Austen Almighty’s Year End Reading Wrap-Up

Another year, another reading wrap-up. In 2016 I read 28 books and it took me until the last minute to get it done– I finished my last book, Colson Whithead’s Underground Railroad about an hour before writing this. For the full list, feel free to head over to my Goodreads, where I track all of my reading.

Breakdown
Total books read: 28/28
Five Stars: 5
Four Stars: 11
Three Stars: 12
Two/One Stars: 0

As I’ve said in the past, I vet my books fairly carefully because reading bad books is a waste of time, so this distribution is not surprising. I did read more 3-star books than usual, however.

As far as patterns go, I started strong and had a major dip during July and August. I had a lot of reading to do for school this semester, of which Too Big to Fail was one, which hurt my year-end totals. Luckily, because of my good start I was only two books behind at the end of the semester and I was able to safely complete my goal.

Five Favorite Titles
1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (the first book I read this year and yes, also my favorite. Read my review here.)
2. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (I actually gave this book four stars, but it also really inspired me to write, and I know I’ll be using to for reference in the future.)
3. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (Although, much like the last half an hour of Interstellar, the ending of this book lost me, I find myself thinking about it all the time.)
4. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (There’s not much more to say than what has already been said. Read my review here.)
5. Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan (Literally just the most delightful thing I read all year. I like to look back and remember how happy this book made me.)

My goal next year is to read 29 (new) books with enough time to re-visit older titles at the end of the year. This will require some more consistency on my part, though my shelves are in disarray since I can’t have all my books with me at once. First on the docket is Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker, mostly because it’s the only book I actually have with me on vacation.

The World

“I’m sorry sweet child of mine, this is not the world I hoped for you.”

My mother sent me the text late last night, when to the shock of everyone, it became increasingly clear that Donald J. Trump would become President of the United States.

It broke me heart.

It is a terrible thing, that so many white voters feel as though their country has failed them. It’s also a terrible thing that so many minority groups have been failed by their country.

But today I am inspired by the messages of love and hope my friends have shared. The world my parents dreamed for me is not out of reach. We have to fight for it.

The Joy of Creation

Cre – ate
verb
bring (something) into existence

The act of creating something is a nice feeling. There’s something very secure in knowing that something would not exist without you. It makes you feel important, necessary. Accomplished.

I recently taught myself how to knit hats. I completed my first one, and although lumpy, I would not have a soft, knit beanie if I hadn’t made it myself. I made a fuzzy ring of happiness in me.

Of course, the act of creation can get much, much bigger than knitting a hat. Architects create buildings, couples create babies. All remarkable, new things.

Creating is a nuanced, often difficult process no matter what it is. When I struggle, there are certain sources I go to for inspiration, creators I admire. These are some

Casey Neistat

The Art Assignment The baby of Sarah Green (John Green’s wife), this channel produces amazing content on well, art. My favorite series is the “The Case for…”

Nerdwriter A video essayist who produces content on a couple of different topics, mostly around some form of media.

KaptainKristian
Do you ever feel like someone is inside your brain? Like Nerdwriter, Kristian is does video essays on everything I’ve ever thought was cool, mostly focusing on media. His latest was on Childish Gambino and and multiplicity of the modern artist. His last video on the design of the alien from Alien got repackaged at a WIRED article.

A Crisis of Faith (What’s New?)

Question: what do you do when you’re no longer good at what you’re good at? What you’ve always been good at?

Last week, my writing professor handed back the news stories we’d written, an assignment I’d worked hard on after phoning-in the first one. The night before I turned it in I read it out loud to my sister over the phone.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve been having trouble with the organization.”

“No,” she replied. “It’s good, Abs, really good.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. I trust my sister’s judgment more than anyone’s.

But when I got the assignment back, I read through the little edits and positive comments, all the way to the bottom where a glaring B- was circled. I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t gotten a grade that bad on a writing assignment since Junior year of high school, when I was enrolled in AP Language and Composition—and I consider that class to be a watershed moment, where my writing potential turned into actual skill. 

I was crushed. More than crushed, actually. This one grade sent me into a downwards spiral of self-doubt and shook the very foundation of my academic career. Writing is what I do and I’ve never been interested in something else.

I sat through my 11:00 lecture utterly miserable.

