Category Archives: On Writing

June 2014: What I’m Reading

Sunday Salon

Whew, what a busy few months! I actually drafted this post last month, but I didn’t even have time to publish it!

In April, I spent nearly three weeks in Brazil, so, as predicted, I didn’t get much reading done. (Pictures from Brazil coming soon, though!) I ended up finishing two books and almost finishing two more in April.

Then, in May, I got married.

!!!!!!

We had an absolutely fantastic time, both at the wedding and during the two-week honeymoon to Belize. I got a good bit of reading done, too–it wouldn’t have been a vacation otherwise!

With all of these trips and all the planning that goes into a wedding, I’ve been crazy busy. I apologize to the authors who were expecting reviews this month or last. I promise I’ve read your book and drafted the review–I just haven’t had time to post it yet.

June proves to be another busy month. But I’ve got some great options when I’m ready to kick back and get my read on! And hopefully soon I’ll have a spare minute to post some reviews of these excellent titles.

Books read in April:

  • We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider
  • The Promise by Ann Weisgarber

Books read in May:

  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  • An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
  • Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

What I’m Reading Now:

Gaining GroundGaining Ground by Forrest Pritchard
We’ll be meeting at One More Page Books & More on June 9 to discuss this book, which explores sustainable agriculture, from the decision to become organic to the crucial rise of farmers’ markets. Pritchard is a fixture in Northern Virginia’s locavore movement, and I’m really looking forward to reading about his experiences on the family farm.

Cutting for StoneCutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
I’m headed to Ethiopia in a few days, and this is the book that keeps surfacing when I look for fine Ethiopian literature. As I stood in line at the bookstore to buy it, another customer ran up to me and said, “That book is so good, you’re going to love it!” I hope I do. I know I love word-of-mouth book recommendations!

Thirty GirlsThirty Girls by Susan Minot
The premise of this book already sounded astounding. But with the recent abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria, it’s almost eerily relevant. I think it will be a difficult but rewarding read.

We Need New NamesWe Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
In looking at my reading list, I’m noticing a theme: books by female authors focusing on Africa and the diaspora. It’s not surprising, given both my affinity for lady writers and my recent/upcoming travel to several countries in Africa. I’ve heard great things about this book, so I’m eager to dive in!

If I have time, I’d also like to start The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. We’ll see!

Have you read any of these? Which should I pick up first?

April 2014: What I’m Reading

Sunday Salon

So far in March, I’ve finished a whopping NINE books, and made progress on two more. I think this is a new record for me! All the snow we had this month made for lots of quality reading time. Over the next few months, I have a somewhat hectic travel schedule, so I’m not sure how many new titles I’ll be able to get to. But I’ll have a ton of options!

Books read:

  • The Sense of Touch by Ron Parsons
  • Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
  • Answers I’ll Accept, edited by Kelly Ann Jacobson
  • The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith
  • After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman
  • Highs in the Low Fifties by Marion Winik
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
  • The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend by Annabelle Costa
  • Gulp by Mary Roach

Halfway through:

  • Brazil on the Rise by Larry Rohter
  • The River of Doubt by Candice Millard

To read:

We Learn NothingWe Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider
Kreider will be visiting my memoir/essay writing class while I’m in Brazil, and I’m bummed to miss him. But I’ve met him before, and he is very funny and entertaining. I’m really looking forward to this collections of his essays–including the infamous, much-emailed “Busy Trap.”

Coming of Age on ZoloftComing of Age on Zoloft: How Antidepressants Cheered Us Up, Let Us Down, and Changed Who We Are by Katherine Sharpe
This is the next One More Page nonfiction book club pick. After discussing Hyperbole and a Half last month, I’m eager to examine depression, especially among adolescents, even more closely. We’ll talk about the book on Monday, April 21; I hope to see you there!

The PromiseThe Promise by Ann Weisgarber
I loved Weisgarber’s first book, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree (my review here) so much, I named it a top 10 book in 2011. I’m very excited to read more from this author! Also, she told me on Twitter that she kept a red-eared turtle for years. This woman knows the way to my icy little heart!

Miss PeregrineMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
My fiction book club chose this as our next book. I might miss the meeting, since I’ll be out of town so much, but I still want to read along. I’ve heard a LOT about this book, and I think it will be a very enjoyable read on my travels! I’m particularly intrigued by the author’s use of photographs.

Have you read any of these? Which should I pick up first?

