Book Lion Birthday Awards: Year 8

Let your life guide your reading. A busy life calls for quick, stress-free reads. A practical, to-do list life calls for non-fiction. A laid back life wants long, luxurious novels. An unpredictable life calls for all of these and more, waiting simultaneously for the slightest shift in mood. Don’t let your genre biases constrain your book selections or else you’ll find that you can only read during certain moods and conditions. You’ll be a ‘feel-like-it’ reader, instead of a committed, every-day one.

This year, I went through a time (some might call it third-trimester nesting) where fiction was repugnant to me. It all seemed stilted, impractical, irrelevant. I had a list of things to do before the baby came, and if I wasn’t reading something directly related to one of my projects, I was wasting my time.

It was a nonfiction period of life, though it took me a while to label it as such. Once I stopped trying to force myself through my comfort or reach genres and matched my life to my reading, everything fell into place again. So now every time I go through a major life change, I’ll think – “what kind of reading life is this now?” – in the hopes that I never feel such a long stretch of dissatisfaction with my reading again.

So, without further ado, here are the mostly meaningless, yet still fun, year 8 Book Lion awards:

Best book: Old Man and the Sea

Best Post: A Room with a View

Best beginning of trilogy: Powder Mages

Best book I forgot to post on: American Gods

Best non-fiction: The Art of Fermentation


Booklion Birthday Awards: Year 7

Time amasses. We make choices about what to do when we’re young, and if they stick, all of a sudden we’ve been doing them for 1/4, 1/3, 1/2 of our lives. Seven years ago, I started writing about the books I read. I remember thinking ‘it’d be neat if I could keep this up for a year or two’ – I envied blogs that had been around that long; that had the authority of time behind them. I never thought that blogging would become a habit so deeply ingrained that nothing, not having a kid, not moving three times in a year, not going to school or working full-time would shake.

I don’t even like the word ‘blog’; it feels old, diary-esque, has-been. It reminds me of myspace and Livejournal and did you know that Dr. Seuss draws a undulating monster called a Blogg in the shape of me and other stuff? Blog sounds a fitting name for a funny-looking thing. Yet, here I am, loving this blog, loving the work that has gone into it, planning on going for another seven years, then another seven after that. Perhaps the medium will change, I might migrate to another format in 2030 (hopefully one with a more elegant name), but I will still be reading, and still be writing about what I’ve read: of that, I am certain.

So, without further ado, here are the mostly meaningless, yet still fun, year 7 Book Lion awards:

Best Book: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Most Bookmarked: Big Magic

Weirdest: Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Funniest: The Sellout

Most Anticipated: Harry Potter 8


Booklion Birthday Awards: Year 6

When I first began this blog, I thought I was attempting to convince other people to read brilliant books. But, after years of purposefully not promoting the blog, of not mentioning it to friends, of not talking about it even with family – in short, of not using the blog to convince anyone of anything – I realize that sharing books can’t be the actual reason I write here.

After six years, I don’t feel like my reading is complete unless I write. A book someone else has written is not over for me until I write two paragraphs about it afterward. Like a small, personal, post script. A way to figure out, at least partially, what I thought. I now read with the practice of filing away vague thoughts and feelings to analyze later in front of the screen. If I didn’t make those fleeting thoughts concrete, I fear they might just fall away, forgotten. I can hardly distinguish books in my memory before I started this blog. Now, I have my opinions quantified and on-hand if ever I need them.

More even than a thinking tool, this blog is a diary told in the guise of reading experiences. It is a memory enhancement device that I reread periodically, perusing the emotions and lessons of this or that time through the tone I use in each piece. You probably wouldn’t be able to pick out specific life events by reading entries (since I systematically delete what has to do with my personal life), but they serve as a reminder to me. My posts are coded pieces that link each book to myself at that time, because you can never read (or write) without bringing yourself to the page.

