Bookshelf: Third Annual Reading Round-Up

Welcome to my third annual reading round-up, my extremely biased list of my favorite books of the year. As I’ve said before, I don’t read the newest books, so if you want reviews of the new bestsellers you’ll have to find someone who gets paid to do that. Here are 25 of my favorite books of the year, plus some bonus ones thrown in there because I’m bad at decisions.

Bragging Rights 2k17:

alexanderhamiltonAlexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow — This may have inspired the musical Hamilton, but unless you really, really aren’t satisfied with the musical and wikipedia, you don’t need to read this. It is very thorough and well-written but it is very long and now I know more about Alexander Hamilton than I ever thought I would.

Non-fiction (misc.):

howtosurviveHow to Survive A Plague by David France — I knew almost nothing about the AIDS crisis going into this book, and it truly didn’t matter. France captures the rising panic in New York’s gay community as AIDS spread and killed more and more gay men, and captures the personalities and contributions of the major players well. Despite knowing how the story (sort of) ends, I was engrossed.

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison — which I talk about here

SunshineState_Large-690x1024Sunshine State by Sarah Gerard — This is a collection of essays about Florida, which sounds boring and myopic at first glance, but soon you realize Gerard isn’t writing about Florida, she’s writing about America, and being a female American, and being human. Also, you learn some truly bizarre facts about that truly bizarre state.

 

the art of deathThe Art of Death: Writing the Final Story by Edwidge Danticat — This is ostensibly a book about how to write about death, but it is also a memoir of the death of Danticat’s mother, and a close reading of much death-writing in Western literature. It reminded me most of Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s short and fascinating, heartbreaking and hopeful.

onedgeOn Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety by Andrea Petersen — A large part of my year has been devoted to managing my anxiety, and trying to understand what anxiety is and how to move through the world as an anxious person. This book is a hybrid memoir of Petersen’s struggle with anxiety and an examination of anxiety and mental health in America, from scientific research to cultural perceptions. It’s excellent for anyone who suffers from anxiety or loves someone who does.

Honorable mentions: All The Lives I Want by Alana Massey; Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helen Peterson; My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel

Memoirs:

Abandon Me by Melissa Febos — which I talk about here

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood — which I talk about here

whenwomenwerebirdsWhen Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams — This is short and enchanting. Williams’ mother left her all of her journals, 54 of them, all of which turned out to be blank. Williams explores her mother’s life and death, and what it means to be a woman and have a voice. It’s a quick read, so try and find it at the library.

 

andyourdaughtersshallAnd Your Daughters Shall Prophesy by Adrian Shirk — I found this at my local bookstore in Seattle and then listened to an interview with the author that sold me on it. Shirk is a millennial exploring the religions of America, which are held up by women who prophesy and testify and break the boundaries imposed on them. Her explorations range from Pentecostal evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson to voodoo priestess Marie Laveau to Southern saint Flannery O’Connor. It is both informative and personal.

heavenscoastHeaven’s Coast by Mark Doty — Read this after you read up on the AIDS crisis, if you don’t know much about it. This memoir is about the death of Doty’s lover from AIDS. It was written in the midst of his death and the aftermath, and Doty makes few concessions to people with little knowledge about the disease. This book is heartbreaking and incredibly beautiful and ultimately hopeful, and I definitely cried my way through it.

Honorable mentions: Hunger by Roxane Gay; Insomniac City by Bill Hayes; The World’s Largest Man by Harrison Scott Key

Fiction:

wehavealwaysWe Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson — This was my year of Shirley Jackson. I read “The Lottery” early in the year because I missed it in high school, and I was hooked. Castle is widely regarded as Jackson’s masterpiece, for good reason. Merricat and Constance Blackwood are two creepy sisters living in a decaying house that you root for in spite of yourself.

deathcomesforDeath Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather — If you love classic literature, this is for you. Structured in a series of connected vignettes rather than one long story arc, it’s good for reading in short spurts (if that’s what you need). It is subtle and lyrical, and Cather meditates on faith in beautiful and surprising ways.

