Category Archives: Movies & Books

the books of 22

Thanks to Goodreads, I can report that I read 75 books and 28573 pages in 2022.  That includes some kids books that I read or listened to with the girls.  That’s fewer books than last year but a few more pages.  Interestingly, 2020 is my all-time biggest reading year.  I guess the pandemic was good for something.   In any case, the shortest book I read was The Cay, a kids’ book about castaways I read to B.  The longest book was The Stand by Stephen King.  I never love King but I always like his books.  He’s a great writer, and he’s entertaining, but he just lacks  . . . something  . . . for me.

The most popular book I read was The Midnight Library which I did not love and did not hate.  I don’t recommend it, but it’s not terrible.  The least popular book was Mighty Moe, a running book about a former marathon world record holder, a 13 year old girl.   The girl deserved to have her accomplishments documented, but it wasn’t particularly well written.

The highest rated book I read was Last Witnesses, first person accounts from Soviet children who survived German occupation during WW2.  I strongly recommend it, but it’s not an easy read.

5 star books – adults:

The Secret River by Kate Grenville.  This one is about the interaction of early “settlers” (ie convicts) with native Australians.  High recommended.

In an Instant by Suzanne Redfearn.  This one’s about people who get in an accident in the winter in the snow.  It’s an easy entertaining read, definition of a page-turner.  “This is a great beach read but thought-provoking at the same time. It’s like smoked salmon – extremely tasty but also kind of good for you.”

Last Witnesses by Svetlana Alexievich.  See above.

5 stars books – kids:

I am always easier on kids books.  Perhaps my expectations are lower?  I’m honestly not sure.  I feel like I’m always overrating kids books and giving them all 5 stars.  Or maybe there are just a lot of great kids books.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.  I think I loved this one because it gave a picture of childhood in a time long past.  Also Twain is a very good storyteller and seems to me to be ahead of his time.  I’d love to get his take on 2023.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman.  The girls and I listened to the audiobook, and it was extremely well done.

Watership Down by Richard Adams.  This is a kids book but also an adults book.  I think it’s an ideal book to share with your late-elementary aged kids.  L and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it together.

The Cay by Theodore Taylor.  What can I say – I am a sucker for castaway tales.

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson.  About a boy with anxiety and OCD and agoraphobia.  I loved it.

4 stars – adults

There were an awful lot of fabulous books this year that I just didn’t quite give the 5 star rating too.  All of them are nonetheless excellent reads.  Here are a few that stick out in my mind:

  • Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
  • Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford
  • Bewilderment by Richard Powers (I kind of loved this one.  It stuck with me, and I’m tempted to bump it up to give stars.  “a beautiful book with interesting characters and lots of interesting reflections on the world, the brain, and the universe.”)
  • The Discomfort of Evening  by Marieke Rijneveld
  • Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr (author of All the Light We Cannot See)

The Worst of the Year

  • We Are All the Same In the Dark by Julia Heaberlin – terrible whodunit
  • A Novel Obsession by Caitlin Barasch
  • Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
    • “What makes a great book? Make me laugh, or give me beautiful writing, or keep me in suspense so I can’t put it down without knowing the ending, or just make me relish every page. I don’t need all of those things, but at least one, please.”
  • Survive the Night by Riley Sager
  • Full by Julia Spiro
    • “I found this entire book eye-roll worthy and hopelessly predictable.”

E-reader recommendation

Being an idiot, I somehow lost my Kindle Paperwhite yesterday.  I’m not sure if I left it on the plane or if it fell out of my bag or what, but either way, ug.  In any case, does anyone have an e-reader recommendation?  I loved my older gen Paperwhite, but when it died a couple years ago, I got this one, and I’ve been displeased with it.  It’s slower than my old one, which is surprisingly annoying, and the battery life has been so-so.  Nevertheless, I use it for probably on average an hour every day, and so overall I can’t complain too much.  It’s much better than reading on my phone, for example.

Do you read paper books?  If not, what e-reader do you recommend and why?

good books

How do you choose your books?  I have a bunch of different methods, but I always like to peruse the long and shortlists for the Booker Prize.  The Booker Prize is a prestigious literary award given to a writer who writes in English.  It used to be only for members of the Commonwealth but has since been expanded to the world.  Since the expansion, it’s been disproportionately dominated by Americans.

What I think is interesting is how little variety there is on the list.  The same authors get nominated over and over.  For example, Margaret Atwood was nominated for the Booker Prize for The Handmaid’s TaleCat’s EyeAlias GraceThe Blind Assassin, and The Testaments.  Now, Atwood is an amazing author, and The Blind Assassin is one of the best books I’ve ever read, but I felt The Testaments was mediocre to good.  In no way was it the best book of the year.  Why does the same person win over and over?  Why not mix it up a bit?

On this year’s list, we have NoViolet Balwayo, who has been nominated in past, and Karen Joy Fowler, also nominated in past, Graeme Burnet, nominated in past, and Elizabeth Strout, nominated in past.  In fairness, there are several new authors as well.  I think, though, once you’ve won the Booker once, you should be done.  Give someone else a chance.

