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Books I Read in 2018

Hello, and welcome to the only blog post I write anymore, the annual list of books I read.

My Goodreads goal was 25, which seemed realistic last January, and forty-three books later seems low. 2018 was a Robert Caro off-year, so no LBJ tome, which always helps the total count.

This year, I added Reading Glasses to my weekly podcast diet. I’d heard their ads, and as with every new podcast recommendation, my reaction was, “I already don’t listen to all the ones I subscribe to, I don’t have time for a new one.” Once I started listening this summer, I regretted waiting so long. The hosts are hilarious (one of them read 157 books in 2018!), their recommendations have exploded my Goodreads To Be Read (TBR) list, and it’s making me a wider reader. They have a 2019 Reading Glasses Reader Challenge, and it’s only ten reading categories and activities, which feels achievable while also doing a part-time graduate degree.

Yes, that is still happening. Happily, one of the classes I took this year was a book-a-week class. That kind of syllabus is stressful but does wonders for book consumption. The assigned books took me on journeys to Japanese forests, Zimbabwean wildlife ranches, and the rainforests of Papua New Guinea. This class and the reading made me more excited about anthropology than any of the others I have taken over the last few years, probably because the theory included in most of these books felt accessible.

One of my reading goals for next year is to quit reading books I’m not feeling (not including required class reading). Logically, I get that everyone has different tastes, life is too short to spend time reading uninteresting books, and that just because I’ve started something, I don’t have to finish it. I find those ideas difficult to put into practice, but I forced myself to quit one book this summer. More of that in 2019!

Anyway, here is the list, with stars for recommendations and some notes about which books made me cry, among other things. Rather than a photo of a stack of books, I’m including photos taken around the time I was reading certain books.

1. Fire!! The Zora Neale Hurston Story, Peter Bagge

It took about three months to read  Why Buddhism is True,  and we went to Harper’s Ferry during one of those months

It took about three months to read Why Buddhism is True, and we went to Harper’s Ferry during one of those months

2. Rice and Beans: A Unique Dish in a Hundred Places, ed. by Richard Will and Livia Barbosa

3. Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi**

4. Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment, Robert Wright

5. Baby’s First Picture: Ultrasound and the Politics of Fetal Subjects, Lisa M. Mitchell

6. Stay with Me, Ayobami Adebayo**

7. After a While, You Just Get Used to It, Gwendolyn Knapp

8. À la recherche du temps perdu: à l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, Marcel Proust/Stanislas Brézet

9. Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders** - weird, sad, and lovely. It briefly made me worry about heaven and hell.

10. Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, Mary Norris

11. The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas** — While changing from work clothes to bike clothes in a public bathroom at my place of employment, I grabbed this book from my bike bag to finish a chapter. At least 20 minutes later, I remembered I was half-dressed, reading in a bathroom stall at my place of employment, when I could have been at home.

12. À la recherche du temps perdu: à l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, vol  2, Marcel Proust/Stanislas Brézet

13. How to Say Anything to Anyone, Shari Harley

14. God Save Texas, Lawrence Wright** - This is a good book for homesick Texans. Wright includes a post-Harvey letter from New Orleans to Texas that ran in the Houston Chronicle. I read this letter in a doctor's waiting room and shed a couple of tears. Then I bought it for my dad.

15. Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng**

Picked lots of berries in early July between books 21 & 22.

Picked lots of berries in early July between books 21 & 22.

16. Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins - yes, I reread all three of these books again.

17. Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins

18. Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins

19. Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward**

20. The Museum of Us, Tara Wilson Redd** - a former library colleague wrote and published this book! It takes place in Webster Groves, Missouri, where I went to college, and features St. Louis sites like the City Museum.

21. Mount Pleasant (Images of America: D.C.), Mara Cherkasky

22. Street Style: An Ethnography of Fashion Blogging, Brent Luvaas

23. Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn - I impulse-bought this at the airport on our way to Switzerland. I do not feel like I need to watch the HBO series, because the world is dark and terrible enough without me giving myself additional nightmares. That said, if you like dark and terrible things, this one’s for you.

