January Reads

January was a good reading month. I am trying something a little different to track my reading this year. I have been posting little reviews as I go on my mrsopusreads Instagram account. You can follow along in real time (#mrsopusreads2018) or, of course, wait for the monthly recap here. Either way, I’d love to know what you’re reading too!

01//The Almost Sisters, by Joshilyn Jackson//I kept seeing this book last year, so I’ll give a bunch of people credit for recommending it. I really loved this one. It made me laugh out loud and cry (both literally). It feels neither light nor heavy, though its tone is fairly light for subject matter that is so heavy (messy family, dementia, racism). I loved all of these characters (except the ones you’re supposed to hate), and I felt like there was genuine tension as to whether or not it was all going to come out ok. Upon reflection, I do think that aspects of the plot maybe should have set off my “too much” alarms, but to Jackson’s credit, they didn’t: I was all in. I will be seeking out more of Jackson’s fiction. (My biggest complaint, probably, is that this cover has nothing at all to do with the book. Just weird.)//⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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02//Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, by Roxane Gay//I had heard about this memoir on a podcast and was intrigued enough by the promise of great writing to override my (probably temporary) desire to steer clear of memoirs for a while. This one is pretty raw and at times absolutely heartbreaking both in the sexual violence Gay was victim to at twelve years old and in the lifelong emotional and physical aftermath of that trauma. Whereas many (most?) memoirs tend to be a fairly neatly packaged presentation of an aspect her life that the author has processed through and is now reflecting on, this seems much more like a still-in-process (and up-close) working through of all the tangled and complex thoughts and feelings and desires the author continues to have. The chapters are short and somewhat repetitive (which I think might be deliberate). This book by its nature churned up more than it set to rest, and I have no doubt it will stick with me a while.//⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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03//Echo, by Pam Munoz Ryan//This book is a gem. It tells several stories nestled together (three main stories that eventually connect within a double-layered framing story). The main characters are bright, creative children facing hard circumstances that threaten their families (the rise of the Nazis in Germany, a cruel orphanage, segregation, Japanese internment camps). Each section ends with a cliffhanger, and I was never ready to let go of the character I had come to adore, even though I suspected the stories would all be resolved and intertwine somehow. I believe this is written as a middle-grade novel, but it holds up for adult readers as well. These are good stories and good storytelling. * I listened to the audio version, and while I do think you could be just as enchanted by reading this one, the audio version is enhanced by the music (the key object in the book is a harmonica that is a significant part of each story).//⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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04//⭐️⭐️⭐️💫//Meddling Kids, by Edgar Cantero//Umm, well....hmmm. I mean...hmmm. So this book left me wondering, What did I just read? The premise is that a Scooby Gang-esque group of friends that disbanded after their last mystery join up as adults (minus one human and sub in the great-grandson dog) to revisit and solve for real that last mystery that has haunted them since they were teenagers. The bones of the plot, excepting the resolution, follow more or less what you would expect of a Scooby-Doo reunion episode but with waaay more adult themes and plot lines (and to be clear, these are not the same characters—different names, different people altogether). But pretty much everything else about this book is...different. Cantero disregards (subverts?) all the conventions of writing, and as a reader, you just kind of have to go with it. Throughout, there are sections that are written like a screenplay in the same scenes as regular paragraphs, switching back and forth willynilly. The author freely uses neologisms (characters innerstruggled, tragichuckled, and triviaed, just to name a few). There are stage directions even in the non-screenplay parts; the author breaks the fourth wall; and one character’s hair is regularly anthropomorphized. There are a ton of pop culture and literature references; I got quite a few, but I’m certain I missed more than I caught. The overall effect is fun if you just don’t let all the unusual and nonsensical quirks make you crazy. So the downside that was left for me once I decided to hang in for the ride was that I didn’t like any of the characters. At all. I didn’t like them as people, and I didn’t like how they were written. In the end, I’m glad I stuck this one out. It is outside of what I usually read and stretched my tastes for sure. I’m not eager to seek more like it, but I’ll be thinking about it for a while. //⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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05//The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, by Kate Moore//The Radium Girls (the actual women, not the book) were mentioned in a book I read last month (The Poisoner’s Handbook), and I was glad for the chance to dive deeper into their stories. This book is a history of dial painters (dials meaning watch faces and airplane instrument dials) in the 1920s and 30s. Radium was newly discovered and considered a wonder substance—used not only to make things glow in the dark but also in tonics and face creams and the like. Of course, we now know how incredibly dangerous it is. This is an account of the women who were poisoned by working in the dial painting factories. Most of them died painful, gruesome deaths. The company they worked for is the definition of evil corporation, protecting their financial interests with no regard for human suffering. So, all that to say this was a good one but definitely a heavy read.//⭐️⭐️⭐️💫//#mrsopusreads2018

