2018: A Year in Review

Note: I’m out of pocket during my final residency period at school. I love your comments! But it may take me several days or a week or more to respond.


Happy New Year, friends! Last week you saw my best of the year post, and here we are today with another traditional annual post. (You can see my past years in review here: 2017; 2016; 2015; 2014; 2013; 2012; 2011.)


In 2018, I read a mere 66 books (about on track with last year at 70). This feels like so few! compared to years in which I did more than twice that many. But school, man. It’s hard to do all that reading when I’m schooling as hard as I can too!

Here are the rest of the stats. Of the books I read this year:

  • 70% were nonfiction , 30% fiction. (Last year I read 76% nonfiction.)
  • 53% were written by female authors (50% last year); 41% were by men (40% last year), with the remainder being collections by multiple authors, or variously unidentifiable, or “other.” I am pleased with this subtle shift.
  • I normally analyze the novels I read by genre, but that fiction category is getting slim enough that these numbers get a little less interesting. This year, more than half the fiction I read I categorized as “misc” (plus a handful of short story collections, historical fiction, and thrillers).
  • I listened to a single audiobook this year, and it was a reread. Last year, none. Audiobooks used to be such a big part of my reading life, but again, school. 2019 will be different, though! Especially with all the driving.
  • 49% of my reading this year was assigned for school, which, again, goes toward explaining everything else I see here. There’s a change, though, from last year when 70% of my reading was school! Hm. Progress?
  • I purchased 64% of the books I read, and was sent the rest for review (mostly by the Shelf). This is another change, since I used to take books out from the library and receive them as gifts. I’ve more recently been living in a place without great library service, though, and I have mostly nixed the book gifts! So kind, but so many books and so little time (and space)!

The two years of my MFA program, then, have been rather alike: a much smaller volume of reading than I was accustomed to, and unsurprisingly, largely driven by school. The coming year will be one of great change, though. I expect to be reading more; to be choosing what I get to read (!); and to be reviewing more for Shelf Awareness, for which I am eternally grateful. (For one thing, my new life on the road makes it quite a bit harder for them to get me the galleys I need, and I am so very pleased and humbled that they’re willing to work with me on this.) I expect to be listening to more audiobooks. In many ways, I don’t know what to expect, but I’m so looking forward to it.

Thanks for continuing this journey with me, friends and followers. Here’s to an amazing reading year to come.

What was 2018 like for you as readers? What do you hope the new year holds?

best of 2018: year’s end

Note: I’m out of pocket during my final residency period at school. I love your comments! But it may take me several days or a week or more to respond.


My year-in-review post will be up next week, as usual. But first, also as usual, I want to share the list of my favorite things I read this year. (You can see past years’ best-of lists at this tag.) None of these were audiobooks, but a few were new releases, so I’ve marked those with *.

These three books and one essay got a rating of 10.

And while I gave rather a lot of 9’s this year, I’ve chosen my favorites (from today’s perspective, at least) for you here, for a shorter list.

Bonus: Shelf Awareness’s Best Books of the Year is available at that link, and includes two that I had the good luck to review (Everything Under* and Convenience Store Woman*).

Hooray for good books always! What are some of the best things you read this year?

Come back next week to see a further breakdown of my reading habits in 2018.

traveling

Happy holidays, y’all, and a reminder that I am off and traveling for school – for the last time, my fifth and final residency. I’ll be back in Texas the second week of January, to pick up my dog and my van and carry on down the road. And let you back in on my readings. Again, I’m super fortunate to keep my job reviewing for Shelf Awareness, so you’ll continue seeing those posts. And who knows what else the future holds!

As usual, I’ve got posts scheduled for you in my absence, but comment response time may be a bit slower than normal while I’m away. In fact, there may be a slower new-normal, as I live in a van from here on! Also as usual, thanks for your patience. I hope you have a lovely holiday season & a hopeful new year.

Main Street Theatre presents Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (2018)

My lovely Houston friends – the same ones who rented Rent for us – took me to see the sweetest play at Main Street Theatre. Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley is, of course, a sequel to Pride and Prejudice. It takes place at Pemberley after Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, and Jane and Mr. Bingley, have been married a few years. Jane is pregnant; Lydia is still married (not entirely happily) to Mr. Wickham; and Mary and Kitty are still at home. The entire family is now converging on Pemberley, along with an unexpected guest or two: Mr. Darcy’s unpleasant Aunt de Bourgh has just died, and a distant cousin Arthur de Bourgh will be arriving for Christmas as well, having just inherited.

The Miss Bennet of the title here is Mary, the middle sister, whose life has begun to chafe. She loves to read, study, and practice her pianoforte. No one she knows understands her interest in a life of the mind; and while she loves traveling between the pages of books, she aches for a wider-traveled life in the real world, too. At Pemberley, amidst the giddy happinesses and dramas of her sisters, she wishes for more. And more may be in the cards for her just now, to start the new year…

Romantic? Sweet? Rather predictable? All of these things, yes, but so enjoyable. It’s clever and funny and plays at my emotions adeptly. I think it’s really saying something to tell you that while I saw each plot move, more or less, coming, I was still on the edge of my seat, because I had such sympathy for each character. What can I say. Buying into fictional plots might be a specialty of mine.

I loved every bit of this evening. The clever references to Austen’s original (including the genius line about “a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman in possession of a good fortune…”), the heartfelt acting, the sweetly familiar setting and simple, charming set. I believe Main Street Theatre qualifies as amateur theatre, but it was very professional. Mary’s piano playing was no small accomplishment in itself; no one broke or stumbled over a line for the whole thing; it was excellent all around. Overall, I think this production accomplished everything intended by the play (by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon). It made appropriate reference to the inspired original and made playful use of my emotions. It was at every turn sweet, and (the idea goes) ’tis the season for sweetness. Here’s to the latest Miss Bennet.


Rating: 7 books with blue covers.

movie: Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway (2008)

I first saw Rent when I was in high school. My dad and I traveled to New York City to investigate that city among a few others where we thought I might go to college. He got us tickets to see Rent at the Nederlander Theatre on Broadway. I already knew that I loved musical theatre at that time, but this production really changed something for me. It was the first time that I cried at a stage production or at any piece of art other than a book. The subject matter felt especially meaningful and timely for me, as I had friends still discovering their sexuality and coming out to their parents. It was an event that resonated. I immediately bought the soundtrack and it still makes me cry today, twenty years later.

The friends I am visiting with now expressed an interest, and so we rented this version: a live taping of the final performance of the Broadway production, after a twelve-year run. The actors are almost entirely different (every major role was filled by a different actor in this version, from the one I saw). And I guess I had really invested in the first cast; but I have to say, this one was admirably close to the original, so even someone like me was able to be open to the new. Most cast members were very close in physical details as well as in talent; I was able to settle into this production and feel at home.

It’s still everything I remember, after all these years. Musical theatre does tend toward the theatrical (go figure) expression of emotions, but for the few moments of somewhat self-conscious hand-wringing that I might skip, there is such raw power… and the singing and dancing is amazing. I still find this play to be full of all the love, drama, angst, grief, rage, and passion I found there in the first place. It made me cry, again.

As a production, too, I think it works well – that is, both as a stage production (filmed live, with audience and applause) and as a cinecast. Unlike The Wiz and more like National Theatre Live, the camera angles varied and moved around, working for perspective and providing close-ups as appropriate. I don’t recall noticing that the cinematography in itself was extraordinary (as I often do with NT Live), but it was plenty serviceable. Since the chance to see Broadway’s version of Rent has passed, I’d strongly recommend this version.

It’s interesting to think about the extent to which an experience like this is about that original experience. I was probably 16 years old (maybe 17, but I think 16) sitting in the upper rows of the Nederlander Theatre, far from the stage. The words and lyrics and music and dramatic portrayals, the singing and dancing and kissing, took me so powerfully. I’ll never forget; I’ll also never have the same experience again, but every time I hear a song from Rent or see another production (even the 2005 movie, which I remember finding a disappointment), it refers to that original experience just enough to tap into some of those emotions. Still gets me.

In contrast, I have a friend and fellow writer who strongly dislikes Rent. He calls it a singing telegram to AIDS. Dave’s a few years younger than me, and I believe has never seen it live. I’d like to dismiss his opinion on these counts, but think I should give him a little more credit than that. Dave’s also a gay man, and some part of me feels I should defer to his opinion as being a part of a certain demographic – the play is about the AIDS crisis and has more queer characters than cis-het ones. (Another part of me knows that my own opinion & tastes remain worthwhile here.) At any rate I find it interesting, since I respect Dave’s approach to art and we often share interests and tastes. I wonder if he had gotten to see the play live at age 16 how it would have affected him… Then again, maybe the concern is that this is too serious an issue to get all song-and-dance about. That would be a position worth considering.

