Half a Year of Books by May

Today, April 23, is World Book Day. Oh frabjous joy! Callooh! Callay!

Oh, World Book Day’s the real deal. Unlike “Cat Lady Day” or “Miss Work Month,” however celebratory they may seem, WBD is totally legit. However, I’m not blaming you at all for this calendar omission. It’s hard to keep up.

In 1995, UNESCO passed proclamation 3.18 establishing April 23 as World Book and Copyright Day. Now, WBCD doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, so “copyright” is often dropped. Why does the United Nations care about books, you ask?

To “inspire behavior based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.”

Now THAT’S certainly celebratory. As an unrepentant reading addict, I’m all for advancing books whenever possible. Naturally, I got hooked into that trendy #52booksin52weeks challenge.

So here we are: it’s Week 17 of 2018 and I’m currently reading Book No. 26.

Fate clearly put these significant numbers together. Is it any accident that I’m half way through on WBD? Who am I to argue with the universe’s random numerical alignment?

In honor of World Book Day, here’s a list of my first 26 books for 2018.

Collage of first 25 books read by Leah Fisher Nyfeler for #52booksin52weeks challenge 2018

Books 1 through 10

No. 1: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I started 2018 with a book club assignment I dreaded: rereading this book. How could I forget the plot–two women, bound by a horrible marriage, live through the brutalities of war, political regime change, and general misogyny in Afghanistan. While I still appreciate the author’s craft, the story is just so depressing. Especially in today’s political climate.

No. 2:  The Book of Joe by Jeff Wilser. Biden, that is. Wilser strikes the right balance of information, entertainment, and all-out fan boy gushing. I learned a lot about the politician, developing great respect for Biden’s role in 1994’s VAWA (Violence Against Women Act). If you really want to get to know Joe, Promises to Keep (Biden’s autobiography) might be a better read but this was time well spent.

Photo of book Wonder by R. J. PalacioNo. 3: Wonder by R. J. Palacio. No, I won’t go see the movie. The August Pullman who lives in my mind cannot be recreated, and everyone should discover and envision their own Auggie. Parents, this would be a great read-at-bedtime-together book for kids in the 8- to 10- year-old range. Just be prepared to cry.

No. 4: I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Wasn’t) by Brene Brown. I read with a highlighter in hand; some sections, I had to stop, consider, and reflect. Brown writes about shame: how to recognize it. how it affects us, what we can do about it. There’s a lot of shaming going on in our culture these days, especially when you consider the roles racism, bullying, and misogyny play in creating shame. A timely read.

No. 5: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. This novel–simple, lyrical, accessible and still complex–is about family and love and growing together, apart, and old. It’s pretty amazing how much time passes in what’s a relatively short book. I loved the way Patchett wove her narrative so it flowed like a stream from one character to the next.

Copy of "Commonwealth" by Ann Patchett for Leah Fisher Nyfeler's #52booksin52weeks challengeNo. 6: A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline. When reading this book, start at the back with Andrew Wyeth’s painting that inspired Baker Kline. Then, read the acknowledgements and the author’s note. Only then can you begin on the novel (note it’s not a biography). This story is like a Maine winter: austere, starkly beautiful, unrelenting, chilling, inevitable. The main character, Christina, is hard to like. But I doubt I’ll forget her.

No. 7: Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin. Author Le Guin died on Jan. 22, 2018 and I wanted to read something new to me as tribute. Le Guin takes a character from Virgil’s epic, “The Aeneid,” and turns her–Lavinia’s–viewpoint into a feminist retelling. Le Guin incorporated tons of research about pre-Roman Latins; if you like historical fiction (like Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers, set at the ancient Jewish fortress of Masada during the Roman siege), odds are good you’d enjoy Lavinia.

Photo of nonfiction book Being Mortal by Atul GawandeNo. 8: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. As much as I love fiction, well-written non-fiction  is what I truly savor. Atul Gawande does an excellent job of using the power of story to discuss a complex sociological issue– transitioning to death, whether through illness or age. You’d think this would be a depressing book, but it’s not. It’s inspiring.

No. 9: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. Damn. This book about basketball, youth, and loss is poetry in motion. Even though I KNEW where the story was going, its ending just walloped me. And that’s the mark of a truly exceptional YA author. Alexander is able to touch so many audiences. Kid me would’ve been inspired. Momma me ached. Writer me admired. Reader me loved The Crossover.

Young adult literature "The Crossover" by Kwame Alexander uses poetry and basketball to talk about growing upNo. 10: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood. I only finished because Atwood had written The Heart Goes Last, but it’s not a good book. This novel reads like a slap-dash fulfill-my-contract kind of effort. See Atwood’s Alias Grace for a captivating character study or revisit The Handmaid’s Tale for its frightening dystopian future. But skip a trip here.

Books 11 through 20

Copy of The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness by Jill Filipovic with pages markedNo. 11: The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness by Jill Filipovic.  My suggestion: Read this in bits and pieces. Start with the last chapter, “Goodbye to All That,” where Filipovic distills her points and moves to a more uplifting discussion of what needs to change. Head to Chapter 7, “The Edible Woman: Food, Fat, and Feminism,” which was absorbing. The H-Spot is required reading–with an easy to digest style, solid logic and responsible reporting and research. Just go at your own pace; you’ll be happier for it.

