up, you owe it to yourself, and to our shared world, to listen with everything you’ve got. If you do already know what’s up, I still recommend you listen to Coates’ academic, personal, rational and passionate letter to his son because there’s always something to be gained from hearing someone tell you their story in their own voice.
Ready Player One, Ernest Cline – This book’s been on my list since it was published, but what really cinched it for me was when several friends raved about the audio book, which is read by Wil Wheaton. As I mentioned, I’ve come to really love audio books over the years (since a job in 2011 where I drove 12 hours a day for a few weeks). The best ones are like old-school radio plays, and this one is very good. The book itself is really intricate and detail-heavy, with callbacks galore, which doesn’t usually make for good audio listening. However, it was such an immersive story and Wil Wheaton did a tremendous job with the narration. For a couple weeks, listening to this audio book made my daily commute go so much better. Plus, there’s a cameo where Wil Wheaton narrates a sly reference to a fictional version of himself and that was a treat for an 80’s girl to hear.
Revival Volumes 1-7, Tim Seeley and Mike Norton – I’ve been obsessed with zombies for a while and I came across this comic book series that is not about zombies, but a more mysterious version of what would happen if some people didn’t die when they died. It’s pretty bizarre and fascinating. The art is gorgeous, even though I found it confusing sometimes (two of the main characters are sisters and it was sometimes hard to tell them apart, as well as some of the other [mostly female] characters). I decided to chalk this up to my being a comic neophyte and I just trusted that I’d figure it out and I always did.
Feedback, Mira Grant – I’m a big fan of the original Newsflesh trilogy by Mira Grant (which *is* about zombies, well, as much as any zombie story is ever really about zombies). This is the fourth book in the series, but it follows different characters and a parallel story to the original trilogy. It was fun to return to this world and to see the protagonists of the original series and their journey from a different perspective, mostly as characters waaaay in the background. Rozencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead-style.
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Sebastian Junger – I read Junger’s essay “The Bonds of Battle” last November, in The Best American Essays of 2016 and I was really moved and obsessed with the ideas raised. Couldn’t stop thinking about the essay, which was the seed for this book, so I had to read it. It’s another slim title, but like a lot of short and focused books, it’s pretty devastating and captivating. I refer to it all the time in conversation because it covers a lot of ground. But really, the subtitle tells you everything – this is Junger’s extended mediation (with research) on why people need each other, need to belong to units (families, communities, etc.) in order to thrive. That humans are communal beings is information that is more important for us to recognize and reconcile than ever before.
Princess Princess Ever After, Katie O’Neill – This is a cute, quick juvenile graphic novel that matter-of-factly tells a fairy tale about two princesses being themselves exactly as they are, adventuring and falling in love, which is pretty cool. It reminded me a bit of the Princeless series (and I’m not the only one, from the Goodreads reviews), but this is a much simpler and streamlined story for younger readers, perhaps, which is cool. It also reminded me a bit about the lovely Three Thieves series, which I read last year (along with Princeless). I should also mention that I read Cleopatra in Space Books 1-3 by Mike Maihack this month, too, and it’s a pretty great companion series to the others mentioned in this paragraph (a time-traveling Cleopatra is teleported into space! makes friends and has adventures!). And Compass South, the first book in a new series about twins in 1860 who adventure (with a pit stop in New Orleans), by Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock, which I also read this month. As far as I’m concerned, there can never be too many comic books about adventuring girls who are entirely themselves.
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood – When I initially conceived of the “always meant to read” project, this was one of the first books that came to mind. I have been meaning to read this one for years, long before the new tv show and American politics took a sharp right turn toward the Republic of Gilead. But, once again, the time was finally right. I listened to Claire Danes’ narration of the book on my commute to and from work and I was entirely engrossed and enraged by the story. However, while I really enjoyed the way Claire Danes read the story, part of me wished I’d read a physical copy first because the structure of the book is intricate and there’s a lot of word play and subtly in the language that I think would’ve had more impact if I’d seen it on the page. So, I’m thinking about re-reading the book almost immediately. Like maybe next month, in March.
The Dark, Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen – True story, my co-workers and I are all fans of Jon Klassen’s “Hat Trilogy” of picture books, which are darkly funny and sly. So when I stumbled upon this one, I insisted one of my co-workers read it out loud to some of us and he did an amazing job without ever having read it before. He did wonderful voices for both Lazlo (the little boy) and The Dark.
The One Hundred Nights of Hero, Isabel Greenberg – This graphic novel is stunning. In the vein of (responding to?) A Thousand and One Nights and set in the world of her earlier book The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, this book is a story within a story within a story, so very meta. While looking up the book in Goodreads, I found this amazing quote from reader Chihoe Ho: “The moral of this story is: Tell stories to get out of dangerous situations. But not just any stories. Smart stories. Stories about brave women who don’t take shit from anyone.” That pretty much says it all. I was so moved reading this book.
The Awesome, Eva Darrow – A friend and co-worker recommended this book last year and it sounded, well, awesome. The premise: a teenage girl is an apprentice to her monster hunter mother, but can’t get her journeyman license (particularly for vampire cases) until she loses her virginity. But I didn’t pick it up right away, for some reason. Once I did, I adored Darrow’s incredible sense of her world and characters. Maggie and her mother’s relationships is one of the best in fiction, and Maggie’s sense of her self (as well as her doubts) felt very real and very special to me. I wish I’d had this book at 16, but I’m glad it’s in the world now. Also, I should say that the book is very striking – the cover art, the black-tipped pages, the cover material, the size of the book, all of this made the book feel good in your hands and also very unique.
The Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George (translated by Simon Pare) – Another great audio book, this time read by three people – Steve West for the bulk of the story, as well as Emma Bering and Cassandra Campbell. Something about the multiple readers added to the radio play feeling. I’m always fascinated by books in translation (this was originally published in German), especially when there’s so much emotional nuance, like there is in this story. It’s hard not to love a story that features a “book apothecary” on a boat and a querulous bookseller who refuses to sell books people want to read, insisting they buy the books they need to read. But then the story becomes an adventure tale, as the lonely main character goes on a journey and ends up forming a family of sorts from strays and lost causes he meets along his journey. This book had so many unexpected layers.
Rejected Princesses, Jason Porath – This is one of the coolest books I’ve ever read – a heavy encyclopedia of animated princess-like illustrations to accompany biographic entries about kick ass women through history. It took me about two months to read, because I read it at work and purposefully let people “catch” me reading, so I could tell them about it. It started so many conversations and a lot of folks of all genders and ages wanted to read this after I told them about it. The book started as a website and gets updated every Wednesday, so there’s side stories about the badasses in the first volume and articles about current amazing women. It’s the best. Can’t wait for Volume Two.
Welcome to Deadland, Zachary Tyler Linville – I read this book in about 10 hours. I picked it up and read the first page on a whim and just didn’t stop reading. I basically got no sleep that night. It’s a zombie book that follows two sets of characters both before and after an illness starts infecting people. Like a lot of zombie books, it’s not really about zombies, but more about people, how they form groups and survive, but also what they suffer *before* the apocalyptic event. There were a few engrossing mysteries to keep me reading obsessively, but it wasn’t very gory.
Full disclosure: I read 33 books this month (well, one of those “books” was an issue of a comic book and another was a script, but still). Also, “read” is used whether I listened or read. But, the point is that I haven’t written about everything that I read in January.
I seem to be reading a lot of books about princesses and zombies. Or, I should say “princesses” and “zombies.” But basically, kick ass women (both fictional and real), as well as monsters. Plus, some very timely, long-awaited reads.