The Year I Thought I Didn’t Read 52 Books, But Then While Writing This Post, Realized I Actually Did
Thoughts on what I read and listened to throughout the year
Since 2012, I have signed up for (and completed) the Goodreads Reading Challenge. This year, I layered on the Read Harder Challenge, as a bonus (and it was awesome).
Initially, this post’s intro talked about 2016 being the year of failures and featured the screenshot you see to the left, where I cannot claim victory for my Goodreads reading challenge because I thought I’d only read 50 books. But then, while writing this and cross-referencing my Read Harder list, I realized I’d forgotten to review several books on Goodreads, so I actually did win the challenge.
Thus, I realize that 2016 is still the year of failures, but 2017 is clearly starting off as being the year where those failures become wins.
And yes, I still blame my low (for me) book tally on Storm of Swords, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Alexander Hamilton, because they are incredibly long, but since I read a boatload of graphic novels and also include a picture book in my count, it all kind of balances out.
So, sentence where I say I hate losing and I will forever be irked by losing this challenge? Eat it. I totally won. Boom.
That being said, I read a lot of really awesome stuff this year, and I want to tell you about it. After all, I did read 50 (wait, scratch that) I read 54 amazing books.
1. The Library at Mount Char, Scott Hawkins
All I can say is: Holy shit. What a way to start the year. This book is epic.
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for Read A Book About Religion
2. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
I read the once as a child and holy shit did I not really understand what it was about. Also, reading it via Audible is amazing because you actually get a sense for Owen’s voice and it’s far less grating to hear it than read ALL CAPS ALL THE TIME THIS GETS SUPER DISTRACTING.
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for the Middle Grade Novel
3. Storm of Swords, George R.R. Martin
Dear fucking lord, these books are long. This book threw off my entire reading rhythm for the year because it’s so damned giant. Also, the red wedding was totes better in the TV show. Come at me.
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for the Over 500 Pages
4. The Girl On The Train, Paula Hawkins
I don’t usually look at the author of a book I read and I totally thought this was written by a man. I’m either an asshole of Paula isn’t super great at writing women. Or both? Probably I’m just an asshole.
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for Read A Book That Is Adapted Into A Movie Then Watch The Movie Then Discuss Which Is Better
5. Bad Feminist, Roxanne Gay
Am I a bad person that I liked the chapter about playing chess the best? I think that feminist literature is best read when it’s published, which is my fault, not the writers: Most of her thinking was revolutionary and I’m the one that’s late to the party.
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for Read A Nonfiction Book About Feminists Or Dealing With Feminist Themes
6. Redshirts, John Scalzi
Can you get more meta, John? Seriously, you are a good writer, but if I rolled my eyes any harder they would have fallen out of my goddamned head.
7. Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
At least no cats were disemboweled in this book (I’m still scarred by that Murakami. That was so. not. cool.)
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for Read A Book Written In the Decade You Were Born
8. The Heart Goes Last, Margaret Atwood
Anything you read is dreamy, Margaret. You are dreamy, Margaret. Can we be friends? Please? PLEASE?
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for A Dystopian Or Post-Apocalyptic Novel
9. Men Explain Things To Me, Rebecca Solny
Ah, yes. Another book that shows I’m late to the feminist literature party. I’m sorry that my reaction is “all of this is old news” — you literally formed the thinking behind it. I suck.
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for Read A Collection of Essays
10. On Fire But Not Burning, Greg Hrbek
Do you want to read about the upcoming apocalypse? Of course you do. Read this book. It’s amazing.
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for Read a Book About Politics, In Your Country Or Another
11. Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain
Man, Anthony Bourdain had a fucked up life.
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for Read A Food Memoir
12. Harmony Black, Craig Schaffer
Kindle First books, you steal my heart with semi-terrible sci-fi and fantasy. I’m a sucker for you. I’ll never quit you.
13. Placebo Junkies, J.C. Carleson
You might not think you want to read about teenagers and young adults who make a living off drug studies, but you actually do.
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for Read A Book With A Main Character That Has A Mental Illness
14. The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin
Holy crap. If there is one book to read this year from my list, read this book. Yes, it’s kind of sci-fi. Yes, it’s kind of magic. But it’s more than that. And it’s awesome. Well-written, great plot, good characters, and I can’t wait to dig into the second. The Read Harder Challenge was worth it to find Jemisin and this book.