24. Buttermilk Graffiti, Edward Lee**

While reading about Edward Lee’s food adventures, I saw my first glacier.

While reading about Edward Lee’s food adventures, I saw my first glacier.

25. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

26. Make Your Home Among Strangers, Jennine Capó Crucet** - Before we went on vacation, I did a frantic search for available e-books from the library and downloaded this. Crucet does a beautiful job depicting the first-generation student experience.

27. La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust vol. 1, Philip Pullman** - I read the His Dark Materials trilogy three years ago and was excited to return to this world.

28. Boy Kings of Texas: A Memoir, Domingo Martinez

In early August, I finished  Kitchen Confidential  and caught a laughable amount of blue crab in Norfolk.

In early August, I finished Kitchen Confidential and caught a laughable amount of blue crab in Norfolk.

29. Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain

30. Behind the Gates: Life, Security, and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress American, Setha Low

31. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts, Joshua Hammer**

32. Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan** - I have a library hold on the next book.

33. Imposing Wilderness: Struggles over Livelihood and Nature Preservation in Africa, Roderick P. Neumann

34. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing** - Recommended if you want to think about the possibility of life in capitalist ruins! Not at all a light read, but man, I am still thinking about it months later.

35. The Nature of Whiteness: Race, Animals, and Nation in Zimbabwe, Yuka Suzuki** This is another one that stayed with me, maybe because I used it in my final research paper.

36. Gold Fame Citrus, Claire Vaye Watkins

37. Nature in Translation, Shiho Satsuka

38. The Cabin at the End of the World, Paul Tremblay - This book falls into the category of “I recommend it if you like dark and terrible things.” Reading Glasses recommended it and interviewed the author, and I wanted something scary to get into the Halloween mood. This was a tense and graphically violent read unlike anything else I’ve ever read.

39. Land’s End: Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier, Tania Li

40. Conservation is our Government Now, Paige West

41. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson - this is the spooky book I should have read to get into the Halloween spirit.

42. A Place for Us, Fatima Farheen Mizra*************** - Read this book. This one drove me to social media more than anything else I read this year. I received it randomly; a friend handed it to me after she finished it at Logan airport. “Did you grow up with much religion?” The dust jacket wasn’t on it, so I didn’t really know what it was about. Y’all. I cried at least four times reading this book and then two more times after I finished it, thinking about it. It is about siblings and parents and husbands and wives and first love and death and religion, and it struck some very deep chords.

43. Insectopedia, Hugh Raffles

What books did you enjoy this year? Did anything make you cry? Send your recommendations my way, and happy 2019 reading!

Books I Read in 2017

Happy New Year! 

I got through 28 books this year. My Goodreads goal was 20, and I achieved that with the help of several graphic novels. I got into the public anthropology program mentioned in last year’s post and spent lots of time reading journal articles. There was another art book, whose essays took me months to get through. New this year was an audio book, Ann Helen Petersen’s Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud. Petersen is the one reading her book to you. We listened to chapters as we drove between D.C. and St. Louis for the eclipse, a trip inspired by Annie Dillard’s The Abundance, one of my 2016 books. 

Unread books piled up around the apartment and my cubicle throughout the year. Ones I have yet to tackle include Yaa Gyaasi’s Homegoing, Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo, After a While You Just Get Used to It: A Tale of Family Clutter by Gwendolyn Knapp, and Rice and Beans: A Unique Dish in a Hundred Places, edited by Richard Wilk and Lívia Barbosa. I want to read the last one because it represents a large part of my weekly diet. Maybe this will be the year I get to Arthur Kleinman’s What Really Matters: Living a Moral Life Amidst Uncertainty and Danger

My only reading goal this year was to finish the third LBJ book, Master of the Senate. I’ve listed it here prematurely, because I still have about 20 pages to go. But there are four hours left to the year, and I believe in myself. 