Trailer for Emma Donoghue’s “Frog Music”

Sunday Salon

I’m not usually one to post book trailers, but I’m very intrigued by Emma Donoghue’s next book, Frog Music. As faithful blog readers (there has to be one or two of you, right? Guys??) will know, I’m Donoghue’s biggest fangirl. Hearing her read an excerpt from Room (my review here) at Politics & Prose was a highlight of my literary life. I know. Sometimes my nerdiness disturbs even me.

Anyway, the trailer:

More about the book:
Summer of 1876: San Francisco is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heat wave and a smallpox epidemic. Through the window of a railroad saloon, a young woman named Jenny Bonnet is shot dead.

The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Over the next three days, she will risk everything to bring Jenny’s murderer to justice–if he doesn’t track her down first. The story Blanche struggles to piece together is one of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers, and arrogant millionaires; of jealous men, icy women, and damaged children. It’s the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts.

In thrilling, cinematic style, Frog Music digs up a long-forgotten, never-solved crime. Full of songs that migrated across the world, Emma Donoghue’s lyrical tale of love and bloodshed among lowlifes captures the pulse of a boomtown like no other.

On the “R” Word and Insults in Books

I was reading a good book recently. It was funny and well-written, with a voice that was clear as a bell. But after three uses of the R word (as in, someone who faces developmental challenges), I had to put it down.

Interested in linguistics? John McWhorter's books are an excellent place to start!

Interested in linguistics? John McWhorter’s books are an excellent place to start!

I’m trained as a linguist. So on one level, I believe words are a social construct whose meaning can depend entirely upon the users. Words are vessels for sound and meaning. Words are wonderful, because with just one or two little sounds, we can convey a universe. We have created this system whereby these little sounds summon nearly anything, and everyone who speaks your language can understand you.

Language is flexible and fun, and normally I’m the last person to tell you how to use it. I drop the F-bomb like it’s my job, because there’s nothing inherently offensive about it. (Unless, I suppose, you’re anti-sex, in which case I’m anti-you.)

But insults are an entirely different beast. These are words used to destroy people.

“But hold on,” the author might say, if he or she read this little blog. “It’s just a joke. I didn’t mean any of that.”

I get it. Everyone loves jokes, and no one wants to analyze every single word they utter. But there’s nothing funny about using a word that has and continues to hurt so many.

This is the other edge of the sword that is language. When you choose to speak, you are entering into a contract of sorts. You are acknowledging that the words you speak carry greater meaning beyond their composite sounds. Most of the time, we benefit from this, in that we can make ourselves understood to strangers. But we must also acknowledge that there is a history of oppression and fear lingering behind certain combinations of sound.

There are those who have been on the receiving end of insults who seek to reclaim them, who want to imbue oppressive words with positivity. Let them. That’s the great part of language–how it changes with us. But if you keep using these words in their traditional context of insult, you are only prolonging the negativity.

Words are our right and our responsibility. Use them carefully.

Note: The book pictured above is not the book I’m talking about. I didn’t want to name and shame that author. But if you are interested in some of the linguistic concepts I’ve so clumsily explained, check out McWhorter’s careful work in the field. He’s one of the best.

March 2014: What I’m Reading

Sunday Salon

February was a short month! But I was still able to read four titles and make progress on four more. I hope to finish reading several books in March, before my travel schedule gets really hectic!

Books read:

  • Cairo in White by Kelly Ann Jacobson
  • In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
  • Be With Me by Jennifer L. Armentrout
  • (T)here: Writings on Returnings edited by Brandi Dawn Henderson

Halfway through:

  • After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman
  • The Sense of Touch by Ron Parsons
  • Highs in the Low Fifties by Marion Winik
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

To read:

GulpGulp by Mary Roach
This is the selection for both of my book clubs–the one with my friends, and the one held at One More Page. (We’ll discuss it at OMP in May.) I really enjoyed Roach’s Packing for Mars, so this should be a lot of fun!

Frangipani HotelThe Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith
This book sounds fantastic–it has garnered praise from the likes of Téa Obreht, as well as starred reviews from both Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal. I haven’t read many books set in Vietnam, but the last one–The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli–made me fall in love with the country.

Brazil on the RiseBrazil on the Rise: The Story of a Country Transformed by Larry Rohter
I’m traveling to Brazil next month, and this seems to be the must-read book on understanding Brazil’s present state and future promise. Rohter, a reporter for The New York Times, goes beyond the stereotypes of Brazil–Carnival, beaches, supermodels–to dive into its rapid growth and status among other emerging markets.