I think I feel kind of the same way about people running for president.  If you’ve been a party’s nominee and lost, you should be done.  If you’ve run for your party’s nomination twice and lost, you should be done.  Give someone else a chance!

Book recommendations for the day: The Secret River  by Kate Grenville and The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld.

illustrated children’s books

I have always appreciated a beautifully illustrated full-length children’s book.  I’m not talking about a few color plates here and there, but say, at least half the pages illustrated.  Here are a few we own:

  1. Heidi – one of my personal favorites
  2. Little Women – I actually don’t love this one, but many people do
  3. The Secret Garden – stunning illustrations and of course, a beautiful story
  4. Harry Potter Sorcerer’s Stone – We received this one as a gift, and I think Bri has read it a dozen times.  I just discovered the first five books are all available in this format and purchased the second one.
  5. The Golden Compass – We loved listening to the audiobook together, and Bri seems to have enjoyed reading the illustrated version as well.

Does anyone else have any recommendations for illustrated children’s books?

The year in review: books

I read 77 books this year, about 25 fewer than last year.  My average rating on Goodreads was 3.4, lower than last year’s 3.6.  Was it a great year for reading?  Not really.  But it was a good year.  There were some diamonds in the rough.

The best – 5 star books (according to me):

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“I loved the characters. I loved the flow of the story. And I particularly loved how the author first presents America through the eyes of a Nigerian, then turns around and presents Nigeria through the eyes of someone who is kind of American but also still kind of Nigerian.  Among other things, it made me want to hop on a plane and go visit Lagos.”

26 Marathons: What I’ve Learned About Faith, Identity, Running, and Life From Each Marathon I’ve Run by Meb Keflezighi

“If you enjoy running books, this is a must-read. I’ve read dozens of running books at this point, but this one is one of the exceptional few that really resonate. I read Meb’s last book, Meb for Mortals, and it was good, but not great. This one is great. Meb’s outlook on running and life is just so worthy of emulation. His great attitude, hard work over not just years but decades, and just wonderful personality make him a person to admire. I was so inspired reading about the marathons of his career. His record is really incredible – NY, Boston, bronze and fourth at the Olympics. This is especially incredible considering that he wasn’t really *that* fast compared to the Bekeles and Kipchoges of the world. But he kept showing up and raced strategically, and it paid off for him.”

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

“I honestly believe this book will be lifechanging for me. It is so full of clarity on some of the most difficult points of life – how to age and how to die. It’s almost impossible to consider how to live when you cannot care for yourself – or how to help your most loved ones in that situation. After reading Gawande’s book, I feel much more equipped to handle that eventuality, both for myself and others. Then, the hardest question of all, perhaps, how to die. It’s an unacceptable truth that we all die, or made acceptable only with an unshakeable belief in God and Heaven. Either way, how to manage the last months, weeks and days? Again, I feel better having read this.”

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

“Fantastic read with a lot of relevance both in the United States and also with regard to our relationship with China. I loved the characters in this historical fiction and learning a bit more about Tiananmen Square and the Cultural Revolution.”

5 star books for kids:

The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig

“Esther Hautzig’s family’s life was saved by being deported from Poland in cattle cars to Siberia. Their family, left behind in Poland, were all murdered by the Nazis. This is the fascinating story of Esther’s five years in Siberia as a deportee trying not to starve but also chasing boys and courting her teachers’ approval. The book does not shy from the truth of death but is never sordid and doesn’t dwell on the gruesome. For me, it’s just the right level for a child of 10 or so.”

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Alcevedo

“This was one of the better young adult books I’ve read. It’s theoretically written in poetry; I felt like prose to me, but either way, the writing is beautiful. I listened to the audiobook, and the two narrators were excellent.”

Racso and the Rats of NIMH by Jane Conly

“I loved this as a kid, and now my kids, especially my third grader, love it as well. I think it’s actually much better than Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, though that one is good as well.”

4 star books – all worth reading

My favorites from this list, the ones that stick out in my mind as I review the list of not-quite-fives at the end of the year, are all in bold.

  • Better by Atul Gawande
  • Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
  • Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume
  • The End of October by Lawrence Wright
  • Actress by Anne Enright
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  • Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman
  • What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan
  • The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong (for kids)
  • Complications by Atul Gawande
  • One by One by Ruth Ware
  • The Ultimate Bicycle Owner’s Manual by Eben Weiss
  • The New Wilderness by Diane Cook
  • The Comeback by Daniel de Vise
  • Genome by Matt Ridley
  • Out of Thin Air by Michael Crawley
  • Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
  • The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry
  • A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet
  • Running Home by Katie Arnold
  • Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter
  • Bravey by Alexi Pappas
  • The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald
  • Running for My Life by Lopez Lomong

What was your best read this year?  Or just a book that jumps in your mind when you think about good reads of 2021?