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for Read The First Book In A Series By A Person Of Color
15. The Fold, Peter Clines
Perhaps because The Fold is the follow up novel to 14, and thusly we understood what was going on from the outset, this book didn’t live up to the mystery and suspense I wanted. Still, Clines does some good shit with impossible science and math, so that’s fun.
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for Read A Horror Book
16. Working For Bigfoot, Jim Butcher
You know what I’m going to say, right? Everything Dresden Files is amazing. While I anxiously wait the next novel and lament the fact I caught up on the series, I’m working my way through his short stories. They aren’t as meaty as his novels (duh) but, c’mon guys, magic.
17. A Dark Lure, Loreth Anne White
I got this book from Kindle First. I didn’t like it. I barely want to talk about it here. It’s badly written. It inspired me to write my Pet Peeves in Novels post. I have a compulsion to finish every book I start. That’s the only reason I finished this one.
18. Rat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery, Kurtis J. Wiebe
I thank every graphic novel that is available on Kindle. I’m kind of a lazy e-reader and don’t do other apps beyond Kindle and since I got rid of over 1,000 books about five years ago (man, do they collect dust — and I’m super allergic to dust) I’ve forbade myself from buying graphic novels in physical formats. Because of these self-impose constraints, I rarely read comics anymore — but Rat Queens is so worth your time. It’s amazing fantasy with sassy, strong female characters.
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for Read A Non-Superhero Comic Debuted In The Last 3 Years
19. Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King
I used to hate Stephen King, but I think that’s because when I was like, seven, my sister would tell me the stories she was reading before we went to bed at night and that gave me really fucked up dreams. That’s more a reflection of my family than of King’s novels, which are great.
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for Listen To A Book That Won An Audie Award
20. The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club, Phillip M. Hoose
I listened to this on Audible. Not being a history person, I had to focus to follow this story, but I appreciated it because it’s one of those smaller yet very important and notable historical stories that so often are overlooked in the larger scheme of historical writing.
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for Read a Biography
21. Animalia, Graeme Base
This barely counts as an entry because it’s a picture book (although a gorgeous one at that) that I read to my nephew, Finn. Even though he’s not yet two, I am pretty sure he loved it.
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for Read A Book Aloud To Someone Else
22. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, F. Scott Fitzgerald — It’s a rare occasion that I can easily read an entire novel or novella in a single sitting. I don’t think I’ve done that since the college days of “oh fuck I have to read this tonight and write a paper on it oh fuck oh fuck” or the lazy summers of Harry Potter when I simply couldn’t put them down. I hate to say I liked the movie better than the story, even though the movie is quite the bastardization of the book. Blame Brad Pitt.
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for Read A Novel Under 100 Pages
23. Packing for Mars, Mary Roach
I fell in love with Mary Roach during this book. It’s an honest and hilarious look at all the weird things you might never think about in regards to space travel. As someone with a phobia of space (best or worst phobia? You tell me) I didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. Instead, it started me on my quest to read everything Mary Roach has ever written.
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for Read a Nonfiction Book About Science
24. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Patrick Slskind
Well, this is a weird one. Seriously, it’s about a guy who murders people, because he wants to make perfume. I would posit this is only very loosely based in history, in that way that it’s set in a time period that is not now, and that’s pretty much it. I mean, unless someone once made perfume out of people. But if that’s true, I can keep on living my life not knowing the fact.
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for Read a Book of Historical Fiction Set Before 1900
25. Kite Runner, Khaledi Hosseini
I can’t believe I hadn’t read this book before, and now I have to admit I’m the elitist snob of a reader that sometimes ignores books that become mega-hits if I haven’t heard of them before they became mega-hits. Blame Twilight for this. Kite Runner is anything but a Twilight and I’d read it again in a heart beat.
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for Read a Book That is Set in the Middle East
26. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard
I’m not a reader of plays. I hate it, actually. True fact: I don’t really like Shakespeare. I understand I should like Shakespeare, but I don’t. Call me a plebeian. I can take it. And while I’d already read and seen Rosencrantz in the past, I decided to read it again because then I might actually be able to pay attention and follow the plot the whole time (since I know it already). Still, it was boring, because I really hate reading plays. They are meant to be seen, people.