What books did you love in 2017? What are you looking forward to next year? Any favorite graphic novels I should check out? 

Here’s my 2017 list, with stars for the books I recommend. 

1. Black & Blue: The Origin and Consequences of Medical Racism, John Hoberman

2. The Kindness of Children, Vivian Gussin Paley 

3. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, Marjane Satrapi**

IMG_4851 (2).jpg

4. Persepolis 2, Marjane Satrapi** - I've wanted to read these books for years. I walked by them repeatedly in the library and finally checked them out and tore through them. This panel made me laugh out loud. 

5.  My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante** - Two women I admire loved and recommended this series. After I finished My Brilliant Friend, I was ambivalent. “Well… if they both like them, there must be some reason,” I thought and picked up the next book. 

6. The Story of a New Name, Elena Ferrante** - I devoured the second book, while despising the two main characters and their awful decisions. I really needed to know what happened to them, though, but as the semester was beginning, I put the series aside to focus on reading about Marx.  

7. Karl Marx, Anthropologist, Thomas Patterson

8. The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America, Michael Taussig

9. Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery  - Reread and cried again. 

10. Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connections, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing

11. The Infinite Wait and Other Stories, Julia Wertz 

12. Difficult Women, Roxane Gay**

13. Enforcing Order: An Ethnography of Urban Policing, Didier Fassin** 

14. Eating the Ocean, Elspeth Probyn 

15. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Elena Ferrante** - The semester ended, and I was back to the Neapolitan novels. 

16. The Story of the Lost Child, Elena Ferrante** - By the time I finished this book, I’d convinced at least two other people to start the series. Names and relationships were confusing, and, as mentioned, I really hated the two main characters at times, but overall, I’m glad I stuck with it.

17. Becoming Unbecoming, Una - I didn’t know what this book was going to be and picked it because I liked the cover image. It was a about a British woman growing up when the Yorkshire Ripper was in the news. It’s about surviving rape and abuse, slut-shaming, misogyny, and the struggle of becoming a woman in a society that hates women. It was heartbreaking, enraging, inspiring, and way more than I expected from a graphic a novel. 

18. The Black Penguin, Andrew Evans**

19. Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of Unruly Women, Ann Helen Petersen**

20. Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World, Tracy Kidder - I reread this for class, then told my professor I was thinking of leaving the program to become a nurse. I did not carry through. 

21. The Land of Open Graves, Jason De León

22. Anthropology: A Student’s Guide to Theory and Method, Stanley R. Barrett

23. Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter** - this was one I stayed in bed to finish on a Sunday morning.

24. Niki de Saint Phaille and the Tarot Garden - Jill Johnston, Marella Caracciolo Chia, Giulio Pietromarchi - This was the art book whose text took me months to read. Niki de Saint Phaille was married to Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, and she created this wonderful sculpture garden in Italy that we will get to one day.  

25. Lumberjanes vol 3: A Terrible Plan - Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen

26. Lumberjanes vol 4: Out of Time - Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen

27. Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty, Dorothy Roberts

28. The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate, Robert Caro** 

 

 

 

Books I Read in 2016

Happy 2017! 

2016 was generally a rough year, and the 27 books I read this year are unimpressive compared to last year’s 48. I only reached 27 thanks to four comic books. Then again, I took two graduate classes and had a job the whole year, versus 2015’s five months of fellowship and four months of employment. So in between pleasure reading, there were hours of chapters on archival document management and capitalism. I’ve applied to a graduate program, and if that goes well, there will be many more hours of reading capitalism in 2017.

Looking back at last year’s post, I did accomplish my goals of reading The Education of Henry Adams and SulaThere was a stark lack of LBJ in 2016, so my only reading goal for next year is to finish book three in the Years of Lyndon Johnson series, Master of the Senate. I’ve also got both Persepolis books on my night stand and an ever-growing list of books to read on Goodreads.

