2012 review in books (stats and favorites)

I’m incredibly late on this post (you can find the first part here), but better late than never I figure. First, here’s a breakdown of the goals I set for the year as well as some information on how I did.

books: 52
pages: 20,000

books: 52 (100% to goal)
pages: 20,595 (103% to goal)
on average, I finished a book every 7.0 days
on average, each book had 396.1 pages
this means I read just over 56 pages per day, on average
24/52 books were by women, 15/32 authors were female
24/52 books were new books (yikes!)

TOP FIVE FAVORITE (NEW) BOOKS (in no particular order)
Ayiti, by Roxane Gay
This Is Not Your City, by Caitlin Horrocks
Mother and Child, by Carole Maso
The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Cataclysm Baby, by Matt Bell

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

FIVE MOST DISAPPOINTING BOOKS (not necessarily ones I disliked, just ones I expected more from)
Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
Gourmet Rhapsody, by Muriel Barbery
Out of Sight, Out of Time, by Ally Carter
The Giver, by Lois Lowry
Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

literary fiction: Mother and Child, by Carole Maso
poetry: The Folding Star and Other Poems, by Jacek Gutorow
story collection: This Is Not Your City, by Caitlin Horrocks
nonfiction: The Girl Who Was on Fire, edited by Leah Wilson
adult fantasy: The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson Continue reading “2012 review in books (stats and favorites)” »

My favorite female characters

Katniss Everdeen

Katniss is focused and unapologetic.

Katniss Everdeen, from Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Series
I know a lot of people don’t like Katniss. They say she’s whiny, or that she’s deliberately toying with Peeta and Gale. I see something different. To me, Katniss is a survivor. At times she is emotionally tough and at others emotionally vulnerable. She cares about her family more than anything in the world—more, even, than herself. It takes her three books to make up her mind about which man to be with because she constantly has to deal with other, more important things. She sees the pain she is causing the two men and does her best to do right by them, but also by herself. She’s a fighter but she does not truly relish the fight.

Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
Here is another character who isn’t afraid of who she is. She follows her desires and, on the whole, she has a well-tuned moral compass that doesn’t lead her astray. She is genuinely kind. She feels, but she doesn’t let those feelings run her life. She is innocent yet strangely astute, and the way the older Scout looks back on her childhood makes it certain that she grew into a strong and smart woman.

Elsha, from Sherryl Jordan’s Winter of Fire
Elsha, who lives in a world heavily divided by class and gender, wants equality and respect. She is outspoken even when her words will ultimately bring her pain. But more, she backs her words up with actions, often risking her life and liberty. And through this all, she rarely judges. She tries to befriend those who insult her; she tries for reasoned argument with those who disagree with her. She feels hurt but does not pity herself.

Cammie Morgan, from Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series
Cammie is smart and talented but still insecure—and unlike many YA books where insecurity is the humanizing characteristic in an otherwise unlikeable character, Cammie truly shines. She doesn’t know yet what she wants from life, and while she is genuinely afraid of what might be, she never lets fear or unease stop her. She is part of a sisterhood, and she will risk all to protect that sisterhood. Continue reading “My favorite female characters” »

2012 year in reveiw in books (the books)

January saw the beginning of my second semester as a professor at Michigan State, except this time, instead of only teaching first-year writing, I also got to teach an editing and publishing class in professional writing. However, the real news this month was that I had my first ever short story accepted for publication. When I found out, I called my dad at work and left a message with the front office asking him to call me back, and when he did, I was near tears on the phone. He said later his first thought was that something horrible had happened, so when I told him I was going to be published, his reaction was, “Oh, is that all?”

Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line, by Ben Hamper
This was a book I meant to finish before the end of 2011 (I was up until midnight reading it), but I just ran out of time. I think, however, that I would have been able to move through it more quickly had I enjoyed it more. It’s a good book. I can recognize that. And it was really interesting to see the sort of invisible work that goes into our fancy (and not so fancy) cars. Still, this book wasn’t quite my style.

The Subversive Copy Editor, by Carol Fisher Saller
This was a book I assigned in my editing and publishing class. Usually class books don’t make my list because I don’t make the students read the whole thing, and so I end up only skimming sections I know they’re going to skip. This book I did end up giving to my students in full, however, and I would have read the entire thing even if I hadn’t. The book is written by the same woman who writes the FAQ page on the Chicago Manual of Style’s website, and it’s just as awesomely hilarious. My one complaint is that I prefer the spelling copyeditor to copy editor.

The Way of KingsThe Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
I think I started this book back over the summer, but the delay in my finishing it really had very little to do with the story itself. Yes, I did think some parts could have been put into summary, or could have moved at a faster pace, but I felt connected to the characters, and I really found myself cheering for them. I’m looking forward to the second book in the series, which is rumored to be coming out later this year.