I’m not going to lie anymore. This blog is clearly not for the reader; it’s for me. Part thinking tool, motivational technique, diary, writing practice. If you do choose to read a book after stopping by, you are more than welcome to it. But be aware that my recommendations are colored with personal experiences, and the reviews are far from unbiased.
So, here’s my reflection on the past year of reading, in the form of categories and awards:

Most Recommended: Neapolitan Quartet by Elaina Ferrante 

Most Enjoyable reading experience: Purity by Franzen 

Personal Favorite Post: Marry Me by Dan Rhodes

Most Humorous: The Martian by Weir

Most Earnest: the life changing magic of tidying up by Kondo

Book Lion Birthday Awards – Year 5

The relationship between reading and writing seems clear – reading makes you a better writer. You must observe in order to create. Yet, if this blog has taught me anything, it’s that the opposite is also true: writing makes you a better reader. Trying to write makes you more aware about how and why authors do what they do, and a little awareness and mindfulness go a long way. So, this year I’m going to recommend that you improve your reading life by writing. Start with writing book reviews. Write incomplete sentences on Goodreads, write ungrammatical ones on Amazon, write full ones in a blog, or write whichever way you want in password-protected word documents on your home computer. However you choose to do it – write.

Then, write more. Get yourself into all of the problems writers get themselves into, and write your way out of them. Try writing a well-rounded secondary character. Attempt a perfect first sentence. Write a page of dialog without overusing the word ‘said’. Rewrite every paragraph so that you don’t use the same word twice. Reference literature without sounding arrogant. Remember where commas actually go. Observe how people talk, interrupt themselves, misuse words, and repeat themselves, and then try to write something real.

Not only will failing at all of this (for your will fail, at least at first) deepen your appreciation for great writers, but you’ll also be able to see how each author solves the problems of writing, and how that makes their books good/bad/great/inconsistent/ unrealistic/profound, etc. All the thought you put into solving these problems will then be with you when you read. Instead of merely accepting what is on the page, you’ll be able to analyze the page – thinking about why and how each word or character came to be.

So, without further ado, here are the mostly meaningless, yet still fun, year 5 Book Lion awards:

Best New Book: 
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Best 20th Century Books:
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
American Pastoral by Philip Roth
Best Genre Fiction: 
Golden Son/Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Everyone Should Read: 
Most Disappointing: 
Bone Clocks by David Mitchell


Booklion Birthday Awards, Year 4

When life evens out – when we are no longer in school or working three jobs, when we are not raising small children or moving across the country – what do we read? When we opt out of obligatory good-wife bookclubs and just say ‘no’ to bestsellers, where do we go?  Your heart my cry out: finally time for my well- and long- loved [insert favorite genre or sub-genre here]! But a few weeks of unvaried reading in a favored genre is the surest path to a lackluster and increasingly infrequent reading habit. So let me take a moment to prescribe a reading regimen.

If you’ve paid attention to the side-bars in the Booklion this year, you might have noticed that I challenged myself to read deeply in an unfamiliar, demanding genre: 20th century classics. I read The Grapes of Wrath for the first time and labored over Infinite Jest for almost two months. I fought through the atrophy that prolonged genre-reading produces until I got back my ability to focus on a perfect sentence, to wholly love conflicted, contradictory characters. I already look back at that time wistfully and think of it as the most satisfying reading I’ve done since 2008, when I read Moby-Dick over and over for a thesis. Comparatively, my reading now seems haphazard and inadequate.

So, this year I want to recommend being purposeful about your reading – instead of simply scraping off the top of your surely well-maintained TBR list, square your shoulders and defiantly pick a long-neglected category of reading to focus on.  Do you Year four awardsfeel like poetry is a weak point? Romance? 1920’s noir? Have you always been curious about the victorian-era classics, or the man-booker-prize winners? Make a list of 10-15 well-chosen books, secure them at your library/bookstore/ebook-provider of choice, and select a deadline. You may find that this new, previously overlooked, category quickly supplants your previous favorite.