What were some of your favorite books this year? What’s on your list for 2017? 

Here are the 27 books I read in 2016, with stars for the ones I really loved and recommend: 

  1. White Teeth, Zadie Smith**
  2. The Education of Henry Adams, Henry Adams - this one is interesting for the history. I started reading it in 2015 for Jamaica Kincaid's Autobiography and Memoir class. She pointed out that Adams writes his life story without once mentioning his wife, Marian "Clover" Hooper Adams, who committed suicide by drinking photo chemicals. He makes one allusion to her death when he mentions going to the Washington cemetery "known as Rock Creek, to see the bronze figure which St. Gaudens had made for him in his absence." One reference in 505 pages. 
  3. The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell
  4. Kehinde Wiley: New Republic, various authors
  5. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, Sarah Vowell ** - I recommend this so much I wrote a blog post about it. It pairs especially well with lots of Hamilton soundtrack. 
  6. On My Own, Diane Rehm** - definitely recommended for Diane Rehm fans. Maybe not recommended if you’ve lost someone recently and might cry on the bus on your way to work as you read it. Or perhaps it’s just what you  need? 
  7. Growing Up Brown: Memoirs of a Filipino American, Peter Jamero
  8. Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage, Michael R. Veach
  9. Sula, Toni Morrison**
  10. H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald** - there were times I had to stop reading this because it was so heartbreakingly sad.
  11. Au revoir, les enfants, Louis Malle - read to get ready for France! 
  12. My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, Ruth Reichl 
  13. Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay**
  14. The Queen of the Night, Alexander Chee
  15. The Abundance, Annie Dillard** - this, like H is for Hawk, made me think, “I will never write this well.” Beautiful. 
  16. Driving Hungry, Layne Mosler
  17. East Along the Equator, Helen Winternitz
  18. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne
  19. Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan
  20. Black Panther, Ta-Nehesi Coates
  21. Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie** - I loved this book. It might be my favorite of the ones I read last year. 
  22. The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World, Andrea Wulf**  
  23. The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life's Work at 72, Molly Peacock**
  24. Lumberjanes vol 1: Beware the Kitten Holy, Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen
  25. Lumberjanes vol 2: Friendship to the Max, Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen
  26. Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: 16 Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, ed Meghan Daum
  27. French Milk, Lucy Knisley

You Should Read "Lafayette in the Somewhat United States"

If you’re obsessed with the musical Hamilton and want to learn more about “America’s favorite fighting Frenchman,” now is as good a time as any to take a break from spreading the Hamilton gospel to your co-workers to read Sarah Vowell’s Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. 

I am well aware how embarrassingly little I know about history. Vowell, in a conversation with Quakers, helped me realize a potential reason for my disinterest in the history I learned in school. She visits the Birmingham Friends Meetinghouse near the Brandywine Battlefield in Pennsylvania, where Lafayette got shot in the leg. After telling her new acquaintances that she’s researching Lafayette, one of them says, “We understand our history as war.” 

“Yes,” I thought, remembering my history education as notebooks filled with battles and dates, the only one of which I can clearly recall being 1066, William the Conqueror. No wonder I thought history was boring for so long. I don’t care about battles.

Reductive as that may be, I do care about people, and Vowell, with huge doses of snark, presents all these historical figures as imperfect humans. Yes, George Washington led the Continental Army to victory, but he had a lot of help (and slaves). Yes, a very young Lafayette crossed the Atlantic a few times to help the United States in their fight against Britain, but to do so, he deceived his in-laws and pregnant wife. Yes, the Continental Army triumphed against its colonial oppressor, but man, were they a hot, underfunded, unshod and barely-clothed mess.

Lafayette and some friends at Lafayette Square. Photo by Gabe Bullard. 

Lafayette and some friends at Lafayette Square. Photo by Gabe Bullard. 

Now for some highlights of the many, sarcastic gems from the book.

