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2017: A Year in Review

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


This is a traditional annual post; you can see my past few years in review here: 2016; 2015; 2014; 2013; 2012; 2011.

For the very *best* books I’ve read this year, see last Friday’s post, best of 2017.


This year was markedly different than any that have come before, because I’ve been a full-time graduate student in creative writing, and my program is fairly reading-heavy. Unsurprisingly, my reading habits have changed a fair amount.

The biggest change: I’m down by nearly half in terms of the number of books I read, at only 70 this year. (There were a handful of individual essays in addition to what I added to the big list of “books read,” but that list also includes a few individual essays.) Of those 70 books:

  • 76% were nonfiction (54% last year), plus a handful of poetry, for less than 20% fiction.
  • an even 50% were written by female authors (40% last year); 40% were by men (51% last year), with the remainder being collections by multiple authors, or variously unidentifiable.*
  • I normally analyze the novels I read by genre, but this is such a small sample size that I’ll just say there was a general smattering of historical fiction, misc. or contemporary fiction, fantasy, drama, and one lonely thriller–a far cry from previous years where thriller/mysteries have been a major component of my fiction reading.
  • I read NO audibooks this year (last year, only 5 books out of 121, but in previous years a significant number).
  • nearly 70% of my reading was assigned for school this year, which I think explains everything else I see here.
  • corollary: the same 70%, almost precisely, I purchased. Another 25% I was sent for review, and those few left over were either sent to me in .pdf form (for school), or already owned. This is a big change, again, from last year, when 80% of the books I read, I read for paid reviews.
  • again, the big one: I read 70 books this year, compared to 121 last year.

I am unsurprised that there are big changes, but I certainly hadn’t realizes how relatively few books I’d read this year. And to think it nearly made my brain explode all the same! I guess that’s just an indicator of how much brainpower (stress, angst, energy, time) went into writing–something not obvious to you, my faithful readers here, I’m afraid. I am ready to share very little of what I write for school with audiences outside that small trusted circle (my faculty advisor, a few classmates). It’s a tender time, and I appreciate your patience.

I’m glad that I’m doing better at reading male and female authors* in more-or-less equal numbers, and I’m glad to be reading a lot of nonfiction, although I confess at this point–overwhelmingly skewed in the nonfictional direction–I do miss the ease and joy of fiction. I also find novels so much easier to review (partly because of all that brainpower already working for school), and I’m going to try to keep that in mind when requesting books for review from the Shelf.

In 2018, I’m afraid we should all expect more of the same trends… I’m entering the third semester of my MFA program, which is the critical essay semester, which means critical writing about my reading, ad nauseum… we’ll see if I can pull it all off! It’s head-above-water time these days. In fact, it occurs to me as I write this that I may have to consider a further slackening of the pace here at pagesofjulia. I’m in the final year of school. How would you all feel about seeing me even less?

And what did 2017 hold for you, and what do you see looming ahead? I’m always glad to hear from you, even if I have little time to respond.

As 2017 closes, I wish us all calm, relaxed, pleasurable, entertaining, enlightening, and inspiring reading lives (maybe not all at once!) and I’m glad to have you here. Love.


*I need to work on this label for the sake of non-gender-conforming or non-gender-binary values, which I support, but I guess I’m still mulling over how to represent this while maintaining the point, which I think is to recognize that I’m not reading only dudes, or that I’m trying not to.

best of 2017: year’s end

Note: I’m out of pocket during my 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.

Not as usual: none were audiobooks, because I read no audiobooks this year. Few of these are new releases (they are marked with an asterisk*).

I gave a single rating of 10, late in the game, to an essay I’ve read over and over, and it keeps getting better every time. I still have not written about this essay. I still think you should go into it blind.

  • “The Fourth State of Matter,” Jo Ann Beard – nonfiction

I’ve refrained from going back and changing any ratings that I gave at the time; but I have split the books that I rated 9 into two groups, as I judge them now. This list is overwhelmingly nonfiction, since that is most of what I’ve been reading this year.

