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30

I can’t believe I am 30 years old.

I also can’t believe this is only my third post of the year.

So far, 2015 is filled with unbelievable things. Mainly 105 inches of snow and the subsequent meltdown of my beloved public transportation system. Life in Boston has been just so very disrupted for so many weeks that I’m finding 40 degree weather fairly unbelievable. Sun melting snow weather. Gloves optional weather. I-saw-a-human-wearing-shorts-out-of-doors weather. Cah-razy.

It’s warming up, and I’m as old as the hills. I’ve been writing these little birthday ditties for 6 years now, maybe longer. I don’t ever feel like I have anything cogent to say about aging except that it’s happening. I really do try to wake up every morning and have a good day, a productive day, a day that I’m proud of; whether I succeed or not, those days string into years, and here I am looking at thirty of them.

The older I get, the more I [fill in the blank].

The older I get, the less I [fill in the blank].

I could fill in those blanks for a few thousand words, but they would be a few thousand navel-gazing words that would all add up to this: your life looks different from different angles. I’m not exactly thrilled to be 30 – mostly because I am female in modern America which means everyone is monitoring both my declining physical appearance and the relative shriveled-up-ness of my ovaries with even more scrutiny than usual. Everyone including myself.

I do worry about my skin and my hair and my other body parts, but I worry more about my time. Now that I am into another decade, I fear that hanging onto time will become an increasingly slippery task. Time will become more precious to me and more easily wasted. When I was 22, 23, 24, time felt a little more elastic, a little more forgiving. I am 30 now.  If I make a poor choice in how to appropriate my personal resources – if I neglect or destroy my health, my career, a relationship, I’m running out of days to try it all again. These are worries for thirty-year-olds and now I am a thirty-year-old so here I am.

In the mornings, though, when I wake up in my tiny apartment, I’m not usually worrying about that shit. I’m thinking about my day and about what I’d like to accomplish. I’m thinking about how closely I’ll be able to stick to my routine, or how I might like to tweak things. I’m thinking about the book I’m reading, or the book I just finished, or the book I might read next. The older I get, the more I figure out about myself. The older I get, the more comfortable I am taking the reigns. I steer my days the way I want them to go. I’m hoping this means that my years will go the way I want them to as well.

The older I get, the more faith I have that my days, weeks, months, years will be good ones. If that’s the difference between being a 20-something and a 30-something, then I’m pretty okay about that.

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her life with snow

Two years ago to the day, I wrote a little post about some snow we had in Boston.

Yeah, it was a lot of snow. They shut the MBTA system completely, for the first time since the Blizzard of 1978. Records, perhaps, were broken. I honestly can’t remember, because I’m from Michigan, y’all. It’s snow – it shows up, it sticks around, and eventually it’s 90 degrees and humid. If you’re lucky, you get a day off of work – otherwise, shovel out your car and hit the slippery and potentially deadly road. Snow is snow is snow.

Unless, of course it’s 2015 and you live in Boston and suddenly snow is just YOUR LIFE. FOREVER. IT WILL NEVER STOP.

 

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You guys can read the news – I’ll spare you the play by play – but there is just so much. So much! The Boy has had 10 snow days, I’ve had 4, and they’re talking about another storm this weekend. I stopped caring about accumulation a week or so ago – once you hit 3 feet on the ground, does another foot really make a difference? I’m more concerned about my poor dear MBTA, which seems to be just barely clinging to life. I used to rely on public transit to get me to work in a reasonable amount of time under semi-dignified circumstances. Ever since The Snow, all I’m gunning for is Eventually Arriving at Work/Home. Not spending the night sleeping in my office. Not spending the night sleeping in a stalled train. In attempt to mitigate my public transportation rage (which is transitioning quickly to straight-up anxiety), I’ve been doing a lot of walking around in the snow, which is… ah… challenging. Some sidewalks are shoveled well, some are shoveled barely, and some are covered with an inch of solid ice. Snow plows turn street corners into impassable mountains of snow – that eventually melt into slushy swamps that one must ford in order to… stand directly in the way of traffic that couldn’t really see you around the remaining snow mountains. Check out this clever Boston city maze by Bikeyface to get a taste of what it’s like on the ground.

I’m incredibly grateful that I rent an apartment, and even more grateful to the owners in my building who have shoveled, salted, sanded, and paid a guy in a tiny snow plow to scoop out  a clear exit from my building. I’m grateful to have a job where my supervisor is flexible and understanding when the trains just don’t show up. Every day I pat Past Jessica on the back for dropping big bucks last year on snow boots that, at the time, felt like a luxury but are now making it possible for me to exist in this frozen wasteland of a city. Thank you, thank you Bean Boots.

