37 Books in 2017

My reading goal for 2017 was 35 books. Below you’ll find several of my favorite themes – ecology, music, spirituality, and grammar. But there are also several books about Jane Austen as July marked the 200th anniversary of her death.

I’m feeling rather hip as many of these books actually came out in 2017, so I read them hot off the presses! Here’s what I read this year. As always, I’ve left mini commentaries beneath the selections I particularly enjoyed.

  1. To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings by John O’Donohue
  2. Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery
    I have such fondness for Anne Shirley, and I loved this latest installment of her adventures.
  3. The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel
    This might just be my favorite book of the year! That is all.
  4. Arda Inhabited: Environmental Relationships in The Lord of the Rings by Susan Jeffers
    Outstanding book! Scholarly work but accessible and fascinating examination of Tolkien.
  5. The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Elaine N. Aron
    I came across this book because Susan Cain referenced Dr. Aron’s research in her incredible book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Aron’s work on sensitivity is groundbreaking and validating!
  6. The Art of X-Ray Reading by Roy Peter Clark
    Though this isn’t my favorite Clark volume, all his books are fabulous. He is a down-to-earth writer and offers lucid strategies for improving reading and writing.
  7. Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel
  8. Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon and Mars by Nathalia Holt
  9. Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More — Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior
    A compelling and beautifully written biography with rich historical context.
  10. The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places by Bernie Krause
    Fascinating and lovely!
  11. Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill
  12. Scales to Scalpels: Doctors Who Practice the Healing Arts of Music and Medicine by Lisa Wong
  13. Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re In Without Going Crazy by Joanna Macy
    How could I not read everything by Macy, who is a brilliant eco-philosopher and translator of Rilke? Her On Being interview was absolutely beautiful.
  14. Snobs by Julian Fellowes
    The creator of Downton Abbey is a great novelist! This one was wonderful as an audiobook.
  15. Physics on the Fringe: Smoke Rings, Circlons, and Alternative Theories of Everything by Margaret Wertheim
    While I enjoyed this book, I preferred Wertheim’s On Being interview.
  16. A Little Book of Language by David Crystal
  17. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
  18. Ain’t She Sweet? by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
    You MUST listen to this as an audiobook. Normally I can’t stand romance novels, but this one is hilarious and so well done! It’s right up there with Laurie Colwin’s Happy All The Time, which I reread often.
  19. The Colony by Jillian Weise
    Snarky, creepy, and curious. This is a short and weird novel that asks good questions.
  20. An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage
  21. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
    Beautiful prose, thoughtful writing, wonderful stories.
  22. Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt
    Ever since I saw Haupt’s TEDx Talk, I wanted to read all of her books. I’m currently reading Crow Planet because Mozart’s Starling was so wonderful!
  23. Jane Austen, the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly
    The best Austen book I’ve read all year! I’ve got more to read, but this one is absolutely fantastic! Kelly examines the subtle political and cultural critiques in Austen’s novels. Austen wasn’t as detached as everyone claims.
  24. Suites for the Modern Dancer by Jill Khoury
    Read my full-length review here.
  25. Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence by Rick Hanson
  26. Longbourn by Jo Baker
    This is the “below stairs” story that unfolds alongside Pride and Prejudice. It’s compelling and respectable.
  27. Grace (Eventually: Thoughts on Faith) by Anne Lamott
  28. Why Poetry by Matthew Zapruder
  29. The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
    Listen to the audiobook of this one. It’s a gripping, meticulously researched novel about Austen’s life. Very well done!
  30. Jane Austen at Home: A Biography by Lucy Worsley
    This is an excellent book on Austen! If you are on the fence, watch this hour-long preview.
  31. Victoria, the Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird
    Long but worth it! Lots of great stories about Victoria.
  32. Juliet’s Answer: One Man’s Search for Love and the Elusive Cure for Heartbreak by Glenn Dixon
    Save your time and just enjoy the  Shakespeare Unlimited episode about this one. The book was pleasant but not as thrilling as I’d hoped.
  33. Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds by Carmine Gallo
    This book is actually more useful than the official TED book on public speaking by Chris Anderson.
  34. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
    Fun but not as good as her first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
  35. Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar by David Crystal
    As always, David Crystal is a delight! I loved his attention to grammar pedagogy and child development in this book.
  36. Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life by Susan David
  37. The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family by Josh Hanagarne
    I had not heard of this book until it came up as the FSCJ Author Series book for 2017-2018. I enjoyed Hanagarne’s wit and bookishness, and I’m looking forward to author events coming up.