Even a week later, my confidence in my writing ability is still shaken. Even after I talked to my professor and when she said she was going to reconsider my grade. I know I’ve never wanted to be a journalist, so it shouldn’t be a huge deal, right? Creative writing is a better fit for me, right?

“Don’t waste time waiting for inspiration. Begin, and inspiration will find you.” -H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Things have been compounding on top of me. I started a new job this weekend (some stupid one that hardly matters but pays), got sick again, and have been battling the predictable loneliness that comes with being away from friends and family. And now, words are harder to come by than ever.

Lately my thoughts have been meandering about my brain; yesterday I spent all day trying to research a paper and wrote less than a hundred words. I can only hope that by trying to write some of this down it will release the floodgates and I will actually be able to write again. No, to think again.

Summer Reading: a List

I month of September flew right by, and I forgot about doing a summer roundup. As we all know, May-August was a strange time for me and the same goes for my reading habits during it. I played bingo again and started off strong, but when I started a new, full time job in mid-July, I stopped reading almost completely. Included in this list are books read from May-August, with two exceptions.

  1. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (started in April)
  2. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  3. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
  4. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
  5. Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan
  6. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
  7. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  8. The Goldfinch by Donna Tart
  9. Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope by Ian Doescher
  10. Never-Ending Birds by David Baker
  11. The Dream Thieves by Maggie Steifvater
  12. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling (technically finished before September)

All things considered, twelve books is pretty good. Obviously there are bloggers and vloggers who are capable of that total in a month, but I am not and will likely never be one of them.

Of them all, the Bone Clocks was probably my favorite, although it does go off the rails a bit at the end. And even though I don’t think it’s a masterpiece, the Goldfinch did make me want to go out and get the Secret History.

And least favorite? Well, we all know how I feel about Ender’s Game.

Where You Been, Reader Girl?

The bedrock of this blog is literature. I have been doing very little literature blogging lately. Some of that is because I have much less free time, because of school. And some of it’s because I’ve been in the mood to binge watch multiple shows at Netflix. And some of it’s because when I could be reading, I’ve been knitting instead. Yesterday I finished my first hat; I’m very proud of myself.

But most of all, I haven’t been blogging about reading because I’ve been reading. For my big Communications 101 lecture we were assigned Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail. I guess the 2008 financial crisis is “in” these days.

It is very enormous (almost 600 pages) and more importantly, a very dense nonfiction book on finance. Yeah. Not really light reading.

Book Community Resource Guide

New to the online book community? Don’t worry, we were all there at one point or another. This post is designed to help set you up in this brave new world (get it? that’s a terrible book joke).

Youtube: there’s a big community of readers on Youtube, fittingly called BookTube! I personally love video content, and would probably be on Youtube instead of writing if I weren’t so embarrassed of my own face. For those unfamiliar, though, these channels are video blogs (but different from the diary formatted vlogs), where instead of content being posted as writing, it’s as a video. There’s quite a bit of creators out there, so it’s important to find people who read the types of books you read.

booksandquills: my longtime favorite, a young Dutch woman living in London and working in publishing. Recently has been posting very frequently, and reads a lot of literary fiction and classics (but also YA, but not an excessive amount)

peruseproject: this girl is one of those people who reads impossibly fast. I’ll admit, she reads a lot of fantasy, which I’m not really into, but she’s got such a bubbly personality that eventually she just grew on me

acaseforbooks: I’m so sad she only as four videos up. This woman also works in publishing and has a lot of recommendations of things of never heard of. Her style of videos is so amazing too– she does everything overhead and includes stationary and her own beautiful handwriting.

Tracking: Goodreads (feel free to friend me!) is the most commonly used site to track reading progress. There’s also LibraryThing that I know of, but I’ll admit I’m not super familiar with it or the differences. You can record books you’ve read, currently reading, want to read, and set up custom bookshelves. Some people are very meticulous and methodical about it and have their whole library organized. I do not. There are different reviews and stars for pretty much every book out there. Part of what I love so much about it are the community building efforts. There are lists for when you don’t know what to read and many different reading groups, like book clubs! But my favorite feature is the yearly challenge to read a self-set amount of books. It really helps me stay consistent with my goals.

