January Reading Recap 2017

Thursday, February 09, 2017

I didn't intend for reading recaps to be monthly (since I did them all quarterly and after-the-fact for 2016), but I plowed through seven (*edited* oops! I can count...) eight books in January, four from my MMD Reading Challenge list, so I thought a dedicated January reading post would be in order.

 1) At the beginning of the month (the beginning of the year, actually), I finished The Story of a New Name, which is the second in the "Neapolitan series" by Elena Ferrante, and I LOVED IT. I'd heard from fellow lovers of the first one that #2 was their favorite of the series, and I have to agree that I loved it so much. (Not so much more than the first one, necessarily, but it drew me in so far below the surface.)

2) A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny was my first Inspector Gamache audiobook to listen to, and the second in the series. Oh my! We read the first, Still Life, for book club last year, and I liked it, but I'd heard the series just gets better... audio has been the PERFECT format for me to keep going in the series. Ralph Cosham is (acc. to a cursory internet search) award-winning in his readings of the Gamache books—unfortunately, he passed away several years ago, but there are 10 recorded by him. Anyway, I caught this one at the perfect time because I started it the week between Christmas and New Year's, and it takes place during Christmastime in Quebec! So that was perfect. The "crime" itself was pretty weird, but I enjoyed the narration so much I didn't really notice.

3) Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin—I'd never read in Gretchen Rubin before, but I alternated between reading on Kindle and listening to the audiobook (which the author narrates herself), both via the library. Lots of people have written pithier reviews than this will be, but I absolutely loved the basic premise: Once something becomes a habit you cease spending decision-making energy on it, of which you have a limited reserve. Thus, working toward establishing good habits frees up your decision-making capacity for other things. Pretty simple when you think of it that way, eh? I've recently joined a gym and am making that a daily habit...maybe I'll tackle meal planning next. Ha! But, a really handy book that I wouldn't mind owning my own copy of for reference. She also breaks down people's decision-making habits into four basic tendencies, which, if you're into the personality-sorting type theory, you might find interesting (I'm a classic Obliger, if you've read the book).

4) Next was the hefty Columbine by Dave Cullen, and my first MMD Reading Challenge pick, for the category "a book in a genre you usually avoid"—I'm not sure what genre this is exactly, but I'm such a fiction girl I knew this would qualify.
My friend Erin read this a little ahead of me, and I was glad to have someone to text with about it as I was reading. I was a 9th grader when the tragedy occurs, so most of what I remember from this event are hazy memories at best. The basic outline of what I thought happened was what the media was telling us—and, like everyone told me about this book, the book sort of turns all of that up on its head. Dave Cullen was a reporter on the scene of the actual event, but then spent almost the next decade investigating the tragedy from every angle. I am not sure I was quite as swept away by this book as it sounds like some readers are—I definitely had to push through at parts, and admittedly, did not make it through every single word of the hefty appendix. The most fascinating, and IMO most important, part of the whole book was when he dissects the science behind psychopathy (which is, also interestingly, pronounced psy-CHO-pathy, who knew?)...how psychopaths' brains operate totally differently from other humans, on a completely scientific level. Both of those kids came from loving, two-parent homes...it was less outside factors and more base brain science. Scary stuff.

5) I heaved a sigh of relief into going to a delightful fiction read following that—One in a Million Boy, by Monica Wood, which was another MMD Reading Challenge pick: a book you chose for the cover. I bought this on kindle deals back in the summer and hadn't gotten to it yet for some reason. Oh my—I just loved it. I try to be stingy with 5 star ratings, and this one definitely earned it. I thought the story line was inventive and fresh...but I agree with others I've heard that say not to read much about it before picking it up—just dive right in! I loved the characters so, so much, especially Ona. Loved this one!

6) I was #36 on the hold list when I first requested Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham, my MMD Reading Challenge pick for "a book you don't want to admit you're dying to read" (even though I'm not at all ashamed of my Gilmore love...just didn't really have anything else in this category). So when it came through to my kindle, I'd just finished One in a Million Boy and it was perfect timing. This was a pretty easy read, and I enjoyed it on the whole, mostly because of my deep Gilmore and Parenthood loves—but, I will admit I was hoping for a bit more "juice," if you will. Like I don't feel like I have any deeper of an impression of hers and Alexis Bleidel's relationship than I did before, nor really much other insider knowledge, other than they worked extremely long hours on Gilmore, and not so much on Parenthood. I did love the Carole King anecdote from the new Netflix GG episodes, when they all (apparently) gathered around the piano with Carole King, who gave an impromptu concert during filming. (Can you imagine?!) Oh, another highlight was her explanation of a writing strategy she learned—the "kitchen timer" process, which is basically setting a kitchen timer for 60 minutes, where you minimize all distractions and spend the hour solely writing...if it's not on your writing project, it's at least in your journal, about whatever, and any day that includes a 60-minute chunk of writing time should be considered a win. I liked this a lot!

7) Somewhere along the way up there, I had picked up Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance (my MMD Reading Challenge pick for "a book you were excited to buy but haven't read yet")—this was another kindle deals purchase. A memoir from a guy from white, working-class Appalachia who ended up finishing law school at Yale, I had heard so many good things, seen it mentioned on best-of-2016 lists... but it fell flat for me. Not to sound pretentious (the worst way to introduce a thought!, I know), buuuuuut, since we read Coming Apart for book club at the beginning of 2016, I feel like I'd already done a deep dive into this subject in a way that had a lot more heft and fact behind it than this book. I do recognize that this is a memoir, thus subject to a completely different set of "rules" or expectations than Coming Apart... but it still didn't tell me much I don't feel I've not already read in the Atlantic or whatever, since election time. Annnywayyyy I got through it, but didn't just love it or feel super more informed than before (but yes, the guy's story is definitely inspiring and seems fairly singular for his origin). I finished this one the night of January 31, so it barely squeaked in!

8) The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny, on audiobook. See #2 note, above, on narration. Another weird-ish crime, but I flew through this one listening at the gym (a new thing for January for me, how cliche but good!) and enjoyed it so much, too. Especially as the previous one was set during Christmas, and this one is set in the spring, it was nice, seasonally (not that it's spring here, technically, although it sure does feel like it...). I've heard that Penny really hits her stride with #4, which I have already started and am 3/4 of the way through at press time. To be continued on that front... A small note: it's been really nice to listen to these on audio via the Memphis Library/OneClickDigital app, as they've been readily available without a waiting list, and I was even able to renew A Fatal Grace at least once (which is tough when it's a new release). Also, I've read where people say you don't necessarily need to read these in order, but I've found it helpful.

Four out of thirteen (!) MMD Reading Challenge picks down in the month of January! (This has made me think I could maybe get away with doing the Reading for Growth track too? We shall see...separate post!)

Oh! Another big highlight of this month was recording and being a (small!) guest on my fave What Should I Read Next podcast, talking about ways we track our reading! Check the episode out here...my part starts a little after the 7-minute mark! Books and podcasts collide—a dream come true.

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