2016: Reviewing A Year of Reading

This horrendously long image shows all of the books I read in 2016. I love many things about Goodreads: It helps me share books I love with friends and get recommendations from the books they loved, it alerts me to new books I might like based on past books read and, most importantly to me, it keeps track of the books I consume so I can refer back to them later.

In 2016 I read 86 books, a total of 27,993 pages ranging in book length of 186 pages to 766 pages and averaging out at 341 pages per book. My average rating to the books I read was 3.2 stars, giving some validity to Outside’s theory that I rate books a little too critically. Goodreads isn’t perfect, at all, and was quick to point out what I read turned out to be most and least popular with it’s members, I had to work to see what got my highest and lowest ratings.

My favorite books of 2016 were:

  •  The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
  • My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Frederik Backman

I tried to locate my least favorite book for the year and all I will say is that it was the longest book I read. That earned only one star. I was pretty liberal with two star ratings, handing out 11 of those.

My 2016 reading list

At the beginning of 2016 I started to do a reading challenge that would put me on course to read books by more diverse authors. I hated the challenge through. I found myself selecting books based not on if they interested me but on the color of the author’s skin. I felt guilty about it but I quickly dropped the challenge. I needn’t have worried!

This past year I read more books by people of color and people from different countries that I ever have before. My embracing audio books, I was able to consume more and persist through some more difficult books that, in truth, if that had been in print, I might have stopped. I feel better, smarter and like my world is bigger for heaving had so much diversity in my literary life.

Some common themes across this past year are four authors: Matthew Quick, Kathy Reichs, Alan Bradley and Kerry Greenwood. It’s such a wonderful thing when you find an author or a series you really like!

All of the books I read in 2016, listed in chronological order by date read:

  • The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro
  • Ghosts of Bergen County by Dana Cann
  • What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman
  • The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag (Flavia de Luce, #2) by Alan Bradley
  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
  • At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen
  • The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce, #1) by Alan Bradley
  • Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
  • A Red Herring Without Mustard (Flavia de Luce, #3) by Alan Bradley
  • The Considerate Killer (Nina Borg, #4) by Lene Kaaberbøl
  • A Good Doctor’s Son by Steven Schwartz
  • In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  • I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Flavia de Luce, #4) by Alan Bradley
  • Speaking from Among the Bones (Flavia de Luce, #5) by Alan Bradley
  • Lucky Us by Amy Bloom
  • The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
  • My Brilliant Friend (The Neapolitan Novels #1) by Elena Ferrante
  • Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
  • Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick
  • No Shred of Evidence (Inspector Ian Rutledge, #18) by Charles Todd
  • The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
  • The Girl in the Well Is Me by Karen Rivers
  • The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (Flavia de Luce, #6) by Alan Bradley
  • The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
  • Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
  • What the Waves Know by Tamara Valentine
  • The Doomsday Key (Sigma Force, #6) by James Rollins
  • Boy 21 by Matthew Quick
  • The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor
  • The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
  • Summerland by Michael Chabon
  • The Passage (The Passage, #1) by Justin Cronin
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen,
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  • Me Before You (Me Before You, #1) by Jojo Moyes
  • Weep Not, Child by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
  • The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
  • Nor The Moon by Night by Joy Packer
  • And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
  • Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick
  • How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu
  • No Direction Home: A Novel by Maria Silver
  • A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray by James Renner
  • Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
  • Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb
  • Girl at War by Sara Nović
  • Virals (Virals, #1) by Kathy Reichs
  • Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  • The Rocks by Peter Nichols
  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  • What Is Visible by Kimberly Elkins
  • Seizure (Virals, #2) by Kathy Reichs
  • Code (Virals, #3) by Kathy Reichs
  • The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel
  • Cocaine Blues (Phryne Fisher, #1) by Kerry Greenwood
  • Flying Too High (Phryne Fisher, #2) by Kerry Greenwood
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  • Murder on the Ballarat Train (Phryne Fisher, #3) by Kerry Greenwood
  • The Yard (Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, #1) by Alex Grecian
  • Britt-Marie Was Here by Frederik Backman
  • Death at Victoria Dock (Phryne Fisher, #4) by Kerry Greenwood
  • The Guineveres by Sarah Domet
  • The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick
  • The Green Mill Murder (Phryne Fisher, #5) by Kerry Greenwood
  • Blood and Circuses (Phryne Fisher, #6) by Kerry Greenwood
  • The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer
  • Ruddy Gore (Phryne Fisher, #7) by Kerry Greenwood
  • Exposure (Virals, #4) by Kathy Reichs
  • Terminal (Virals, #5) by Kathy Reichs
  • The Black Country (Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, #2) by Alex Grecian
  • We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
  • Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir
  • Best Kept Secret (The Clifton Chronicles, #3) by Jeffrey Archer
  • Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows, #2) by Leigh Bardugo
  • Trace Evidence: A Virals Short Story Collection by Kathy Reichs
  • Smoke by Catherine McKenzie
  • My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Frederik Backman
  • Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
  • Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule by Jennifer Chiaverini
  • Urn Burial (Phryne Fisher, #8) by Kerry Greenwood
  • Raisins and Almonds (Phryne Fisher, #9) by Kerry Greenwood