-On Lafayette’s seasickness during the boat ride to the United States: “He spent the miserable voyage learning English, presumably mastering how to conjugate the verb ‘to puke.’” 

-Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben’s assessment of the American soldiers’ bayonet skills before he taught them Bayonet 101: “'the American soldier, never having used this arm, had no faith in it, and never used it but to roast his beefsteak.'” 

-On Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the first draft of Notes on the State of Virginia while the Continental Army struggled to defend his state: “Basically, the governor of Virginia had thoughts on everything but how to arm and feed and reinforce the soldiers risking their lives to save his state.” 

-The horror expressed by a French officer dining in Washington’s tent when the general failed to serve the meal “in a succession of courses like in civilization. Apparently Washington ‘gave, on the same plate, meat, vegetables, and salad.’ On the same plate? Were these Americans people or animals?” I think the French are still wondering this now that the doggy bag has found its way to their country

If I included all the parts that made me laugh, there would be little left for you to read. Overall, I was left feeling admiration and some warmth toward our Revolutionary War heroes, plus a desire to read more of Washington’s correspondence. I also added several more places to visit to the Travel List, like Lafayette’s birthplace and the cemetery in Paris where he’s buried. 

I’m working on improving my loose grasp on history. Hamilton and books like Vowell’s help immensely. And actually, it’s really easy to read this book and also annoy your coworkers about Hamilton.  

Books I Read in 2015

Happy New Year! 

At 48 books, 2015 was a good reading year. Then again, seven of those were Harry Potter books, three were the His Dark Materials series, and one was a comic book. Thanks to the Nieman Fellowship in the first half of the year, I had time to read and take a class on Autobiography and Memoir, which meant more reading, roughly a book a week (still haven’t finished The Education of Henry Adams, though. There’s always next year).  

Here’s the list with stars for recommendations.  

1. The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois** 
2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
3. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
4. Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America & the Fight for Cumberland Island, Will Harlan** 
5. Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father, Alysia Abbott** - Abbott was a Nieman affiliate (the people the Fellows bring with them) and spoke to us at the beginning of the fellowship. Fairyland is her story of growing up in 70s and 80s San Francisco with a gay father. It is a beautiful book.  
6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
7. Yes Please, Amy Poehler
8. Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire
9. The Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson
10. Narrative of a Life of Frederick Douglass
11. Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada, Clarence King** - early mountaineers were madmen. Also, Clarence King led a double life, which you wouldn't know from reading this book, because he wrote it before the double life began. He married Ada Copeland, an African American woman, who knew him as a James Todd. He told her he was a Pullman porter (and of African descent). He was actually white, a geologist, and the first director of the U.S. Geological Survey. It’s interesting reading this book with this knowledge and looking for clues about his future.  
12. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman** - this was my first Neil Gaiman book, and it won’t be my last.  
13. Behind the Scenes, Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House, Elizabeth Keckley** - Fascinating. Read this.  
14. Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix
15. Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, Mary Seacole
16. Tiger, Tiger, Margaux Fragoso
17. Aké, Wole Soyinka
18. How I Became Hettie Jones, Hettie Jones
19. Family, Ian Frazier
20. The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon
21. Against Football - One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto, Steve Almond**  
22. Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I'd Known, Chantal Panozzo
23. The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman
24. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
25. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
26. Rock Creek Park, Gail Spilsbury
27. Tenth of December, George Saunders
28. Forest Hills (Images of America), Margery L. Elfin
29. Micrographica, Renee French  
30. On the Map, Simon Garfield
31. The Might Have Been, Joe Schuster
32. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by Edward FitzGerald
33. A Trail Through Leaves: The Journal As A Path to Place, Hannah Hinchman
34. Writing About Your Life: A Journey into the Past, William Zinsser
35. Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury** - I wrote a separate post about how great this book is and why you should read it. 
36. Loitering, Charles D’Ambrosia
37. Women Don’t Ask, Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever** - This was suggested reading at the end of a negotiation workshop. While it isn’t a page-turner, I recognized lots of truth in it and have been recommending it to all my lady friends, co-workers, and my boss.  
38. Cosmicomics, Italo Calvino
39. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehesi Coates**  
40. Wench, Dolen Perkins-Valdez
41. Une Si Longue Lettre, Mariama Ba
42. At Swim-Two-Birds, Flann O’Brien  - This was certainly the strangest book I read all year.  
43. The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Means of Ascent, Robert Caro** - I gave the first book in this series to both my brother and my dad this year. I wish I could have a Caro biography or a Lin-Manuel Miranda musical about every part of history. Caro's description of former Texas governor Coke Stevenson’s work ethic and reading so inspired me that I woke up early to read for at least five of the ten days it took me to finish this book.  
44. The Taste of Country Cooking, Edna Lewis 45.    Northern Lights, Philip Pullman** - I plowed through all three of these books in less than a week and loved them, but wow, the third book is way too long.  
46. The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman
47. The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman
48. Beautiful Swimmers, William Warner - If you are at all interested in the blue crab, this book is required reading. I am very interested in the blue crab and hope to inspect some closely this summer.  