What have you been reading this year? What’s your goal for next year? Comment below and share your literary explorations!


45 in 2016: What I read this year.

It’s been a busy year for me, but I’m proud to say I met my Goodreads goal: 45 books! Check ’em out! Some were duds, but most were wonderful. I’ve written brief reviews beneath the ones I really enjoyed.

  1. Provence, 1970:M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste by Luke Barr
  2. Must Love Dogs by Claire Cook
  3. A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage
    Fun, fascinating, and entertaining! If you love food and history, you’ll enjoy this book!
  4. Gratitude by Oliver Sacks
  5. Letters on Life by Rainer Maria Rilke (trans. Ulrich Baer)
    A meditative and delightful collection of Rilke’s prose thoughts on love, death, nature, art, and so many other wonderful topics.
  6. Yes Please by Amy Poehler
    Funny, thoughtful, and surprising—I loved listening to Amy Poehler read this audiobook. There is real substance here.
  7. Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson
    Though this book is a bit slow in places, it is fascinating and thorough! Wilson begins before pots and pans, travels through French renaissance kitchens, and explores molecular gastronomy.
  8. Next Word, Better Word: The Craft of Writing Poetry by Stephen Dobyns
    Incredible! Thorough, down-to-earth, and detailed. I underlined something on every page and stopped mid-chapter to write my own poetry. I recommend this book for all poets! I especially loved his final chapter on linguistics.
  9. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?  (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
  10. Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds by Bernd Heinrich
    An outstanding narrative exploration of ravens! Compelling stories, philosophical observations, and exciting discoveries—all expertly written.
  11. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World by David Abram
    Completely absorbing! Abram traces the evolution of the alphabet, the debate between oral and writing cultures, and the effects of the alphabet on our relationship to the wild world. Absolutely extraordinary.
  12. e.e. cummings: A life by Susan Cheever
    A perceptive and captivating literary biography interspersed with the poet’s work.
  13. Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
  14. Heartburn by Nora Ephron
    Listen to Meryl Streep read the audiobook. Totally worth it! It’s a cute, well written story.
  15. Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife by John M. Marzluff
  16. Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet In Our Time by Eavan Boland
    Boland explores the struggles of being a female poet in the very male tradition of Irish poetry. This is a fascinating contemplation of a writer’s motivation and origin—how she can build something value from a tradition that has excluded her.
  17. Essays in Love by Alain de Button
  18. Writing Wild: Forming a Creative Partnership With Nature by Tina Welling
  19. Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue
  20. When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
  21. A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf
  22. Planet of the Blind by Stephen Kuusisto
  23. The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner
  24. Blind Rage: Letters to Helen Keller by Georgina Kleege
    Kleege is a reflective, capable writer. This book is a fantastic meditation on Keller’s life and cultural legacy!
  25. Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write by Gayle Brandeis
  26. Doctors: The History of Scientific Medicine Revealed Through Biography by Sherwin Nuland
  27. On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks
    I’ve always enjoyed Sacks’s writing, and his autobiography was no exception. I appreciated hearing about his own struggles as a physician and writer, but I didn’t enjoy the overall structure of the book.
  28. The Practice of the Wild by Gary Snyder
  29. Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening by Stephen Kuusisto
  30. Happiness Is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life by Sylvia Boorstein
    Warm, inviting, and practical.
  31. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
  32. The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel Levitin
  33. The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman
    I have a soft spot for poets writing prose and sci-fi/fantasy writers writing nonfiction, and this collection does not disappoint! Gaiman covers everything from journalism and film festivals to his favorite influences in science fiction and fantasy.
  34. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Love, Live, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
    Encouraging, systematic, and fortifying! I loved reading this book—it’s way too good to be called “self help.”
  35. Acquired Tastes by Peter Mayle
  36. Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?: . . . and Other Questions from the Astronomers’ In-box at the Vatican Observatory by Guy Consolmagno and Paul Mueller
  37. The Geek Feminist Revolution: Essays by Kameron Hurley
    Ardent, biting, and analytical! Hurley’s collection of essays is full of passion and personality!
  38. The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of English by Roy Peter Clark
    A lovely light read on English grammar and writing. I learned a lot and would love to assign this book to a class!
  39. The Three Marriages: Reimaginating Work, Self, and Relationship by David Whyte
    A rich and rewarding combination of personal history and literary biography.
  40. The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman
  41. Beauty: The Invisible Embrace by John O’Donohue
    This is a lovely collection of meditations on sensory experience. Though I enjoyed Anam Cara, I found Beauty much more engaging.
  42. TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson
    An engaging introduction to presentation literacy. Anderson covers many of the how-to’s of setting up and delivering a TED Talk—as well as profiling several of the best TED speakers and talks.
  43. League of Dragons (Temeraire #9) by Naomi Novik
    A not-terribly-thrilling end to the fabulous Temeraire series. Solid but unremarkable.
  44. How to Be a Tudor: A Dawn to Dusk Guide to Tudor Life by Ruth Goodman
    Utterly fantastic! Goodman covers Tudor fashion, food, living arrangements, and so much more! The book is well researched and well written! I enjoyed the meticulous details!
  45. More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin
    Another book of fun and pithy kitchen essays. I love reading Colwin’s strong opinions on everything from picnic fare to gingerbread.