So, without further ado, here are the mostly meaningless, yet still fun, year-4 booklion awards:

Best of the 20th-century list: 

Grapes of Wrath

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Best modern books:

Tenth of December

Wolf Hall

Best Fantasy/Sci-Fi/’Weird fiction’

The City and the City

Personal Favorite Post: 

The Road

Most Undecided: 

Infinite Jest


Exceptional but Unposted

Occasionally it will happen that I read an exceptional and completely recommendable book and simply neglect to recommend it. I like to think my reasons are pure, and that gushing with fandom doesn’t make a good post, but in all honesty I’ve purposefully not posted on these books for very specific reasons. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll list my excuses in the hopes you will Identify1 with my honest concerns and uncertainties as a reader and that this will, somehow, lead you to pick up these books.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

– This book has been thoroughly and rightfully praised by the media. What can I add?

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie

– This phenomenal work is being passively censored by the library I work for. I feel ashamed to review it because I didn’t fight hard enough for its inclusion in a recommended list of YA books.

The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne

– I was interviewed by the author for a job and feel shy to review the book. I will say that I appreciated that the memoir didn’t focus entirely on the author’s life, but explored topics as diverse as libraries, tourette’s, and weight lifting. You learn a lot incidentally while reading this book, like in Salt or Little Brother, or A Tale for the Time Being.

World War Z by Max Brooks

– I got conned by the audiobook version, which advertized something incomprehensible like “full abridged edition “. Why do abridged books always work so hard to hide their abridged-ness? It should be disclaimed in bold, bright letters, “Abridged. I.E This book was hacked up by someone with unidentified motives and credentials. Read at your peril.” So I worry about what I missed by listening to an abridged edition enough to not post about this book, but not enough to find time to read the original.

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

– Solidly good. Read it if you like English Literature and slow reads. However, I believe I may have read an abridged version of this work as well, because my mother said hers was a hefty 900 pages while mine was a slim, easy volume. Again, concerns over being conned by stealthy abridgement artists.

End Notes:

1. One reason for this compilation post, and any that may follow, is that I am currently struggling not to be defeated by Infinite Jest. I’m four weeks in and barely over 3/5ths done. Identifying is a common theme in AA meetings, which are richly described in both the work proper, and the copious end notes, of Infinite Jest. 

Not so much…

coversEvery now and then, there are books that don’t really work for me. These are books I managed to finish (unlike my confessions of unfinished books) but that had some fault or lack of brilliance that makes me less than anxious to recommend them (or at least to write a full post about them).

The Kingdom of the Gods by N. K. Jemisin 

Jemisin may have mastered the art of the second book, but she didn’t quite pull it together for the end of the trilogy. While I still believe entirely in her fantasy prowess, this book seemed not fully realized. For one, Jemisin excels at the female voice, but here attempted to write about the male god of childhood going through some sort of coming-of-age stage. There was nothing distinctly off-putting, but the best part of the book was the an epilogue of The Broken Kingdoms appended to the end.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

This book is divided into the story of an American girl living in Japan and a rather insane middle-aged woman who finds her diary washed up on the shore in Canada. The big problem for me was that I felt like I was reading a PoMo exercise, where the commentary of the actual book was laid out for me, thinly disguised as a secondary narrative, and the author kept trying to tell me how to feel about Nao’s diary. I also found the secondary character, Ruth, a repellant person – she is whiny, not a little crazy, and mean to her much-more-interesting husband.  Yet, despite my loathing of roughly half the book, Nao’s diary was so good that I did, in fact, finish it.

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers

I delighted in the 1920’s Britishness of the detective and small town, but it probably wasn’t my best idea to start on book nine in an eleven book series. I would love to start at the beginning sometime so that I can get the whole back story of Lord Peter Wimsey.

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

I actually quite enjoyed this one, but there is no getting around the fact that this seems like an afterthought to the much more epic original Mistborn trilogy.

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

There was absolutely nothing at fault in this book except that it wasn’t Stead’s brilliant and utterly surprising When You Reach Me. Stead still perfectly captured a child’s voice and curiosity about the world, but for me, a work of contemporary realism will never match a unique blend of realism and science fiction.

Loteria by Mario Alberto Zambrano

I was drawn in by the lush cover and deckle-edged pages (they always get me), but failed to identify with the Loteria card metaphor.