Something really great has happened to me over the past year or so.
I remembered that I can read.
I never really forgot, of course, but it got pushed way, way back on my priority list. In 2011, I only read 17 books. 16 in 2012. It wasn't that I didn't want to read, it was just that other things got in the way. So far for 2013, I've read 40 books. That's still fewer that in years of yore (75 in 2007), and, if I'm honest, I've listened to, rather than actually read, well over half of them. But it's progress, and it's adding to my quality of life immeasurably. I'm proud to say I'm a reader again.
And since I'm a reader again, I thought I'd share a few of the things I've been reading with you.
So far, my favorite read of the year has been Jess Walters' short story collection, We Live in Water. This book reminded me of everything I love about short stories. Each story was a perfect little well-crafted gem, and they all fit together seamlessly. Walters is a native of Eastern Washington, and the stories all are set in the Pacific Northwest, which gave it that extra edge of homesickness-laced poignancy for me. The stories ranged from Raymond Chandler-esque microcosms of individual pathology ("Thief," in which a blue collar dad initiates his own little stakeout to discover which of his family members is stealing from his change jar) to hilarious and gut-wrenching dystopic satire ("Don't Eat Cat," about the zombie-filled future of the human race), but I loved every single one of them.
Another favorite of the books I've read so far this year is Rodney Crowell's memoir, Chinaberry Sidewalks. I loved this one so much I sent my mom a copy after I read it. Crowell is a great storyteller, and his working class East Texas childhood is a hell of a story. You can hear Crowell-the-songwriter in languid, poetic ways in which he relates his childhood anecdotes, and he makes things that are truly awful (the book begins with a story about a little boy Rodney breaking up a boozy get-together of his parents' with a gun) seem both funny and bittersweet.
A third of my favorites of the year was Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad. I resisted this book so hard--the media surrounding it irritated me, Egan herself irritated me, I just didn't want anything to do with it. But when I finally read it, I found, incredibly, that all that praise was well-deserved. The book is a collection of intersecting stories, with characters playing major or peripheral roles in each others lives, over the span of decades and multiple continents. Most of the characters are various degrees of unlikeable, but they're not completely without sympathy, and, very gradually, one learns where all that unlikeability is rooted. Much as I wanted to hate this book, I loved it.
I have not, however, loved everything I've read this year. I plodded all the way through Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America only to wonder, at the end, how anything about such an interesting subject (the Chicago World's Fair and a really gruesome mass murderer) could be so very boring. I rolled my eyes so hard at Ira Wagler's self-impressed memoir, Growing Up Amish, that I was afraid they'd get stuck. I swore I'd read my last historical novel when I reached the end of the incredibly trite Katharine: the Virgin Widow by Jean Plaidy. You can't win them all.
And, of course, I've been reading lots and lots of picture books, as my son is now old enough to be at least partially interested in them. Most of them, frankly, I could do without. However, I have developed a few favorites:
Brian Lies' Bats at the Beach and Bats at the Library are both awesome. I'm actually really afraid of bats, so I was hesitant to even pick them up, but they're great books, with a non-cloying rhyme scheme and fun illustrations. Some of Lies' other books, particularly More and Deep in the Swamp (both of which are written by other folks, but illustrated by Lies) are definitely going on E's wishlist.
Another favorite is Taro Gomi. As a small baby, E. was gifted her book, My Friends, and I fell in love both with the sweet, simple words and the fantastic illustrations. Once board books came on full force, we added Bus Stops and Wiggle to our collection. Next, I'd like to get I Lost My Dad, Santa Through the Window, or Who Ate It?
Amy Krouse Rosenthal has just gotten popular at my house, and I'm so glad. I picked up her three piece book set, Little Pea, Little Hoot, and Little Oink, and I love all three of them. They're simply worded and illustrated, but a little bit clever and cheeky, and they don't irritate me to read. I haven't looked much at her other books yet, but it looks like she has a few more that might be good for slightly older kids, so I'll check those out in the future.
So, that's what we're reading at my house. What are you reading?