The year is up! And I'm happy to report that I finally got back into my reading groove in 2015 – due in no small part to my kid's love of reading novels together. I'm going to guess that half of the 33 books I read this year were with him (not counting picture books). Let's find out (he just turned five, FYI). Here are the books I read in 2015, in chronological order:
Ascend, by Amanda Hocking (I think it was Kobo's annual Boxing Week sale that lead me to buy this trilogy – also, I was interested in reading some self-published fiction. The books were okay. I don't remember much about them at this point, but I read them all, which means they didn't suck. [Check out the Kobo sale – it's a great way to discover new authors and books, at a huge discount. Come to think of it, I also bought Castle during the sale last year.])
The Firebird, by Susanna Kearsley (if you're a romance skeptic like I am, I highly recommend it; the writing is outstanding and the characters are fabulous)
The Sasquatch Escape, by Suzanne Selfors (if you get my weekly newsletter, you'll perhaps recall that I raved about this series – if you have a middle-grade reader in your family, or if you enjoy reading novels aloud with your kids, I can't recommend this whole six-book Imaginary Veterinary series highly enough)
Smells Like Dog, by Suzanne Selfors (this series is more sophisticated than the Imaginary Veterinary series, and though we made it through this book, the kid didn't get as much from it, and we stopped halfway through the sequel; we'll pick it all back up when he's older)
The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith (not nearly as good as the first in this crime series, written by J.K. Rowling under a pseudonym; in fact, this book was kind of tedious, and I nailed the whodunit barely a quarter of the way into the book, which was a big disappointment)
The Martian, by Andy Weir (one of my reading highlights of the year; total page-turner and well written to boot; the characters are outstanding; the movie – if for no other reason than its gutting of an outstanding female character, and frankly there's more reason than that – hardly does the book justice)
Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo (outstanding start to a through-and-through fabulous YA fantasy trilogy)
The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, by Charles de Lint (probably for kids older than mine, but he seemed to enjoy it; it's a great book that's different in tone and pacing than anything we'd read together before or since)
Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith (unlike The Silkworm, this book was a delight to read; loads of character development, and gruesome crimes and criminals)
Hm. Seems I didn't start tracking the novels the kid and I read until the middle of the year. I imagine my total is closer to forty books, then. As planned, the kid and I started reading the new, gorgeously illustrated Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone on his birthday this past weekend. He's loving it, and so am I. I'm also back to reading A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, which I put down ages ago because it's so gorgeous I couldn't bear to finish it, and I'm also reading Lair of Dreams, by Libba Bray, the second in a trilogy that's not finished yet.
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For #MakeMakingFun, I've been trying to explore the vast array of craft books I've accumulated over the years. It's always so exciting to buy craft books or borrow them from the library. And then I let them sit. Alone. Unopened. It's like the opposite of having fun with them.
It's ridiculous and I'm determined to stop doing it.
And I did the first and second projects in it. I thought I loved circles, but didn't love making them in the first project. But the second project? The second project was making squares. Watercolour squares all connected in a colourful grid all cozy and wonderful. I think I'll be painting lots more squares in the near future. Mmm. Squares.
The older I get, the more I value my relationship with my high-school best friend. As might have been predicted back in our days of shoving notes through each other's locker vents, I ended up moving as far away from our hometown as I could, and she ended up moving across the street from her childhood home. When we were teenagers, our differences kept our friendship interesting, if not occasionally fraught with adolescent angst. As we get older, it's our similarities that make me smile that much brighter.
But still, when M texted me last month with a photo of her new Birkenstocks, which are the same kind as mine but in a brighter colour, I marvelled at how we never had the same taste in fashion before this decade. I'm more comfortable about what I wear now, I suppose, and she's more adventurous.
So imagine my delight when, a couple of years ago, after I posted a photo from the knitting book Huge & Huggable Mochimochi, M begged me to knit her then-two-year-old daughter a capybara. My high-school friend would have thought a big knitted rodent was weird. My adult friend loved it as much as I do. And so obviously I knitted it, and I loved knitting it, and I think I'll end up knitting another at some point.
From the brain of the same woman who designs knitting patterns for ginormous rodents and tiny gnomes and unicorns comes Adventures in Mochimochiland. Which is a storybook. About teeny-tiny knitted creatures and donuts and things. With patterns at the end so you can make those teeny tiny things. It has nothing to do with my best friend. Nor does it have anything to do with giant knitted rodents. I just felt like telling that story.