Local issues aside, Rent remains an important part of my personal understanding of art and value. I’m still hooked. Keep singing.


Rating: 8 samples that won’t delay, for its value in my personal mythology.

my favorite craft books

As we approach the time of year when I usually do lists, I was inspired to add this one, when a dear friend from my MFA program asked me for craft book recommendations in particular. (Abby is usually a fiction writer but is entering her cross-genre semester in nonfiction, so a special emphasis there.) Another dear friend from my MFA program, Okey, used to enjoy this blog and said he especially looked here for craft recommendations. (We lost Okey after this past summer’s residency, unexpectedly, and we are all still reeling. If you haven’t already, please consider this scholarship in his name. It’s a great cause in the name of diversity and inclusivity.)

So. Here’s a list in two tiers, followed by a link to all the craft books I’ve read. Keep in mind that these are the books that have worked best for me, and your mileage may vary. I put a * next to the ones for nonfiction in particular, for Abby and for anyone else who may be interested.

Very favorites, in no particular order:

Well loved, in no particular order:

And, click here to see all books with this tag, which will include titles not listed here.

Thanks for stopping by, as always. Was this list helpful for you? Is there another list you’d like to see me work on? (In the past I’ve done movies, children’s books, audio favorites, science books, LGBTQ…) Let me know, and maybe I’ll put one together!

vocabulary lessons: Many Circles by Albert Goldbarth

It has been a long time since I’ve done a vocabulary lessons post, but here we are. I had to share this one because Goldbarth made me look up more words than usual! Here they are in context: words new to me, words vaguely familiar but that I couldn’t quite place, and one I’ve looked up at least four times in six months but just can’t seem to learn.

“We say it like anyone else – in part because our death is bonded into us meiotically, from before there was marrow or myelin, and we know it, even as infants our scream is for more than the teat.”

In a list of junktique objects: “The thimbling netsukes.”

Of da Vinci, quoting in part another writer: “‘Qualities which seem mutually exclusive are combined in him’ most miscibly: ‘the world revealed itself in all its inexhaustiable riches.'”

“There, on the beach, and fitting [Rachel Carson’s] morning’s diligence to the shape of the chambered nautilus, the Spirula, the knobbed whelk, the moon snail making its gelid way, the lightning whelk, the tulip shell, the pink conch, the horse conch, the embryo of the nudibranch, the umbilicus-shell of the Sundial of Taiwan.”

“I sing of the ‘spirals at the Maltese temple of Tarxien’ and ‘those on a stele from one of the Shaft Graces as Mycenaue, c. 1650 B.C.'”

“The green spring wound in the cotyledons.”

“I sing for his phylacteries.”

“A bud vase sprouts a jonquil.”

“Our sleek weed-whackers take us just so far, and not a single deviant, thunder-roughed, heirophantic molecule over the line.”

“Desiderio Kansal remembered climbing the pyramid steps to the temple of Kulkulcan and, by his candleflicker, witnessing Augustus in a hieratic mutter in front of an earthen vessel, ‘the kind the ancient ones used in burning incense before their gods.'”

“Even the desktop humidor is expansive, it could coddle a couple of preemies, and its lid is ivory and cloisonné fretted into a Byzantine pattern.” (I know for certain I looked this up twice just in the course of reading Useful Phrases for Immigrants. The other source I can’t recall.)

“In a world in which the smoking of even cigarettes by the distaff sex was rigorously taboo (and, under New York’s ‘Sullivan Ordinance,’ illegal) Amy Lowell was famous for publicly and profusely puffing away on her trademark Manila cigars.”

“…his eyes switch from a lovely bronze-and-polished-rosewood orrery on his desk, to the study door.”

“The question deliquesces away at the edges of thought, leaving only a residue that frustrates us.”

A fitting place to end, that question deliquescing! And if that doesn’t give you a taste of Goldbarth’s often exhausting style, I don’t know what does! These lines, of course, were often a little obtuse or complicated (and not just in their vocabulary); he’s not nearly so bad as this seems out of context. He’s wonderful, but not easy.

What have you read recently that’s challenged you?

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