Hidden Figures and Being a Critical Consumer of Media

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. The book is an important contribution to the body of knowledge out in the ether about African American history.According to Nielson, “U.S. adults spent 10 hours, 39 minutes a day consuming media in the first quarter of 2016.” When you consume so much information, how do you evaluate what is legitimate, accurate and useful information? This is something that’s become increasingly prevalent over the last few months in the new/fake news storm that has occurred around the election, but it applies to more than just news. It applies to all media.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought over the past few days while I read Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. The book is an important contribution to the body of knowledge out in the ether about African American history. It helps reshape stereotypes about the roles of women in general, and African American women specifically, in science, math and history. It sheds new light on the American history of discovery.

But here’s the thing. I found the book dreadful. It was like listening to someone read out a timeline of facts, at time repetitive and frequently reliant on clichés.

I believe in holding up all media, which certainly includes books, up to high expectations. And I’m torn on if I evaluate Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race as it’s quality as book or its value to our greater historical knowledge.

I have friends who comment on how harshly I evaluate books I read when I log them on Goodreads. I don’t think I am harsh but I do think I am critical. My system is consistent and straightforward, though influenced by the headspace I am in during reading.

  • Five Stars: Loved it, adored it and will be recommending it to everyone I know.
  • Four Stars: Really liked, will likely recommend it but don’t love it so much I have to keep a physical copy of the book on my shelves.
  • Three Stars: Entertaining and enjoyable, but likely forgettable. Most books get this ranking.
  • Two Stars: Didn’t care for the book.
  • One Stars: Hates the book. Few books have received one star from me.

So what do I rate this book?

I’ve gone back and forth on this and think I will be giving it three stars. As a contribution to my knowledge of history, it gets five stars. But as a book, which is how I approached it, maybe two stars? I know no one else might care how I rate my books, but it’s important to me that I apply a critical lens on my media consumption so I can make the best use of the 10.65 hours of media I am consuming each day. I try to apply all media I consume to the same set if high standards, because without those standards, we end up in situations where the headline of the day is about fake news.

I do want to add that I am excited to watch the movie Hidden Figures. I am interested to see how the script for the movie was adapted from what is shared in the book. And I am, always, excited to see the work of Taraji Henson and Octavia Spencer.

Book Series Featuring Strong, Smart Women

A girl detective obsessed with science. A teen who solves crime using science, special powers and a pack of friends. A lady detective who, when she’s not landing her latest conquest, is catching the bad guy.

We all need someone to look up to, and thanks to three book series, readers of all ages can have a strong, smart female role model.

Flavia de Luce Novels by Alan Bradley

Flavia de Luce is obsessed with chemistry and has a passion for poison.Flavia de Luce is obsessed with chemistry and has a passion for poison. In her constant quest to find out what’s happening in the adult world around her, Flavia frequently stumbles across murder scenes. Not one to make a discovery like a dead body and leave it alone, Flavia of course investigates to solve the crime, usually helped along with some scientific know-how.

As the Flavia de Luce series progresses, there is a larger plot afoot, making it clear that Flavia is destined for great things. Along the way, readers get to accompany her on many adventures and learn some along the way.

These are 8.5 books in this series so far, beginning with The Sweetness in the Bottom of the Pie  and ending with Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d. These are written for adults, but can be enjoyed by children ages 11-12 and up.

Virals Series by  Brendan Reichs and Cathy Reichs

The Virals series by Brendan Reichs and Cathy Reichs is about a pack of four teens and one wolf dog and the alpha of the group is a very smart girl.Readers of the Bones series will be familiar with Cathy Reichs’ quick, entertaining way of writing. The Virals series is a collaboration between Reichs and her son. In it, a group of teens catches parvo, a disease typically only contagious to dogs. The four teens who catch disease, and the wolf dog from whom they contracted it, become a pack with special powers. Tory, the leader of this otherwise male pack, leads the group to tackle crimes through the Charleston, South Carolina, area.

