My Reading Plan for 2018

I’ve spent the first three days of the new year putting together my reading plan for the next 12 months.

Reading Challenges

I usually only do the Goodreads challenge of reading a certain number of books during the year. After meeting the goal of 40 books for the last several years, I’m increasing my magic number to 45 for 2018.

And this year I’ve also decided to do Off the Shelf’s 18 Reading Resolutions for 2018. I chose this one because 18 seems like a manageable number. Here are the categories:

1. Read more books by women
2. Read more diverse books
3. Read a book more than 500 pages
4. Read a book written by someone under the age of 35
5. Read a book written by someone over the age of 65
6. Read a collection of short stories
7. Read more nonfiction
8. Read a novel based on a real person
9. Read a collection of poetry
10. Read a book about an unfamiliar culture
11. Read a book from a genre you might not normally read
12. Read a book by a local author
13. Read a book about mental health
14. Read a “guilty pleasure” book
15. Read a book with a LGBTQ theme
16. Read a book to learn something new
17. Read an inspirational memoir
18. Read a book you’ve had on your shelf for years but haven’t gotten to yet

Personal Reading Goals

In an effort to read outside of my usual comfort zone (primarily psychological novels), I’ll try to read some of these types of books in 2018:

  • translations
  • science fiction
  • biography
  • fantasy
  • plays
  • poetry

I also need to catch up on the Classics Club list that I drew up some time ago. I haven’t made a dent in it in a LONG time. In fact, a look at my original list reveals that I’ve only read 11 of the 58 titles on that list.

Therefore, in 2018 I plan to cross at least six items off that list.

How About You?

Do you set annual reading goals, or do you prefer to pick up the books that call to you during the year? There’s something to be said for either approach.

If you’d like to give the reading-challenge approach a try, Google “2018 reading challenges” and you’ll find a LONG list. And if you’d like to set up your 2018 reading plan by constructing your own challenge, here’s a good place to start:

50 DIY READING CHALLENGES TO MAKE 2018 THE BEST YEAR OF YOUR READING LIFE

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

The 15 Best Books I Read in 2017

Since I’m choosy about what I read and mostly read only books I’m interested in, it’s often difficult to choose the titles that belong on my year-end “best books I read this year” list.

And this year the task was particularly difficult. After much adding and subtracting, I’ve finally hit on this list of the 10 best plus 5 honorable mention.

The Best

Backman, Fredrik. A Man Called Ove
Connelly, Michael. Two Kinds Of Truth
Crouch, Blake. Dark Matter
Harper, Jane. The Dry
Honeyman, Gail. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Jenkins, Reid Taylor. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Macdonald, Helen. H Is for Hawk
Ng, Celeste. Everything I Never Told You
Rooney, Kathleen. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
Sternbergh, Adam. The Blinds

Honorable Mention

Cahalan, Susannah. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness
Dolan-Leach, Caite. Dead Letters
du Maurier, Daphne. My Cousin Rachel
Eskens, Allen. The Life We Bury
Fuller, Claire. Swimming Lessons

How About You?

What books made your list this year?

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

Thanks to Goodreads for the following statistics:

I read 16,335 pages across 48 books.

SHORTEST BOOK: 135 pages. So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell

LONGEST BOOK: 894 pages. Dune by Frank Herbert

AVERAGE LENGTH: 340 pages

MY AVERAGE RATING FOR 2017: really liked it: 4.0 stars

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

In Memoriam: Literary Folks We Lost in 2017

This is always my least favorite post of the year.

Here’s a list of people the literary world lost in 2017, including, where available, a link to an obituary and the date of death.

