Welcome to a new feature! I live for my year-end reading roundup but by the time I compile it I cannot remember what I loved or hated about the vast majority of the books I read (or didn’t finish reading) and the list is soooooo long (over 100 last year just for the books I finished). So this year I’m going to break it up into twelve segments.
BOOKS FINISHED IN JANUARY
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. This was my second Dickens book ever. As before, I was surprised that so much humanity, sass, and humor could be couched in such circuitous sentences. Though I anticipated the plot twists, I still enjoyed them. But I would like Dickens more if he wasn’t so goddamned antisemitic. Yeah, yeah, yeah, everyone was back then. But I don’t find that a very good excuse given that so many of Dickens’s other sociological leanings were so modern for his time (on issues like child labor and classism).
Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown. Apparently I am an adult because there wasn’t a whole lot in here that was news to me. That should not imply that I don’t recommend this book, though! What is in it is stuff I had to learn the hard way – stuff like budgeting and severing toxic relationships that they don’t teach in high school and I wish I had known a looooong time ago. Also it’s a fairly funny book.
Promise Land: My Journey Through America’s Self-Help Culture by Jessica Lamb-Shapiro. And it is quite a journey. Rather than tossing herself in, as you might expect, the author has to work her way out from the inside, having been born to a father that sells educational board games and gadgets intended (with little scientific basis) to circumvent the need for self-help in later life. Clearly, they don’t work, because the author needed plenty of self-help (and some psychiatric help) as an adult.
Design the Life You Love: A Guide to Thinking About Your Life Playfully and with Optimism by Ayse Birsel. I read a lot of these “how to be happy” books but this one had a fun, very visual new approach in which you deconstruct both the life you now live and the life you’d love to live and reconstruct them to see how to make them work together or make the one into the other. There’s lots of chart making and list making and venn diagrams and doodling.
Me, Myself & Prague: An Unreliable Guide to Bohemia by Rachael Weiss. I love travel memoirs, but just you try finding ones written about countries other than Italy and France! I ran across this title when searching Goodreads in vain for a German version of A Year in Provence or Under the Tuscan Sun. (Still no luck. Drop me a line if you know where to find that particular unicorn.) But this was a good substitute. I have no interest in hearing jet-setting rich folk talk about their summer in Whereveristan but I love this kind of by-the-bootstraps, leaping-before-looking, oh-shit-I-don’t-even-speak-the-language, what-the-hell-am-I-gonna-do-for-work kind of travel memoir.
A Summer in Gascony: Discovering the Other South of France by Martin Calder. Another travel memoir. This time our memoirist is a summer-hire at a farm/inn/restaurant in the middle of nowhere in a part of France that is practically Spain. A Year in Provence, but with an indecipherable dialect and the author is the one doing all the hard work instead of paying locals to do it.
Travelers Rest by Keith Lee Morris. If you like Twin Peaks you’ll probably like this. And I like Twin Peaks, but I felt like this whole book took place in the Black Lodge and there was never a respite from the confusing, dreamy weirdness.
Bristol House by Beverly Swerling. I don’t remember where I got the recommendation for this one but it failed to mention that this is a mystery. I love mysteries! On TV. I love sci-fi! On TV. I have no idea why, but I do not enjoy reading mysteries or sci-fi, although just try prying me away from Castle or Star Trek. (Just try.) That said, I both finished this book and enjoyed it, too. The weird, Dan Brown-style conspiracy theory didn’t manage to put me off it, either. Must have been good characters – I’ll endure a lot for a well-written character.
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. This was a very short book. It could have been a lot shorter. Like, a paragraph. I felt like the author came around to her points in a manner so roundabout she may as well have been slingshotting around the sun.
Oh Mexico!: Love and Adventure in Mexico City by Lucy Neville. Recommended to me by Goodreads after I finished Me, Myself, and Prague. Another of those very rare not-French-or-Italian travel memoirs. And a very similar kind of narrative, it is: “How am I gonna find enough work?,” “How the hell does one get an apartment around here?,” “Is this food poisoning?,” “How can a place with so many beheadings be so romantic?,” “OMG what do I do when my parents get here?”, etc.
How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One by Stanley Fish. This simply failed to keep my attention.
Save Now or Die Trying: Achieving Long-Term Wealth in Your 20s and 30s by Mark Bruno. Nothing here I didn’t learn from Dave Ramsey.
The Hands-On Home: A Seasonal Guide to Cooking, Preserving & Natural Homekeeping by Erica Strauss. A lovely book, and I photocopied several recipes, but mostly I skimmed over things I wasn’t interested in doing. But then, I’ve read a lot of books like this.
The Everyday Gourmet : rediscovering the lost art of cooking by Bill Briwa. This was a book and DVD-series combo; a complete cooking course. Unfortunately, it took months to get to me through the library and by that time I had already done a really magnificent online class in knife skills – which was primarily what I wanted out of this course – and almost everything else I had already absorbed from years of Cooking Light. However, if you haven’t been actively teaching yourself to cook like a pro for ten years this would be a wonderful course to nab from your library.