I’m not getting to the gym. I’m spending way too much time cooped up with my darling husband and my completely obnoxious darling cat and we are driving each other a bit insane. But the power’s stayed on, I’ve got heat, I’ve got coffee, I’ve got food and wine and books. During the Great Blizzard of 2013, I laid about my underheated apartment and read Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina. During the SnowiestMFingFebruaryInTheHistoryofBoston, I laid about my adequately heated apartment and read the entirely enjoyable sequel. It’s good and it’s long and I have enough pages left to get me through the next XXX inches of snow.

I mean, assuming I survive.

 

 

reading rockstar

This morning I woke up to a foot-ish of snow and the cold, hard reality that my employer was expecting me to show up at work. Also, a post-Super Bowl Too Much Food&Drink Not Enough Sleep situation. Read: grumpy as hell.

I did, however, make it into the office in time to watch the webcast of  the ALA Youth Media Awards. And wow, what a crazy set of awards. There were upsets! Some well-deserving sleepers! Some books I really disliked taking home gold medals! An arguably YA graphic novel on the Caldecott list, a graphic novel on the Newbery list, and six (SIX!!) Caldecott honors that still somehow managed to skip some of my 2014 favorites. Definitely a wild ride.

Now, because I am having such a crummy day, I am going to divert your attention from the authors and illustrators who put forth such an amazing crop of children’s and young adult literature this past year and brag SHAMELESSLY about how many of these freaking award books I have read. Seriously. Reader, I killed it.

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  • I read the Newbery Medal winner – The Crossover by Kwame Alexander – and both honor books.
  • I read the Coretta Scott King Author Award winner – Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – and one honor.
  • I read the Coretta Scott King Illustrator winner – Firebird by Christopher Myers and Misty Copeland – and one honor.
  • I read the Schneider Family Book Award for middle school readers – Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin.
  • I read the Pura Belpre Illustrator Award – Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales.
  • I did not read the Stonewall Book Award winner – This Day in June by Gayle E. Pittman – but I did read two of the three honor books.
  • I did not read the Geisel Winner – You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant – but I did read one of the two honor books.
  • I read the William C. Morris award winner – Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – and one other honor book.

 

The only categories I completely whiffed on were the Pura Belpre Author Award and my beloved Alex List. Brag, braggity brag brag BRAG… but this is likely the only year this will happen, so thank you for indulging my self-indulgence and CHEERS to another great year of books!

 

in 2015

 

The Boy and I returned from our family vacation on January 3rd. We caught an early flight, so I spent most of the day napping and watching House Hunters. Not exactly seizing the new year. In fact, it is the 21st as I write this and am currently seizing very little. 2015 definitely didn’t start on the 1st – I was on vacation for heaven’s sake! I thought it would start after I met a post-vacation deadline, but then I couldn’t make the deadline and it’s really better I don’t talk about that. Then I threw a baby shower, and now that my immediate concerns have ended the month is halfway done. 2015 should be starting annnnnny minute now.

I’m not taking on any traditional New Year’s resolutions for 2015. No one little word (which really just reminds me of Skyrim, actually). No 30 before 30. Ignoring the chance to turn over a new leaf is a bit out of character, but I suspect that 2015 will be a bit of a wild ride. I’m sure I won’t be able to resist the siren song of self-improvement as the year moves on, so I’m bowing out of the NYR game in favor of whatever small goals I dream up for myself over the course of the year.

So I won’t be Resolving in 2015, but I won’t be sitting on the couch all year, either. Well, actually, I probably will be sitting on the couch all year, so never mind. Anyway, here’s what I will be up to in 2015.

 

Reading some YA nonfiction

Yes, I have returned yet again to the Cybils YA nonfiction committee, but after two years as a Round One judge I am trying my hand at Round Two! For the layman, this means that instead of reading a butt-ton of nonfiction books between October and December 31st, I waited for Round One to do their thing. Now, my first order of 2015 business is to read the seven nominees! Don’t worry,  I’m not waiting to “settle in” with 2015 to get this one going; I’m a book and a half away from the finish line. Check back with the Cybils folks on Valentine’s Day to see which of the seven we select!

 

Examining my relationship with processed foods

I’m not going as far as to call this one a New Year’s Diet or anything, but I’m pretty much always on a never-ending quest to find Peace with Eating. In an ideal world, everything that I ingest would be healthful, delicious, quick-ish to prepare, and produced in a manner that doesn’t offend my morals. While also fitting into my budget. Easy as pie. Once in awhile pie. Not every weekend pie.