 

itIt by Stephen King — Look, this book is probably twice as long as it needs to be, but I love it anyway. It’s weird and bulky and uneven in places, and there is at least one *ahem* SUPER PROBLEMATIC scene. But if you like being genuinely frightened while reading good writing, this is for you. It’s impossible to find a cheap paperback copy of this right now, so get it from the library if you’re a fast reader.

silenceSilence by Shusaku Endo — Martin Scorsese made this into a movie that I don’t plan on seeing because I cried all the way through this book. It gutted me. Silence is one of the most honest portrayals of missionary experiences that I’ve ever read, and on top of that it is brutally well-written. Through the story of Portuguese priests sneaking into feudal Japan in search of their mentor who has supposedly apostatized, Endo explores heavy topics like colonialism, doubt, cross-cultural communication, and the gray areas of faith. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s worth it.

mybestfriendsexorcismMy Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix — This is like an 80’s horror movie in book form. I’m not usually a huge horror reader, but this strikes the perfect balance of creepy, heart-felt, and occasionally truly horrifying. It’s a super fun read and the cover design is incredible as well.

Honorable mentions: Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion; The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood; The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

YA Literature:

thehateugiveThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas — Everyone you know is reading this for a reason. The main character, Starr, witnesses a white policeman shoot her childhood friend, a black teenager, in the first chapter, and the rest of the book is an emotional rollercoaster that feels entirely too current. The book hits the language and ever-shifting social media etiquette of teenagers spot-on, and the ending is satisfying without coming across as unbelievable. It’s also being made into a movie starring Amandla Stenberg, so read it now.

everythingeverythingEverything, Everything by Nicola Yoon — This was already made into a movie, also starring Amandla Stenberg. Maddy can’t leave her house because of a lifelong illness, but as she falls in love with her new next-door neighbor, a boy named Oliver, she starts to test the limits imposed by her illness and her mother. Yoon has stated that she wrote this book to give her daughter, who is half-black and half-Korean like Maddy, a story to relate to. I thought it was a beautiful love story, if it did stretch the limits of believability at points. Get it from the library.

cameronpostThe Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth — This book is a little more explicit than most YA books I’ve read. Cameron, the main character, lives in a small Montana town and falls in love with the prom queen of her high school, but when their relationship is discovered she’s sent to a conversion therapy home that’s based on real-life campuses run by Exodus International. While it’s definitely for older teens, the book deals with important topics like losing friends, figuring out sexuality, and the death of parents and role models, and I loved it.

onceandforallOnce and For All by Sarah Dessen — I’m a Sarah Dessen stan so I read this as soon as it came out. It’s not as good as her last book, Saint Anything (which might be the best book she’s written) but it’s still a fun, light read. Get it (and all of her books) at the library.

 

annieonmymindAnnie On My Mind by Nancy Garden — This is a classic of both YA and lesbian literature. The narrator, Liza, meets Annie in an improbable meet-cute, and romance ensues. But it’s 1960’s New York, so a number of obstacles get in their way before they ultimately live happily ever after. The story is a little bit cliche and some characters are more like caricatures, but I felt a lot of feelings while reading it.

Christian (because, contrary to some reports, I am one of those):

Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World by Amy Peterson — which I talk about here

revivingoldscratchReviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted by Richard Beck — I was about as skeptical of a book about the devil as I am about a literal devil with red horns and a pitchfork, but this is a thoughtful and provocative meditation on the devil in American Christianity. It won’t leave anyone, theologically conservative or liberal, feeling comfortable at the end. I didn’t agree with all of Beck’s conclusions, but I did appreciate how he got there.

walkingonwaterWalking on Water: Reflections on Art and Faith by Madeleine L’Engle — Did my year really count if I didn’t read at least one Madeleine L’Engle book? As always, I loved reading L’Engle’s thoughts about how faith informs art, and vice versa. It felt particularly topical this year, as I struggled through some guilt over committing to an MFA program and devoting myself in some way to art, in the face of so much injustice in the world.

So Nice I Read ‘Em Twice (notable re-reads):

the entire Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling — In this hellscape of a presidency, we all need a little escapism. I chose magic.

Best Web Thing I Read All Year:

The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems | Courtney Martin for BRIGHT

What were your favorite books and articles of the year? Let me know in the comments!

