My list of books read in 2015, with a line or three about each. And even more briefly, here are my ten best for the year, which I added to my LibraryThing archive:
- Bright Morning, by Margery Williams Bianco. Her 1939 YA Other People’s Houses was also good.
- Kiss the Girl, by Melissa Brayden. Also enjoyed Waiting in the Wings and Just Three Words, and successfully poked the library to acquire the next one.
- Landing, by Emma Donoghue. Audiobook.
- Earth Girl, Earth Star, and Earth Flight, by Janet Edwards.
- We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler. Audiobook.
- To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, by Jenny Han. (Sadly, the sequel had only a fraction of its charm.)
- Lulu and the Hedgehog in the Rain, by Hilary McKay. I’ve read them all (I think), but this one was special because of the community organizing!
- Stuff Matters, by Mark Miodownik. Nonfiction (materials science).
- The Turtle of Oman, by Naomi Shihab Nye.
- The Martian, by Andy Weir.
I read an interview with Meryl Streep once– I think maybe it was a Bob Greene column?– in which she said all her movies were secretly home movies. She’d watch a scene from Kramer v. Kramer and remember what her kid was up to that week, or who she’d been hanging out with, and all the things that were going on when the scene was filmed.
My book lists are like that for me. I’ll look at So You Want to Be a Wizard and remember how excited KP was to hear I was reading it, and how she visited Portland later in the year and presented me with the sequels after one of her many trips to Powell’s Books. And how Sanguinity and I went up to Olympia to dogsit for Sara and crew, and they had a copy on their shelves, so I was reading it in the backyard while Sang designated the dogs Horrible Thing One…
and Horrible Thing Two…
and gave them stern looks…
…that didn’t fool them one bit.
Or how I read Gone Crazy in Alabama in Wyoming, decompressing on a sunny morning at my friend Jenny’s house after she left for work.
Some books have webs of people associated with them– I decided to read The Martian because every single member of the Maki family liked it, and then my co-worker lent me a copy from the first meeting of her new book club, and then I gave a copy to my father-in-law that he binge-read even though he hardly ever reads fiction.
Then there are all the online discussions like the one about The Hired Girl, and audiobooks whose performances and the setting I heard them in are inextricable from the text. (Tiny Pretty Things while striding home in the dark amidst headlights and big trees and rain!)
It’s impossible to know all that’s coded into anyone’s book list but my own, but I still like reading other people’s. Here’s hoping for rich secret home movies for us all in 2016.
I have been ILL-ing some Margery Williams Bianco, after snagging Winterbound from a Newbery Honor list awhile back and loving it. Kids managing without the grownups! Butch girl makes good!
Other People’s Houses was also good– another sensible teenager on her own, scrambling for temp and domestic jobs in New York City when Plan A has fallen through, and meeting up with her best buddy to commiserate over cheap spaghetti dinners once a week.
Not that I don’t like The Velveteen Rabbit fine, but so far I’ve tried to stay away from the toy-and-doll end of her work, and more toward YA, going by titles and page counts in the card catalog. So I was surprised when Bright Morning turned out to be a sort of “Little House in Victorian London,” stories from the daily lives of sisters age 6 and 8, in a well-to-do family in Kensington.
I assume the delicious domestic details come from the author’s childhood memories, as she was born in 1881 and moved to the U.S. when she was about nine. (The book was published in 1942.) One of my favorite chapters had Mama fretting about when to call the chimney-sweeps in, because once they’ve cleaned everything out, you don’t want to light any more fires that spring and mess it up again. If there’s a cold snap, you’ll just have to shiver. Anyway, once the fireplace is swept clean, it has to be filled for the summer with a cascade of decorative white horsehair with tinsel mixed in. But Papa keeps absent-mindedly continuing to flick his receipts and burnt matches into the fireplace, and they have to be picked out again. So Papa decides to get a WASTEPAPER BASKET, only he and Mama have different ideas about what a proper one is…
I ate it up! It all had the immediacy and detail with which I remember my own childhood. (Wait til you read what respectable bathing at the seashore was like.) The writing reminds me of Elizabeth Enright–maybe I just love 1940s prose?–and I think Betsy-Tacy fans would feel at home too. I’m eager to see what will come in for me next.
These are the books I’ll be adding to my Librarything collection this year, along with the description I jotted down for each one when I put it on my running list of books read. They’ll bring the collection to 99 books I love–although more are represented, because I let one book stand for a series and sometimes for a whole author.
- Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews. Profane, funny book about kids making bad films, having inappropriate thoughts, and having different connections with each other than the adults think they do. Love Earl’s black-Pittsburgh language.
- Winterbound, by Margery Bianco. 1936 novel of siblings navigating a country winter in New England. By the author of The Velveteen Rabbit, incidentally. Not much happens, but I liked the characters and the details of day-to-day life.
- A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Ridiculous yet addictive. Oh, Sara Crewe!
- Charlotte Sometimes, by Penelope Farmer. 1969 novel of a girl at boarding school who wakes up as another girl in 1918, and they switch each night. A time-travel story that raises questions about identity and whether the people around you see the “real you.”
- Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. Cath and her twin are both freshmen at UN Lincoln; she’s the shy, anxious one and is also semi-secretly a top fanfic author. Romance, friendship, and family drama ensue. (Note: I only just finished this before the end of the year. Curious to see if it stays prominent in my memory or fades.)
- The Gentrification of the Mind, by Sarah Schulman. The interrelation of the AIDS epidemic and its fallout with the gentrification of New York City, followed by ruminations on what has been displaced, forgotten, and lost in gay culture and politics. Outstanding, with personal stories about her choices as a teacher and her interactions with Kathy Acker and other icons.
- Among Others, by Jo Walton. A Welsh girl goes to English boarding school after her twin dies in an auto wreck. The fairies she knew in Wales, are they real or part of her psyche? Many SF and fantasy book shout-outs.
- The Lake, by Banana Yoshimoto, trans. Michael Emmerich. An art student in Tokyo falls for her neighbor, but he has heavy secrets in his past. Liked the even-toned writing style and subtle emotions; my opinion kept flip-flopping on whether this romance was advisable or not.
What my LibraryThing additions don’t reflect is that this was a wonderful year for rereading. Lots of Mary Stoltz. The Ramona books plus Henry and Beezus and Henry Huggins. His Dark Materials. Zahrah the Windseeker. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For.
Also, I combined picture books, poetry, comics, and graphic novels into one category, 22 books (including rereads), yet no new Librarything additions are in that category.