Reader’s Journal: Our Endless Numbered Days

Our Endless Numbered DaysWhat am I going to tell you about Claire Fuller’s beautiful, heartbreaking debut novel Our Endless Numbered Days, which won the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize for most prestigious first-time novelists? My first five-star read of 2015, it feels like one of those books that defies reviewing. It’s deep. It’s haunting. It’s pretty. It’s enraging. All these things.

In 1976, when she is eight years old, Peggy Hamilton is taken from her London home by her father, James. Up until that time she has lived a relatively normal life as the only child of two somewhat eccentric parents, her aforementioned father James, who does not work but instead obsesses about the end of the world, and her mother, Ute Bischoff, a famous German concert pianist. Peggy goes to school. She has a best friend named Becky. She is attached to her BBC recording of Edith Nesbit’s The Railway Children, and even at the age of eight still sometimes relies on her doll Phyllis for company. She loves Ute, but her mother is also larger than life, and is not willing to share that most vital part of her–the piano–with Peggy. Her father belongs to the North London Retreaters, a group of men who gather to drink (heavily) and discuss the best ways to survive the end of days, whether from nuclear apocalypse or some natural disaster. James seems to take things seriously, going so far as to build a shelter underneath their house and outfit it with food and supplies, putting Peggy through regular drills (of which Ute wants no part) where she has only minutes to pack her rucksack and report to the shelter, where at the end of the drill her father inspects the items she has chosen to bring along.

Things seem normal enough. Like any eight-year-old child, Peggy is both fascinated and confused by her parents and their friends. She stays up late to spy on their parties, to listen to the long arguments the men maintain over the best survivalist techniques. She senses a strain between her father and Ute, but through everything she maintains her version of normal, until Ute leaves to go on a two-week concert tour. During those weeks Peggy begins to spend more time outside her normal routine and camping out with her father in the garden. She tells the school her mother has died. More time passes and still Ute does not return. And then Peggy awakens one morning to her father’s sharp whistle. He tells her to pack her things. It’s time to go. He’s promised her a holiday.

He takes her across the Channel and deep into the continent. They are going to a place called “die Hütte,” a place Peggy heard her father and his friends (especially one in particular, named Oliver Hannington) discussing during their late nights. She imagines the place to be something from a fairytale. She is wrong, but not long after they arrive there, her father tells her the world has ended, and that they are the only people left in the world, and nothing exists beyond what he calls the “Great Divide,” referring to the world on the other side of the mountains that surround their valley.

We hear the story directly from seventeen-year-old Peggy, who alternates between her time in die Hütte with her father and present day London where she is back in Ute’s house. In their exile, Peggy and her father struggle to survive. In the woods, they become not Peggy and James, but Papa and Punzel. They have not brought enough food; they have not brought the right supplies; and die Hutte is not equipped as promised. The threat of freezing or starving to death is always an issue. Yet Peggy offers her audience many, many moments of great beauty and grace, such as when Papa teaches her to play the piano with the one book of sheet music he has taken from home, Franz Liszt’s “La Campanella.” He builds her a wooden piano and she learns to sing the notes. She makes up a narrative to guide her through the music:

When I played, my father would sometimes sing the bass line while I was the bell, or the bird; one of us sang the treble clef with the other joining in on the high notes to create the chords. By page six, the bird was joined by a cat, and the fluttering became more desperate. The bird circled higher and higher, trying to escape the open maw that followed its flurries at the window. When the bird tired and swooped too low, the cat jumped, feathers were lost, and I despaired for the creature. In the final refrain, as if sounding an alarm call, the bird began to fight back. The animal I had taken for a sparrow or wren became a fiercer creature, showing its talons and curved beak so that fur flew as well as the feathers.

While Peggy/Punzel loves her father, and while she comes to love things about the woods and she begins to forget her old life, she always has a real sense of danger. And while much of the danger is very real–she is afraid of water, for example, and cannot swim–she knows something else is off kilter. But she has only her Papa to rely upon, and so she makes what life she can.

It wasn’t until well after I had finished Our Endless Numbered Days that I began to associate it with another beautiful, yet also tragic and disturbing book, Bonnie Nadzam’s Lamb. In both books, a man abducts a girl (because yes, even though James is Peggy’s father, what he does is abduction, stealing her away from her life and other family) for incredibly complex reasons of his own and takes her away to a solitary place, where he feels in control, not just of the girl but of something bigger: life, maybe. And like David Lamb, Peggy is an unreliable narrator, not just because she is a child, but because she is in a sense broken forever by being taken away. No doubt about it, what happens to Peggy is clear-cut child abuse. For me, this was the most difficult thing about the book. I had very little empathy for James (although I did have a strange empathy for David Lamb, but I wonder if I would have had the story been told from the girl’s point of view). Aside from the abduction, even in real life, I have no patience for survivalist types. While so many readers (and movie fans) found Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild tragic and romantic—promising young man yearns for more authentic way of life, so gives up all worldly possessions and hits the open road—I saw someone who was quite possibly mentally ill and breaking down. That’s also what the reader sees in James/Papa, no matter how Peggy presents him. And while he cares for as best he can, he is also prone to mood swings, and we know always what he has done to her—and to Ute.

Yet this is still Peggy’s story, and she must be allowed to tell it in her own way. We will never really know what she endured in the woods. It’s the beauty of Fuller’s writing that makes this book so difficult to put down. This novel is so remarkable for a debut, and the author was 47 when it was published, which just goes to show that not every talented, promising writer is under 25 (or 30). And on that note, let’s have some music.

Reader’s Journal: Brilliance

Brilliance (Brilliance Saga, #1)I’m not going to lie to you. I bought Marcus Sakey’s Brilliance because I heard that Gillian Flynn liked it a couple of years ago. And even after hearing that Gillian Flynn recommended it, I didn’t buy it right away. I waited until it was $1.99 on Kindle and thought, “Might as well.” It took me more than two years to get around to reading it, even with people heaping praise on it left and right. And now here I am, ready to heap praise.

Nick Cooper is an agent in the Equitable Services division of the Department of Analysis and Response. Beginning in 1980, large groups of children with abnormally high intelligence were born, a trend that continued to increase over the following decades. At first thought to be a benefit, these brilliants begin to manipulate systems created by normal people, who start to see them as threat. After a brilliant takes over the stock market and causes global financial systems to collapse, the divide between normal people and abnorms, as the brilliants become known, begins to grow.

Defending national security, Cooper hunts abnorms for Equitable Services. The thing is, Cooper himself an abnorm. A series of deadly events cause him to go underground to hunt the abnorm terrorist the agency believes is behind a series of escalating attacks, but in the process, Cooper learns some difficult truths about the abnorm movement that make him call into question just who the good guys are and where his loyalties really lay.

I don’t know what it was about this book, but I could not put it down. At first, it bothered me because while Sakey is a solid writer, he also uses some tired techniques and tropes that typically irritate me enough to put a book down. For example, why do so many thriller writers use characters’ full names, even after they’ve been introduced multiple times, or even been referred to by a single name in a preceding sentence or paragraph? Example:

He went looking for Valerie West—there’d been no need to snap at her that way, especially when it sounded like she had something—and found the whole team together and frenetic…Luisa Abrahams leaned over her shoulder, talking fast into the phone. Bobby Quinn, bulky with a vest, was checking the load on his weapon.

This is on page 106, people. The reader has already been introduced to these characters a dozen times. Just a couple of pages before, they were simply “Valerie” and “Luisa.”

And then there are the sections in italics, to show that Nick Cooper (see what I did there?) is talking to himself. This isn’t terrible, but Sakey often starts these sections mid-sentence, like so:

About six foot, long hair, and a black t-shirt, a shotgun in his hand, the barrel swinging and—

Shotguns are bad news; the wide spread of buckshot cuts down your edge.

But the holes in the door were small, fist-size.

He’s firing double- or even triple-ought shells. Call it six nine-millimeter pellets in each. Incredibly lethal, but intended for tactical operations, which means a full choke in the barrel for precision. The lead will only spread about eighteen inches over fifty yards.

And he’s not even ten feet away.

—his finger tightening on the trigger, and Cooper stepped sideways ten inches as a blast of fire bloomed from the barrel  of the shotgun and the metal shards hurtled through the space he had been standing in.

A little annoying, but as the pages fly by (and they do fly, for the pacing is absolutely spot-on) you get used to it. The only other thing was that when it comes to sex, it’s like Sakey turns into a sixteen-year-old boy writing a letter to Penthouse. For example, he actually uses the phrase “he rode her.” No joke. So just…yeah.

But purple prose and annoying tics aside, Brilliance really is a hell of a story. I should mention that Sakey doesn’t make Cooper go through all this alone—he gives him an abnorm counterpoint, a woman named Shannon, and Sakey creates just the right chemistry between these two characters: they compete, they bicker, they joke, and while they don’t completely trust each other, they need each other. And so even though he can seem silly and sexist, I give Sakey credit for creating Shannon, because she’s likable and strong in her own right, and Cooper really does admire her.

So I’m a little all over the place and not heaping quite as much praise as I thought, but really, trust me: If you’re looking for a page-turner (and a trilogy, because this is book one) and you like thrillers and/or dystopian fiction, you cannot go wrong with Brilliance. I give it four solid stars.

If Books Were Wishes: 10 Recent Adds to the TBR

For today’s Top Ten (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish), we’ve all been asked to list the top ten recent additions to our TBR queue. Now I don’t know about you, but I have two TBR queues, really: one for books I want to read, and one for books I own, but because I don’t automatically read books as I buy them (because that would just make sense), today I’m going with a sample of books I recently added to my wishlist over the last couple of months. Some of those books were in my Top Ten post last week (2015 books I missed), so I’m not going to repeat those here. Instead, you get a fresh, shiny new list! I’ve compiled these from my Goodreads To-Read list and my Amazon Wishlist. (I’m slowly trying to move my wishlist over to Goodreads, but there are over 400 books on that list, so…yeah.)

Girl Waits with GunGirl Waits with Gun, Amy Stewart. I’ve heard so many great things about this book, and I find the description really charming. “Constance Kopp doesn’t quite fit the mold. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters into hiding fifteen years ago. One day a belligerent and powerful silk factory owner runs down their buggy, and a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their family farm. When the sheriff enlists her help in convicting the men, Constance is forced to confront her past and defend her family — and she does it in a way that few women of 1914 would have dared.”

DocDoc, Mary Doria Russell. Because you all know I am a sucker for Westerns. I can’t believe I didn’t know anything about this book (or its follow-up, Epitaph) until a week ago. “Born to the life of a Southern gentleman, Dr. John Henry Holliday arrives on the Texas frontier hoping that the dry air and sunshine of the West will restore him to health. Soon, with few job prospects, Doc Holliday is gambling professionally with his partner, Mária Katarina Harony, a high-strung, classically educated Hungarian whore. In search of high-stakes poker, the couple hits the saloons of Dodge City. And that is where the unlikely friendship of Doc Holliday and a fearless lawman named Wyatt Earp begins–before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral links their names forever in American frontier mythology when neither man wanted fame or deserved notoriety.”

The Kind Worth KillingThe Kind Worth Killing, Peter Swanson. Got to have a great thriller on the list! It amazes me that ten years ago, I never would have even looked at some of the books that have become favorites of mine, just because they weren’t “literary fiction.” “On a night flight from London to Boston, Ted Severson meets the mysterious Lily Kintner. Sharing one too many martinis, the strangers begin to play a game of truth, revealing intimate details about themselves. Ted talks about his marriage and his wife Miranda, who he’s sure is cheating on him. But their game turns dark when Ted jokes that he could kill Miranda for what she’s done. Lily, without missing a beat, says calmly, ‘I’d like to help.'”

Crossing to SafetyCrossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner. I own Angle of Repose and read about a third of it many years ago. I don’t know why I put it down, but I’d love to read both of these books this year. “Called a ‘magnificently crafted story . . . brimming with wisdom’ by Howard Frank Mosher in The Washington Post Book World, Crossing to Safety has, since its publication in 1987, established itself as one of the greatest and most cherished American novels of the twentieth century. Tracing the lives, loves, and aspirations of two couples who move between Vermont and Wisconsin, it is a work of quiet majesty, deep compassion, and powerful insight into the alchemy of friendship and marriage.”

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike, #2)The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling). I read The Cuckoo’s Calling in December and enjoyed it so much that I added this and Career of Evil to the TBR instantly. Fun fact: that was my first Rowling. Does it count? “When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days—as he has done before—and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.”


The Tsar of Love and TechnoThe Tsar of Love and Techno, Anthony Marra. This could have easily gone on last week’s list, too. I haven’t heard a bad word about it, and I’ve also had his novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, on my TBR since it was published. Oy. ” A 1930s Soviet censor painstakingly corrects offending photographs, deep underneath Leningrad, bewitched by the image of a disgraced prima ballerina. A chorus of women recount their stories and those of their grandmothers, former gulag prisoners who settled their Siberian mining town. Two pairs of brothers share a fierce, protective love. Young men across the former USSR face violence at home and in the military. And great sacrifices are made in the name of an oil landscape unremarkable except for the almost incomprehensibly peaceful past it depicts.”

Days of AweDays of Awe, Lauren Fox. Honestly, from the description, this doesn’t sound like a book I would pick, because it seems justthisside of chick lit. I’ve read so many compelling reviews, though, I thought I should give it a chance. “Only a year ago Isabel Moore was married, the object of adoration of her ten-year-old daughter, and thought she knew everything about her wild, extravagant, beloved best friend, Josie. But in that one short year: her husband moved out and rented his own apartment; her daughter grew into a moody insomniac; and Josie — impulsive, funny, secretive Josie — was killed behind the wheel in a single-car accident. As Isabel tries to make sense of this shattering loss and unravel the months leading up to Josie’s death, she comes to understand the shifts, large and small, that can upend a friendship and an entire life.”

OreoOreo, Fran Ross. I had never heard of this re-issued novel (originally published in the early 1970s) until I saw it on the Tournament of Books list. I’m interested because it was written so close to both the Civil Rights and the Women’s Rights movements, but then is also written to recall Greek mythology. “Oreo is raised by her maternal grandparents in Philadelphia. Her black mother tours with a theatrical troupe, and her Jewish deadbeat dad disappeared when she was an infant, leaving behind a mysterious note that triggers her quest to find him. What ensues is a playful, modernized parody of the classical odyssey of Theseus with a feminist twist, immersed in seventies pop culture, and mixing standard English, black vernacular, and Yiddish with wisecracking aplomb. Oreo, our young hero, navigates the labyrinth of sound studios and brothels and subway tunnels in Manhattan, seeking to claim her birthright while unwittingly experiencing and triggering a mythic journey of self-discovery like no other.”

Watch Me GoWatch Me Go, Mark Wisniewski. Some modern noir for the list. “Douglas “Deesh” Sharp has managed to stay out of trouble living in the Bronx, paying his rent by hauling junk for cash. But on the morning Deesh and two pals head upstate to dispose of a sealed oil drum whose contents smell and weigh enough to contain a human corpse, he becomes mixed up in a serious crime. When his plans for escape spiral terribly out of control, Deesh quickly finds himself a victim of betrayal—and the prime suspect in the murders of three white men. When Jan, a young jockey from the gritty underworld of the Finger Lakes racetrack breaks her silence about gambling and organized crime, Deesh learns how the story of her past might, against all odds, free him from a life behind bars.”

The Sparrow (The Sparrow, #1)The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell. Yes, another book from Russell, but this one completely different. I have heard so many people sing this book’s praises that I decided I have to find out what it’s all about. Of everything on this list, this is the one I am most likely to request at the library in April, after my three-month exile. “In 2019, humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post in Puerto Rico picks up exquisite singing from a planet that will come to be known as Rakhat. While United Nations diplomats endlessly debate a possible first contact mission, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an eight-person scientific expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question what it means to be human.”

Your turn! Have you read any of these books? Do you have any of them on your TBR—or will you be adding them now? Happy reading!

Reader’s Journal: A Brief History of Seven Killings

A Brief History of Seven KillingsI’m sorry to say that Marlon James’s Man-Booker Prize winning novel A Brief History of Seven Killings is my first DNF of the year.  I got all the way to page 314 (with lots of skimming) before giving up the ghost.

On the one hand, James is a fantastic writer, and the book’s premise—an imaginary, close look at the people and events surrounding the very real 1976 assassination attempt on Bob Marley in Kingston, Jamaica—is fascinating. On the other hand, when you first open the book you’re provided with a long list of characters. Typically this doesn’t bother me at all, but in this novel, the continuous switching between points of view of that long list of characters kept me at a distance. Added to that, several characters speak in the local patois. James is a skilled and sure enough writer that every single one of those characters sounds absolutely unique, but in some ways that makes it all the more difficult to pick up the rhythms of speech and slang. Beyond that, characters are sometimes high and riddled with adrenaline and relaying action through stream of consciousness or even as a form of rap. Instead of making me feel more immersed in the story, all of this just distanced me from it. I felt too aware of the writing to be aware of the story, and while I connected with some of the characters (Papa Lo, Nina Burgess, Josey Wales), others left me feeling flat (Bam-Bam, Barry DiFlorio), or just annoyed (Alex Pierce).

One thing that made me keep reading as long as I did was that James made me feel Kingston, Jamaica. I’ve never wanted to go there—I have trouble with the idea of exploiting a place for its beauty when there is so much poverty—but that doesn’t mean I am not keen to learn about what it’s like beyond the fences of whatever all-inclusive resorts most people visit or beyond the typical college student’s idea of beach shacks and Rasta and reggae music. James presents a vivid portrait of the city through many different view points, and the place comes alive from the ghettos to the high rises built by Americans and Europeans.

One reason I wanted to read A Brief History of Seven Killings was that I’d seen it compared favorably to The Wire (one of the best television shows of all time, in my humble opinion) in several reviews. It’s an apt comparison, because they are both complex, many layered stories with a large cast of characters, but also because James’s novel is cinematic. This is the rare novel I think would work better as an HBO mini-series than it does as a written narrative. The ability to see and hear the characters directly would, at least for me, remove some of the distance I felt from the story because I could focus more on the complex characters and intriguing story. I feel weird saying that because a common gripe of mine when it comes to reviews is that everyone (even me) talks about plot or if they like the characters, but very seldom do they talk about the writing  all the way down to the sentence level. And don’t get me wrong, James is a skillful and talented writer, but for me, the writing got in the way, and was ultimately what made me decide to put the book down. Here’s hoping that David Simon is looking for material for a new show…

Top Ten Books I Missed in 2015

When I first started putting together this list of the books I missed in 2015, I thought I’d find it difficult to list ten. To my surprise, my list goes into the teens, especially if I include non-fiction (such as Ta-nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me) and books that are part of series but too far down the line for me (like Robert Galbraith’s Career of Evil, which I can’t—or won’t—pick up until I’ve read The Silkworm). Looks like I have some catching up to do…someday.  Following are my top ten unread works of fiction released in 2015 (clicking the book cover image will take you to the Goodreads page for that book). I own the first two, and the third is on hold at the library, so with any luck, I’ll get to them this year. For the remaining seven books, it’s all the luck of the draw. What books did you miss in 2015? Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.

Our Endless Numbered Days

Undermajordomo Minor

A Little Life

Circling the Sun

Fates and Furies

Mothers, Tell Your Daughters

The Mark and the Void

A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories

Gold Fame Citrus


Reader’s Journal: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the TrainMy first book of the year for 2015 was going to be The Girl on the Train. I had pre-ordered it in the fall of 2014 in great anticipation because it was getting such terrific early notices. This was before all the (highly inaccurate) Gone Girl comparisons. Taken alone, the book’s description sounded interesting. Taken alone, the book is actually pretty good, something I had to wait until now to find out.

By the beginning of January 2015, it seemed that everyone was reading/had read this book, and most of the reviews were raves. By the end of January, the backlash had already started, and most of the reviews were duds. I decided to wait for the air to (mostly) clear. I’m glad I did.

I’ll admit that I originally gave The Girl on the Train an enthusiastic four stars right after I finished reading it. I was pleasantly surprised by the novel, but I think I also felt a bit defensive, because someone else in my feed on the same day gave it two stars and called it a dud…yet again, in comparison to Gone Girl. Let’s go ahead and set the record straight: The Girl on the Train isn’t anything like Gone Girl. Every book with an unreliable narrator (and there are plenty of them—for example, Michelle Huneven’s Blame, about a woman who blacks out and wakes up in jail only to learn that she’s killed two people in an accident of which she has no memory…and then years later learns the truth) isn’t Gone Girl, doesn’t have to be Gone Girl. Every female writing a thriller doesn’t have to try to be Gillian Flynn. That they might want to be Gillian Flynn is another issue for another time, but honestly, I don’t think Paula Hawkins wants to be. Her book is her own.

Rachel Watson is 34. She has a serious drinking problem. She’s lost everything in her life that mattered to her, including her husband Tom. Riding the train into London every morning and evening, she catches a glimpse of a couple she calls Jason and Jess. She idealizes their relationship, until one day she sees Jess with another man. And then soon after, Jess—whose real name, Rachel learns, is Megan Hipwell—goes missing, and Rachel suddenly believes she needs to find out what happened to Megan.

To complicate matters, Jess and Jason—or Megan and Scott—live four doors down from where Rachel’s ex-husband Tom lives with his new wife, Anna, and their two-year-old daughter. Rachel still loves Tom, and many of her feelings about Megan and Scott are tied up in her continued obsession over Tom. All of this comes together in interesting ways…at least when the story belongs to Rachel. The book shifts points of view, from Rachel in the present, to Megan in the year leading up to her disappearance, and then back to Anna in the present. If the novel has a weakness, it isn’t so much the shifting POV as the fact that Megan is so uncompelling as a character. As a character, to the reader, she’s dull as hell. What keeps things interesting is that we see the real Megan juxtaposed with the person Rachel imagines her to be, and the same is true of Anna (who also has interesting views on Rachel). Rachel, on the other hand, even though she’s a sad sack, she’s an interesting sad sack. Her bad decisions were frustrating, but I liked her enough to keep rooting for her. I’ll admit, I may have liked her so much because I know Emily Blunt is playing her in the film, and Emily Blunt could be charming just reading the dollar menu at Taco Bell. She’s who I heard and pictured as Rachel, so it will be interesting to see how she brings her to life on screen, and if she stays likable for me (Rachel, that is).

The mystery overall was only okay, but I do think Hawkins did a good job of offering up a lot of possibilities for how things might have gone that keep the reader guessing. The mystery piece relies completely on Rachel’s faulty memories of the past, and sometimes she has nothing more to go on than gut feeling. She’s unreliable and she doesn’t even trust herself. I wasn’t sure how things would go until the last quarter of the book, but then I’m also not someone who likes to guess. In this case the point was to stick with Rachel and let things unfold as her memories returned, and so I suspended judgement and followed her. This is a pet peeve of mine, people who need to prove they are smarter than the books they read. I always suspend disbelief for as long as possible if the writing is good enough. Otherwise, what’s the point of reading? To criticize?

If anything, The Girl on the Train reminded me of a really, really dark Bridget Jones’ Diary, if Bridget’s drinking had got out of control and she’d lost Mark Darcy to another woman and had a mystery to solve. After a few days, my view has tempered somewhat, and I have knocked my rating down from four stars to three. All in all, I found The Girl on the Train to be a well-paced, solidly entertaining novel with a compelling main character. I’m looking forward to see what they do with the movie.

2015: Favorite Books and Year in Review

Where did the time go? How is tomorrow the last day of the year? I’m sure that I am not the only person who feels this way, but the last few months especially just seemed to fly past. The weird warm weather isn’t helping, either. In some ways I am completely baffled that we’re at years end, and in others I’m confounded that it’s not already March 2016. Oh well, neither here nor there.

I had such high hopes for reading and blogging in 2015, and they mostly did not come to pass. For one thing, I only read 32 books. That’s got to be a new low. (Except it isn’t—I only read 32 books last year, too. WHAT? Serious 2015 resolution fails. Yowza.) The truth is, though, I spent a lot of the time I could have been reading doing other things (cough*Internet*cough). Seriously, I really did waste a spectacular amount of time on the Internet this year. I wouldn’t mind that so much if it meant I had been writing reviews or commenting on blogs I enjoy. But no. Instead, I spent most of my time looking at Twitter and feeling anywhere from slightly to completely outraged by any number of things. My second biggest time-waster was Facebook, which I never liked much but has in the last year turned into meme spam factory. I find myself scrolling through all these damn memes just to see real pictures or updates from people. It’s like the Easter egg hunt of the damned.

I joined two challenges (TBR Double Dog Dare and #10BooksofSummer), but only completed the first one. For the TBR Double Dog Dare, I did a great job of reading my own books from January to April, something I’ll probably do again this year even if I don’t join a formal challenge. This is probably the first year since I started blogging that I don’t really want to buy anything. Usually I get some kind of gift card to spend on books and I rush to spend it all before the new year. I have some money to spend but instead this year I’m just putting a bunch of items on my library hold list. I’m tired of buying books and not reading them, and I want to be dedicated about not adding to the stack until I can pare it down some (that was a goal last year, too, so here’s a grain of salt to go along with this statement). I think I’ll save my gift cards for something I know I really want—and for REAL books. If I realized anything this year, it’s how much I enjoy reading physical books. I’m not knocking my e-reader (and I’ve started using Google Play books in addition to the Kindle app), but I spend so much time at a computer (for work) that spending time looking at the paper page has become a relief of sorts.

Even if I only read 32 books this year, I am happy to say that only a few of them were duds (at least for me). I found several new authors to follow (and four new series…why do they have to be series?): Sara Gran, Jeff Vandermeer, Elena Ferrante, Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling. I read three books that have been on my TBR since I started blogging (My Antonia, Cloud Atlas, and Possession). I finally read a book I bought way back when it was published in 2005 (Assassination Vacation).

And so, on to the favorites. Overall, my favorite book of the year was Patti Smith’s M Train, which I did not get a chance to review here, mainly because when I sat down to do so, it felt more like I was trying to write about a personal conversation with a good friend than writing a book review. Smith writes with such earnestness and generosity of spirit about the things she loves or has loved and lost. She loves books, is hopelessly addicted to The Killing, and compulsively watches Law and Order. She becomes obsessed with Haruki Murakami’s The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, ponders the loss of a favorite coat, buys a house, endures Hurricane Sandy. Reading M Train is like reading the journal of a highly artistic and observant person, except that it’s not like a journal at all because she wants you there with her.

My other favorites: Assassination Vacation made me laugh so hard I cried and instantly made me a dedicated Sarah Vowell fan. My Antonia reminded me yet again that simple stories neatly told can often be the most spectacular, and the same can be said of my last book of the year, Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night. Cloud Atlas knocked my socks off, but not in ways I would have expected; I thought it would be very post-modern and intimidating, but instead found it was just plain old-fashioned storytelling from someone with a serious mastery of language and style (and genre). Skippy Dies was a book I loved for its humor and depth, so much so that if I do buy anything it will probably be Paul Murray’s latest, The Mark and The Void. Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend is probably one of the best books I have ever read about the nuances of female friendship. And finally, Annihilation was one of the most unusual books I’ve ever read and makes me grateful yet again that I discovered book blogs, because without them I would still be reading in the same narrow veins of literary fiction.

And then there were the page-turners: Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, Seating Arrangements, Big Little Lies,  The Hand That First Held MineThe Signature of All Things, Into Thin Air, The Son. All in all, I had a great reading year, even if my volumes were low.

And so for 2016, I’m going to challenge myself to read at least 50 books. Some of the things I have lined up (East of Eden, Angle of Repose, An Instance of the Fingerpost) are not exactly small books, but I am feeling confident that with a little dedication (and a little less Internet), 2016 could be an outstanding year for reading. Happy New Year to you all!