Gregor the Overlander, by Suzanne Collins
This is the first book in Suzanne Collins’ middle grade series, and while I enjoyed it, I found it too predictable. It’s really quite good for its audience, but it’s probably not a series I’ll return to unless I’m one day reading it to a child. Continue reading “2012 year in reveiw in books (the books)” »

2011 year in review in books (part III)

Reads parts I and II.


August was a bit of a whirlwind for me. I went through two weeks of training at MSU and spent my time at the State trying to finish up a massive copyright project, as well as learning how to use the new item bank system (which, in my opinion, will help quantity of test questions rather than quality, but I digress). Missy moved out this month, and I helped with that. My mom was just getting worse with her back, so at the end of the month it was pretty much just me and my dad handling anything involving lifting or pulling. As a final aside-type note, I think it was right at the beginning of this month when I saw Harry Potter in the theaters for the last time, when my sister and I went back for our final repeat showing.

Mistborn: The Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson
This was another reread for me, and while I remembered some very big general things about how the series ended, it was exciting to watch it all unfold again. I was shocked by how little time the two main characters (Vin and Elend, to me) spent together in this book, and this made me rather sad. Still, this books deviates from so many archetypes in the fantasy genre, and it was great to re-experience that.

The Sea of Monsters, by Rick Riordan
Considering that I’m someone who tends to enjoy retellings and reimaginings (and I love work that incorporates myth), I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy this series, but I was excited to start this second book in the Percy Jackson series. I especially liked how the book worked more with Annabeth’s character.

A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
I really enjoyed this book, but I wouldn’t quite go so far as to say I loved it. I struggled with the large cast of characters at times, because I felt that the limited page space each got wasn’t enough to fully develop them in my mind. That said, this was still a very good book, and I would recommend it, especially if you’re interested in ways books break (or attempt to break) out of the traditional bonds holding them. Continue reading “2011 year in review in books (part III)” »

Eight things full of memory and meaning

For fun, and because I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about all the places I’ve been these last few years.

1. “Into the Airwaves,” by Jack’s Mannequin. Makes me think of sitting on the floor in my first apartment watching someone try to fix my computer. I’ve always been drawn to the evocative quality of his first album. One song on it has inspired two (totally different) short stories, though at least for the moment, this one brings back the strongest memory—though I’m not entirely convinced the memory is real the same way it is in my head.

2. “All These Things that I’ve Done,” by The Killers. I love this song, and this song brings back lots of small happy moments (more impressions really), but it also brings back one very sad one. My second party while I was in Spokane, I helped pick a song, then turned down an invitation, and had one hell of a bad night.

3. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire. I’ve read this book a few times, and I loved it. In graduate school, however, in front of the professor I most respected and wanted to impress, I named this as the best book in the past twenty years—not because I thought it was a great answer, but because it was the only work of literary quality I’d read from the past twenty years. Since then, I’ve made a real effort to keep up with modern literature. I’m rereading this book now, and I’m hoping that it’s sparkle doesn’t dim for me, but so far it’s only good, not great.

4. Cold days, when the heating vents turn on in the morning. Our dog Jack used to love when the vents came on, and he’d run over and curl up over top of the vent. That in turn always reminded me of when I was a little girl and would do the same thing while my dad got my breakfast (Cheerios with brown sugar) ready for me.

5. Morrill Hall. I once spent a fall afternoon wandering around campus with a camera and a friend, and he took some cool pictures of me on the steps of Morrill Hall. Art, beauty, friendship—and now I hear they’re going to tear the building down.

6. Girls to the Rescue, by Bruce Lansky. I’m not even sure I still own a copy of this book of fairy tales (all of which have the females as heroines rather than damsels in distress), but I still think of it from time to time—and whenever I hear the word persnickety. I took this book to an MSU football game once, and it poured, and I tucked myself completely under my poncho and ate a bag on M&Ms while I read this book.

7. My senior year varsity soccer sweatshirt. And it’s not for the reasons you might think. I left this sweatshirt at the home of this guy I liked (though to this day I can’t tell you what I saw in him beyond someone else to help keep me as down on myself as possible), and after I finally broke away from his abusive attitude, I gave up on ever getting it back. And then one day it was left at my work for me. Then, a few months later, a friend of mine mentioned this guy in the context of having seen my ex-boyfriend, and I flipped out. I still can’t look at the sweatshirt, and I swear it still smells a bit like that house, but I’ve hidden it away against the day that it brings the good memories of soccer success again.

8. Long stretches of highway vanishing into the horizon. While I was in Spokane, feeling so very alone, I used to think that if I only had the guts, I could take the highway all the way home.