John Berger, 1/2

Nat Hentoff, 1/7

Clare Hollingworth, 1/10

William Peter Blatty, 1/12

William A. Hilliard, 1/16

Peter Abrahams, 1/18

Byron Dobell, 1/21

Emma Tennant, 1/21

Buchi Emecheta, 1/25

Harry Mathews, 1/25

Bharati Mukherjee, 1/28

Barbara Harlow, 1/28

Howard Frank Mosher, 1/29

William Melvin Kelley, 2/1

Thomas Lux, 2/5

Barbara Gelb, 2/9

Dick Bruna, 2/16

Nancy Willard, 2/19

Frank Delaney, 2/21

Gary Cartwright, 2/22

Edith Shiffert, 3/1

Robert James Waller, 3/10

Amy Krouse Rosenthal, 3/13

George Braziller, 3/16

Derek Walcott, 3/17

Jimmy Breslin, 3/19

Robert Silvers, 3/20

Colin Dexter, 3/21

Joanne Kyger, 3/22

David Storey, 3/26

William McPherson, 3/28

Yevgeny Yevtushenko, 4/1

Glenn O’Brien, 4/7

Patricia McKissack, 4/7

Robert M. Pirsig, 4/24

Anne R. Dick, 4/28

Jean Fritz, 5/14

Neil Gordon, 5/19

Denys Johnson-Davies, 5/22

Denis Johnson, 5/24

Ann Birstein, 5/24

Frank Deford, 5/28

Charles Simmons, 6/1

Juan Goytisolo, 6/4

Helen Dunmore, 6/5

Margaux Fragoso, 6/23

Michael Bond, 6/27

Heathcote Williams, 7/1

Spencer Johnson, 7/3

Kenneth Silverman, 7/7

Clancy Sigal, 7/16

Sam Shepard, 7/27

Judith Jones, 8/2

Janusz Glowacki, 8/19

Brian Aldiss, 8/19

Susan Vreeland, 8/23

Howard Kaminsky, 8/26

Bernard Pomerance, 8/26

Rachel Kranz, 8/28

Elaine Ford, 8/27

Louise Hay, 8/30

Katherine M. Bonniwell, 8/31

John Ashbery, 9/3

Kate Millett, 9/6

Jerry Pournelle, 9/8

J.P. Donleavy, 9/11

Myrna Lamb, 9/15

Lillian Ross, 9/20

Kit Reed, 9/24

Si Newhouse, 10/1

Richard Wilbur, 10/14

Donald Bain, 10/14

Fay Chiang, 10/20

Gilbert Rogin, 11/4

Nancy Friday, 11/5

Pat Hutchins, 11/8

Jeremy Hutchinson, 11/13

Les Whitten, 12/2

William Gass, 12/6

Kathleen Karr, 12/6

Bette Howland, 12/13

Clifford Irving, 12/19

Sue Grafton, 12/28

Some Best Books Lists for 2017

Announcing the Winners of the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards

The Best Books of 2017

From Amazon

The Best Books of 2017

From Esquire.

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

The Recipients of the 2017 National Book Awards in All Four Categories

The winners of the 2017 National Book Awards in all four categories, as well as the presenters and the lifetime achievement award.

Source: The Recipients of the 2017 National Book Awards in All Four Categories

Seven Finalists for 2017 BookLife Prize Announced

Seven books—six novels and a memoir—were named finalists for the 2017 BookLife Prize. Each book was selected by an award-winning or bestselling author who served as a guest judge in one of seven genres.

Source: Seven Finalists for 2017 BookLife Prize Announced

Nobel Prize in Literature awarded to British author Kazuo Ishiguro – UPI.com

Source: Nobel Prize in Literature awarded to British author Kazuo Ishiguro – UPI.com

My Top 5 Novels of All Time

Every December 31st I sit down with the list of books I read that year and choose the best ones. I usually end up with 10 bests plus 5 honorable mentions. I include this many because I’m fortunate enough to be in the time of life when I can choose to read whatever I want, so I usually like every book I read. Sometimes whittling the list down is hard work.

Recently I saw a meme in an online book group: What are your top 5 novels of all time?

If choosing 10 or even 15 from a year of reading is hard, how difficult could it be to pick my top five books of all time? I decided to give this challenge a try.

