My Year in Reading

Stephanie Kent
Dec 7, 2015 · 6 min read

In 2015, I read 22 books. Not bad compared to other humans, I think, who the internet tells me read 12 books per year on average.

Full disclosure: I did not read this many books.

At 12:00:01 this year I was kissing Logan in Los Gatos while the Houserockers played “Uptown Funk” to champagne-drunk Californians, then flew to JFK the next day to shed jet lag and prep for a new job. Instead, I spent the first two days of the year in an emergency room with L., reading Never Let Me Go while he slept and got cured.

So began my first day as a product manager at WSJ on no sleep and the months that followed are a blur of conference calls, colleagues who became friends and good coffee from a place underground; I have never learned so much from a job. I asked around for the best professional development books to help me fake some business acumen and arrived at How to Win Friends and Influence People. Insane how relevant a book from 1936 can be today. Spoiler: We’re simple, love-seeking creatures.

Not long into the year, L. and I hopped on a plane to Trinidad and Tobago to watch beautiful Shanna get married in one of the most love-filled weddings the world will ever see. We all danced to Taylor Swift and there was a leopard print suit and rum. I read Sharp Objects on a white sand beach. Then we stole a quick vacation to Costa Rica and hid out in a hut in the middle of the rainforest on the Osa Peninsula, thanks to Theo. That trip was magic and we surfed and slept in an eco-lodge with screens for windows and it was the opposite of Times Square. Monkey screams or the sunrise in our eyes woke us up every morning, I can’t remember which. The lodge had a lending library and when I finished Girl on the Train I borrowed Cakes and Ale and thought it was funny to read of ruined women and their petticoats while I was in the jungle.

Back in New York, I started a vlog about books and technology. I asked around for great science fiction titles and read Player Piano which starts slow, but I liked the ending and I was reading it while I learned how not to wince at the sound of my voice while editing. At risk of being chased with fire and pitchforks, I disliked Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This might be because I couldn’t seem to get into the audiobook, but I was glad when this book was over.

Call Me Ishmael’s going swimmingly and our many, many calls about The Bell Jar made me curious (also: its killer first sentence), and I saw more of myself in Sylvia’s Plath’s words than I’m really comfortable admitting. The Time Traveler’s Wife is another CMI rec (my copy was loaned from the fabulous Mikka) and was a good mid-summer reminder of the power of creative storytelling.

I spent most of the year in New York City, multitude of work trips absent from my WSJ job. I was wanderlusty, but chose a novel set in New York to read next and started carrying around Let The Great World Spin. Three people stopped me on the subway to tell me it was their favorite (and I don’t know about you, but no one ever talks to me on the subway) and since I finished it, I’ve told two MTA strangers the same. It just captures exactly what it is to be lonely and wonder why we’re here. Also, there’s a sparkle in the sadness in this book and I can’t imagine anyone doesn’t see themself somewhere in its pages.

Guilty pleasure books this year: The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials (more guilt than pleasure), Uprooted (equal parts pleasure and guilt) and Ready Player One (minimal guilt, super pleasure). I thought Beautiful You would be light and silly, but it revealed feminism in a new way and made me want to read the topic further.

I watched Logan’s recent Orson Scott Card binge with curiosity and borrowed Ender’s Game to see what the fuss was about. I boxed approximately 300 days this year and found new mental and strategic things to love about a sport I was frustrated with last winter, and Ender Wiggins’ take on war and battle now echoes in my head when I spar. Likewise, Mark Watney’s absolute refusal to die in The Martian was, for me, a meditation in attitude and grit.

I love Jenna more than most things on earth and bi-coastal buddy-reading Go Set a Watchmen and discussing what the mind can do to childhood memories was a blast. I read the bulk of it in Hawaii among other Kents, and it was an odd beach read, but my copy was sturdy and didn’t get ruined with sand and sea salt.

I thought of my favorite Googler (Negar!) the whole time I read The Circle, but thought of this, my new favorite Eggers piece, many time this year. My wrist is Apple Watch-less, but I admire the device and its profound potential to alter life; Crazed drones running innocent nature-lovers off the road play in my mind whenever I see people send each other heartbeats from their wrists, though. Also this year, I had the great pleasure of working on the launch team for WSJ’s What’s News app, and we should all bow to down to people who are able to make smart, beautiful tech without losing sanity. I love the future.

My near future crept up on me this autumn, and because I was able to correctly name all three of Elon Musk’s companies off the top of my head, I was offered a job at Astrohaus (thanks, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future!). I was also maybe qualified and so excited about the project I practically drooled in the interview.

In my final weeks at WSJ, I bid adieu to the best job perk of all time: the free books table. It was in these stacks that I found Mosquitoland, a book where people help out. My people (and strangers!) showed up in droves to help Call Me Ishmael raise some money to scale up a bit and try new things… Our Kickstarter campaign was funded in just one day and closed with more than double the amount of money we needed. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and eager to repay the favor.

I read Not on Fire, But Burning just a few weeks before the mass shooting in Paris. The book’s about a lot of things — family, mistakes and religion — and it’s set in an America where an attack (maybe terrorist? maybe extraterrestrial?) destroys the Golden Gate Bridge and destroys many people. The novel made me feel scared and then feel compassion and everyone should read it in a year where Boko Haram and ISIS are in the news every day and refugees escaping them have no place to feel safe.

Over Thanksgiving I read Fates and Furies, a simple story about a marriage. A way with words can make simple things endlessly complex, though, and I devoured this book and thought about my life so far. Amanda’s getting married and Brittany’s having a baby and Jesse’s married and this beautiful blue book means nostalgia and life stages to me. I plan to reread it many times.

The best thing I read all year was The Ghost Network. You can hear what I thought about it in this video review, but in short, this book is youth and sex and creativity and commitment to your art and building the kind of world you want to live in.

That was my year in reading.

Stephanie Kent
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