Anyway, this year I’d like to winnow away at my processed food consumption. Processed foods are quick-ish but not usually healthful, and after reading Salt Sugar Fat I’d really rather not actively give my paycheck away to giant corporations who have hired scientists to engineer their products in such a way that my powerful human sensory system overrides my pitiful stores of willpower to just keeeeep eating until I am obese and die. Also: processed foods? Rarely as delicious as you thought they’d be. Right now I’m being mindful of my current habits and making small changes – swapping out my usual afternoon Triscuits and cheese for some nuts or deviled eggs, for example. I might go cold turkey later in the year, but for now I think the slow and observant track is working out okay.

Buying a car

We’ve been enjoying car-free living for two years now. I like not paying for gas or emergency car repairs or emergency save-my-stranded-husband-from-the-side-of-the-road repairs or car insurance. I like not worrying about any of that at all. However, we moved to our new neighborhood knowing that we’d be a little farther away from some of our favorite parts (and people) of Boston, so we’ve been stashing $$ away since then. And now that our third car-less winter has arrived… well, it’s time. I’m looking forward to feeling more mobile, to carrying fewer belongings on my elderly aching back, and to taking some New England excursions in 2015.

(Learning to be a badass city driver? Not looking forward to that so much…)

 

Taking some trips

New year, new stash of vacation days. Last year we took it reasonably easy, travel-wise, both to spend some extra time with family and to save money for some more ambitious travel plans. If we can strategically apply those vacation days and stashed dollars, 2015 might be the year of another Big Trip. But we’d also like to spend a week in the Kansas City area to visit Favorite Roommate and The Boy’s little brother, hit the beach with my family, bus down to New York for a weekend or two, and mayyyyyybe visit my friends and her already-year-old-baby in San Antonio. So what I am saying is we’ll be headed some places.

 

Keeping a Log Book

Okay, so this one is kiiiiind of like a New Year’s Resolution. Except that it’s easy, fun, and serves no significant daily function. As a calendar connoisseur, I’ve been intrigued by Austin Kleon’s concept of a personal log book for quite some time now. I’m actually pretty sure I read that original post, back in the day, so we are talking five years now. Anyway, The Boy was buying his own work planner online so I asked if he would buy me a smaller version, and here I am – logging away. It’s like a journal… but simpler, more fun, and without room for the “woe is me” that usually comes pouring out when I try to keep a proper diary. I’m digging it.

Reading Like an Absolutely Insane Person

If you are wondering why I am not posting on this blog in 2015, it is because I am busy reading.

If you are wondering why I can’t seem to string a sentence together, it is because I am busy reading.

If you are wondering why the above log book photo does not include anything about reading, I would encourage you to shove it but I am too busy reading. And I promise, I was reading – both days.

If you see me in the wild and I look as though I have not showered for a week, that is because I hate showering. And also, I am too busy to shower. Because I am reading.

Mad reading. If nothing else, 2015 will be a year of mad, mad reading. Can’t wait to tell y’all all about it.

 

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

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#1 The Magicians series by Lev Grossman

Oh boy. Here’s a review that has been a long time coming. Almost an entire calendar year coming!

I read Lev Grossman’s The Magicians at the tail end of December, just as I was finishing up my end-of-the-year book awards, my Cybils reading, a spate of professional reviews. I was also coming off my second listen-through of Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords. This is all to say: I was busy and doing a lot of required reading…. but despite having read through the series twice in 2014, I was sorely tempted to jump right back into Westeros, just because it was a comfortable place to be.

I resisted the urge for a number of reasons – instead, I was just an angry little reading thing. Nothing seemed fun. Nothing suited. It was a very slumpy time, and while I’ve come to accept the fact that, oh, human life does not always adhere to whatever superhuman standards I set for myself, it still unsettles me, to feel so adrift. Like a habitual, every day runner slowed down by an injury. Rest is good. Necessary. But also distressing.

Some people run marathons. Some people read marathons.

Anyway, I chanced upon The Magicians through my beloved Overdrive app, and my slump dissolved. It was one of those reading experiences that Reader Me (and probably Reader You) lives for – the complete immersion, the instant investment, the can’t-stop-reading feeling.

You know what I’m talking about. It’s better than almost anything.