So. The top three which received ratings of 9, are:

The rest of my 9-ratings, all wonderful reads:

I gave plenty of 8s–too many, perhaps–and I’ve gone through and compiled you a slightly shorter list of my favorites from those books.

I hope this lengthy list gives you some good ideas for your own reading! What are some of the best books you’ve read this year?

Come back next week to see a further breakdown of my reading habits in 2017, what’s changed and what’s a surprise. Happy holidays and happy reading, friends.

best of semester 1

Today I am traveling north and east to West Virginia for the residency that begins my second semester in WVWC’s MFA program. All semester, I’ve been posting reviews of the books I read for school (along with the odd Shelf Awareness review). So, you’ve been seeing these books as they come; but I wanted to make a note, for your information and my own records, of what I loved most this semester. As always, these are only my personal reactions.

The best (and most useful to me) craft books I read were

I had less success with The Art of Subtext, The Situation and the Story, and The Art of Attention (which I did not finish and therefore did not review). In fact, I’m beginning to fear that Graywolf’s The Art of series is not for me (recall also The Art of History), which is a shame, because I’m generally a fan of Graywolf Press, and I love the idea of these succinct pocket-sized craft books.

The memoirs/essay collections I loved most, and found most useful, were

I hadn’t realized until I made this list that five of these six books were written by women. Interesting, and perhaps not surprising.

What I am able to take from these talented writers and make my own is another question. Having reviewed books for a number of years now (see my first review for Shelf Awareness!), I feel fairly comfortable pointing to what I appreciate, and articulating why. (Most of the time.) But making it my own, that’s a newer challenge I’m still working to master.

And so, into semester 2.

2016: A Year in Review

This is a traditional annual post; you can see my past few years in review here: 2015; 2014; 2013; 2012; 2011.


This is an interesting review, since things will be changing quite a bit in 2016. Actually, I can see them changing as I look back, too. Of the 121 books I read in 2016:

  • 54% were nonfiction (50% last year)
  • 54% were written by male authors (not the same 54%, though!); 40% were by women, with a handful being collections or by authors of unknown genders. (last year, 51% were by men)
  • of the 55 novels I read, 27% were historical fiction, 18% were contemporary, and 11% were thrillers. Other categories included short stories, noir, classics and mysteries. (Last year 24% were historical fiction, 19% were mysteries, and a whopping 40% I classified as “misc fiction.” This year I tried to do away with that nebulous “misc,” and you see contemporary fiction showing up as a big one.)
  • only 5 books out of 121 were audiobooks (about the same percentage from last year)
  • 80% of the books I read, I read for paid reviews. another 11% I owned, and just a handful were borrowed or gifted to me, or taken from the library. (Last year, 12% of the books I read came from the library, 9% I owned, and 79% were for assigned reviews. I borrowed one.)
  • I read 121 books this year, compared to 150 last year.

For the very *best* books I’ve read this year, see yesterday’s post, best of 2016.

So, what’s changed? I read fewer books this year by a noticeable margin. That’s a little misleading, though, since I also reviewed 8 lit journals (and read more that I didn’t bother to write up), as well as some miscellaneous essays, short stories and poems; and perhaps most significantly, I did more of my own writing, including taking two university courses in creative writing. My energies were a little divided. And gosh knows that’s the trend that we’ll see continue in 2017. My tastes in terms of fiction vs. nonfiction haven’t changed: I lean slightly towards nonfiction, as I should since that’s what I’m trying to write. The steady decline in audiobooks & books from the library reflects the shift I made two years ago toward more and more paid reviews.

I expect you’ll see me read even fewer books in 2017, but hopefully with greater focus. I’ll still be reviewing for the Shelf, but far less often. What else the future holds I can’t see from here; but I hope you’ll stick around with me so we can find out together.