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06 + 07//Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History and Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: Here My Troubles Began, by Art Spiegelman//I’ve been rather drawn to graphic novels since our book club decided to sample the genre for our January pick. Maus is perhaps one of the best known graphic novels and is highly acclaimed for good reason. Although the simple artwork and crowded pages weren’t my super favorite, I also suspect a bit of genius in these choices and acknowledge that maybe I’m not actually meant to feel overly comfortable reading a memoir of the Holocaust. I’m certain there exists much scholarship on the author’s choice of drawing people of different nationalities and ethnicities as different animals (Jews are mice, Germans are cats, and non-Jewish Poles are pigs, e.g.), but the effect it had on me was to make the story all the more real. My theory is that I was constantly reminding myself that this happened to real people, not cartoons, and that that unconscious-conscious translation packed a gut-punch. I also appreciated the author’s complicated relationship with his aging father, though I’m still mulling what I think about the more “meta” aspects of volume 2. Though so heavy and somber, I’m glad to have read these for sure.//⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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08//The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth, by Christopher L. Heuertz//I really enjoyed this one for going deeper with the enneagram. I listened to this as an audiobook, and there was much that I just couldn’t keep straight, so I plan to pick up a paper copy. I appreciated the focus and invitation to better understand your enneagram type as it relates to and informs contemplative practices of Christian spiritual growth. Note: The book is not a guide to finding your enneagram type (that is, it assumes you already know it and/or points to resources to determine your type elsewhere). //at least ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫//#mrsopusreads2018

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09//The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch//I really loved this novel, and the more I think about it, the more I like it. It’s got all the elements of a type of story I really love: specifically, a group of wily thieves/con men who are actually and obviously the good guys. They’re almost always the smartest ones in the room by a mile, but when it seems they might not be, that’s when it gets interesting. The reviews have a lot of references to Ocean’s Eleven, and that’s apt, but it reminded me also of the television show Leverage—but, you know, with a fantasy genre twist. The story begins when Locke is a child, and one of my favorite quotes comes from when he first meets the Gentleman Bastards: “He was bewildered at how quickly he had escaped his old life and fallen into this new one with strangely pleasant crazy people.” Even though this was a 500-page book, I didn’t want it to end, and I’m currently enjoying the second book in the series (on audio this time).//⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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10//Idaho, by Emily Ruskovich//Hunnnnnhhh. What can I say about this book? The writing is so, so good—tears-in-my-eyes, feel-my-heart-beating-faster kind of beautiful (and brutal). The points of view from which the story is told (there are several) are thought-provoking and unique (e.g., people who are connected to the main characters but not actually players in the main plot). As far as time and perspective, this story is so creatively and intriguingly told. So much goodness here...and yet. In the end, I wanted to throw the book across the room. This is not a thriller or a mystery, but at the heart of the book is a compelling question of motive. The book ends with that question unresolved—and not in an ambiguous-but-okay-I-can-see-that kind of way; no, it was unresolved in an I’m-not-sure-the-author-even-knows-the-answer kind of way. I want you to read this so we can discuss it, but agghhhhhhhh. Maddening.//⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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11//Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen//Would you believe this is the first Austen I have ever read? I really enjoyed the Kate Winslet/Emma Thompson/Hugh Grant/Alan Rickman movie version of several years ago and now plan to see the newer adaptation when I can get my hands on it. As far as the book goes, I liked it. I see why people love Austen. I do admit that at times was rather bored with the simple plot, but I appreciated the wit and most definitely liked it enough to finish. I have read that this is not Austen’s best novel, so I will give her another shot. I think I will try Persuasion next.//⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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12//Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say, by Kelly Corrigan//I love this book so much, and as soon as I have to return it to the library, I will be buying a copy. As the subtitle indicates, this is a collection of essays (stories) about 12 phrases we would all do well to learn to say more often (including “tell me more,” “I was wrong,” “no,” “yes,” and “good enough”). I laughed often and out loud, and in the very same chapters I cried out loud too. (I also gleaned a real gem of parenting advice. Although it was a minor point and not one of the 12 phrases, “Where have you looked?” has been a game-changer.) This book is insightful and resonant and sad and joyful and, sigh, so very good. Just thinking about it makes me want to start re-reading. All the stars.//⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️//#mrsopusreads2018

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Favorite Reads of 2017

So. I read a lot this year, more than I expected to. I learned a lot about myself as a reader, and I’m looking forward to putting that information to good use as I think about what and how I’d like to read in 2018. Although it was fun when 100 books began to look like it was in reach this year, I don’t necessarily have a number-of-books goal for the coming year. I imagine I’ll read about the same amount, but we will see. I know that I want to read long books if they are good ones and not worry that my tally isn’t adding up quickly enough.