I’ve read each of the Bones books and a recurring complaint throughout the series is how the main character breaks off to explain scientific details. It reads as hokey and stops the flow of the story. Because the Virals books focus on a group of people, scientific facts can be shared in a more natural way, without interrupting the overall flow. It’s a welcome improvement.

There are five books in this series and one collection of short stories called Trace Evidence. These young adult novels can be enjoyed by adults, but are geared towards teens 13 and older.

Miss Phryne Fisher Books by Kerry Greenwood

The Miss Phryne Fisher Books short enough to consume in an afternoon or two and contain a perfect mixture of adventure, mystery and sex. With 20 books in the series, it’s a wonderful find.When Phryne Fisher decorated her boudoir, she did it in a specific shade of green that would look good against her naked skin. She’s also more than willing to tie herself to the back of a car, unbeknownst to the driver, so she can catch a criminal in the act. Those two sentences tell you all you really need to know about what makes Phyrne such an entertaining character.

Set in Australia, the Miss Phryne Fisher Books, of which you might be familiar with from the Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries television series, are delightful novels.  They are short enough to consume in an afternoon or two and contain a perfect mixture of adventure, mystery and sex. With 20 books in the series, it’s a wonderful find.

I describe the television series as being “PBS with sex.” The description applies for the books as well. They are definitely geared for adults but could be enjoyed by teens as well.

Nimrod: Not the insult you might initially think

The origins of the word nimrod change the meaning dramatically, altering how older texts like The Moon by Night by Joy Packer should be read.I’m reading The Moon by Night, a 1957 novel by Joy Packer, and there is a character, a native South African, who goes by the Americanized name Nimrod. I read that and was like, damn is this book racist. So racist! And, to be fair, it totally is. And xenophobic.

I’ve struggled to find novels set in Africa, though, and the way Packer describes the wilderness of South Africa is beautiful. So I’ve continued to read. (The book, which I bought at a used book sale from the library, also smells all musty and old, which is a definite added bonus.) After a while, two characters are discussing Nimrod and one tells the other that Nimrod selected the name himself. I thought that sounded pretty weird. Later, we learn that Nimrod is a pretty good name because of “Nimrod the Hunter.”

Nimrod the Hunter?

It turns out that Nimrod is referenced in the Bible as the great-grandson of Noah. The Bible says he was “a mighty hunter before the Lord.” So to call someone Nimrod is to call someone a great hunter.

There is (unsubstantiated but much cited) lore around the word that states that in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, Bugs sarcastically refers to his nemesis Elmer Fudd as a nimrod, and the meaning shifted. Forevermore. No longer is nimrod a compliment. I don’t know if that’s the real reason, but I like it if it is.

My book sis still racist. It’s still xenophobic. But it’s also teaching me a lot about South Africa and a little bit of etymology.

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Failure and Innovation: Two concepts with a lot of overlap

Great inventions are the result of hard work, which we often hear, but also of resilience to keep trying after failing.On my walks to work I’m listening to The Wright Brothers by David McCullough and boning up on my aviation and Dayton knowledge. I’m also gaining appreciation for the amount of failure that laid the groundwork for flight. So. Much. Failure. And that, by the way, I mean as a compliment.

Man’s ability to fly reshaped the world as we know it. It means we can travel to more places more quickly. It means we can transfer goods and services more easily. It means we can bomb the crap out of somewhere from the air.

I don’t know that I can prioritize one of those over the other.

To get to this place where we can hop in a plane and deliver ourselves, our product or our bombs, two brothers from Ohio tried out a lot of things. They withstood a ton of mockery from people who thought they were wackadoo. I’m listening to McCullough’s reading of this book and grimacing at some of the crash stories. The only way to find out if a plane will hold you and be steered by you is to try it out. And if it doesn’t work? You’re nose-diving into a sand dune in Kitty Hawk.

A running thought I’ve been having throughout The Wright Brothers is that the story of failure is an excellent one. Great inventions are the result of hard work, which we often hear, but also of resilience to keep trying after failing.  That’s not a new notion for me, but it’s not one I hear a lot about.

I would love if more stories about inventions and innovations include details about what was tried and flopped. I want the more detail that “she labored for a year until it worked.” I want the celebration of failure. It’s what gives me, all of us, permission to fail and encouragement to keep chugging along.

Because eventually, the plane takes off and the world is changed.