I know we will all be glad to see the back side of 2016 tomorrow night. I wish you the happiest of new years.

best of 2016: year’s end

My year-in-review post will be up tomorrow. But first… I always like to list my favorite books I’ve read in the closing year. As in the past, these are not necessarily new publications, although several are. Without further ado:

I rated just one book with a 10, so the best book that I read in 2016 was

I gave several a rating of 9:

There were, happily, as ever, lots of 8’s. Special mentions go to:

I also voted this year for The National Book Critics Circle Awards. Five for fiction: Smoke, Lily and the Octopus, The Wangs vs. the World, A Robot in the Garden, and The Throwback Special; and five for nonfiction: Joe Gould’s Teeth, Bellevue, Detroit Hustle, Gods, Wasps & Stranglers… and, for that final slot, I struggled between four titles and settled on The Song Poet. (Runners up were The Girls in My Town, Every Last Tie, and The Narrow Door.) I skipped the categories for poetry, criticism, biography, and autobiography, where I didn’t feel I’d read much.

Finally, I wouldn’t want you to miss Shelf Awareness’s best of list. You’ll notice one nonfiction and four fiction titles that cross over from that list to this blog post (or vice versa).

It’s been another amazing year, and I can’t wait to see what 2017 holds. Thanks for coming around again, friends.

best movies of 2015

I am as surprised as anyone to see that I reviewed fifteen movies in 2015. For me, this is a lot. We are not a big movie-watching family: Husband can’t sit still that long. So I thought I’d put up a new kind of best-of post, in honor of some great films I saw this year.

I gave one movie a 10 this year, although it is sort of a mixed-media piece, if you will: the Young Vic’s A View From the Bridge, which is a live-filmed stage production. I am going to count it, because it’s done cinematically, not just with a stationary camera in the audience. As I am learning, any National Theatre Live productions are worth making time for.

I gave several ratings of 9:

And, I can’t help but mention the National Theatre Live offering of Treasure Island, which I rated an 8 at the time but still think fondly of.

Funnily, perhaps unsurprisingly, not a one of these was a Hollywood new release (although several documentaries were new).

It’s been a great year for movies for me; I feel privileged. Here’s to some quality screen time in 2016.

2015: A Year in Review

I’ve reviewed a few years now (2014; 2013; 2012; 2011), so plenty of comparisons are available to us. Maybe I’m a nerd. I like lists.

This year should be expected to be a little different than years past, because of some changes that have taken place in my life. Let’s jump right in:

Of the 150 books I read in 2015:

  • precisely 50% were nonfiction (44% last year)
  • 51% were by female authors (44% last year)
  • of the 75 novels I read, 24% were historical fiction, 19% were mysteries, and a whopping 40% I classified as “misc fiction.” I guess I need to come up with better tags for that category. Contemporary fiction? Other categories included true crime, drama, fantasy, and short stories. (Last year 33% were historical fiction, 20% were mysteries or thrillers, 24% were miscellaneous fiction, and 15% were fantasy.)
  • only 7 books out of 150, or about 5%, were audiobooks. (13% last year)
  • 12% of the books I read came from the library; 9% I owned (or purchased); 79% were for assigned reviews. I borrowed one. (Last year, 20% of the books I read came from the library, and a whopping 71% were review copies; the few remainders were either ones I already owned or were gifts.)
  • I read 150 books this year – my most ever – compared to 135 last year.

As always, for the very *best* books I’ve read this year, see New Year’s Eve’s post.

So, what’s changed? Well, this is my highest count yet – although not by a huge margin. 150 books in 52 weeks is a rate just a bare fraction less than 3 books a week, and I don’t think I can do any more. Reviewing has been the backbone of my reading & writing work this year, and I’ve quit my day job to do (this and other forms of) reading and writing. So it’s not a big surprise that I set a new record. And I don’t think I can do many more! I now turn away lots of reviews – including 99.9% of those offered without pay. Sorry, and thanks for your understanding.

That’s why my books read for review numbered the highest yet also, at 79%, and I’m a little surprised it wasn’t higher. (This is also why the audiobooks are becoming a negligible category: I don’t review those for pay. Also, as I’ve noted before, I no longer commute! so that’s listening time lost.) Frankly, I’m pleased I got to read as many books “just for me” as I did.

As far as I can tell, 2016 should be a continuation down the same sort of path; but the future is always unknown. What about you? How has 2015 stood up to your reading years in the past, or to your expectations? And what do you hope for in 2016?

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