So what’s on the list for 2017? Probably more of the same. Books on poetry, food, language, birds.

Have a recommendation? A favorite book or a recent read? Share in the comments below!

35 in 2015 : What I read this year

In January, I set up a challenge through Goodreads: to read 35 books in 2015. So here are my books—a snapshot of my literary consciousness this year!

1. A Stranger to Command by Sherwood Smith
My first book of 2015 was a leisurely choice, the prequel to Sherwood Smith’s Crown Duel. I was so moved by this absorbing novel that I wrote an extensive response (which you can read here). Suffice it to say that Smith’s beloved characters and lively prose are pretty addictive. I won’t tell you exactly how many times I’ve replayed the audiobook this year, but I will say it’s more than four. A Stranger to Command is a book I return to in stressful times; I love getting wrapped up again and again in this story.

2. Remalna’s Children by Sherwood Smith
Continuing my explorations of Smith’s fantasy universe, I choose this short book—which is actually two long short stories. If you’ve read any of Smith’s works, this addition is intriguing and delightful, adding to the Crown Duel story arc.

3. Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World  by Claire Harman
This text was a fascinating look at how Austen’s work and reputation have been handled in and out of the academy. While some chapters were a little slow, Harman offers some interesting historical details about Austen’s relationship to money, Austen’s image, and Austen’s occasionally off-color correspondence.

4. Senrid by Sherwood Smith
Alas, a disappointing read. Possibly because this book collects some of Smith’s earliest work, it seems fragmented and a little silly. Though I enjoyed learning about Senrid, who makes an impressive appearance in A Stranger to Command, I did not enjoy this book overall. It is not a cohesive novel, but rather four separate parts which—and I use the term generously—fit together.

5. The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund Stone Zander & Benjamin Zander
Since reading this book, I have purchased it for several friends and relatives. The Zanders (husband and wife) offer several principles for approaching difficult circumstances. Their anecdotes are far from the saccharine stuff of most self-help books. And the audio version of the text is well worth a listen. Because the Zanders co-authored the text, they take turns narrating, and Ben Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, includes excerpts from the classical pieces he discusses.

6. Danse de la Folie by Sherwood Smith
This book is the first I’ve read of Smith’s forays into historical fiction—and it is superb! Set in Regency England, the book offers a lighthearted storyline and tons of jokes for literary devotees. From the naming of characters to the comments on Regency fashions, it’s obvious Smith has done the research to create this wonderful book.