Adventures in Mochimochiland is unlike any knitting book I've ever seen, by a woman who has made other brilliant knitting books that are like none I've ever seen, and my love for it is complete and unqualified.
That is all.
PS I'm starting to use some affiliate links here and there on the blog. It's an experiment.
Writing Make It Mighty Ugly really screwed up my reading habit. For nearly two years, I just wasn't able to focus on reading, and my appetite for fiction took a nosedive. Finally, around the middle of 2014, I snapped back to it and started to feel like my usual reading-self again (added bonus: I've apparently become a reader of non-fiction, too).
I didn't quite meet my modest goal of reading twenty books over the course of the year, but since I didn't get back to myself till the summertime, I'm not at all feeling like I failed. Also, I did spend considerably more time making stuff than I ever had before, so that's a new factor in my reading life (not at all an unwelcome one).
Here's what I read in 2014:
The Eye of the World, Robert Jordan. Greg got into this epic, classic, fifteen-volume fantasy series (called The Wheel of Time) during our holiday at the end of 2013. He raved about it so much, I started it, too. (He read nothing but this series in 2014! He's on, like, book twelve or something now.)
The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, Rob Thomas. Of course I read the first Veronica Mars novel. Obviously. (The plot was great, and very Rob Thomas. And Veronica's voice sounded perfectly – and eerily – like Kristen Bell's. But the writer he partnered with lacked some nuance. Still, perfectly enjoyable, and I look forward to the next VM book, which I believe will come out later this month.)
The Fault in Our Stars, John Green. I'd put off reading this because kids with cancer, but I'm so glad I finally caved. I cried, sure, but the book is as good as the hype says it is. (And the movie didn't suck.)
The Various Haunts of Men, Susan Hill. Greg's aunt recommended the Simon Serrailler series of crime novels to me, and I always take her recommendations. This first book was wonderful, with an outstanding twist. I loved it so much I've put off reading the second, but I think it's time.
Shadow of Night, Deborah Harkness. I didn't love the first book in this trilogy (A Discovery of Witches), but for some reason decided I wanted to continue with it (probably due to lots of hype about the final book coming out). I liked this second even less than the first. But I'll probably read the last one, for no good reason I can think of.
Slightly Married, Mary Balogh. I was looking for romance novels that don't suck, and this writer came highly recommended. The book was good, but the seemingly ubiquitous formula of romance novels doesn't compel me to read more. Do you love any romance novels that don't follow the will-they-won't-they/forbidden-love/Pride-and-Prejudice trajectory? I'd love to read some; please share!
The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking, Oliver Burkman. This book. This is the one that rocked my world. I've recommended it to pretty much everyone I've spoken to about books, self-help, business, or life (so, pretty much everyone, period). As I was coming to accept that I'd written a self-help book, myself (it hadn't been my intent, so the understanding of that fact came to me slowly, over time), this book allowed me to think through why I can't stand reading self-help books. I always find them irrelevant to me in a way that used to make me feel broken beyond repair, but that now makes me realize I just kind of have a different worldview than, it would seem, most people writers write self-help books for. Positive thinking, for example, gives me hives. I just find it a lie. It's just a lie. Because sometimes shit happens and sometimes life hurts, and that's all well and good. Reading this book – which is not actually a self-help book but rather a journalistic exploration of what the author calls the cult of positive thinking and the antidote to it, which he calls the negative path to happiness – allowed me to place Mighty Ugly into a much wider context, beyond my own personal quirks. Of course I think ugliness is the key to creative happiness. Duh. Read this book. Do it now.
What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist who Tried to Kill Your Wife?: A Memoir, David Harris-Gershon. I struggle, as a North American Jew, with some of the very propagandistic rhetoric many Jewish organizations and people I know and love share about Israeli-Palestinian relations, because I think that Palestinians are, you know, human beings who deserve basic human rights just like all human beings. (I also struggle, as a lefty artsy person, with propagandistic anti-Israel rhetoric that comes from some of my lefty-artsy friends. Propaganda: it pretty much doesn't contribute meaningful conversation no matter who creates it). I read this book at the recommendation of a new friend, and I recommend it to anyone interested in gaining perspective on a difficult issue rather than defaulting to a deliberately one-sided view. Harris-Gershon's experience (his wife was nearly killed in a terrorist bombing in Jerusalem; eventually, he was only able to heal, himself, after trying to reconcile with the terrorist who executed the bombing) is eye-opening, and inspiring.