By the numbers (because I’m super nerdy about such things):

According to Goodreads, I read (or listened to) 32,587 pages this year. That breaks down to 112 books, 76 of which were fiction, 35 of which were nonfiction, and 1 of which was poetry. I listened to 18(ish) audio books (3 I went back and forth between the audio and the paper version) and read 1 on Jason’s Kindle (that number will likely increase next year). I read 82 books by female authors, 27 books by male authors, and 3 books that were each coauthored by a man and a woman. Of the books I read this year, only 6 were re-reads (another number I mean to increase next year).

My favorites from the year (in no particular order except the order I happened to stack them in for the picture; I linked to the month of my original review):

I do notice that 4 of my 10 favorites are ones I read in December. I think that it’s primarily because I read really, really great books in December, but I can’t promise that it’s not because time has made me forgetful of really great books I read earlier in the year.

Honorable Mentions:

December Reads

My Name Is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok. I first read this book about 15 years ago. I remembered only that it was about a Jewish boy trying to reconcile art and his religious beliefs and that I liked it. On this reading, though, I will say that it is easily one of my favorites of all time. So highly recommended. **This is the 100th book I finished this year!

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. I first read this book as a senior in high school and wrote at least one essay about it for my AP English test. I understood nothing about it. Zero. On this reading, in fact, I was on page 130 before I even vaguely recognized a small detail. That said, now that I do actually understand it better, I both loved reading the book because I was so drawn into the characters and story and hated reading it because parts of this dystopian future don’t seem impossible, which is genuinely terrifying. I’ve heard good things about the television adaptation, and I plan to watch it at some point.

David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell (read by the author). This hit the spot as an audio book. It has given me a lot of good things to think about (and bring up in conversation). As you would expect from the title, it’s an exploration of when, why, and how underdogs win. And there were some interesting, encouraging, and helpful insights about what we typically think of as advantages versus disadvantages and the ways advantage versus disadvantage can be reversed or rethought. Altogether a worthwhile read.

The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry. I wanted to love this book, but I didn’t. It’s set in England in 1893 and has a gothic feel, and despite really loving Jane Eyre last month, I think “gothic feel” is not my thing. For me, this book had too many subplots. I would find myself really interested and thinking I had been wrong about that for twenty pages or so, but then my attention would drift again. I think this book would be really great for the right reader, but I liked it far less than I had hoped I would.

Stay with Me, by Ayobami Adebaye. This is one of my favorite books I read this year. I loved it. It is the story of a Nigerian couple who agree that Yejide will be the only wife, but then Akin takes another. The book alternates between points of view, and the way the secrets unfold is heartbreaking. This book is so well written and was such an enjoyable* read (*enjoyable except that the story is so sad).

The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton. I am not typically much of a re-reader, but in the last month or so, I’ve been working to change that, and I’ve been loving it. I was surprised that I actually did remember quite a bit from this book, which I haven’t read since seventh grade. It’s a great story, and, yeah, maybe it’s a little heavy-handed on the theme, but I remember it fondly as one of the first books that was used to teach me how to talk about literature. I’ve been wanting to pick this up since earlier this year when I saw a t-shirt that said, “Stay gold.” Oh man, it gets me every time.

Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat? by Peter Walsh. It’s not that this was a terrible book (it isn’t); it’s just that I should have trusted my instinct that it wouldn’t really have much more to say what is in the marketing copy. The idea that physical clutter in your home requires the same kind of emotional energy as extra weight on your body is an interesting one. But this book (squarely in the live-your-best-life-now genre) offered only the most basic of plans: if you don’t like your life, change it. It doesn’t purport to be anything else, though, and that I spent time reading it is on me.

The Poisoner’s Handbook, by Deborah Blum. I really enjoyed this look at the early days of forensic medicine. I admit it made me feel a little weird to be listening to a book about poisoners while I was doing my Christmas baking. I found both the true crime and the science aspects of this book equally fascinating.

