It’s the End of 2015 (as we know it)

So here we are at the end of 2015. I had this idea that maybe in 2016 I’ll get really good about writing down all the super-excellent things that happen to me that year, and that way I won’t be struggling to think of them when the end of the year rolls around.

My best thing of 2015 (brace yourself for a shock) was the musical Hamilton. Not a full week after I whined to my friends that I feared there would never be another musical that made me feel the way Wicked and Rent made me feel, and maybe my feelings about those musicals (and the others I love) were just a function of youthful emoness, lo there came Hamilton into my life. If you haven’t listened to the cast recording yet, find a way to do it. Then come back and tell me how much you loved it. Please and thank you.

In books, I’ve picked out a few faves for the year. Some of these I’ve talked about ad nauseam already, so bear with me.

Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson, was the first webcomic I read for my “Read More Webcomics” resolution of 2015 (which went brilliantly for me, if you are wondering). Also probably my most-recommended book of 2015.

How It Went Down, by Kekla Magoon, has been inexplicably overlooked, and I cannot understand why. In addition to being painfully topical, it’s also a beautifully written, thoughtful look at some of the issues that arise when a black child is suddenly dead and nobody can understand why. I can’t say enough about this book and this author. Check it out.

And now for a total change of pace, I loved Nick Hornby’s Funny Girl, when I didn’t remotely expect to. It’s witty and tender, and full of characters you just want to see succeed.

Congo, by David van Reybrouck, laid out the history of a huge, messy country in a way that was perpetually readable and relied as much as possible on the testimony and memories of the Congolese people themselves. If historians like David van Reybrouck could write histories of all the African nations, I’d be done with my Africa reading project in just a few years.

Touch, by Claire North, kept me up late trying to guess what was going to happen next. At least one book a year reminds me why I love reading so much, and Touch was that book for me this year.

Predictably, Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, has arrived on my best-of this year. I didn’t review it in this space because it was hard to feel that I had anything to add about this book, after so many glowing reviews have emerged of it. I’ve admired Coates’s writing for years for its measured insights and unwillingness to rely on easy answers. Between the World and Me is a tragic, beautiful, necessary book.

The Scorpion Rules, by Erin Bow, did absolutely none of the things I expected it to do. It was a perpetual surprise, and it’s made me excited to see what Erin Bow will do next with this world.

As with the Coates book, I don’t feel I have anything super valuable to add about Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which has basked in plenty of accolades already and doesn’t need my additional input. However, I will say that I had no expectation of liking this book and only read it so I could get to Bring Up the Bodies, which I also didn’t especially expect to like. But there you go. Life is full of surprises.

Finally, a shout-out to 1796 Broadway, a monster of an epistolary fanfic which, like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries in its time, kept me up late on several occasions where I kept saying “oh I’ll just do one more and then I’ll go to bed.” Ha, ha, Jenny. You know that’s not what’s really going to happen.

In statistics, female authors were far more heavily represented in my reading than male, and I continue to be fine with that.

I read 18% of my books because I was familiar with the authors from previous books I’d read of theirs, while another 45% of my book recommendations came from you lovely people! If that number seems low, please note that many of the books in the “author fondness” category became favorites of mine due to your unfailing advocacy. So actually I got closer to 53% of my books from bloggers. Another 15% I picked up based on professional reviews; 6% were books I spotted in publishers’ catalogs or that publishers pitched to me; and a small sliver, 3%, were books I picked up randomly at the library.

84% of everything I read came from the library. Lovely, lovely library, please never change. I cherish you so much. I borrowed two books from friends, owned eight, read seven online (from apps like Marvel Now and Comixology), and read fifteen in ARC format (either ebooks or physical). About a fourth (27%) of my reads were ebooks, and the rest were physical books. That is how I roll when subways and purse heavinesses are not a consideration.

I read less SFF this year than I think is typical for me, only 26%, whereas fiction-not-otherwise-classified accounted for 30% of my reading. Actually, that seems okay. Maybe I’d like to read slightly more SFF than ungenre fiction, but those percentages seem fine. 10% of my reading was comics, which I’d like to see go up a bit in the new year, and 14% was nonfiction, which rocks. I read more books in translation this year, seventeen, than I’ve probably ever read in a year before.

My goal for 2015 was to read no more than 65% white authors, and no more than 60% American authors. These stats are probably a little off, because I couldn’t always find interviews where the author self-identifies as one ethnicity or nationality over another, but anyway, employing US census categories, I ended up with 44% authors of color, and 50% authors hailing from countries other than America. I read books by authors from 38 different countries, and it was glorious.

How was your reading year? Did you meet your goals? Did you read anything of exceptional wonderfulness?

Reading Outside My Comfort Zone: #AMonthofFaves

This #AMonthofFaves continues apace, hosted by the marvelous and wonderful Andi of Estella’s Revenge, Tanya Patrice of Girlxoxo, and Traveling with T. Today we’re talking about a book this year that surprised us.

I would like to choose Nick Hornby’s Funny Girl, but I already chose it for something in this Month of Faves. However, I want you to, when you picture me reading Funny Girl for the first time (a thing I am sure you are all constantly imagining), imagine that I spend the entire time saying, “REALLY. REALLY.” Because that is what happened.

Instead of that, I choose two debut novels that were so remarkably assured and thoughtful that it seemed unlikely these were, in fact, debut novels. These are the wonderfully-titled Make Your Home among Strangers and the awarded-and-accoladed The Turner House. I got both these recommendations from Stacia Brown, who writes on the Act Four blog for the Washington Post, and I will now take sweetly like a lamb any further book recommendations she may want to issue.