7. The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker
If only I could make my students read this book! From Pinker’s brilliant chapter on the structure of sentences (where he introduces “the web, the string, and the tree”) to his intense, 100-page catalogue of the most hotly debated “errors” in Standard English, this text is comprehensively brilliant. Each chapter treats with a different aspect of what makes good writing: the sound of it, the level of complexity, the style, the grammar. I’d say that this text is more accessible than Pinker’s other works on linguistics, so if you’ve never indulged in his work before, start here.

8. His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire #1) by Naomi Novik
This is another book that I keep on my iPhone at all times. Narrated by the talented Simon Vance, His Majesty’s Dragon is the first in the Temeraire series—which occupies about 20% of this list. It’s an excellent dip into Novik’s Napoleonic fantasy world, a world populated by intelligent, witty, mischievous dragons. Read my meditations on guide dogs and dragons here.

9. Throne of Jade (Temeraire #2) by Naomi Novik
I’ll keep my comments brief as I cover the remaining Temeraire novels on this list. In Book #2, the characters travel to China: it’s a strong sequel to the first in this series.

10. The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language by John McWhorter
From this delightfully snarky linguist comes a fascinating book on how languages work—debunking the pop linguistics ideals that are often most cherished. McWhorter’s sensible analysis asks us to turn our language myths on English and see if they hold true. This book is dense and complex, but it repays the reader’s effort.

11. Black Powder War (Temeraire #3) by Naomi Novik
In this third installment, the characters cover a lot of ground, returning to the battles of the Napoleonic War by way of Turkey. Again, Novik has created a thrilling tale—introducing new characters and adding dimension to the Temeraire universe.

12. Empire of Ivory (Temeraire #4) by Naomi Novik
Well, we’ve gotten to a Temeraire book I didn’t particularly enjoy. This one finds our characters in Africa. Though this one moves the story along, I don’t think it’s as strong as #1-3.

13. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
I decided to revisit an old classic this summer. I first read this book in high school, and I fell in love with Brontë’s tortured characters and metaphorical landscape. However, WH didn’t hold up to a second reading, I’m sad to say. I got irritated with Catherine’s antics and Heathcliff’s brooding. Perhaps this is a book that fits best with the tumult of adolescence.

14. Victory of Eagles (Temeraire #5) by Naomi Novik
An absolutely outstanding novel in this series! This book broke my heart, repaired it, warmed it, and broke it again! It’s totally worth suffering through #4 to get to #5!

15. Tongues of Serpents (Temeraire #6) by Naomi Novik
Another strong addition to the series, this novel finds our characters in Australia! It’s a little dreary in places, but I still enjoyed it.

16. The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think by Brian Hare
A delightful exploration of canine consciousness, Hare’s book explains how dogs reason and what is important to them. I particularly enjoyed Hare’s history of genetics and his commentary on canine evolution.

17. Tolkien’s Ordinary Virtues: Exploring the Spiritual Themes of the Lord of the Rings by Mark Eddy Smith
This is the first book I’ve really despised in a long time. It’s nothing but a drawn-out, poorly written homily that uses Tolkien’s work for convenience. For one thing, the author commits one of my writerly pet peeves: using the word “spiritual” as code for “Christian.” If you mean Christian, just say so. Secondly, he provides only superficial commentary, mostly just reciting the plot of LOTR. For Tolkien fans and Christians alike, this book is a waste of time.

18. Crucible of Gold (Temeraire #9) by Naomi Novik
This time, our characters have traveled to Brazil—and while the book offers fascinating descriptions of Brazilian culture, it’s not a bright spot in the series. I enjoyed it, but I’m unlikely to reread it.

19. French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew by Peter Mayle
Oh, I am never disappointed by Peter Mayle! I read  A Year in Provence in an undergraduate Faces of France class, and I’ve been hooked ever since. In this book, Mayle explores several interesting culinary traditions in France—from a festival of frogs’ legs to the creation of the Michelin guide. This book is an utter delight, recommended for foodies.

20. The Marseilles Caper by Peter Mayle
A witty, sun-drenched mystery novel set in the succulent city of Marseilles! Read it with a snack nearby! The audio version is particularly yummy; I like hearing someone else pronounce all the French words.