To my surprise, the top four came quite easily. Although I’ve read a lot of books in my time, these four novels have stuck with me because they hit that sweet spot of my encountering them at a time when I needed what they have to offer.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee

Cover: To Kill a MockingbirdI remember this book being on the reading curriculum in eighth grade. I did the math, and 1960 was the year I finished eighth grade, so my memory may be correct. However, it’s possible that my memory is distorted. I distinctly remember feeling outraged when, three or four years after I was in eighth grade, the mother of a then eighth grader filed a complaint over having her daughter read a book about rape. Maybe I did read it in eighth grade, or maybe it didn’t land on the curriculum until later and I read it on my own.

Whichever is the case, this is the book that has stuck with me the longest and that I have reread the most often. Whenever I get to feeling down on my fellow man, I reread this book to restore my faith in humanity. (In fact, I’m due for another reread soon.)

Yet, as much as I’d like to think that I love this book for its themes of justice and human compassion, I’m pretty sure the novel stuck with me because my father died in 1960, two months before I turned 12, after a long and painful separation from my mother and me. The portrayal of Atticus Finch, the wise and caring father, probably impressed me just as much as the story of Atticus Finch, the brave lawyer who defended Tom Robinson. If it’s true that we can live vicariously through literature (and I believe it is), then this book probably comforted me through my fatherless adolescence.

2. All the King’s Men (1946) by Robert Penn Warren

Again, I’m not sure when I first read this remarkable novel. My memory places it in eighth or ninth grade.

This is the novel with which I discovered how powerful a fine work of fiction can be. For the first time, all the pieces of the literary criticism puzzle fell into place: the use of the first-person narrator, the metaphor of the narrator’s last name (Burden), the powerful (for both the narrator and the reader) epiphany, the quality of the prose.

I don’t remember why I first read this book. It’s possible that it was on a reading list for school (in which case, I would probably have come across it in ninth grade). I can’t imagine how else I would have found it. Nobody in my household was a reader, and we didn’t have many books around. But no matter how I came upon it, I always think of this novel as my initiation into adult reading. I have reread it a couple of times in my adulthood, and it holds up very well.

3. Disturbances in the Field (1983) by Lynne Sharon Schwartz

This story features a group of people who have known each other since their college days, when they used to get together and discuss philosophical ideas. In the book’s present time, these people are entering middle age.

I read this book when I was about the age of those characters and was beginning to realize that life is much more complicated than school prepares us for. In late adolescence and early adulthood, when we are beginning to be able to reason abstractly, we tend to think in dichotomies: it’s right to do this and wrong to do that, you either believe what I believe or you’re on the other side.

But life is very seldom so simple. Approaching middle age, I had had enough life experience to realize that what sounds convincing in theory often isn’t directly applicable in reality, that actual situations are usually not black or white but one of many—way more than 50—shades of gray between the two extremes. Like the characters in this novel, I had to learn by experience how to navigate life’s big events such as love, marriage, parenthood, death, and grief.

4. A Little Life (2015) by Hanya Yanagihara

This recent novel is a lot like To Kill a Mockingbird in the sense that it’s one of the most moving, poignant books I’ve ever read.

This big novel covers the lives of four men who met as college roommates. The story opens just after they have graduated from college in Massachusetts and have all moved to New York City to undertake their careers as an actor, a lawyer, an architect, and an artist. In 814 pages, the book unfolds their intertwined lives in magnificent detail.

The story of how four people come together to form a surrogate family moved me because, like all four of them, I grew up in a dysfunctional, non-nurturing household and went off to college to start a new life.. One of the four characters, who becomes the focal point of the book, suffered a horrific childhood that he’s unwilling to talk about. The other three all intuit that he needs their protection and support, and the novel probes both the high and low points of their shifting constellation of interpersonal relationships. As someone who has been fortunate enough to meet a crucial person whom I needed at each significant point in my life, I found this novel both poignant and ultimately uplifting.