Fun Things: March madness is right around the corner (and I mean it– my school is in the tournament and they play right down the street). Have no idea what I’m talking about? Do, but don’t give a crap about college basketball? No worries, because the Tournament of Books is here! It’s a March Madness style bracket tournament hosted every year by the Morning News. There are different judges and commentators on every round, providing a lot of fun and book banter. Even if you haven’t read most (or any) of the books, it’s still a good way to rack up a TBR.

Books on the Nightstand is a podcast I’ve mentioned on this blog before. Surprise, I still really love it. It’s run by two booksellers in the Northeast, so they’ve got the skinny on all the new books coming out. And because they’re sponsored by Audible, they have a segment where they talk about their favorite audiobooks. So that’s a great resource in the face of the huge Audible library. Their episodes are short, too, running about 30-40 minutes each. I love podcasts, but it’s hard to find an hour and a half of time to listen to an episode straight through. These I can manage between classes.


Have anything to add? Leave it in a comment down below!

Mr. Splitfoot // Review

Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt. Published 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 336 pages.

“Every story is a ghost story.”

Mr. Splitfoot is a haunting American Gothic, a novel that is piled with layers and mystery. It’s a hard thing to categorize– it mixes a dual narrative of alternating POV chapters with elements of magical realism, ghost stories, and religion. Not to mention the classic American vibe; the story takes place in the blue collar wilderness of New York state. A reader may find it difficult to know what’s real and what is not. In fact, the characters themselves struggle with this.

517uly48sql-_sy344_bo1204203200_This novel floats. It’s almost as if it were a dream. It touched me at unexpected times in unexpected ways. Samantha Hunt as an author caught me by surprise– this is the first piece of writing by her I’ve ever read, and she has perfected the art of just enough. She gives and takes from the reader in such a way that you will be driven through this book. The classic gothic elements are all there, but Hunt twists them in interesting and new ways. If you’re looking for something totally unique, look no further.

The core of the novel is built around the themes of belief– false and true– and motherhood. Womanhood, even. Some of the periphery characters are a bit shallow, but the two main ones, Cora and Ruth, are perfectly nuanced. Cora’ narrative takes places present day and is about life– she’s pregnant– and Ruth’s takes place in the unsure past and is about death. They mirror each other perfectly.

(As an aside, I love the way this novel treats modernity. Cora gets a “euphorical rush” from buying expensive shoes on the internet, but for the most part technology is tossed aside. I feel like you never get that is contemporary literary fiction.)

“We will change them into cedars. We know that this is impossible.”

It is a novel that is otherworldly. Complicated, impossible to truly explain. Magical. It’s a very American thing, if that makes any sense. I really, really loved it, but I could be biased because it resembles one of my favorite novels in the best of ways (if you loved Neil Gaiman’s American Gods you will certainly love this too).

A Lesson in Nostalgia

Or, How I Became Exactly the Person I Didn’t Want to Be

Yesterday I went back to the high school I graduated from, to visit teachers I was very fond of as an Adult. Last June, I swore I would never step in that building again; like a lot of people, I don’t exactly have fond memories of high school. Or do I? Time, even less than a year, does strange things to our memories. Some people can only remember bad things but I always remember the good.

A few days ago, I figured that going to say hi would be a fun experience. But the day of, I found myself incredibly reluctant. Why? Why didn’t I want to go back?

After I graduated, I said to myself, I will not be the person who can’t escape high school. It’s like being an adult still obsessed with their college days. I look at those kind of people with a sort of contempt. Like their live isn’t interesting enough now, so they have to go back to the days when they were happy. I’ve always felt, deep down, that sticking to college or high school means you’ve failed at having an interesting life.

And that’s kind of fucked up.

I don’t want to cling to the last straws of the Good Ole Days (even though they weren’t that good), but does going back to visit my high school mean I’m doing that? Why should anyone even care, why should I even care? Maybe it’s because I’m a different person than who I was in school. Maybe it’s because I desperately want to separate myself from that person. The fact is, high school was a major part of my life– four exploratory, formative years. It’s hard to just walk away from that and quite frankly, no one should feel the pressure to have to.

I told my theater director I’d do him a favor, which meant I had to go back to the school today. It felt like everyone was wondering why I wouldn’t just leave. But they probably weren’t. They probably didn’t even care.