No. 12: Artemis by Andy Weir. I bought Artemis as a birthday treat but sadly, it’s a stinker. The main character, Jazz, is flat, uninteresting; the science is boring; the dialogue wooden and dated. Spare yourself this visit to the moon and go back to Mars instead.

Hardback copy of Fredrik Backman's novel about a hockey town, "Beartown"No. 13: Beartown by Fredrik Backman. Backman’s fictional hockey-obsessed community is the background for this nuanced, multi-faceted examination of love, passion, second chances, life choices, and the role of place in an individual’s development. Beartown is ultimately a sports book, and I loved it.

No. 14: Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. This needs to be reexamined in small sips; my first time reading, I pretty much devoured Milk and Honey. A PBS Newshour segment on author and illustrator Rupi Kaur inspired me to buy her beautiful little book of poetry and art.

Photo of Rupi Kaur's book of poetry and drawings, Milk and HoneyNo. 15: Thunderbird by Chuck Wendig. I picked this up and dove in, not realizing it was the fourth installment of an incomplete series. Getting to know Miriam  Black in the middle of her flight didn’t hurt at all. The story was so damn good I wrote a full review and then attended a writing class with Wendig. #callmegroupie

No. 16: Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig. Blackbirds is the first book in Wendig’s Miriam Black series. Because I no longer seem to have any impulse control, I have to read them all. As soon as possible. Thank goodness for Austin Public Library!

Hardback copy of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Make sure to look at both the front and back covers of Angie Thomas’ terribly wonderful novel The Hate U Give.

No. 17: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This was a hard, hard read because Austin’s bombings and another young black man’s death–Stephon Clark, shot and killed by Sacramento police–were its backdrop. Well written, nuanced, captivating, and reassuring in Thomas’s portrayal of a loving family navigating troubling times, this book made my soul hurt so much I wanted to quit reading. But it’s too good to stop.

No. 18: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore. A friend recommended this nonfiction account, which focuses primarily on the life of creator William Moulton Marston. Marston was fascinating, but I really wanted more about the women in his life and the unconventional lifestyle the three of them–or was it four?– shared.

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No. 19: Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig. Second book in the series and, true to form, Miriam is kicking ass and dealing death in her typically tortured way. In Mockingbird, she brushes up against a serial killer and more backstory is revealed through visions, dreams, and nightmarish apparitions. 

No. 20: One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty. Reading Welty’s thoughts on how listening and seeing contribute to finding a writer’s unique voice–her unique voice–was a mini master class. This slim memoir’s last paragraph: “As you have seen, I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts within.” Perfection.

Collage of first 25 books read by Leah Fisher Nyfeler for #52booksin52weeks challenge 2018

Books 21 through 26

No. 21 and 22: The Cormorant and The Raptor & The Wren by Chuck Wendig. Getting up to date on Miriam Black with Wendig’s third and fifth books in the series. Word of advice: Wait for Vultures (book No. 6) to come out so you can binge read to complete satisfaction. 

No. 23: The Haunting of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie. I picked up Sunshine Girl at Half Price Books because of its settings (Austin and Washington State). If you like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” this YA novel will certainly satisfy. The main character, Sunshine, turns 16 and has some creepy experiences of the ghostly variety while realizing her talents in the spirit world. (And wouldn’t you know it’s another series?)

Paperback version of "Mating in Captivity" by Esther PerelNo. 24: Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel. Call me jaded, but I don’t understand why this is a best seller. I missed Perel’s talk at SXSW and, because she’d been recommended, bought the book. I’ve been in a monogamous relationship for 38 years now (how did THAT happen?!?) and nothing particularly earth shattering, new and revealing, or personally intriguing was divulged. Perhaps I was just not in the mood.

No. 25: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. I started the year with one of Kline’s books after hearing her speak at SXSW. Orphan Train was wonderful airplane reading. Engaging, with interesting characters and that lovely attention to history that Kline worked so well in A Piece of the World (my No. 6). And I needed that happy ending.

Historical fiction by Christina Baker Kline, "Orphan Train"

No. 26: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. Reading in progress, so you’re going to have to wait!

FYI: UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Its motto: “Building peace in the minds of men and women.”

Read More

What’s the Violence Against Women Act?

“Ten Days and Three Talks by Inspiring Women” (author Christina Baker Kline, who shows up twice on this list)

Full review: “Thunderstruck by Chuck Wendig’s Thunderbird and Miriam Black”

UNESCO calendar of yearly events

UNESCO: Records of the General Conference, Twenty-Eighth Session, Paris, 25 October to 16 November 1995

Get my #52booksin52weeks updates with expanded reviews in real time at Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life 

Image of novel "Lincoln in the Bardo" by George Sanders
Let’s talk about book No. 26 when I’ve finished. Post to go up soon!
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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at www.leahruns100.com, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

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