2011: Year in review in books (part II)

Read part I here.


April was not a good month, but I’ll start with the good things. I started my new position with the State, and I took a trip to Florida to visit my cousin, Erin. We spent a few days at Disney World, and we went to the beach and the zoo. But my last full day there, I got a phone call from my parents telling me that my dog, Jack, had died. My parents found him dead in his bed in the morning. Then, at the end of the month, my dad needed surgery for cancer that had been diagnosed earlier in the year. The bright light at the end of the tunnel, however, was that we brought home a new dog, Molly. My dad wasn’t ready for a new dog, but we asked him while he was…um…slightly out of it in the hospital. So that’s how we got Molly.

Suicide, by Edouard Levé
I read a review copy of this book, and you can find my review online here, so I’ll be succinct. Loved the book. Also, this was another book I read in translation this year (from the original French).

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, by Ally Carter
This is the second book in the Gallagher Girls series, and I brought it with me to Florida as my fun read. This book did suffer from a bit of the sophomore book syndrome (did I just coin a new phrase?), but it was still fun and exciting, and I liked getting to know Cammie and her friends even better.

My Happy Life, by Lydia Millet
I’d read one of Millet’s short story collections in 2010 and really enjoyed it, and so this was the second book I picked up by her. We’d run an interview with her in Willow Springs, and I was really intrigued by the premise behind this book: that of a character who is happy despite all the bad (horrible) things that have happened to her. It’s a quick read, but very captivating, even when you’re unsure whether you really should be enjoying it, because some really awful things happen to the narrator. I’m probably not making a good sell here, but this was yet another fantastic book I read this year. Continue reading “2011: Year in review in books (part II)” »

2011: A year in review in books (part I)

For 2011—a year without school for the first time in twenty-one years—I bumped my goal back up to 52 books and 20,000 pages. I hit the first goal (57 books), but I missed my page goal by quite a bit, for the first time in years (only hit 18,932). This will probably take a series of posts, but I’ll go month by month and then finish up with a general overview of the year. So. Here we go.


January found me still working at the State of Michigan, though I mostly kept to myself, especially after they forgot to invite me to the Christmas party (then I got scolded for not making an appearance) and then left me out of the secret santa exchange. This is also the month that I really started reaffirming my commitment to writing. I took some time off after grad school (my advisor wasn’t wrong about there being burnout after twenty-one years of school), but the new year felt like a good time to get back into it, and so I started 100 Days of Writing—a project where I tried to write 100 out of 110 days. The month was good for writing, but even better for reading. I got through nine books.

CathedralCathedral, by Raymond Carver
Carver is hit or miss with me, but this book was mostly miss. The only story I remember from it now, a year later, is the title story, and I’d read that one before. There’s something really beautiful about this idea of these two men sitting there and drawing, but the execution falls flat for me. And now, I suppose the hate mail begins for me.

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
This was a reread and, to be honest, I only waited a few hours after the ball dropped to restart it. Reading the book in a new year meant I could count it again, and even though I’d only first read it three months before, I couldn’t wait to get back to it. And just like the first time I read it, I loved it. I’ll be reading the book again this year, too, though not until right before the movie comes out in March. Continue reading “2011: A year in review in books (part I)” »

The case of the missing modern literature

While at work today, I had to look up the Common Core State Standards. For those that don’t know (I wouldn’t, if I didn’t have the job I do), they are pretty much what they sound like—common education standards designed to be used across the states (see the specific standards here). According to the website, the standards

define the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs.

They are supposed to be a framework that teachers work within—flexible, and all that. But if you’re like me, you wonder if a national guidance standard doesn’t soon become, well, a requirement. It was this feeling that resulted in my complete and total dismay after seeing the list of exemplar English Language Arts texts (PDF).

I jumped immediately to page 101 in the PDF since I figured I’d be most familiar with the high school texts. And I was right, in a way. I’ve heard of almost everything on the list, because it’s all so predictable. Almost nothing published within the past 30 years, and I think I only counted 2 novels from the past 20 (The Book Thief and The Namesake). I asked one of my coworkers about it (she taught language arts not too many years gone) and she said it’s an example of the pendulum swinging the other way, that in the past fifteen or twenty years (I made that number up; she only said recently, but included the time of my high school education in “recent”) the push had been toward modern literature and that this had created a sort of backlash. People kept wondering why students (why their children) weren’t being exposed to the “classics.”

Now, I don’t know about my readers, but this surprised me. I can’t recall reading a single modern work during my K-12 education. The only thing I can really think of is when I read Homecoming (1981) in sixth grade, which would have been about 15 years after it was published. Other than that, it was classics all the way. Catch-22, Brave New World, 1984, Shakespeare, Their Eyes Were Watching God, A Doll’s House, The Awakening, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Lord of the Flies, Antigone, etc. As for poetry and short stories, I don’t think we read anything written after World War II, with most of the work pre-1900s. When I got to graduate school, I was shocked that so many of my peers were so familiar with modern writers, though that seems silly to me now.

