My Favorite Books of 2016

I have finished reading 44 books this year. (I have to say, I thought this number would be higher. I was hoping to average a book a week and I am having a surprisingly emotional reaction upon not reaching that goal.) This number does not include what I am sure would add up to hundreds of pictures books I have read this year. These 44 are books of my own choosing (well, some are the book club’s choosing). They span the genres of fantasy fiction (9), historical fiction (1), science fiction (3), literary fiction (8), mystery (3), Newberry Award winners (3), Western classics (5), and non-fiction (11). This break down seems about right for my reading habits, with the exception of that double-digit number by the non-fiction books. I do not remember the last time I read more than ten non-fiction books in a year.  Overall, I have come away from these choices better for having read them.

Having said that, for the first time ever two books were removed from this list because I did not finish them. I usually operate within the strict “once you start it, you finish it” reading code. But this year, not just once but twice, I abandoned this code. LaRose by Louise Erdrich I plan to finish at some point. The other, The Girls by Emma Cline, I have no interest in ever seeing again let alone reading. For whatever reason, this year I finally gave myself permission to give up on a book. It has been a sad and liberating experience.

And so, after all this reading, here are my thoughts on the books that have traveled the year with me. Most of the books listed were written this year, but there are a few now dear books that, though written previously, were new to me this year.

My Favorite Books Written in 2016:

  1. Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  2. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  3. Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
  4. Underground Airlines by Ben Winters
  5. Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
  6. City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin
  7. Morning Star by Pierce Brown
  8. The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

My Overall Favorite from 2016: Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Least Favorite from 2016: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Best Book from 2016 Yet Unread: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling

Most Stress Inducing Read: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Favorite Non-Fiction Books Read in 2016  (not written in 2016):

  1. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
  2. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  3. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
  4. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer
  5. Even The Stars Look Lonesome by Maya Angelou

Favorite Fiction Books Read in 2016 (not written in 2016):

  1. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  2. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  3. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  4. Homeland by R.A. Salvatore
  5. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Here’s to reaching that magical 52 in 2017!







‘Twas The Week Before Christmas: Bookish Rendition

‘Twas the week before Christmas

when all through the house,

not a child was reading, not even about Mouse.

The books were all sorted by the shelf with care,

In hopes that they would soon find The Grinch sitting there;

The children were wrestled all snug to their beds,

While visions of Christmas parties danced in their heads,

And Papa with his Kindle, and I with my ebooks ready to tap,

Had just settled our brains for a too short night’s nap-

When down the hall there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the bed to ask the awake child, “What is the matter?”

Away to the door I flew like The Flash,

Turned on the lights and checked the book stash.

The moon that shone through the window decorated with “snow,”

Gave the luster of midday to the fallen books in its glow,

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But my beautiful books and no children anywhere near,

In a little old nook, under a blanket cozy and thick,

I knew in a moment I would find words magical as St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles the sun and day came,

And the roused kids whistled, and shouted, and called each other by name,

“Now, Basher! Now, Panzer! Now, Salamander and Chicken!

On, Vomit! On, Stupid! Oh, Blunder and Sicken!

To the top of the shelf! To the top of the wall!

Now smash away, smash away, smash away all!”

As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, my temper mounting to the sky,

So each sensing trouble and dread to their rooms they all flew,

With questions of what would happen to them – and to the books too.

And then in a twinkling, I looked to the roof

With the feeling of a complete goof.

As I drew down my head, and was just coming around,

The children came running with books neatly bound.

They were dressed all in jammies, with books piled up almost a foot,

And their faces were sorry and sad so I said, “Caput;”

The bundle of books was flung on my back,

And we reached the couch and began to open the sack.

Their eyes-how they twinkled! They looked and saw Hairy MaClary.

They wanted books about roses, a pirate, and even a fairy.

Their little mouths were drawn up like a bow,

When we read the excitement of Frosty made of snow.

The stump of yesterday’s candy cane held tight in their teeth,

As we read The Mitten and the animals that get underneath.

They had a happy face, reading about Bear‘s big round belly,

They shook when they laughed, like can happen even without the telly.

Then they noticed an interesting lump on that silly old shelf,

And I laughed when I saw him, our little red Elf.

A wink in his eye and a twist of his head

Soon gave off the impression he might be something to dread.

He spoke not a word, but caused me a great deal of work,

As I hid him in stockings and started to think him a jerk.

Finally laying my finger aside of my nose

And giving a nod, determined I rose.

I sprung from my couch, to the kids gave a whistle,

And away they all flew with hugs devoid of a bristle.

And I heard them exclaim, ere they ran out of sight –

“Merry Christmas to all, and let us all in great books delight!”

*Adapted from the original Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore

Library Book Sale Game

On Saturday, I mentioned that there was a library book sale I planned to go to: the highly anticipated hard cover fiction only book sale. My entire family stopped what they were doing and as one turned their questioning eyes on me. The children were a chorus of “oh no,” “please don’t make us go,” “I don’t want to go” (except my oldest who said, “YES”…she knows what’s up). My husband casually motioned to our beautifully original tiled floor. (Alright, it is not really tile covered. It is book covered but as the books seem to permanently reside on the floor, I prefer to think of them as tiles.) He said, “Do we need more books?”

While my mind understands that our family of six is already bursting the metaphorical seams of our home, my heart demands BOOKS! Our bookshelves are double layered, an actual nightmare that I am desperately trying to wake up from. We have invented a new way to display books known as “book pillars” (see “stack of books”) artfully occupying the corners of every room. Even so, I am unable (well, unwilling) to resist $1 hard cover books. I mean, really! What is a girl to do?

