2017 End of Year Book Survey

2017 End of Year Book SurveyEvery year seems more crazy than the last, and I’m ready for this one to be over. I’m taking some time over the holidays to reflect on what I’ve done well and what’s brought me joy — including books.

Best Books in 2017

1. Best book you read In 2017?

2. What was a book you were excited about & thought you were going to love more but didn’t?

Witches of America was disappointing. I didn’t really like the author, and couldn’t connect with her point of view.

3. What was the most surprising (in a good way!) book of the year?

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? was surprisingly deep and nuanced. It struck chords I wasn’t expecting.

4. What book did you read and recommended to people most?

I told multiple people about Unmentionable and The Devil in the White City.

5. What’s the best series you discovered?

Crocodile on the Sandbank was so much fun! I’ve already read the second in the series, and have 18 more go to.

6. Who’s your favorite new author you discovered?

Andy Weir. The Martian was amazing. My book club is reading his second novel, Artemis, in January.

7. What was the best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

I got a little comfortable this year. Akata Witch and Love, InshAllah were my “stretch” reads, and I didn’t love either of them. Fortunately my book club is chugging along, and we’re planning to read some things that are different than my normal choices.

8. What was the most thrilling, unputdownable book of the year?

Gotta be The Devil in the White City. Oh, sweet Jesus, and Hex.

9. What book did you read this year that you are most likely to re-read next year?

Looking back over my list, there’s nothing I think I’ll re-read so soon. I read many good books this year, but there are so many more to discover.

10. What’s your favorite cover of a book you read?

An unpaved road surrounded by trees that disappear into the fog? Nothing good is happening here.

11. Who’s the most memorable character you met this year?

Miss Amelia Peabody from Crocodile on the Sandbank. I love me a sassy Victorian lady.

12. What’s the most beautifully written book you read?

Probably Hex. It’s absolutely horrifying.

13. What book had the greatest impact on you?

All of the professional development things I’ve been reading lately. It’s been a crazy few months at work, and I’m so ready for what’s coming up.

14. What book do you can’t believe you waited until this year to finally read?

Nothing jumps to mind. Most of what I read this year hadn’t been on my TBR for long.

15. Favorite passage/quote from a book you read?

This passage from Unmentionable!

You are a prize to be won. He must work to capture your affections and approval. Only the stupid and slutty trout leap out of the water to gain the fisherman’s attention. The virtuous trout simply allows the sun to gleam briefly on her shining scales and then dives back to the shadowy depths. Only a skilled man with the finest of fake bugs can ream a metal hook through her mouth. You are that trout, and the metal hook you are about to be impaled on is holy matrimony.

16. Shortest & longest book you read?

17. What book had a scene in it that left you reeling and dying to talk to somebody?

My book club read Cloud Atlas and had a fabulous conversation about it. It’s a meaty read, one I was glad not to have attempted without having some people to talk with about it afterwards.

18. What’s your favorite relationship from a book you read this year (be it romantic, friendship, etc.)?

Amelia and Radcliffe from Crocodile on the Sandbank. I’m a sucker for a Beatrice-and-Benedick relationship.

19. What’s your favorite book you read this year from an author you’ve read previously?

As always, Clive Cussler. A friend introduced me to his books in high school, and I read a couple new ones every year.

20. What’s the best book you read based solely on a recommendation from someone else?

Everything we’ve read for book club this year:

While I’d never say I enjoyed all of these books, I did enjoy discussing them with my club. Looking forward to more interesting stuff in 2018!

21. What genre did you read the most from this year?

To no one’s surprise, it’s mystery/thriller.

22. Who’s your newest fictional crush from a book you read?

Mark Watney from The Martian. Smart and funny? Sign me up.

23. What’s the best 2017 debut you read?

I have no idea. I don’t pay attention to publication dates.

24. Which book you read this year had the most vivid world/imagery?

Tie between The Lies of Locke Lamora and Hex.

25. What book was the most fun to read?

All books are fun to read for different reasons. I enjoyed Pleating for Mercy for its lightness, Option B for its ideas about resilience, and The Best Place to Work for its sheer nerdiness.

26. What book made you cry or nearly cry in 2017?

Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse. My husband found me crying on the couch after I read the last couple pages.

27. What book did you read that you think got overlooked this year (or the year it came out)?

I think Laughing all the Way to the Mosque is flying under the radar. It was published in 2014, but I think it’s an important book to make visible.

Looking Ahead

1. What’s one book you didn’t get to in 2017 that will be your biggest priority in 2018?

I need to get my butt in gear for book club. We’re reading The Casual Vacancy and Artemis. I also want to dive into Build Your Dream Network, which just arrived on my doorstep.