Although these four books came easily, number five was a tough decision. Only one more spot on the list remained, yet several books came to mind:

  • Plainsong by Kent Haruf
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  • Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  • Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

When I looked at the first four, I realized that they give a chronology of my life, from childhood to early adulthood to middle age and then to older age. This suggested that the last spot on the list should also go to a book about my current point on life’s continuum, older adulthood. The Blind Assassin, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, and Our Souls at Night all fit that category. On the other hand, Plainsong is about the most effectively written novel I’ve read.

But after a lot of dithering I have decided to go with the following choice:

5. The Help (2009) by Kathryn Stockett

When I was 57, I felt driven to go back to school because of a nagging feeling that there was more I needed to learn through formal schooling, not just life experience. I started a doctoral program in psychology during which several pieces fell together seemingly by magic. I wrote my dissertation on life stories and received my doctorate on my 63rd birthday.

One of those pieces that fell magically into place was this novel. Set in 1962, it’s the story of a young, white southern woman who dares to write down the life stories of the African American women who work as maids in her community. This book strongly asserts the belief that everyone has a life story and that everyone’s life story deserves to be heard.

In my late-life doctoral study I realized that it’s especially important for us to seek out and learn from the life stories of marginalized people and of people different from ourselves if society is to evolve and persevere. For that reason, this novel won the final spot on my list of the Top 5 Novels of All Time.

How about you?

What titles are on your list of the Top 5 Novels of All Time?

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

Review: “Y Is for Yesterday”

Grafton, Sue. Y is for Yesterday
Random House Audio, © 2017
(print edition also © 2017)

Recommended

I’m always eager to read the newest installment of Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series. However, this time my pleasure in digging into it was bittersweet. Y is, after all, the penultimate letter of the alphabet.

This time Kinsey is hired to look into a murder that occurred 10 years earlier. In 1979 four high school boys from an elite private school sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl and filmed the attack. Soon afterwards the tape vanished, and a female classmate, suspected of the theft, was killed. One boy agreed to a plea deal that got him and two of the other boys convicted and sent to prison, but the fourth boy, the ringleader, escaped and hasn’t been heard from since.

The present time of the novel is 1989, and one of the men, Fritz McCabe, has been released from prison. Although he’s now in his late 20s, he shows little remorse and in fact still acts like a moody, angry, angst-ridden teenager. He’s back living with his parents, who want to control his every movement, when a copy of the tape mysteriously arrives at the house along with a ransom demand. The McCabes hire Kinsey to find out who’s trying to blackmail them.

Kinsey’s investigation turns up secrets that get darker the deeper she digs. Most of those secrets revolve around the feeling of entitlement assumed by the children of families with wealth, status, and power. To complicate matters further, Kinsey soon suspects that a serial killer from a recent case may be in town seeking revenge against her. She continues to rely on friends such as her landlord, retired baker Henry, now 89 years old, to comfort her through the dark times.

There were moments when I thought this book could have been trimmed and tightened up. There’s a long description of Kinsey crawling under a building that particularly befuddled me. This scene includes a lot of detail about how she moved around down in that tight crawl space. I tried to follow all her movements, I really did, but I couldn’t at all visualize what was happening. Of course I knew what that scene was building toward, but the scene should have been significantly compacted to build suspense commensurate with the potential peril of the situation. Also, there were several times when key points about the old murder case were repeated—so much so that I began to wonder whether Grafton had forgotten she had already given us that particular tidbit of information.

Nonetheless, I look forward to next year’s publication of the last book in the alphabet series. I hope Grafton will wrap up the story of Kinsey and friends in a way that is true to their characters. I read a couple of interviews with Sue Grafton at the time of the publication of Y, and she indicated that she is not averse to the notion of perhaps writing some one-off novels about Kinsey after Z. Maybe we Kinsey Millhone fans won’t have to go into mourning after all.

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown