My Second Year Immersed in Literature

This is the second time I’ve documented all the books I’ve read or listened to over the course of the year, spurred by the fact that I’m in a car for at least 10 hours a week for my daily commute. Audiobooks are a godsend for that ultimate time suck, and occasionally I hit the perfect type of book (not too dense, not too simplistic, engaging story, great narrator, not overproduced, good sound quality) that actually makes me look forward to the daily drive. In fact, some of these were so wonderful that I was gleefully anticipating each 60 mile journey, and was then popping in headphones once I got home to continue the book while performing menial chores like dishes or gardening.

Last year I finished 61.5 books. I set a goal for this year to finish 75, which was pretty damn lofty. I should have done so with a bit more of an action plan in mind, because I realized too late in the year that to accomplish that I should have been selecting books based upon length more than I was. So how’d I fare? Here are the numbers.

Total number of audiobooks: 54.5
Total number of eBooks: 5.5
Total number of books: 8.5
Total number of books consumed: 68.5!

Not quite 75, but obviously an improvement over last year. Progress, people! Here is the whole list in its word-filled glory. I’ve provided links to my favorites.


29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life by Cami Walker
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern
Panorama City by Antoine Wilson
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Let me tell you one thing: astrophysics is hard to absorb and fully grasp when you’re just listening to it, rather than reading it. Coupled with an audiobook with bad audio– so quiet that I had to jam earbuds in while driving just to understand what was being said– and I sadly did not get as much out of Stephen Hawking’s classic than I would have liked. Gone Girl was a great book. Panorama City represented a trend of the year: I book that I realized too late to be not so great (in this case, annoying characters and meandering plot), but I was too stubborn to quit. The Night Circus was a fun, quick read. 29 Gifts was a lovely way to start the year, with a focus on altruism and reframing the concept of giving.

We First: How Brands and Consumers Use Social Media to Build a Better World by Simon Mainwaring
Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling
Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien
Lion in the White House: A Life of Theodore Roosevelt by Aida D. Donald
Teddy Roosevelt was the shit! Okay, let’s rephrase that a little more intelligently. I had always been curious to learn more about our 26th president, especially regarding his role in conservation and the establishment of so many treasured parks and reserves, and this book did not disappoint in not only dispensing the facts but doing so in a way that was highly engaging. For an American girl that lived up in Canada during all the years she would have been learning US history, this filled in a lot of gaps I had regarding that time period.

Best story: Roosevelt was shot in the chest at the beginning of a speech in 1912 (after his presidency). His eyeglass case and 50-page speech manuscript slowed the bullet, so while he was definitely very injured, he also wasn’t dead, so he said, “Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot.” He then shows his bloody shirt as he pulls out his massive (and now holey) speech, says, “It takes more than that to kill a bull moose,” and continues speaking for another NINETY MINUTES. What!?

I highly enjoyed the other three books this month as well. FYI.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
The Iceman: the True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer by Anthony Bruno
What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson
Everyone Communicates, Few Connect by John Maxwell
Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson
I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron
The Age of Miracles was one of those addictive reads that you can’t put down or stop thinking about. The global implications of the Earth inexplicably slowing its rotation, framed within the perspective of a young teenager coming of age was unique and captivating. What Dreams May Come finally finishes my reading of Richard Matheson’s books, and I’m now fairly convinced the dude knew what’s up with the afterlife. Everyone Communicates was a great, short book on, well, communication, while the last two of the month were just so-so.

An Unquenchable Thirst: Following Mother Teresa in Search of Love, Service, and an Authentic Life by Mary Johnson
Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling
The Disaster Diaries: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse by Sam Sheridan
Purple Cow by Seth Godin
I found Mary Johnson’s story of her life as a nun within the Missionaries of Charity and frequent interactions with Mother Teresa absolutely enthralling. It’s such a foreign life to the one I know, and not without its faults, politics, sex (!), and personal turmoil. Sam Sheridan’s book made me want to learn how to shoot and handle a gun, establish an emergency preparedness kit (for both the home and the car), learn how to survive in the wilderness, AND outrun a zombie. Obviously Harry Potter was awesome– explaining why the books are outstanding isn’t even necessary. However I will say that the narrator for the series (Jim Dale) is just as good as my other favorite narrator, Roy Dotrice, who read four out of the five ASOIAF/Game of Thrones books. Both have a tremendous capacity for individually voicing each character with such authenticity and skill that you forget it’s a single person. Highly talented when you consider the number of characters in both series.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe
The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe
The Eye of the Dragon by Stephen King
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
How to Talk to Anyone: 62 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships by Leil Lowndes
Reading Cloud Atlas made the sprawling movie make so much more sense, and I’m glad I waited to read the book until after I had seen the film. The concepts of life and death here somewhat echoed that of What Dreams May Come two months prior, which I found to be quite satisfying. Maya Angelou’s personal tale was, of course, incredible, and having her velvety rich voice read it aloud made it that much more intoxicating. I’ve also determined that the only way I can appreciate David Sedaris at all is when I’m listening to him read his own stories. Otherwise… meh.

Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling
Damned by Chuck Palahniuk
What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam
Freeway Guides by Susan Leahy
Peace by Richard Bausch
The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
I used to love Chuck Palahniuk. I’ve met the man several times, own a necklace he made for me, along with several signed books and personalized letters. I even have a framed and signed photo of him with Edward Norton and Brad Pitt on the set of Fight Club. I used to buy every tome he published. Somewhere along the way though, they became untiringly predictable and annoying in their obtuse need to shock and awe. Damned was a great example of that, and I’m still mildly incredulous that there’s a sequel in the works. Sorry Chuck, I love you as a Portland local, but you lost me.

heart of the current, crispin young

World War Z by Max Brooks
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Alone on the Ice: the Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration by David Roberts
This is Water by David Foster Wallace
Sean and I both listened to World War Z while roadtripping through the desert, which was a pretty apt setting for such a desolate, zombiefied future. How to be a Woman blew my frickin’ mind. Easily one of my absolute favorite books of the year, and having Caitlin Moran narrate it herself was sublime. I’ve bought at least four copies for other people and have recommended it endlessly. Caitlin Moran is a spirit animal of mine. (Triva time! Other women I declared to be my spirit animals this year: Neko Case, Amy Schumer.) I’ve declared it a Must Read for both women and men. Sean totally agrees with this statement– he loved it.

Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth
Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm by Mardi Jo Link
Heart of the Current (Tales from Tahldia) by Crispin Young
Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
The most notable out of this month’s bunch is the fantastic first novel written by my dear friend Crispin. Having never read much of her work prior to this book’s publication, I wasn’t sure what to expect. So I was highly pleased to find it completely enjoyable and at times, addictive. I may or may not have read a few pages of the eBook version on my phone while working. Another Must Read of the year, even when you consider my mild bias. She did a beautiful job of weaving science fiction and fantasy to create her own world, peppered with realistic dialogue and probable character arcs.

Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield
The Richest Woman in America: Hetty Green in the Gilded Age by Janet Wallach
Cleopatra: a Life by Stacy Schiff
Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James
A mixtape themed autobiography, two true stories of rich and powerful women in history, and professionally published Jane Austen fan fiction. That’s about all I have to say here.

I Married Adventure by Osa Johnson
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Saga, Volumes 1 & 2, Chapters/Issues 12-14 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormack
Preacher, Volume 1 by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon
Bride of New France by Suzanna Desrochers
Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son by Michael Chabon
Oh, how I love the eloquent writing of Michael Chabon. I deeply connected with this book despite not being anything like a husband, father, or son. I even gifted a copy to my father-in-law for Christmas. I Married Adventure was a book appropriately gifted to me by my husband, and it’s a delightful autobiography of an adventurous midwestern couple from 1917 to 1937 as they explored the world. Less delightful: the “era-appropriate” racism and animal slaughter. Still, though! I recommend it. Kitchen Confidential was a great insight into what goes on in a commercial kitchen, and I do love Anthony Bourdain. Finally, I never really learned much about the Khmer Rouge and the atrocities in Cambodia in the mid-to-late 70s, and Patricia McCormack’s first person narrative from someone who survived the genocide was chilling.

Naked by David Sedaris
Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America’s Kings of Beer by William Knoedelsede
The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O’Melveny
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
The Financial Lives of the Poets: A Novel by Jess Walter
Preacher, Volumes 2 and 3 by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon
Windhaven by George RR Martin and Lisa Tuttle
Bitter Brew was fascinating for two main reasons. 1: I work in the beer industry, and 2: I had just toured the original Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis a few weeks prior. I borrowed the first three trade books of the comic Preacher from my brother-in-law and tore through them over the past two months. Literally the day I finished the third it was announced that it will be turned into a show in the near-ish future. Dark Places was just as compelling as Gillian Flynn’s other book from earlier in the year, the soon-to-be-a-movie Gone Girl.

Hollywood Said No! Orphaned Film Scripts, Bastard Scenes, and Abandoned Darlings from the Creators of Mr. Show by David Cross and Bob Odenkirk with Brian Posehn
The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story by Lily Koppel
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel
Moranthology by Caitlin Moran
You can’t really go wrong when the cast of Mr. Show is reading/performing their never-produced stories and scenes. Lean In by Facebook’s COO was maybe one of the timeliest reads of the year for me, offering key soundbites of advice about women and their careers exactly when I was pondering mine. It’s received criticism for being narrow-minded and privileged in its perspective of women staking a claim for themselves and rising to the top of their workplaces, and justifiably so, but I found much of this very applicable to my own life. Ready Player One was an addictively awesome story set in the future (that constantly references pop culture from the 80s and 90s), and I was attached to that audiobook constantly. A definite Must Read that I’ve geeked out over and recommended to at least a dozen people. Audiobook perk: it’s narrated by Wil Wheaton. And finally, finishing the year with tales from my spirit animal Caitlin Moran is a truly solid finish to a lovely year of books.


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