2. What book you are most anticipating for 2018 (non-debut)?

I don’t plan my reading in advance much, other than book club, so pretty much anything.

3. What 2018 debut do you anticipate most?

This isn’t something I care about. If I hear about a book and it happens to be a debut, that’s neither here nor there.

4. Which series ending in 2018 do you anticipate most?

I haven’t read many series this year, and none of them are ending in 2018.

5. What’s one thing you hope to accomplish in your reading/blogging in 2018?

I’m not sure. I’m feeling a little rudderless when it comes to this blog. Part of me wants to close it down, but I enjoy using it to keep track of my reading and hone my writing skills. Maybe I’ll continue with The Write Stuff challenge. We’ll see.

What are your 2018 reading goals? Let’s talk!

2017 State of the Blog and Wrap-Up

State of the BlogIt’s four days till Christmas, and I’m heading out the door to celebrate with family — mostly by eating an embarrassing amount of tamales. But first, some end-of-year stats!

First, the basics

  • Books read in 2016: 56 (13 since 10/1)
  • Audiobooks: 0 (0 since 10/1)
  • Ebooks: 6 (0 since 10/1)
  • Pages read: 17,725 (3,414 since 10/1)
  • Books reviewed: 31 (3 since 10/1)
  • Books not enjoyed: 5 (1 since 10/1)
  • Books not finished: 1 (1 since 10/1)
  • Library books: 21 (3 since 10/1)
  • Re-reads: 4 (0 since 10/1)

Genre breakdown (year totals)

  • Fiction: 31
  • Non-fiction: 25
  • Young adult: 3
  • Fantasy: 3
  • History: 8
  • Memoir: 4
  • Mystery/Thriller: 22
  • Humor: 3
  • Gender/sexuality: 4
  • Paranormal/supernatural: 4
  • Period piece: 6
  • Children’s literature: 2
  • Reading for work: 4

Reading challenges

  • Charity Reading Challenge: 56 books @ $2/each = $112 donated to Camfed
  • Monthly Motif Challenge: 11/12
  • Off the Shelf Reading Challenge: 2/9
  • The Write Stuff: 3/4

I’m so excited to give to Camfed again this year. My company matches donations as well, which means I’ll be able to put one girl through an entire year of school. She’ll go on to earn 20% more as an adult, and be less likely to die in childbirth. Want to change the world? Educate a girl.

I also really enjoyed The Write Stuff. I met most of my goals, including finishing two short stories and the first chapter of a novel. Once you add in all the “in-character” snippets I wrote as part of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, it’s more creative writing than I’ve done in almost a decade. Crazy! Definitely going to keep this challenge going in 2018.

Some thoughts

  • It’s the end of the year, which means my brain is mush. I’m trying to give myself permission to stop pushing, and focus on what I’ve done well and what’s made me happy this year.
  • Book club is awesome. It’s a group of bright, insightful women, and I’ve loved our conversations.
  • Professional development has been the name of the game these last few months. Lots of lessons learned.

Looking ahead

  • Excited to see what we read and chat about in book club this year.
  • I’m hoping to enjoy more creative writing challenges.

How did your 2017 reading turn out? What are you looking forward to in the new year?

Hello Holidays, Goodbye Focus

For ten-and-a-half months of the year, this is me:

via GIPHY

But as soon as Thanksgiving hits, I morph into something different:

via GIPHY

Trying to get me to concentrate on anything is like herding cats. I give up on being productive and spend inordinate amounts of time watching cheesy holiday movies and skipping around through podcasts. I’m tired of the current year, but too exhausted to get excited about the next.

This is unfortunate, of course, because now is the time of year I really should be paying attention. I need to finish up Christmas shopping, plot holiday travel, plan year-end blog posts and 2018 challenges, read for book club, and somehow remember to slow down long enough to enjoy time with family and friends.

It’s also hard for me because I’m a big fan of finishing strong. But my creative writing has fallen off, as has my reading. I’m not doing as well with my 2017 reading challenges as I’d hoped. The world is colder and darker, things are slowing down, and I’m in a bit of a funk.

One of the my favorite lessons from Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s Option B is to think about the things you’ve done well, and the things that bring you joy. You’re supposed to note a couple of each every day, but I think it’s a great idea to reflect on larger chunks of time, too.

Things I’ve done well this year:

  • Spearheading an advisor feedback program at my office. I just presented at a big meeting about how successful it’s been so far.
  • Rolling over three straggler retirement accounts into my current 401(k). Very adult, and gives me such a sense of accomplishment and relief.
  • Joining Toastmasters. I was scared, but I did it anyway. I’m actually the tiniest bit excited to give my third prepared speech in January.

