It’s that time of year. I’ve hit my halfpoint of the year, reading-wise (that is, if you take my average of 200 books/year as a given) and so it’s a good time to look back over the first hundred and see which fall into the category of “HEY! READ ME!”
10. Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan. A middle-grades book about a young genius and only child, Willow, (who’s sort of…special) who is thrown out on her own after her parents are killed in a car crash. I love that Willow is a minority protag whose character is about her characteristics more than it is about having a protag whose identity centers around her ethnicity. She’s about her brilliance, her refreshingly different coping mechanisms, her ability to stumble with and without grace, and the people she chooses to surround her with. Yeah, there were some plot points (especially towards the end) that bugged with their neatness to patch up holes. But for the most part, this was a wonderful, wonderful book to discuss with my 11-year-old daughter.
9. Mosquitoland, by David Arnold. I guess I would characterize this as another Young Adult selection, but that pigeon-hole is kinda squishy. It’s about a middle school (high school?) aged female who is delightfully quirky and is all about self-rescuing. In fact, she runs away from home, from her dad and brand-new stepmom, in search of her eccentric, run-away mother. The way Mad Mim Malone [what a great name, right?] gets herself into and out of sticky situations was so delightful, it conjured up both Harriet the Spy and Flavia de Luce. And the phrasing and writing is something you won’t soon forget. If you like flair and spunk and adventure, grab this story and devour it…perhaps in a single sitting like I did.
8. Chasers of the Light, by Tyler Knott Gregson. I am not a poetry person. I enjoy a poem or two, sure, but I don’t often seek them out, and I certainly don’t sit down and read entire books of them. Except that’s exactly what I did. Lyrical, sensual, textile words and photography on every page. It doesn’t hurt if you’re falling in love when you pick the book up, either.
7. Redeployment – Phil Klay. Nor am I a big fan of short stories. Yeah, I get the punch of fitting all your elements into a shorter space. But I like big, open canvases on which you can make big, messy character and plot development maps. And yet, here Redeployment is. What got me was the war stories. I love war stories. These were stories about survivors (and I use that term loosely) from Iraq and Afghanistan. Disturbing stories that I sometimes had to flinch away from. They’re important stories, but sometimes brevity was helpful. I wanted to know…but I didn’t always want to look. Have a strong temperament and a large dose of gratitude for those who serve. And even more empathy.
6. The Last Policeman, by Ben Winters. I don’t understand why this hasn’t been made into a movie. A huge asteroid is careening towards the Earth. All of humanity will be killed. People, unable to handle the stress and anxiety, are offing themselves all over the place. So this one suicide shouldn’t have been suspicious. But our protag refuses to accept the open and shut-ness of this one particular case. He doesn’t care if the world is ending – he’s a policeman and a detective until the world ends, and he is going to solve the mystery. Now, I like procedurals. I like crime dramas. I like mysteries. But even more than those, I love a good voice. This was sarcastic, likeable, slightly Stephen-King-folksy. It was the most unexpected gem and I’m making everyone read it because it just felt…different. More there than other stories like it. And the background apocalyptic storyline was amazing.
5. Dead Wake, by Erik Larson. I had a hard time placing this so high – have I mentioned how much I loved Last Policeman and Redeployment? – but the fact that I learned so much and that I could barely stop reading even though I already knew the ending and the fact that Larson made a non-fiction book read so fictiony…well, that holds a lot of weight. The tale of the last crossing of the Lusitania during World War I is well worth a weekend of your time, even if history isn’t necessarily your thing.
4. I’ll Give You the Sun – Jandy Nelson. Now we’re entering into “I’m making everyone I know read this” territory. This is technically a Young Adult story, and it’s certainly heartbreaking and difficult to read at times (especially if you’re grieving), but the writing – holy sheep! It feels like a 4D experience. Like you’re sitting there in your chair, reading, and the descriptions have weight and texture and dimension and each one knocks you breathless with delight. If I could write like Nelson, I could make you understand. The relationships – all complicated and terrific and rather true-to-life – are fantastic on their own. But good god, the writing…
3. Tiny, Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed. I resisted reading this book for so long because me and self-help books? No, thanks. But my friend Trish, who is a book-twinner, said I needed to read it and so I did. And holy cats, you guys! I read the book once, then immediately started over again and starts writing notes in the margins, underlining, highlighting – I marked the motherfucker out of that book. Everyone, everyone, everyone should read this – even if your only objective is to learn how to write like a goddamned rockstar.
2. Annihilations/Authority/Acceptance, by Jeff Vandermeer. I read the Southern Reach trilogy because The Tournament of Books made me. And great googly moogly am I glad. The books were lush, vivid, like an awake dream that you stumble through. Allusions to King’s Dark Tower series abound. It’s post-apocalyptic and philosophical and what-is-reality all mushed together, but also kind of like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure in a way that won’t make sense til you read them. Just try it. Do it. Dooooo eeeeeet.
1. God Help the Child, by Toni Morrison. Did anyone think The Queen’s book wouldn’t be top of the list? Another single-sitting book for me, one that knocked the ever-living breath out of me. Perfect. Simply perfect. And if this book doesn’t teach you how to be empathetic for every other person on this planet, especially children, and especially those who have less than you do, well then god, you just don’t have a soul to save. Betcha I read this one twice more this year.
So there you go. My top ten for the year. I’d like to note that not one of these books was read during May. I’ve read nearly twenty books, and some were pretty decent reads, but nothing that lights up in flashing neon lights. So hit me! Tell me what you’ve read! Help me break my drought! What are the best books you’ve read lately that I need to read immediately?