21. The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan
I learned so much from this book! Pollan’s prose is absorbing, and his references are extensive. I kept flipping to the bibliography and adding items to my Amazon wish list. The book is accessible, philosophical, and fun.

22. The Educated Imagination by Northrop Frye
This book contains Frye’s six legendary essays on the purpose and vocation of literature. It’s essential reading for all English teachers and writers, and it’s edifying for everyone.

23. Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Here is Novik’s attempt to write something other than Temeraire: she retells a Polish fairytale about a haunted wood, a sorcerer, and an unlikely heroine. My main complaint with this text is that it’s too long. There are several places where I expected the story to end, but it kept on going. The book has some truly beautiful passages and interesting characters, but I would rather it had covered less and told more. The story feels stretched and shallow to me.

24. Blood of Tyrants (Temeraire #8) by Naomi Novik
Another disappointment. This novel that attempts to tie up all the loose ends before the final Temeraire book (which won’t come out until next year). Strong style but weak plot here.

25. The Modern Scholar: The Anglo-Saxon World by Michael D.C. Drout
This “book” is technically one of Audible’s Great Courses, a series of 30-minute lectures centered on a theme. But if Goodreads calls it a book, I’ll call it one, too! If you’re an Old English nut like me, you’ll love this course. They provide rich background about the classics of Angl0-Saxon literature as well as explaining some language and history. Plus, Drout reads several texts aloud, and his pronunciation is admirable.

26. The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
I read this book with great sadness because it was the last one Pratchett worked on before his death. It bears the marks of this untimely composition; some elements of the story are not really fleshed out, and Pratchett’s morals are a little too close to the surface. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable.

27. You’re Wearing That?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation by Deborah Tannen
Though this book has some gems to offer, it’s not as enjoyable as Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. Once you’ve read one Tannen book, it feels like you’ve read them all. Her research involves the same conversational matrix of competition and cooperation, which is fascinating, but this book seemed repetitive.

28. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
An enjoyable and succinct read with lots of cool anecdotes! Gilbert’s advice breaks the tradition of the tortured artist. Instead, she offers a refreshing portrait of an artist who is centered and productive.

29. Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education by Ken Robinson
Robinson is another writer who uses accessible prose and superb sources. This book tackles several issues in education and offers practical solution to each. It’s dense only because Robinson covers so much ground, dipping into educational history as well as current politics.

30. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
Hilarious, engaging, and—believe it or not—educational! Ansari’s witty, flippant book on dating in the 21st century invokes a ton of legitimate psychological research. And for once, he’s not saying that we young people are doomed to intimacy-starved lives. Through research, he offers several solutions to the online dating conundrums and busy schedules we all face.

31. Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris
What an indulgent read! All writers and English teachers need to read this book—or better yet, listen to Norris read the audiobook. She tackles many of the serious language concerns covered in academic texts, but instead of dry research, she relies on her experience as a copy-editor for The New Yorker. After I finished this book, I was begging to be a Comma Queen.

32. Bossypants by Tina Fey
Since getting hooked on 30 Rock, I wanted to read this book—and I was not disappointed. Fey uses humor and stylish prose to address all kinds of issues: fame, feminism, politics. It’s an excellent memoir.

33. Seriously…I’m Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres
Let’s just say I’m glad I borrowed this one from the library. I was disappointed. Rambling, disconnected, pandering, unremarkable. I think Ellen could do a lot better. I wouldn’t be proud of this book if I had written it.

34. Letters to a Young Teacher by Jonathan Kozol
Incredible. Kozol handles many of the most heartbreaking issues in education without losing hope. His book is a must-read for all teachers, parents, students, citizens. It’s so well done, rich with revelations.

35. The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to a Long and Happy Life by Noble Smith
Now here’s an author who knows how to write about Tolkien—with humor, thoughtfulness, and respect. This little book is enjoyable and informative; I picked up a few Tolkien tidbits from its pages!

So what’s on the shelf for next year? Probably more linguistics, nature writing, biographies, and food writing. And of course, that ninth Temeraire book. I’ve also resolved to read more poetry.

What would you add to the list?