And some things that bring me joy:

  • My husband introduced me to Trello and I. Am. Obsessed. The lists! The check boxes. I can’t even. The man just gets me.
  • Joining my first book club! Our conversations have been wonderful so far.
  • Finally accepting that I’m a minimalist. I’m having fun finding out what that looks like for me.

What have you done well this year? What brings you joy? Share in the comments!

Review: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Non-fiction NovemberSeeing your parents grow old is a universal — and difficult — experience. In 2001, cartoonist Roz Chast could see the writing on the wall. Her parents were in their 90s, and not doing well. Her mother was in the hospital after a fall from a step stool, and her father’s senile dementia kept him homebound.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is a chronicle of two lives at their end and a daughter’s attempt to make that end dignified — while not losing her mind along the way.

Quite the read

I picked up Chast’s memoir at an interesting time. My husband’s grandmother and my own are both well into dementia, and we’ve had many conversations with our families about their challenges.

The thing that struck me hardest, and yet wasn’t surprising, was how much the experience exhausted Chast. Dying is messy, expensive, and often takes years. It’s awful for the person dying, of course, but can be soul-sucking for their caretakers as well.

I see a lot of myself in Chast, particularly how she handles her father’s dementia. She tries to be a good daughter, but frustration gets the better of her often.

The book left me shaken. It gave me glimpses into my future that I don’t want to dwell on. Not only may I someday end up caring for an aging relative…I will someday be that aging, dying person. Will I be a good caretaker when the time comes, and will I end up in a home myself someday?

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? isn’t what I would call a fun read, but I do think it’s valuable. Not only is it excellent storytelling, it also focuses on a taboo topic that should be talked about more. Even if it makes us uncomfortable.

(I read this book for the Monthly Motif Challenge. November’s challenge was to read a book I’ve been meaning to get to all year but haven’t yet.)

Consider Me Professionally Developed

Non-fiction NovemberI despise stagnation. If I’m not learning or growing, it feels like I’m dying. This is partially because it’s the way I am (learning is so much fun!), and partially because I’ve got a lot of baggage when it comes to job progression and success.

In my anxiety-infested brain, not having enough to do at work means I’m about to be let go. I have nothing to do, which means there’s nothing to be done, which means why would they keep me around? Is there nothing to do because there’s truly nothing to do, or is there really stuff to do but my boss isn’t putting it on my plate because she’s about to fire me?

This isn’t a logical chain of reasoning — not given recent events, at least — but it’s one I fight with regularly.

“What’s the plan?”

I ask, and am asked, this question daily. Being able to answer is fun for me. “First I’m going to do this, then I need to ask about this, then I can…” etc. I love planning, I love putting together a process and working through it.

It used to irk me that I wasn’t able to answer this question when it came to my career. Was I being myopic or ruining my life because I didn’t know where I “saw myself” in five years?

Turns out, not really. Fuck the Grand Life Plan. It’s impossible. Life changes too fast, and is too short to spend time trying to force it take a shape it no longer can.

Build your path as you walk it

“Winging it” is not my thing. I have goals and things I want to learn and improve on — but I don’t go overboard with life planning anymore.

  • I want to improve my public speaking skills, so I joined Toastmasters in June. Two speeches in the bag!
  • I’m working with my manager to take on projects that fit my strengths and give me growth and visibility opportunities.
  • I’m a member of my company’s career committee, which spearheads career development programs for everyone I work with.
  • I attended this year’s Texas Conference for Women. Incredible speakers and sessions that have inspired me to do better (and re-think what “networking” really means).

I’m also reading like a fiend. Here’s what’s kept my brain spinning the last few months:

  • The Game Plan (Steve Bull) – Straightforward, practical, actionable advice for developing mental toughness.
  • Option B (Sheryl Sandberg, Adam Grant) – When Option A isn’t going to happen, it’s time to kick the shit out of Option B. Wonderful advice on building resilience.
  • Everything that Remains (Joshua Fields Millburn, Ryan Nicodemus) – “Minimalism is the thing that gets us past the things so we can make room for life’s important things — which actually aren’t things at all.”
  • Project Management Absolute Beginner’s Guide (Gregory M. Horine) – I’ve managed small projects throughout my career, but I want to improve my foundational knowledge.

I also can’t wait to get my hands on Adam Grant’s Give and Take and Kelly Hoey’s Build Your Dream Network.

Life is exciting and fun and a little bit intimidating right now. Definitely a sign I’m on an interesting path.