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Bookshelf: In Praise of Unruly Women

Because I am an angry feminist with nothing better to do than corrupt the youth and therefore our collective future, I have been reading a lot of books by women with opinions (a sure road to destruction). The topics range from celebrities to family dynamics to relationships with our bodies, but all of these books are written and about women who are in some way ‘unruly’ and trying to be unapologetic for it. These have been some of my favorites of the past few months.

toofattoosluttytooloud

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of Unruly Women by Anne Helen Peterson — Peterson is a culture writer for Buzzfeed (and a UT alum, hook ‘em!). I read everything she publishes on the internet, so obviously I was ecstatic when her book came out. This collection of essays analyzes ten different female celebrities who are all, in different ways, ‘unruly.’ They break the norms of traditional femininity and challenge the traditional gender roles in Hollywood. Go read everything AHP publishes, like I do, starting with this book.

priestdaddy

Priestdaddy: A Memoir by Patricia Lockwood — Patricia Lockwood is a poet who was once called “the poet laureate of Twitter.” Lockwood’s memoir is about growing up with a Catholic priest for a father. But her father is a decidedly untraditional priest, and she is a wonderfully untraditional writer, weaving in poetry, hilarity, and commentary on Midwestern culture (she says she was raised in ‘all the worst cities in America’) to her story of moving back into her parents’ house with her husband during a financial crisis. I literally cackled aloud while reading this alone in my bedroom.

allthelivesiwant

All The Live I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen To Be Famous Strangers by Alana Massey — In this collection of essays, Massey analyzes what the treatment of female celebrities and pop culture figures (ranging from Lil’ Kim to Gwyneth Paltrow) says about womanhood in America. She is smart and incisive, and her essay about Sylvia Plath and the teenage-girl-Tumblr obsession with her is especially moving and relevant. Also look at that beautiful cover!

hunger

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay — Look, Roxane Gay has the range. If you’re not reading her, I don’t know what you’re doing. But in case you live under a rock where you haven’t heard of Gay: her prose is incandescent. Gay was gang-raped at twelve and turned to food as a means of control and comfort. Her memoir of moving through the world in what she terms an ‘unruly’ body— a body that takes up too much space— is heartbreaking and enraging and everything I needed.

abandonme

Abandon Me by Melissa Febos — This is a chronicle of Febos’s relationship with a woman that she thought was the love of her life. The first six essays were written while she was still in that relationship, and the last and longest was written after the relationship fell apart. That last essay explores her relationship with her absent father, her identity as a Native American, and her family dynamics while parsing all of the stages of a horrific break-up. The prose is beautiful and kept me entranced all the way through.

What I’m Reading Around the Web

A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof | REQUIRED READING by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah for GQ

The Pernicious Junk Science Stalking Trans Kids | Zack Ford for Think Progress 

Having A Coke With You | poem by Frank O’Hara

Our Resistance Is Repentance (On the Nashville Statement, and Most Everything Else) | Jonathan Martin

The Nashville Statement Is an Attack on LGBT Christians | Eliel Cruz in the New York Times

Did This Book Buy It’s Way Onto the New York Times Bestseller List? | A SUPER interesting saga about a literary scam

The Second Annual Reading Round-Up

Welcome to my very un-democratic list of my favorite reads of 2016!

This year, my reading skewed towards non-fiction (I read a ton of memoirs), which is pretty unusual for me. The fiction I read tended to be re-reads of favorite books, I guess because I was traveling for most of the year and hanging out with favorite characters felt kind of like being home for a while.

As I said last year, there are people who get paid to read new books and make “the best of 2016” lists, but I am not one of them. I read old and new books, and I have Opinions about all of them.

A Very Long And Boring Book I Get To Brag About Reading

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Non-fiction (Miscellaneous)

A Field Philosopher’s Guide to Fracking by Adam Briggle – This was written by a philosophy professor at the University of North Texas who found himself almost inadvertently caught up in the anti-fracking movement in Denton, Texas.

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer – Prepare for a feminist rage spiral from page one.

Katrina: After the Flood by Gary Rivens – A New York Times reporter who covered Katrina from New Orleans returns ten years later to trace the recovery (or lack thereof) of New Orleans and it’s surrounding areas.

The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollary Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports by Jeff Passan – Okay, this is my obligatory baseball book. If you’re a baseball fan, you know that Tommy John surgery is painful, only sometimes successful, and on the rise. This book delves into why pitchers’ elbows have become tiny time bombs, and how doctors, managers, and players are trying to stop it. You kind of wish it wasn’t so well-written when he starts describing exactly what happens during a Tommy John surgery.

Memoirs

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald – While grieving her father’s death, Macdonald begins to train a goshawk. This book was hyped by pretty much everyone when it came out, and for good reason.