Quentin Coldwater is a high achieving 17-year-old with a tendency toward angst. Or clinical depression. One of the two. His life’s primary joy is reading fantasy novels, specifically the series Fillory and Further… which is really just an alternate imagining of The Chronicles of Narnia. Quentin’s ennui is lifted temporarily when he is tapped to enroll in a secret college. A college for magicians. The boy who wanted nothing more than to live in a fantasy novel… gets to live in a fantasy novel.

Yes. It’s Harry Potter in college.

But probably not in the ways you think.

Lately, I have been attracted to books that blur genre lines. I’ve been a bit of a genre-nerd for some time now – all of my favorite literary questions are about narrative structure, reader expectations, and canonicity. What books do we get to call “literary” and what books do we not? Why do so many YA books have bad parents? What is the difference between an adult book about teens and a YA book about teens? What is the difference between a book teens like and a book adults like?

Genre-bending books, by their very nature, present these genre questions on a platter, almost requiring that you consider them as you read. The Magicians straddles the line between fantasy and realism. The narrative sticks closely to Quentin’s perspective – the book is missing that charming storytelling narrative distance that fantasy-lovers (like Quentin) adore. The result is a book that feels very different than a fantasy novel (especially a children’s fantasy), which may put off those actually looking for a “Harry Potter in college” reading experience.

What’s left is a very realistic coming of age novel about fantastic events.

As a girl who loves realism and is dipping her toes into fantasy, this combination basically flipped my lid. I was tickled. 100% delighted. I loved how awkward and unfocused and stumbling Quentin was, how he makes friends in an organic but occasionally painful way that took me right back to college. He whines. He pouts. He makes bad choices. He doesn’t quite know what he wants from the world. But really – who does?

But I was also quite taken by… well… all the magic. In the world of The Magicians, bagic isn’t a mystical ability, bestowed upon you at birth. Magic is an academic discipline and practice. A science. An art. Only the best and brightest can hope to practice it well and safely, but even the best and brightest college students are still college students. Quentin and his friends are intoxicated by the prestige and the secrecy and the endless possibilities that their field presents. Magic big and deep and encompassing and so, so powerful – Quentin and his friends learn just how powerful in some seriously painful ways.

This is also the rare fantasy series that doesn’t lose a bit of steam as the trilogy rolls along. I loved The Magicians, but then The Magician King introduces a second narrator whose story I found even more compelling than Quentin’s. The Magician’s Land was a bit slower – not quite as electrifying – but the conclusion was just so, so satisfying to me.

So yes, I’m glad I stopped reading Game of Thrones for a few minutes – long enough to find a new series to love. The surface parallels between the two series are pretty nonexistent. I’m definitely not claiming that fans of GoT will love this, but I found Grossman’s world-building just as thorough and inventive, his characters just as tortured and complex, and the Big Fat Ideas just as free-flying and immersive and wonderful. Like GoT, this series just transports me. Like GoT, I’ll be re-reading The Magicians for a long time.

~ You made it! The end! Merry Christmas! I’m officially On Vacation until January, but I will be back in the New Year! ~

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

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#2 Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Here’s a book I really, really, really don’t need to tell you about. It needs no introduction. No signal boost. I have no information that you haven’t already gathered, either from reading the book yourself or just from existing on the BookInternet for more than a few minutes in 2014.

I could tell you that the library copy I read had bright yellow pages – on the edges. When our copies arrived at the library, I spotted them in the sorting bins from all the way across our large tech services area. Quite the dramatic entrance, book.

I could also tell you that I really couldn’t put this one down – Andrew Smith works some serious storytelling magic here. Yes, this is a book about some teen boys who accidentally trigger the apocalypse and sic gigantic, man-eating grasshoppers on their sleepy Iowa hometown. And the narration is fairly audacious – Austin not only chronicles the events that lead to this disaster but also a family history, a local history, and the history of the other citizens of Earling. It’s definitely a weird book that takes some big narrative risks – but if you can stomach giant insects and keep up with the somewhat disjointed narration, the pay-offs are big. This book reads a little like a twisted textbook. Austin is writing a history here, and like any history, the telling belies the narrator’s biases, blind-spots, and priorities. It’s tough, at times, to tell what is more unbelievable and horrific: the events that Austin unleashes in Earling or his worldview. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that history, here, is written by a teenage boy. The stories Austin tells aren’t always nuanced or fair or appealing, but as a whole, the book raised some exceptionally interesting questions about who gets to write history, why they are allowed to take this privilege, and to what consequence. What does it mean when men get to tell the stories of all of civilization? At what point – if any – do the history writers stop being horny teenage boys and become authorities?