And I also choose Elizabeth Eldredge’s book Power in Colonial Africa: Conflict and Discourse in Lesotho, 1870-1960. I know you are thinking that a history book with discourse in the title sounds unbearably dry and tedious, and I am sympathetic to your position. However, in actuality, that book was great, and Lesotho is a baller nation. Perhaps as a function of my low expectations for a history book with discourse in the title, I loved it maybe the best of my four Africa reading project books so far this year.

(Nah. The Congo book was better. But I knew the Congo book was going to be good. That one got rave reviews in the academic journals, and it was highly recommended by another of the writers for the Washington Post‘s Act Four blog, Alyssa Rosenberg.)

Worth the Hype in #AMonthofFaves

Are you participating in A Month of Faves, hosted by Estella’s Revenge and GirlXOXO and Traveling with T? Today’s topic is, Which books have you read this year that were TOTALLY worth the hype?

Nick Hornby’s Funny Girl is one for me! I’ve never liked Nick Hornby before, but Funny Girl made me feel happy all way through.

The Turner House, Angela Flournoy. So, so assured for a debut novel, and it managed to make me love it despite being constantly compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whom I do not care for. Way to go, Angela Flournoy.

The Wicked + the Divine, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. Shitdamn with this series from Image Comics. It’s about celebrity and myths and family, and it’s a murder mystery where you know whodunnit, and I’ve never read anything like this comic before.

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates. I’m stealing this one from Andi, and I hope she won’t mind! It’s as beautifully written and devastatingly honest as you’ve heard from everyone.

What books have you read this year that deserved all the hype they’re getting?

Some stuff I read on public transportation

Y’all, I wish I could teleport. If I had back the two hours a day I currently spend getting to and from work, I would be the awesomest book blogger instead of the very lamest. I have been going back and forth and forth and back to work and to visit friends-and-relations, and these are good times to read but it is not the funnest reading time because I’m slightly on edge from being in transit (trains are very peaceful and pleasant, but buses and subways are not). And I would like to be using that time to catch up on blog reading and writing because I love you guys.

Anyway, here are some of the books I read on public transportation and forgot to write up as full posts:

Woman, Natalie Angier – Finally. I have tried reading Woman several times and been utterly put off by Natalie Angier’s writing style, which is close to unbearably florid and precious at times. I feel fine about, for instance, my Fallopian tubes. I do not need to see them compared to beautiful beautiful flowers:

The tubes are exquisite, soft and rosy and slim as pens, tipped like a feather duster with a bell of fronds, called fimbriae…To me they look like sea anemones, flowers of flesh, the petals throbbing to the cadence of blood.

Gag. And, throbbing is a word you should use as little as possible because it’s gross.. However, as noted by many other book bloggers, Woman contains lots of good information about women’s biology, sexuality, evolution, and so forth, and it’s worth reading for that reason. You just might have to give yourself some time to adjust to Natalie Angier’s love-letter-to-an-ovary-style writing. I reiterate that I am a sex-positive girl who does not have a problem with any part of her body, but I nevertheless think that Natalie Angier’s imagery can be a trifle overblown. It was distracting. Moar science, less flourishing.

The Uses of Enchantment, Heidi Julavits – As often happens when I want Book B by a certain author and am forced by circumstances to get Book A instead, I was disappointed. (I wanted to read The Vanishers.) The Uses of Enchantment is about a girl called Mary who may or may not have been kidnapped and raped as a teenager and had a book written about how she was indeed not kidnapped and raped but was just a liar, and now many years later, she’s back in town for her mother’s funeral. Eh, it was fine, I guess. I wanted the plot to be twistier, the reveals to be more interesting, the sister relationships to feel more like actual sisters. Heidi Julavits uses one of my favorite literary techniques, an unreliable narrator, to utterly boring effect.

Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby – Juliet, Naked is about a woman called Annie who breaks up with her boyfriend Duncan who is obsessed with a musician Tucker Crowe who has not produced any new music since 1989 or something; Annie and Tucker Crowe happen to strike up a correspondence, and events proceed from there. Again, fine. If Nick Hornby were a woman no one would give him two seconds of their time, but I suppose that is not Nick Hornby’s fault. As much as I want to like him, his books leave me feeling vaguely unfulfilled, like below-average vegetarian sushi.

Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him, Danielle Ganek – An artist dies on the night of his first big show, a show in which the primary piece is a picture of his niece Lulu as a little girl. That piece, entitled “Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him”, becomes the subject of great interest in the New York art world, and we see all this unfold through the eyes of gallery girl and unsuccessful painter Mia McMurray. The book is interesting in its use of ekphrasis — I love me some ekphrasis — and for its depiction of the New York art world.

Nightingale Wood, Stella Gibbon – Stella Gibbon! Would do business with her again. Cold Comfort Farm never quite altogether does it for me, which I’ve always chalked up to having seen the extremely faithful movie before reading the book. But in fact I think it’s that Stella Gibbon is very close to, but not exactly, the author for me. I enjoyed Nightingale Wood while not taking pure pleasure in it the way I do when reading, say, Elinor Lipman. Matters ended well for everyone, but none of the characters was nice enough for me to be enthusiastic about his or her marital or professional success.

So that’s it! I now consider myself all caught on all the things. Probably by the time this post posts, I’ll be behind again, but what can you do? I am a bad blogger and I have not been good in ages. I wish I didn’t have to commute. If I could teleport I’d never have to commute to work ever again, and that would be amazing.