The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books by Azar Nafisi – Part literary criticism, part memoir, so pretty much exactly up my alley.

Surviving the Island of Grace: Life on the Wild Edge of America by Leslie Leyland Fields

Traveling With Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor – This  is a joint memoir of a mother and daughter’s trip to Greece. Maybe I was just missing my mom a lot but it was heart-wrenching. Ann (the daughter) is wandering through her last year of college, trying to find a direction in life, and Sue (the mother) is coming to terms with aging and trying to write a story about a girl who is visited by a swarm of bees. (That story eventually becomes The Secret Life of Bees, which, bonus recommendation, is one of my all-time favorite books.)

The Liars Club and Lit by Mary Karr

Fiction

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Girls From Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe – This might be my favorite book I read this year. It focuses on the enduring friendship between two women, starting when they were teenagers in California. By turns heartfelt and shocking, I thought about it for weeks after I finished- the language is that beautiful, and the story that affecting.

YA Fiction (These Are Actually The Only YA Books I Read But They Were All That Good, Okay)

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen – I’ve been reading Sarah Dessen books since I was 12, and her newest is my favorite so far.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner – While it does fall into the manic-pixie-dream-girl trope at times, this book is a great, fast read. Also there’s a twist that made my mom throw the book across the room.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven – One of the most honest stories about grief and mental illness I’ve ever read. I cried ALL THE TEARS.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson – Art! Sibling rivalry! Affairs! Mysterious cute boys! LGBT main characters!

Christian (Because I’m One Of Those)

An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor – This is about experiencing the sacramental in everyday life, and one of the reasons I ended up applying to the Episcopal Service Corps.

Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table by Shauna Niequist – I read a lot of books about food and God, and this list reflects that.

Tables in the Wilderness by Preston Yancey

Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sarah Miles – An atheist left-wing journalist was perfectly content until she took communion, met Jesus, and then did something about it. IT’S GREAT.

Assimilate or Go Home: Notes of a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D.L. Mayfield – Again, I cried all the tears.

So Nice I Read ‘Em Twice (Notable Re-Reads)

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver – read while in Swaziland (on the continent of Africa), so bucket list item= checked

Finding the Game by Gwendolyn Oxenham – This is a memoir that goes along with the documentary Pelada, about pick-up soccer around the world.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

Bookshelf: Moving Across the Country Edition

Occasionally, I’ll be making posts about the books I’m reading/why I think you should read them too. I’ll compile them all over here. If you’re not into that, then skip the posts labeled “bookshelf.” But honestly, if you’re not into books, you’ve kind of come to the wrong blog.

As you might have noticed, about a month and a half ago I packed up all my belongings and moved across the country. I listened to a ton of podcasts on the drive (The Liturgists, What Should I Read Next?, and the Cespedes Family Barbecast are quality binge-listening material), but no audiobooks, because I am still reveling in the post-Race euphoria of holding a physical book, written in English, in my hand. I did, however, read a few books in the process of moving that I absolutely loved.

Along with my annual Harry Potter re-read, here’s what I’ve been into the month since I moved to Seattle:

Assimilate or Go Home: Notes of a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D.L. Mayfield This collection of essays centers on Mayfield’s experiences as a missionary living in low-income housing among refugee communities (in the book, primarily Somali Bantu refugees). Y’all, I all-out bawled four different times while reading this book. Mayfield is painfully honest about her motivations for becoming a missionary, and the seismic shifts in her faith that living in low-income housing created. As a very recently returned missionary, some of the things she said hit far too close to home. I immediately gushed about this book to all of my roommates, and now here, because I think everybody should read it.

Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God by Rainer Maria Rilke I’ve only recently started reading poetry again, for a lot of reasons. The beauty of some of these poems took my breath away. It is poetry for anyone who has ever doubted God deeply while also loving God deeply. (Also, there’s a really pretty 100th anniversary edition you can buy if you’re into that.)

Wearing God by Lauren F. Winner In this book, Lauren Winner focuses on a different metaphor for God in every chapter. But they aren’t the traditional “good father/shepherd/Savior” metaphors; one chapter is all about the metaphors in the Bible that describe God as clothing. Winner is an excellent writer, and each chapter made me think more deeply about how I speak about God, and how that speech shapes how I interact with the world.

Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish Do yourself a favor and make some bread. I’M HERE FOR IT.