In an effort to further justify my habit (always a healthy approach), I have created a game to play while at a library book sale. Now, magically, it is a sport and completely justifiable. Due to the fact that in order to play this game you are already at a book sale, everyone who plays automatically wins. But because I am competitive to a fault, there are points awarded throughout the game for those who want to truly win and achieve the most points. Here is how it works.

Points awarded for:

  • Book with a library checkout pocket in it: 25 points
  • Book with checkout card still in pocket: 25 points
  • Hard cover copy of a children’s classic: 20 points
  • Warriors (by Erin Hunter) books: 1/2 point each (Should you find yourself behind in the game, this is an easy way to run up your score).
  • Hard cover Harry Potter book: 50 points
  • Note from previous owner: 10 points
  • Book you have been looking for: 30 points
  • New release: 25 points
  • Books under $1: 10 points
  • Book a friend has been looking for: 40 points (Yes, you get more points for finding a book for a friend…because the joy of giving!)

Points subtracted for:

  • Book with loose library binding: 5 points
  • Ripped pages: 10 points
  • Book with underlining, highlighting, or writing in the margins: 20 points
  • James Patterson or Nora Roberts books: 1/2 point

Bonus points:

  • Book 11 of The Series of Unfortunate Events (by Lemony Snickets) (Yeah, that complete set I thought I had ended up having two book 8s…thanks memory): 100 points and my address
  • Checking out with a total that matches the amount of cash you have: 50 points

“May the odds ever be in your favor.”






The Best Christmas Party Ever (yes, it involves books)

December is my month: my birthday, my wedding anniversary, my favorite holiday. It is the best. I spend eleven months of the year fully embracing my pessimistic, sarcastic, cynical self. But for one glorious month I set all of that aside and turn into a combination of Will Farrell in Elf and Emma Thompson in Love Actually (minus the husband drama). It’s embarrassing really.

Having said that, for an introvert like myself, December can get a bit overwhelming. I am convinced there are more parties and gatherings of people in December than the rest of the year combined. Between the cookie exchanges (delicious as they are), the white elephant gift parties, the secret Santa exchanges, the kids’ classroom parties, the caroling get togethers, the wreath making parties, the work parties, and on and on and on, it can all become a bit much. It turns out, you can have too much of a good thing. Someone should make up a saying about that…

As I was staring at my calendar longing for the doldrums of July, I started thinking about the kind of party I would actually like to go to, repeatedly, year after year. Because, let’s be honest, we all put our best foot forward on year one of the cookie exchange. I’m talking about cookies to make Martha Stewart cry. But by year *mumble inaudible number* we are just taking fancy tinned cookies and decoratively plating them. The white elephant gifts that were once hilarious, carefully thought through, and chosen based on the highest level of irony are now just tired, old leftovers from the back of some random closet. The tone of the parties tends to wane with the years.

Except one. A new one. I have only heard of an online version of this but have never seen one in real life. (If you have…have I ever told you about my four children? I don’t get out much.) And I need to find a way to make it happen.

I am talking about a book exchange party! (I know, right?!) You get a small group of friends together. You set a monetary limit on the books you will buy. You shop and buy one book per party attendee. You meet at the designated party time. Every one gets a book from each party attender. You eat and drink (but NOT with the books in your hands). You leave (WITH the books in your hands). Perfection. What’s that? That is exactly like every other exchange party at Christmas time? Ummm…yes, yes it is. But did you hear the part about the books? Because that was the most important part, especially the part about leaving with all the books. I mean cookies are amazing, don’t get me wrong. I very rarely turn down a good cookie exchange, but BOOKS!

The variations are limitless. I am actually squirming in my seat just thinking about it. You could have one with your child and his or her friends. You could do one with books you already own (yes, that would be very difficult but it would be interesting). You could do one where everyone buys multiple copies of their favorite book they read that year. You could all go to the used bookstore together and buy the best $1 books you can find. Or, or, or…

These are the kinds of parties I can go to, any number of these kind. *hint, hint*

25 Book Suggestions for Your Advent Book Project

If you are like me, you found inspiration in the advent book idea. Now you are left with the follow through. Oh the dreaded follow through. I am not a fan. I am a fan of magic: waving a wand and it all coming together or better yet going to sleep and elves doing it all for me. The individualized wrapping on 25 books seems like exactly the kind of thing magic is for. Ideas are wonderful; the actual carrying out of said ideas, not so much. Here is why:

List of things I would rather be doing than wrapping 25 books:

  1. Reading. Surprise! I am nothing if not unpredictable. Ha!
  2. Listening to Hamilton (again and again and again…still).
  3. Making lists of all the dreams deferred, things undone, and resolutions unmet.
  4. Binge watching any and all of the Netflix Marvel shows.
  5. Scouring library book sales, garage sales, and used book stores for books.

None of these things require magical intervention (unless I ever have plans to reverse anything on #3’s list) and are infinity more enjoyable. Having said that, the end product is worth it. The kids have been so excited about getting to open a book everyday. Our Christmas books have gone from, “Oh, that one again,” to “OHMYGOSH, what book is that?” Also there was the one, “Geez, I can already tell what this one is, Mom.” But we will just skip right over the I-am-almost-10-I-know-everything-already snark. Their overall level of excitement has made any amount of wrapping worth it (well, almost).

In order to help us all stay sane and still have time to do the things on our “I would rather” list, here is a list of 25 books to use for the advent book project.

Happy wrapping or embrace the genius of gift bags…either way you have successfully followed through.