What was the best book you read in 2015? What’s on your list for this year? I’d like to get through at least the next two LBJ books and have been instructed to read Toni Morrison’s Sula. I keep an ever-growing and generally ignored To-Read list on Goodreads. What do you recommend?  

Wishing you all a year full of excellent reading.  

You should read "Dandelion Wine"

“I mustn’t forget, I’m alive, I know I’m alive, I mustn’t forget it tonight or tomorrow or the day after that."

Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine is the perfect book to read at summer’s end. It’s perfect at the beginning of summer, as well. Really, it’s a perfect book.

Not dandelions.

Not dandelions.

Dandelion Wine is Bradbury’s semi-autobiographical story of the summer of 1928 in Green Town, Illinois (Waukegan). We see the town through the eyes of twelve-year-old Douglas Spaulding and his younger brother Tom as they crash through the summer, tallying traditions and new discoveries.

If that description makes you think, “I don’t care about a story about two little boys,” stop thinking that. It doesn’t matter what Douglas Spaulding looks like or how old he is, because he is you, and Dandelion Wine is about childhood and summer and boogeymen and death and goodbyes. It’s beautiful and sad, and it’s maddening because I can only dream of achieving such excellent writing. Each sentence is alive and sensual. You see, feel, smell, or taste what Bradbury describes. Every sentence hums, electric and alive with verbs and clear language. It’s sentimental, but so am I. I cried three or four times throughout the book. Once during the introduction, probably because of this: 

“I see my grandfather there looking up at that strange drifting light, thinking his own still thoughts. I see me, my eyes filled with tears, because it was all over, the night was done, I knew there would never be another night like this.” 

I’ve seen brown leaves on D.C. sidewalks in the last few days. Maybe the leaves are already turning wherever you are. Prolong your summer a little longer with Dandelion Wine. Save it for winter to brighten those cold, short days. Just read it.  

Books I Read in 2014

Happy 2015! 

Because I hoped to finish one more book in 2014 to bring the list to 20, I waited to post last year’s reads. Compared to 2013, I did poorly — I read exactly half as many books as last year. I blame this on the Robert Caro book (which took about three months) and the readings for the classes I audited in the fall. Anyway, here’s the list (** for recommendations; EPR for Eat, Pee, Reads): 

1. The Wet & the Dry - Lawrence Osborne

2. Anne of Green Gables - Lucy Maud Montgomery** (reread this for book club and regretted giving away the beautifully illustrated copy of the book I had as a child). 

3. How to be a Woman - Caitlin Moran

4. Cutting for Stone - Abraham Vergese

5. The Female Eunuch - Germaine Greer

6. Orange is the New Black - Piper Kerman

7. Russian Debutante's Handbook - Gary Shteyngart

8. Our Shawnee - Louisville Story Program**

9. The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 1) - Robert A. Caro** (This book made me wish I had a Caro book on every president). 

10. Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn (EPR. This was recommended to me last year, and after seeing the movie trailer, I decided I needed to know what happened before the film release. I read it in about 48 hours and lay on the floor so long reading that I gave myself a headache. I forgot the “eat” part of EPR that night, which likely contributed to the headache. I haven't seen the movie.)

11. Difficult Conversations - Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Neen

12. Ich bin dann mal weg (I’m Off Then) - Hape Kerkeling

13. The Complete Stories - Flannery O'Connor

14. AIDS and Accusation - Paul Farmer

15. The Man on the Third Floor - Ann Bernays

16. Une mélancolie arabe - Abdellah Taïa

17. It's Complicated - danah boyd** (recommended especially if you’re interested in social media and teenagers). 

18. Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies, and Revolution - Laurie Penny** (Penny is a 2015 Nieman Fellow. I wish through some kind of time warp that she’d written this book 15 years ago so I could have had it in high school. Or maybe in middle school.)

19. Children of the Monsoon - David Jiménez** (Jiménez is also a Nieman this year). The short stories in the book focus on children Jiménez met in his travels as the Asia bureau chief for the Spanish paper El Mundo. I learned so much from this book and almost gave my copy to my parents but then decided to keep this one and buy them their own.

What were your favorite books last year? What’s on your To Read list for 2015? I will definitely tackle the next volume in the LBJ series, but I could use some good fiction recommendations. Do you have any? 

31 Louisville Loves: Champagne and Fancy Cakes

In April 2011, a new book club held its inaugural meeting to discuss The Net Delusion by Evgeny Morozov. Two people attended. I was not one of them, because it was raining and I would have had to drive from Shively to Norton Commons. 

A few months later, in better weather, three more people ventured out to talk about Hal Herzog’s book, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat (I was in this group). Gradually, the group gained more people, a name, and three years later, it’s still going strong. 

In the first season of Friday Night Lights, Tami Taylor reluctantly goes to a book club meeting, where the members laugh at her when she says she enjoyed The Secret Life of Bees

“Oh, we don’t read the book!” 

Tami Taylor should join our Champagne and Fancy Cakes book club. We have all the stereotypical book club stuff — beer, wine, and bourbon, really good food that’s occasionally inspired by the book, gossip, AND we read the book (but we don’t judge if someone doesn’t). We also organize cool events. After reading How to Be Black, we coordinated a book club/happy hour with Baratunde Thurston while he was in town for Idea Festival. Best book club ever!

Champagne and Fancy Cakes at Rye, waiting for Mr, Thurston

Champagne and Fancy Cakes at Rye, waiting for Mr, Thurston

19 Crimes for  Orange is the New Black

19 Crimes for Orange is the New Black

I’ve kept lists of the books I read for years. When I look at my lists since 2011, I can pick out each Champagne and Fancy Cakes book and can almost remember where we met for most of them. I hosted my first meeting for Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. We were at Erica’s when we met for 1 Dead in Attic, by Chris Rose (and when we found out Steve Jobs died). Six months later, we were back for My Korean Deli by Ben Ryder Howe, where the evening’s snacks inspired our club name. 

Picking the next book typically takes us longer than the book discussion, but we’re getting better at this. I love this part because it helps me add to my To Read list, which has a greater scope thanks to Fancy Cakes.

This book club has given me exactly what I hoped for when I joined it. I’ve revisited books from childhood (Anne of Green GablesA Wrinkle in Time), read books I should have already read (The Things They Carried), and ones I probably would never have discovered on my own (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks). I’ve also tried some new wine and food (Hummingbird Cake, after The Red Garden), met some authors, and made friends with smart, lovely women who let me feed them fufu after we read The Poisonwood Bible. 

Hummingbird cake

Hummingbird cake

I'm not worried about finding people to discuss books with in Cambridge. Maybe they'll have snacks and drinks. But I will definitely miss my Fancy Cakes book club.