The Throwback Special, by Chris Bachelder. I was so intrigued by the concept of this one—a group of 22 men gather once a year to reenact a famous football play (the play is real, the re-enactment, as far as I know, is fiction). It’s an interesting glimpse into these men’s friendships and social patterns, emphasis on “glimpse.” I suppose my reading life is necessarily a reflection of my own real preferences—I tend to have few relationships that go really deep; here we’re a LOT of characters, and while we did get a bit more about a handful of them, the book just wasn’t about getting to the depths of any of the characters. I did enjoy the book, but it was not a favorite.

Stitches, by David Small. This graphic novel is a coming-of-age memoir and absolutely the perfect format/genre for this story. David Small’s childhood was painful and unstable (perhaps an understatement). That he tells his story with such grace and lack of bitterness was truly moving. And the illustrations are first-rate.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I liked so much about this book. I am absolutely awed (an understatement if ever there was one) by the size and scope and complexity of the known universe, and I really dig efforts at trying to make it even vaguely understandable. I was reminded of a conversation I had with Jason years ago about green vegetables; when I got to arugula, he jokingly accused me of just making up words. That’s how I felt about many of the words and concepts here—I recognize quarks and antimatter and even bosons, but when he got to leptons and Plutinos, I regularly wondered if I was being had. I really love all the attempts to put into perspective the unfathomably vast universe and to explain the theories of what’s in the space in space (my favorite is that he at one point calls dark matter our frenemy). The style is readable and funny, and I’m very proud that I will now be able to get some very nerdy jokes. But with all that I appreciate about this relatively short/small book, I still didn’t love it with all my heart. I think that’s because as accessible as the information was (maximum accessibility, I think), these are still concepts that are so hard to understand. I didn’t feel like I was truly absorbing or retaining the information. I wasn’t skimming, but really grasping the information (for me) would have required both slowing waaaay down and reading it in much smaller sips—not necessarily for people in a hurry, in other words. I liked this book a lot, but I bet I couldn’t pass a quiz about it, and that’s kind of frustrating.

The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui. I loved this graphic memoir, which is our book club pick for this month. Bui interweaves her story of becoming a mother with the story of her childhood and her family’s escape from South Vietnam in the 1970s. The pictures are beautifully drawn, and the observations Bui makes and questions she asks will stay with me for a long time.

The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker. I like it that the last book I will finish this year is also my favorite of 2017. I want to tell you nothing about this book, and I want to tell you everything. The Golem is made of clay and created to pass as a human woman. The Jinni (genie) is made of fire and trapped in human form. They each find themselves alone in New York at the very beginning of the twentieth century. The character development in this novel is so well done. I was completely invested in these characters (all of them), and I was genuinely captivated by their stories (backstories as well as continuing plot). Deep, contented sigh and ALL the stars.

Happy the Birthday!

This is what 8 and 6 look like.

December 25

Snuggles with Papa are the best. What a joy it is to celebrate the birth of our Savior. Merry Christmas, dear ones.

DPP pics from past years (2006-11 lost to the ether), 20122013201420152016

December 24

The other night at our life group dinner, we were swapping stories of church Christmas programs past. Every year we hope that there are at least a couple of nose pickers, wavers, belly-showers, and neighbor-pokers, even if they are our own. Beyond the sheer cuteness, though, it always is something special to hear the stories of our faith told by the kids we love.

This year, after years of stage fright and/or voluntary non-participation, Ian actually volunteered for a speaking part. He did amazing, and I may have cried a little bit (or a lot).

DPP pics from past years (2006-11 lost to the ether), 20122013201420152016

December 23

We celebrated Christmas with the Moreheads today, which, of course, included making gingerbread houses with Grandma.

DPP pics from past years (2006-11 lost to the ether), 20122013201420152016

December 22

My twice-weekly morning coffee date–worth every minute of getting out of bed at 6 am (okay, 6:18, let’s be honest). I love the human the most, but the dog faces are dear to me too and the coffee is always top drawer.

DPP pics from past years (2006-11 lost to the ether), 20122013201420152016

December 21

I got to join my second grader for a game and a cup of hot chocolate at school today. And for marshmallows at the bottom of the cup.

DPP pics from past years (2006-11 lost to the ether), 20122013201420152016

December 20

It’s hard to believe we are already three months out from my mom’s pacemaker surgery. Dr. Anderson is our favorite cardiac electrophysiologist in the world. We are immeasurably grateful for him and all the good care she received at UNMC.

DPP pics from past years (2006-11 lost to the ether), 20122013201420152016