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for Read a Play
27. The Obelisk Gate, N.K. Jemisen
I am entirely obsessed with Jemisen’s world. I mean, I don’t want to live there (I would die immediately), but I definitely want to read more about it.
28. Side Jobs, Jim Butcher
It’s a Dresden Files book. Need I say more? Give me all the Dresden, please. Except, you can’t, because 2016 was the year I read literally everything Butcher has written so far.
29. A Queer and Pleasant Danger, Kate Bornstein
I listened to this one on Audible and I think that made the experience better. There’s something to be said about listening to an autobiography instead of reading it — it really makes you feel like you are experiencing that person telling you their story. I learned a lot about Scientology, too.
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for Read a Book About a Person That Identifies as Transgender
30. The Gift of Rain, Tan Twan Eng
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I fell in love with the characters, and appreciated that they were all flawed and many were very unlikable or downright bad people — and yet, you still cared about what happened to them. I feel like the book’s title might be so esoteric it does the story a disservice. So many people judge a book by its title and cover, like it or not.
Read for the Read Harder Challenge for Read a Book That is By an Author from Southeast Asia
31. The Fireman, Joe Hill
I am a big fan of Joe Hill, and I feel like a jerk for saying “this is not as good as NOS4A2, but look at me saying it anyways. Call me a jerk. Also, saying something is not as good as a book that is absolutely amazing still means I read a fantastically wonderful and rich novel. Comparing genius with genius is a bit unfair, right?
32. Nobody’s Business, Trick Dempsey
I’m a bit biased on this one, given the fact Trick’s a good friend. If you are looking for a noir detective story that meets a sci-fi techy age with a new spin on reality TV and a dash of mortuaries and mega-corporations, this book is for you.
33. American Gods: The Tenth Anniversary Edition, Neil Gaiman
Neil, I love you. With all my heart and all my soul, and everything you write. This is the second time I’ve read American Gods, but the first time I’ve listened to it on Audible (and the first time I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying the expanded tenth anniversary edition). I highly recommend listening to this one — the full cast is amazing.
34. Lullaby, Chuck Palahniuk
Well. That was fucked up.
That’s all I got.
35. The City of Mirrors, Justin Cronin
The last of The Passage series, Cronin packs a lot into this novel. It’s really long, but it finishes an epic tale, spanning an epic time period, and while his prose runs long at times, by the time you turn the final page, you’ll probably think the time was well-spent. I really enjoyed the world he built and his take on vampires. Then again, I’m kind of a sucker for vampire stories.
36. Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Recommended by my colleague and friend, Lily, I listened to Americanah on Audible and enjoyed it because the author was able to bring life to the different slang terms and dialects within the book. I not only enjoyed the story but feel like it actually made me a wiser person for reading it.
37. Annihilation, Jeff Vandermeer
Another excellent recommend from Lily (you’re going to see a lot of her this year and next — she has impeccable taste in books), I plowed through this series on a work trip. It consumed me. This book consumed me. I couldn’t think about anything but it. I didn’t get much sleep on the trip.
38. Authority, Jeff Vandermeer
The second in the Southern Reach trilogy, this story expands on the world (which I won’t tell you about and you should not look up — just go into Annihilation blind, please. Trust me on this one). Sometimes, the answers make the story less awesome, because we’re no longer captivated with the sinking feeling of having no idea what the hell is going on, but the answers were fulfilling and really, really weird.
39. Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff
Courtesy of Lily and my other colleague, Nick, I listened to this one on Audible and can’t really say for certain it made the book a better experience. It’s told from two different points of view, so the two different voices really helped reinforce that, but again, I’m not sure it made the experience richer. I also liked the book, but I can’t tell you it was as titillating as others on my list.
40. Acceptance, Jeff Vandermeer
The final chapter in the Southern Reach trilogy, read alongside my listening experience with Fates and Furies, I ate this book up in just about a day. I wish there was more to the story. I want to live in this world. I mean, I don’t actually want to live in this world, that would be super fucked up (read it; you’ll understand) but I want this world to continue to exist on the page so I can keep reading it.
