I blogged nineteen times in 2017, which is exactly the number of times I blogged in 2016. Since I don't blog a certain day or number of times per week, this is purely incidental. I'm pondering some blogging and writing goals for 2018, but I haven't settled on anything specific yet.
Of the posts I wrote last year, these three received the most views:
1) When your dad dies (& some thoughts on grief)
2) Yes, Shakespeare is for everyone.
3) all you mommas
Since the posts are not on any one specific theme or topic, this confirms that my blog is indeed "A blog about nothing (and anything)." One constant in my three and a half years of blogging is my reading notes. Here's what I've read since my last post in September through the end of 2017.
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
In light of everything that's been in the news lately - regarding immigration and the alleged comment about "shithole" countries - this novel is a very timely read. In fact, it's one of the books listed in the article "11 Incredible Books by Writers from 'Shithole' Countries." The story takes place during the financial collapse of 2008 and chronicles the lives of two men and their families. Jende Jonga is an immigrant from Cameroon living in Harlem who becomes the chauffeur of Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. I really liked the way the author developed the various characters and wove together the stories of the families. Perhaps this book asks more questions than it answers about the "American dream." And that's what makes it so thought-provoking, in addition to being a beautifully-written and compelling story. Highly recommended!
The End of Temperance Dare by Wendy Webb
This is a suspenseful and mysterious "ghost story" that takes place in an artists' retreat that was formerly a sanatorium for patients with (and mostly dying from) tuberculosis. I'd read another of Webb's mysteries and knew I could count on her for a page-turner. If you're willing to suspend your disbelief (it's a ghost story after all!), you will be entertained.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
This is the debut novel of Brit Bennett. The Goodreads description reads: "Set within a contemporary black community in Southern California, Brit Bennett's mesmerizing first novel is an emotionally perceptive story about community. It begins with a secret." Throughout the novel, we see how this secret affects the lives of the three main characters, as well as the families and church community in which they are rooted, as they grow from teens to young adults. I enjoyed many aspects of the book, but I was dissatisfied with some of the character development and with the ending.
Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain
A few friends recommended this novel. I enjoy historical fiction and this didn't disappoint. It was interesting to learn about a piece of history that I hadn't been familiar with - the Eugenics Sterilization Program in North Carolina, under which social workers had over 7000 women sterilized, some without their knowledge or consent. The characters drew me in, and the story was very good.
Tenth of December by George Saunders
After reading Lincoln in the Bardo, I put Saunders' short story collection on my to-read list. Once again, I'm impressed with his singular style. As a reader, I was fascinated by these strange and quirky stories. As a writer, I'm always fascinated by the concept of what a story can be. Short and long, funny and sad, realistic and fantastical. The title story is a beauty. My other favorites were "Victory Lap," "Puppy," "The Semplica Girl Diaries" and "Home."
Child / Young Adult Fiction
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
This book won the 2017 Newberry Medal. I saw it on a website and was intrigued by the title and beautiful cover. It's a middle-grade fantasy novel, and I enjoyed the characters, their fantastical world and the story very much. The writing is quite lyrical, however, so I wonder how it resonates with young readers. I know I definitely want to read more of Barnhill's books.
Uglies, Pretties, Specials - Scott Westerfeld
This is a popular young adult dystopian series. As is often the case, the first book was the strongest. It's an interesting concept - the idea of making everyone meet the same standard of beauty through surgery. However, there was an ongoing girl against girl thing between the main character Tally and her sometimes friends-sometimes enemy, plus their involvement in a love triangle with a male character, that really irritated me. There are better books to read in this genre for sure.
Whirligig by Paul Fleischman
This is a young adult novel that was the "all school read" for my son's high school this fall. It's a short book and a quick read. It's very sad but also an extremely moving story of redemption.
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
by Daniel James Brown
I hesitating reading this, despite recommendations, because I thought it would be a "sports book." But I'm so glad I finally read it. It's a such a compelling historical narrative of the time period and more specifically of the people. The life story of Joe Rantz - his hardships and his grit - is fascinating. The second half was particularly good. Although we know what's going to happen, the author draws us into the story so deeply and so emotionally with the suspense of the races and the lives of the people involved. I was moved to tears more than once reading this book. Loved it!
Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown
I liked the idea of the book, but the content was just okay to me. I really admire Brene Brown and have watched her TED talks and read The Gifts of Imperfection, which I loved. This one was a quick read, but it didn't seem like a complete and cohesive book to me.
Ordinary Light by Tracy K. Smith
In retrospect, it's interesting that I read this memoir less than a month after reading The Mothers. Smith's real life story shares some similarities with the fictional story of Nadia in The Mothers - both are coming of age stories about girls who grow up in middle class African American families in California, both have strong ties to their church communities, both lose their mothers at a fairly young age. But Smith's real life doesn't have the same level of tragedy and isolation as Nadia's fictional life.
Smith is the current U.S. Poet Laureate and her lyrical, beautiful writing hints that she's a poet. I enjoyed this peek into her life, into a certain family culture at a certain time. Some aspects I could relate to - the big religious family, the 80s, the insecurities of high school, the love of books and literature. At the same time, her experience growing up in a black family living among mostly white people was illuminating. The evolution of her views on both faith and race - particularly when she went away to college - was really interesting to read about . Perhaps most moving was her close relationship with her mother, the strain of the relationship as she grew older and ultimately the experience of her mother's death when she was still a young adult. I definitely recommend this memoir. I haven't read Smith's poetry, but plan to check it out.
Why Buddhism is True: the Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment by
I loved this book! I was fascinated reading about evolutionary psychology and how our brains/thoughts/feelings developed in certain ways that made sense for hunter-gatherers but no longer serve our needs. And then to see how this all aligns with secular Buddhism and the practice of meditation was really interesting.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
by Mark Manson
This book grew out of a popular blog post - "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck." I happened to read this right after Why Buddhism is True. When Manson talks about not giving an "f" about certain things, he's essentially talking about not being attached to emotional reactions and things that don't matter. He references Buddhist philosophy quite a bit in the book. Parts of the book were pretty funny, and I enjoyed some of the stories he told about himself and others. (I was irritated by a story about the importance of being honest and how he told his wife that something she was wearing didn't look good.) At times his 30-something male humor and life views did not resonate with me. I'd love to see a similar book written by a middle-aged mom. Heck, I could WRITE that book.
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
This is the very last book I read in 2017. It's sitting here on my desk, overdue at the library and with about a million sticky notes marking pages. This one needs its own blog post. Stay tuned.