River of DoubtThe River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard
Did you know that, after being defeated in 1912, Roosevelt mapped a dangerous tributary of the Amazon? Yeah, me neither. While I won’t spend much time around this famous river (at least, not on this trip), this book sounded like an unusual glimpse into the country and a fun, if harrowing, story.

In March, I’ll also read Hyperbole and a Half, the next One More Page book club pick–I can’t wait to discuss it!

Have you read any of these? Which should I pick up first?

What Book Bloggers Love

Ask any book blogger what she loves most about blogging. Invariably, the answer is always the same. It’s not the advanced reader copies or the page views or even the inducement to read more.

It’s the community.

This is what I learned from the beginning of my book blogging career, and it is what has kept me going.

From my fellow book bloggers, who fill up my TBR list and share tips on review policies and the reading/life balance, to readers of my blog, who enrich my posts with their own opinions and experiences with a book. From publishers, who are endlessly enthusiastic about the next great gem everyone will be talking about in the three months, to bookstore owners and employees, who just can’t contain themselves when they get on the topic of their new favorites.

And, of course, those around whom we book-lovers have built this entire ecosystem: Writers.

One of the very best parts of writing about books has been interacting with authors, whether they comment (always graciously) on my review of their work, or shoot me an email recommending even more great authors, or indulge me at author events when I have a billion questions about their writing process.

I met Kelly Ann Jacobson at a happy hour for emerging writers a few years ago. This was when I was dipping my toe into writing small pieces of my own, mostly essays and articles, that for the first time didn’t have anything to do with someone else’s book. I was eyeing the distant shore of writing a novel, but Kelly had already plunged in. She was in the process of revising the novel that had been on her mind for years: the story of one young woman and her freedom to love.

Today is the publication day of that book, Cairo in White.

Cairo in WhiteAs Cairo sweltered in the summer of 1986, eighteen-year-old Zahra faced the heat for a rendezvous with her secret lover.

But after climbing the Ahmeds’ wall and darting through an open door, Zahra came face-to-dace with the last people she expected to see: her parents. They were taking tea and arranging her marriage. But not to Jamila; love between two girls in Egypt was forbidden. Instead, Zahra will marry Jamila’s brother.

Twenty years later, Zahra’s American daughter, Aisha, steps off a plane at Cairo International Airport. Aisha is as headstrong as her mother, and she is determined to find a life and a family in Egypt. But she discovers more than she bargained for.

Will Aisha find acceptance, even a home, in a culture that once rejected Zahra? And will Aisha be free to pursue the love that she finds in Egypt? 

I’m very pleased to have received an advance copy of the book, and my review will be posted next week.

In the meantime, if you are a book blogger and would like to receive an e-ARC, I’m happy to send you one.

And if you’re in the DC area, come on out to her book launch party on Thursday, February 20!

As I’ve frequently found over the last few years running this book blog, the connections made with the writing community are priceless. I love meeting authors like Kelly, and I’m very glad I have the opportunity to support her work and the work of other local authors.

Keep on writing!

February 2014: What I’m Reading

Sunday Salon

Books read:

  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  • Wait for You by Jennifer L. Armentrout
  • We by Michael Landweber
  • A Snug Life Somewhere by Jan Shapin

Halfway through:

  • After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, but I hope to  do so in April.

To read:

Cairo in WhiteCairo in White by Kelly Ann Jacobson
Jacobson recently graduated from my writing program at Johns Hopkins, and I attended her reading of this book in December. LGBTQI themes are central to the story, so my interest was immediately piqued. I’m also a big fan of multicultural literature, so this book is right up my alley. In fact, I already started reading; it’s lovely so far.

In Defense of FoodIn Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan
This is our February nonfiction book club pick, so I better get started on this next! Pollan is a god among food writers, and I like reading experts; I love seeing a person’s passions. I’m also trying to eat more consciously these days, so the timing of this book is perfect.

Be With MeBe With Me (Wait for You, #2) by Jennifer L. Armentrout
I  enjoyed the first book of the series, Wait for You, more than I expected last month; it was fun and flirty but also dark and emotional, which is pretty much a requirement for me to enjoy a book. I have high hopes for the second!

The Sense of TouchThe Sense of Touch by Ron Parsons
Strangely, I don’t read much fiction from the Midwest. It’s not a conscious decision. I know there must be great stories about the Midwest, from Midwestern authors, but I need to make more of an effort to find them. This is my first bid!

Highs in the Low FfitiesHighs in the Low Fifties: How I Stumbled Through the Joys of Single Living by Marion Winik
My class this semester is call “Writing Memoir & Personal Essay,” and this is one of three books assigned. Winik is a somewhat-local author–she lives in Baltimore–and she has been a commentator for NPR’s “All Things Considered.” It’s been a little while since I’ve read a memoir, so I’m itching to get back to my favorite genre.

If I have time, I’m also hoping to start Gulp by Mary Roach, my fiction book club’s March selection. (I call it my “fiction book club” to differentiate it from the nonfiction book club I run at One More Page. But, obviously, we read a little bit of everything.)

Have you read any of these? Which should I pick up first?

Reading Challenges in 2014

2014 is going to be a great year for literature in my life. I can just feel it–I’m going to find several new favorite books and authors this year. To celebrate, I’m creating two new reading challenges: The NA/YA Challenge and the ARC Challenge! I’m also returning to a favorite, Bookshelf ROWDOWN. In all, I plan to read 50 or more books this year.

The NA/YA Challenge

NA/YA challengeIt’s not every day that a new literary genre is created. And it’s even more rare for the change to come outside of the realm of traditional publishing.

Some people in the book world have been resistant to new adult. But if we have children’s books, middle grade, young adult—all speaking to certain ages or grade levels—why not have a genre that speaks specifically to that feeling of realizing you’re now an adult–and the accompanying panic/pain/delight that ensues?

It’s a subject that interests me endlessly, as I’m most preoccupied in my reading and writing with understanding people, including yourself. Plus, I’m the target audience of new adult, so I’d like to see what it’s all about! I’m particularly curious to compare new adult titles to young adult and adult. And so, this year I plan to read 15 new adult or young adult books.

Update:

  1. Wait for You by Jennifer L. Armentrout
  2. Cairo In White by Kelly Ann Jacobson
  3. Be With Me by Jennifer L. Armentrout
  4. Divergent by Veronica Roth
  5. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  6. Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

The ARC Challenge

ARC ChallengeOK, here’s where I admit that I’m a bad book blogger sometimes. I occasionally receive review copies of books, and I have every intention to read and review them quickly. But sometimes life gets in the way, and the books languish on my shelves. It’s not fair to publishers and authors, and I want to change my ways! So I’m vowing to read 12 review copies this year. I hope to surpass this goal by quite a bit, but I want to be realistic.

Update:

  1. We by Michael Landweber
  2. A Snug Life Somewhere by Jan Shapin
  3. Cairo In White by Kelly Ann Jacobson
  4. Be With Me by Jennifer L. Armentrout
  5. (T)here: Writings on Returnings, edited by Brandi Dawn Henderson
  6. The Sense of Touch by Ron Parsons
  7. Answers I’ll Accept, edited by Kelly Ann Jacobson
  8. The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith
  9. After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman
  10. The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend by Annabelle Costa
  11. The Promise by Ann Weisgarber
  12. An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
  13. Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

Bookshelf ROWDOWN

Bookshelf ROWDOWN!The rules of Bookshelf ROWDOWN are simple: read physical copies of books that you own. (I don’t count ebooks and review copies in this challenge, although you’re welcome to.) The point of this challenge is to read the books you’ve bought or been given that, for some reason, you’ve never gotten around to reading.

I really enjoyed this challenge last year; I read 22 of my goal of 25 books. So I’m going to shoot for 25 again!

The benefits of this challenge, now in its third year, are many. My favorite is that I feel a little less awkward about having bookshelves stacked with titles I haven’t read yet. Now I can offer to show guests my bookshelf of completed books! (As you can imagine, my parties are a real riot.)

Of course, once you’ve read some of the books, you may also release them back into the world, either by lending them to your friends or donating them to a local library or thrift shop. I, for one, am always running out of room on my bookshelves, and this challenge helps me winnow out books that I don’t need to keep.

Update:

  1. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
  2. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
  3. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
  4. Gulp by Mary Roach
  5. We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider
  6. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
  7. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  8. Americanah by Chimamamda Ngozi Adichie
  9. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Goodreads Reading Challenge

Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 4.40.12 PMIn all, I hope to read 50 books in 2014. Although I didn’t reach the same goal of last year–I know, what kind of book blogger am I?!–I’m trying again. I love tracking my progress using the 2014 Goodreads Reading Challenge; add me as a friend and follow my progress!

I miss reading as much as I used to, and I’m going to make 2014 the year of reading whatever I want. As I read throughout the year, I’ll come back to this post and update it on my progress. Here’s to another wonderful year in books!

“Goodwill Tour”: An Interview with Keith Maginn

In July 2011, Keith Maginn and his close friend, Emily, left Cincinnati, Ohio, for a 3,000-mile road-trip through the southeastern United States. Along the way, Keith and Emily had a simple goal: give away their own money to strangers, who then had to pay the money forward to someone else. Because of my abiding interest in travel, and because of the unique angle of this memoir, I asked Keith a few questions about his book, Goodwill Tour: Paying It Forward.

What inspired you to write this book?
When my friend Emily and I started discussing a road-trip to spread kindness, I knew right away that I would write a book about our experience—where we went, who we met and how we gave money away. I started taking notes for Goodwill Tour: Paying It Forward even before we got on the road.

How did you plan your trip?
I had just moved back to my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. When we started planning our trip, Emily and I realized that we had a window of about two weeks where we were both free to hit the road. However, that period was only a week and a half or so away! We wanted to raise money and solicit donations from companies, organizations and so on, but we just didn’t have the time. The planning was very rushed. Emily and I also would have liked to contact local news stations in the cities that we were going to visit, but we didn’t have time for that either.

We decided to take a leap of faith and head out on this adventure without any set plans at all. We didn’t know if we would ever have this chance again. Emily and I had a loose itinerary of where we wanted to go—and we only settled on that a few days before we set out—but we felt it would be an adventure and that the trip was something we had to do.

Goodwill Tour

Were there any surprises along the way? 
Emily and I were actually surprised at how difficult it was to give money away. Neither of us had ever handed a stranger $100 or $300 before. We didn’t want to give money to just anyone, as we wouldn’t know if they would use the money responsibly. Emily and I decided that we would try to put ourselves in a position to meet deserving people and then we would have these people pick someone to end up with the money.

For example, we volunteered at a soup kitchen one afternoon. Emily was working with a nice man who volunteered at the kitchen with his wife once a week. Emily decided to give him our donation, with the stipulation that he got to pick someone to pay the money forward to. We were confident that he would do a better job of choosing someone than we would.

Is there an event that stands out to you from your trip?
The whole experience was amazing, but giving away our first donation was quite special. We met a young woman with an amazing, contagious personality. As a mother of three, she couldn’t wait to share the money with her children. She cried, we cried. It was a special moment and she was very grateful. This was when it really kicked in that Emily and I were really doing this and that our experiment might actually work.

Is this your first book?
Second. My first book is an inspiring memoir of overcoming personal struggles. Turning This Thing Around is a brutally honest, deeply personal account of redemption that takes readers on a moving spiritual journey.

Why did you choose the self-publishing route?
I first went through the whole song and dance of trying to solicit a literary agent with a query letter. Over and over I was told that my book sounded great, but that publishers were not willing to take a chance on an unknown at this time. They said that you had to have a strong platform before a publisher would step in and offer any support. In other words, new authors have to prove that they had a ready audience and that we can sell a lot of books on our own before publishers would get on board. However, this may have been a blessing in disguise, because I chose to self-publish and now I have full control over what I do with my book going forward.

How has that been?
Increasing the visibility of my books is a challenge; I am not going to sugarcoat it. It takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice to get the word out and it is time-consuming. But I retain sole rights to my work and have no deadlines or anyone looking over my shoulder. Sure, having a big-name publisher’s marketing dollars would be good in many ways, but there is something to be said for selling books on my own and doing it my way.

Did you have any trouble formatting the book?
I was on a very limited budget for both of my books, but was still able to get a quality product made for extremely cheap. I went with Amazon CreateSpace (paperback) and Kindle Direct Publishing (e-book) and have found their customer service phenomenal. The community forums are also helpful, as other writers are often willing to offer advice and suggestions.

Fortunately, with self-publishing an author can do everything on their own without really paying for anything. The route I took (and would suggest to other writers just starting out) is to pay a professional to edit your book. That is a must. Otherwise, you can do the rest.

That being said, I know nothing about formatting and I wanted to make sure that everything was done correctly, so I did pay to have someone do that for me. I got on a community forum on Amazon and said what I was looking for. Several formatters replied and I was able to choose from among them. It wasn’t expensive at all and was well worth the money. I went back to the same formatter for my second book.