41. The Sandman, Volume 1, Neil Gaiman
You know how I told you I would read everything and anything Neil Gaiman and I loved everything he’d ever published? So, confession time: Up until this year, I never read Sandman. I know, I know, I know. I had already read everything else when I got to college and became close friends with a gal named Lesley who was obsessed with Sandman and for some reason I felt unworthy to read them and just… never did. So I started. And it’s magnificent. I’m an asshole.
42. The Sandman, Volume 2, Neil Gaiman
The Doll’s House is one story cycle, instead of so many graphic novels that are several stories in one collection. And I really like story cycles that go through multiple issues and take a while to unravel the full plot. This one does not disappoint, but its amazingness makes the more “traditional” collections feel more shallow by comparison.
43. In the Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson
Recommended to me by my colleague, Noah, I listened to this on Audible during yet another work trip. Given the fact I’m not a history buff, I give this book a lot of credit for keeping me captivated. Learning about World War II from unlikely points of view is always pretty interesting, but the fact that Larson wrote this with 100% historical accuracy and still made the plot compelling to people who read almost exclusively fiction is notable.
44. Grunt, Mary Roach
As I said before, I love Mary Roach. Grunt is about all the little things you wouldn’t think about that goes in to war, and making (or attempting to make) soldiers safe. It’s a darker topic, but a good one, and Mary somehow has a way to make even the most serious of subjects humorous while still remaining respectful.
45. Hagseed, Margaret Atwood
Atwood is another author that I will read anything by, no matter what. Hagseed is a modern retelling of The Tempest, but it’s more than that, so explaining it that way is reductive. It’s not nearly my favorite Atwood, but like with Joe Hill, that’s still saying “a genius wrote something that’s not her most phenomenal, but it’s still better than almost anything else you’ll ever read.”
46. Gold Fame Citrus, Claire Vaye Watkins
Are you looking to be depressed and read heavy but beautiful prose?
For the two of you who said yes: Weird. Also: Read this book.
47. The Short Drop, Matthew FitzSimmons
Oh, Kindle First books, how I have sort-of-but-not-really missed you. As a mystery, this was kind of a mess, but it wasn’t the worst, if you can get it for free?
48. The Butterfly Garden, Dot Hutchinson
You can tell this is the part of the year where I stopped buying books because I felt bad about all the free Kindle Firsts that were still on my device. Surprisingly, this one was amazing and seriously super duper DUPER fucked up. If that’s your jam (I guess it’s mine?) read it.
49. City of Echoes, Robert Ellis
Kindle First book, I wish I could remember more about you to make a joke, but even your title is so generic I’m drawing a blank. I gave it three stars, so it wasn’t horrific?
50. The Sandman, Volume 3, Neil Gaiman
Clearly, my Amazon shipment of graphic novels arrived, and I dug into a 5-star edition of Sandman and had zero regrets.
51. Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow
The second book that made me miss my 52-book goal for the year (I made the mistake of listening to this on Audible — I definitely read faster than someone could speak — yes, I’m bitter). I loved the book, as dense as it was, but I’m still mad at it for being so damned long.
52. The Sandman, Volume 4, Neil Gaiman
Another 5-star Gaiman story. Marry me, Neil. I know your taken, but can’t we come to an arrangement?
53. The Sandman, Volume 5, Neil Gaiman
You know, back before George R.R. Martin and Ron Chernow fucked up my reading mojo, I was going to exclude graphic novels from my tally, not because I don’t consider them books but because I plow through each one in a day or two. Not so with Sandman, actually. I savor all the art and text so long, it takes as much time as if the words filled the entire page.
54. The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith
If you read my summary last year, you probably remember me waffling on whether I liked or didn’t like the Cormoran Stike series. I listened to this one on Audible because I needed a break after Hamilton’s epic life and I have firmly decided they are awesome.
This year, I’m taking on Book Riot 2017’s Read Harder Challenge again, and I’m also going to Jamaica for 10 days, so except a bunch of really random books I’d never normally read and a bunch of junk smack dab in the middle of the year as I’m lounging in the Caribbean sun.
I would also love your recommendations for what to read for each category of the Read Harder Challenge, to take a look at this list and tell me what books I should read for each category.