I read 10 books in January. This number is a bit astonishing to me as I haven’t gone through so many books in a month since…well, I don’t remember when. Probably sometime in 2006, which was the year I read 110 books. My normal rate is more like 3-5 a month.
There are certain factors I should mention: 1) I started reading two books near the end of December that I didn’t finish until the first few days of January, so they’re included here instead of in my 2014 reading list; 2) January in Buffalo is pretty darn cold, so I spent more time than usual reading in my warm house instead of going outside; 3) I rarely watch TV, so those hours are available to spend with the printed page; and 4) I don’t have kids.
I read most books via the Overdrive app on my smartphone (borrowed from the library for free) because I pretty much always have my phone on me and it’s easier than carrying a physical book around. (I do check out physical books from the library but only if they’re not available in e-book form.) Using my phone, I can read books on my couch, while brushing my teeth, sitting on the bus as I commute to work, waiting for lunch to heat up in the microwave, and standing in line at the grocery store.
This month I surpassed the goal I set to read at least one work of fiction (I only read one total in 2014). Of the 10 books I read in January, exactly half were fiction. I’ve been taking note of what other book bloggers recommend, which has been a huge help in deciding what I should go with.
I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended. In January, they all fell into the first three.
The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life, Chris Guillebeau
I reviewed this book last week.
All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
I really enjoyed this. The only danger, if you’re someone like me who has no qualms about putting a book down if you find it boring, is making it through the first few chapters. I seriously considered abandoning it. I figured the author was setting up the story and everything would tie back into the narrative later (which it did), but I found it hard to get through. I’m really glad I stuck with it.
The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman
I wish I’d been able to read this with a book club. (Alas, I’m not a member of any book clubs in the city where I live. I’d love to remedy that.) I would have liked to discuss it with a group of ladies. This book was definitely a page-turner (I finished the last half in one day), but I couldn’t list it as Highly Recommended because I found myself so annoyed at the characters and also the way it ended. Without giving anything away, I was annoyed that Tom couldn’t just get over it and live his happy life like Isabel could. And I was really annoyed with the way Tom gave up their secret.
Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead
For someone who has never had any ballet training or even attended a ballet in person, I really like reading books about ballerinas. (Has anyone else seen the 12-part documentary about NYC’s City Ballet published by AOL in 2013? I watched all of them.) This book is more set in the ballet world than describing the ins and outs of becoming and working as a ballerina, but it was really well done.
China Dolls, Lisa See
I had previously read and enjoyed another book by this author (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan), so when I saw this one I added it to my list. I like historical fiction, especially when the story is set in a time period I’m not overly familiar with. It’s crazy to read about the racism Asians experienced in America (not really all that long ago). This book covered the time period before, during, and after the bombing of Pearl Harbor when many Japanese in the U.S. were sent to live in camps.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler
The structure of this story was different from the norm but the author navigated it well. I had no idea what the book was about in advance (as other bloggers’ reviews recommended), so I was surprised when the news about Fern was revealed — I definitely didn’t guess it in advance.
It was interesting how the narrator remembered certain things about her childhood one way, but discovered as an adult that she had been mistaken. I also liked how the story ended, which I wasn’t able to say about all fiction books I read this month.
The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, Amanda Ripley
You’d think a nonfiction book about education might be dull, but this was a quick and interesting read. The author profiled three American teenagers participating in study abroad programs in South Korea, Poland, and Finland. Learning how these countries run their education systems compared to the U.S. (we score abominably low on international tests) was fascinating. It was also interesting to note that while these countries have high test scores, no education system is perfect. Parents and students in those countries find something to complain about just as easily as we do. The author offered suggestions for changes the U.S. education system could make, with more rigorous teacher training and standards being high on the list.
Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It, Jennifer Fulwiler
I considered putting this book in the Recommended category, but I just couldn’t. I’m sure many people would disagree with me (I understand the author has a popular faith-based blog), but I didn’t find her very likeable. Maybe it was just the way she portrayed herself in the book, but she kept doing and saying annoying things that made me roll my eyes. A common theme was how she would constantly slack off from whatever she was supposed to be doing in order to read the Bible, research her questions, or get involved with long conversations with people on her blog. Those things are all fine, but do them on your own time. What I did like about the book is how fully she explored the subject of her (very slow) conversion from atheist to Catholic. She went in-depth about how difficult the transition was — she didn’t just decide one day to believe in God; the decision (and the constant questioning) took years.
Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, Alexandra Fuller
I like travel memoirs, especially books written by women who leave the U.S. to live in another country. I thought I would enjoy this memoir written by a woman who grew up in Africa, but…I just didn’t. For one thing, there was way too much description of what her surroundings looked like, which I don’t care for in any book. And most of the time she was writing about how drunk her mother was at any given moment, or her mother’s parenting failures (like taking her daughter out in the hot sun for hours without water). I found myself reading it quickly to get it over with.
An Atheist in the FOXhole: A Liberal’s Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media, Joe Muto
What was interesting: Joe gives a behind-the-scenes look at how television shows are made; the roles of assistant, associate, and executive directors; clashes with anchors; the race to provide something for a story literally seconds before it goes on-air.
What I didn’t like: It felt like the author thought he was delivering shocking information, but it didn’t come across that way at all. Maybe we’re all immune to strict corporate policies and TV personalities by now, but I didn’t consider it much of an exposé. He admits later in the book that his goal for flaming out at FOX was to gain a job at Gawker – a risk that didn’t pay off. I didn’t feel bad for him.