Last suggestion—if you can pay to have your book cover done professionally at a reasonable price, that is probably money well spent. You can do it yourself using templates offered by CreateSpace (Amazon) and so on, but I can’t stress the importance of the cover enough. Now that so many books sell online, the cover is often one of the most vital factors in whether a reader will buy your book or not.

Where can readers find you?
Readers can follow my blog and learn more about me at http://keithmaginn.com  or connect with me on Twitter at @Keith_Maginn. Both of my nonfiction books are available in paperback and e-book on Amazon: Turning This Thing Around and Goodwill Tour: Paying It Forward.

Do you have any questions for Keith? Ask them in the comments, and he’ll drop by to answer them!

13 Best Books of 2013

Happy 2014!

I know this is a little late, but we had some last-minute competition for our Best of 2013 list, so we wanted to think carefully about which books really stood out to us and why.

First, Jack weighs in with his top three; then, I give you my ten books of the year!

A few observations:

  • Two Margaret Atwood books appear on the list! Both Jack and I enjoyed finding a new favorite author to share.
  • It’s a lot of fun to read books with someone else, whether with Jack or with a book club.
  • New books are nice, but in 2013 I gravitated toward classics, from those published in the sixties to the eighties to the aughts.
  • I’m surprised by how many of these books I want to re-read. I can probably count on both hands the number of books I’ve re-read as an adult. But so many of the titles below became classics in my own athenaeum; I can’t wait to take my time to peruse them again soon.
  • Jack does not like ranking his books!

Jackson

The Poisonwood BibleThe Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
A family of missionaries plans to bring Christianity to the Belgian Congo, and the experience tears them all apart. (Note from Melody: This is one of my favorite books of all time, so I’m THRILLED that Jack liked it as much as I do.)

The ScarThe Scar by China Mieville
Mieville’s books are always creative, but the characters in this one were even better than in the other book by Mieville that I’ve read, Perdido Street Station.

Oryx and CrakeOryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
I like dystopian sci-fi, and this had a very human touch.

Jack: A man of few words. Hopefully, I’ll convince him to post full reviews of The Poisonwood Bible and Oryx and Crake soon!

Melody

Let's Pretend This Never Happened10. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
Jenny Lawson, also known as The Bloggess, is uproariously funny, and I enjoyed the irreverence of a memoir that also touched on deeply personal issues, including eating disorders, social anxiety, and parenting.

Quiet9. Quiet by Susan Cain
This book, one of my first nonfiction book club selections, forced me to reevaluate the way I interact with people, especially in professional settings. It also made me feel way more normal! I’m not crazy, I’m just sensitive.

A Visit from the Goon Squad8. A Visit from Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Egan’s book quickly became a critical classic, and for good reason. I loved her inventiveness, even if some elements of the book verged on the gimmicky. It’s a must-read for would-be novelists like myself.

The Train of Small Mercies7. The Train of Small Mercies by David Rowell
Rowell’s book explores the power of perspective, particularly of the everyday people confronted with extraordinary events. I loved the rich observations and the small details that build a compelling narrative.

I Am Forbidden6. I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits
I regret not being able to put into words why the plot and characters of this story resonated with me. I hope to re-read this book in a year or two and review it once again. In the meantime, writing my review prompted me to re-think the way I rate and review books—always a good avenue of thought.

The Handmaid's Tale5. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
This late entrée to the competition made me forget everything else going on in my life—including the books I needed to review, which explains why I’m posting this in January! It was even better than I expected—a classic in dystopian fiction.

To Kill a Mockingbird4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Okay, so 2013 wasn’t the first year I read To Kill a Mockingbird, but I discovered so much more to love the second time around. I think this will be a frequent re-read for me. This is a book Jack and I read at the same time, which was a lot of fun.

Gone Girl3. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Gone Girl was my fiction book club pick this year, and I’m glad I chose it. I adored the book, even if I found its characters utterly baffling, and it proved a fun discussion. Also, Flynn recently announced that, in the movie version, she and David Fincher are changing the last third of the story! Whaaaaat?

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight2. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
I realized that my review of this book was uncharacteristically short. I think that’s because, with a book this good, all I can say is, “Read it, read it, it’s so good, read it.” I’m keeping it close at hand as I embark on writing my own memoir in 2014.

The Pharmacist's Mate1. The Pharmacist’s Mate by Amy Fusselman
This book, weighing in at 86 pages, radically changed the way I think of memoir and personal essay. It’s a real gem, and I recommend it to everyone I know.

That’s it, folks! Let’s see what 2014 brings us.