Claudine, Barbara Palmer. In my continuing quest to enjoy romance novels, I took the publisher up on an offer to send this book to people who had never read erotica. I found the book to be uninteresting and unmemorable.
Shiver, Maggie Stiefvater. Hm. I didn't read much YA fiction this year, eh? This book, the first in a trilogy, was good. But not so good that I decided to continue with the series.
Fiona's Flame, Rachael Herron. Apparently, romance (also non-fiction) was the theme of my reading year. I've read all of Rachael's knitting romance books (full disclosure: she's a friend, and I interviewed her for Make It Mighty Ugly), and this one is by far my favourite. She just nailed it (see what I did there?). Yeah, sure, these books totally follow the formula. But instead of being boring, they're just downright delightful. It's possible I'm picky about romance novels because I'm spoiled by hers.
The Last Policeman, Ben H. Winters. I think I read about The Last Policeman trilogy on a blog somewhere, and whatever it was I read led me to order the whole trilogy immediately. I wasn't disappointed. The setting alone (it's pre-apocalyptic!) – more, the author's treatment of it – is worth the price of admission.
A Spear of Summer Grass, Deanna Raybourn. This book is why I love Twitter. One day, Deanna tweeted that she enjoyed my book. I thanked her, and looked up what she does. Lo and behold, she's a romance novelist. And I happened to need a next book to read. So I asked her which of hers I should start with, and A Spear of Summer Grass was one of the ones she recommended. I really enjoyed this book. Yup, it's the formula. But the characters in this book are rich and interesting, and I utterly enjoyed getting to know them.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler. This book was my return to reading books that are talked about. It's outstanding, and you should read it, too. Especially if you have any background or interest in research psychology. I've been dying to talk to someone who's read this book, because you can't actually talk about it without giving away a plot twist. So if you've read it – fascinating, amiright?
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel. Another very buzzed-about book, and worth every bit of hype. It was short-listed for the National Book Award, I think, and it wouldn't have been wrong for it to have won. (Canadian book people: I haven't seen this novel discussed as Can-lit, and I can't figure out why. Half of it is set in Toronto and the author's Canadian. Is it that she doesn't live in Canada? Is it that the book was both a critical and commercial success across the border? I don't get it.)
Did you read any great books in 2014? What are you looking forward to reading in 2015? (I've set myself a more ambitious goal for the year – to read thirty books, and I'm going to try to build some non-fiction reading time into my workday, too. You can follow along as I go, over on Goodreads.)
Betsy Greer‘s new book, Craftivism, is now out, and I couldn't be prouder to have written an essay for it. I wrote about Mighty Ugly, naturally, and about being strong even when we don't feel strong, and making and speaking out even when we're afraid to or don't think we'll make a difference. I focused the piece on an experience I had at summer camp when I was ten. My camp counsellor changed my life, and I'm pretty sure she didn't know it at the time.
I sent my mom a copy of the essay last night, and she's taken it upon herself to find this woman after twenty-eight years. So it's possible that I'll soon be in touch with her (my mom is very effective when she puts her mind to something), and I'm sort of amazed about that. Also, I'm embarrassed, because when I wrote the essay, I spelled my counsellor's name wrong. Sigh.
Anyway, I haven't held a copy of Craftivism in my hands yet, but I'm very, very excited to read all the rest of the essays in it. Betsy's passion for studying and celebrating the intersection of crafts and activism is inspiring and admirable, and I have no doubt my mind will expand to the point of possible explosion when I read this book.
Have I mentioned that I started a little blog about my adventures reading with Owen? I think I forgot to tell you. It's called A Short Read, and you should take a look if you have kids in your life or occasionally find yourself having to choose books for them.
Like with most things I'm passionate about, I have opinions about kids' books, which have been a part of my daily life for the last three years. I wanted a place to write about the ones we love, since I've found it hard to find solid reviews of kids' books that aren't drivel. By which I mean I want both reviews and books that aren't drivel.
One of the books I wrote about over there is called Dinosaur Rescue! by Penny Dale. It's a gem, and one of Owen's favourites. When I published the post, the book's publisher got in touch and asked me to write a guest post for them about my experience with Owen's very stereotypically boyish interests.
And so I did. You can read the post here. If you like it (or find it flawed or infuriating or whatever), leave a comment over there, eh? Maybe they'll ask me to write for them again. I really enjoyed it.