My coworker tells me my school might have been an exception.

While advancing through my pre-college education, I had mostly good things to say about it. I enjoyed reading the classics, because I thought that was what book lovers were supposed to do (never mind that even I could tell that most of my enjoyment for these works was feigned, with a few exceptions, of course). When I got the AP English reading list, I set a goal to read through the whole of it (I never did get very far). But now I wonder why we don’t have a more balanced curriculum for our students, why we aren’t exposing them to writers with whom they can still interact: send letters to, have a book signed, eagerly await a new release. Surely there is value to be found in older work as well, but to ignore an entire generation of readers seems to me like we are failing our students, depriving them of the stories set in a world they can recognize, written in language they don’t have to translate. These are books their friends might pick up, their parents. Why should school literature feel like a genre of its own?

Finding more time to read

I’m always trying to find more time to read. Here are ten of my suggestions for how I make the time.

1. Read during meals. Probably not nice dinners, or first dates (unless you’re lucky and find another crazy bibliophile), but I usually get some reading time in every morning at breakfast and pretty much any other meal I enjoy by myself.

2. Read during your break at work. Currently I’m using my break time to go on walks in order to get more exercise, but when I’m desperate for more reading time, especially in the summer when I can go outside, it’s easy to fit in a few pages during a regular fifteen minute work break.

3. Read before bed. This one seems so easy, but it always surprises me how many people go-go-go during the day and then climb straight into bed. Not only can forming the habit of twenty or so minutes of pleasure (not work or school) reading before bed quickly add up, but it can also help form a buffer between a long day and a relaxing night of sleep.

4. Read while traveling. I’ve been blessed with the ability to read in the car, but even if directing your eyes toward print while in a vehicle makes you sick, there are plenty of other ways to fit in reading while traveling. I’ve been known to read on airplanes, buses, and trains. I read in airport terminals and even while waiting in line to board or to go through security. I think I’ve even pulled out a book while eating alone in an airport restaurant, which is sort of numbers one and four combined.

5. Read while waiting. If you have a book with you at all times you can pull it out whenever an unexpected delay arises. A ride is late? The line at the pharmacy is super long? Your doctor’s office is behind schedule? You can read!

6. Read during commercials. The mute button exists for a reason, and besides, do you really need to watch another beer or car commercial? Sure it’s just five minutes here and there, but if the book is good, sometimes you might find yourself letting the DVR pick up the TV show, or just turning it off altogether.

7. Read as a reward. “I’ll let myself read two chapters after I vacuum the stairs.” “I’ll start that new book after I do that writing I need to do.” The trick here is making sure you actually allow yourself the reward rather than continuing to pile on tasks.

8. Read first thing in the morning. This works best on days you don’t work, obviously, but I find I get lots of reading done on the days when I do it first, even before getting out of bed or eating breakfast, before I have the time to put it off.

9. Set goals. Even if your goal is only one book per month, set it and stick to it. Having something attainable to shoot for inspires you, and you’ll find that you start finding the time to read. I find that this is especially true in January and February, when I’m especially inspired with a new year’s goal, and again in November and December, when I’m desperately trying to meet that goal.

10. Pick the right books. Don’t read the books that other people think you need to read, read the books you enjoy. Don’t be afraid to branch out and try something new, but don’t struggle through a book unless you want to finish it. If you’re reading a book you don’t enjoy, you’re less likely to make time to read it, and if you’re a one-book-at-a-time person (not like me), you’ll soon find that you’re hardly reading at all.

2010 books: the best of the best, the worst of the worst

Now that I’ve gone through all the books I read in 2010, it’s time for a roundup of those I enjoyed the most and those I enjoyed the least. At the end of the post I’ll have some stats on how many books I read total and how I did on meeting my goals for the year. But first, in no particular order, my top five new reads. For those of you that saw my list on Bark, I’m aware that this probably doesn’t match. Different day, different state of mind, different thoughts.

5 Favorite Books of 2010

1. Towers of Midnight, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
2. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (though to be honest I have a very difficult time picking a favorite in this trilogy; I sort of picked this, the first book, by default)
3. The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides
4. The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri
5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

4 Most Disappointing Books of 2010

1. Dragonspell, by Donita K. Paul
2. Travels in the Scriptorium, by Paul Auster
3. Wittgenstein’s Mistress, by David Markson
4. Girl Trouble, by Holly Goddard Jones Continue reading “2010 books: the best of the best, the worst of the worst” »