But for me, that’s all set dressing. Behind the sci-fi-ishness and the voicey-ness and the ambition is just the juiciest realism I’ve read in quite some time. The scenes between Austin and his girlfriend and is best friend are just bubbling with tension as Austin seems to subconsciously test the limits of each relationship. I’m a realism-loving gal. Even giant grasshoppers can’t scare me away from a good teen love story – especially when it’s the kind of love story that reveals just how huge and scary and delicate teen relationships can be. As the apocalypse grows imminent, Smith masterfully raises the stakes for Austin’s relationships, too – by the conclusion, how Austin reconciles his relationships with Shan and Robbie is just as important as how they can save the world. Maybe those two tasks are intimately connected. Maybe everything is.

 

 

 

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

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#3 Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

Well, I’m having trouble figuring out how to talk about this book. I came in with few expectations – I haven’t read Salvage the Bones yet, this wasn’t a required read, and it wasn’t a big “buzz book” that I’d heard tons of opinions on. I thought it sounded interesting. I like memoirs. I had a copy at the ready.

I was completely blown away. What Ward does here is so genius: she writes a memoir, but also the life stories of five young men in Ward’s life who died in a five year spa – including her own brother. Ward starts from her most recent loss and moves backwards in time, recalling the details of each young man’s life while also detailing her own. Ward really could have written a memoir about her life alone – the vividness of her childhood memories is impressive and her journey out of her impoverished hometown is compelling enough.

But lives don’t exist in a vacuum. Every human on this planet has a full, rich life that is tethered to other lives. Although Ward isn’t terrible close to all of the young men she writes about, her stories illustrate how connected they were through the bonds of their community. Which are the same kind of bonds that bring together any group of people. If you had a student die at your high school, think about how that rippled through the school and your town. When a kid dies, there is grief. Young deaths rock communities. When systemic racism and class disparities contribute to a higher rate of premature deaths in a certain community, that is just blow after blow. As Ward writes it, the second death of a loved once doesn’t hurt any less than the first. Neither does the fifth.

 

It’s easy to think about severely impoverished parts of the country as far away from whatever kind of life you – reader who can afford a computer to read this blog post and also maybe buy a book once in awhile – are leading. Books like Ward’s help me to feel tethered to the lives of others I might not otherwise relate to – that might stereotype or dismiss.

I found this memoir powerful, personal, exceptionally readable, and important. Oh goodness, important. After months of watching the horrors of what is happening in Ferguson this summer, I wish I could gift this book to every person in my country. Police violence is just one of the many ways that young, Black men can die, and Ward’s memoir explores just how harrowing and haunting each of those lives can be. Highly, highly recommended.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

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#4 Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Allow me to direct your attention back to a Best Reads post I wrote way back in 2011 about a little book called Charlotte’s Web. I’m not quite as anti-Western Canon as I used to be in my younger years, probably because A) I’ve liked a lot of the so called “classics” that I read in this latter portion of my life and B) I don’t actually have to read any classics anymore. I am free to design my reading life around my own priorities (which, actually, is probably why I balked at so many reading assignments in my lifetime), so when you read 100 contemporary YA and middle grade novels in a year, a handful of classics doesn’t feel so bad. Also, I can handpick whichever classics suit my fancy! It’s a win-win-win. Life after a few English degrees can be grand.

Anyway. I’m talking about Harriet M. Welsch today. Harriet the m-f-ing spy. She is just such a very, very awesome character – completely individual, independent, and somewhat irascible. She’s a free-wheeling city kid who gets to walk around Manhattan so unsupervised that she manages to spend a significant amount of time hanging out in her neighbor’s dumbwaiter. So awesome.

Since this is my Best Reads list, I am free to talk about how Adult Jessica read this particular work of children’s literature rather than think about any potential child readers. I say this because I am pretty sure I read this book as a child, and unlike many other books I read before my 12th birthday it seemed to have come into my head and left promptly – it left no impression. I’m guessing that I found Harriet a little too aggressive for my liking – back then, I was all about Alice and Margaret – the awkward heroines, the shy ones, the girls as prone to embarrassment as I was. Not to besmirch Alice or Margaret in the least, but I’m pretty sure Harriet would have had some nasty things to say about them in her notebook.

Now, Adult Jessica sees just how uniquely independent, richly developed, and kind of subversive Harriet’s character is. I can also see just how ingeniously Fitzhugh marries this maturity with a sense of conflict in a child’s life. Harriet can get herself into and out of trouble, she can traipse around city streets alone, and she’s smarter than nearly everyone she knows, but at the same time she just can’t handle the idea of change in her life in the way that most 11-year-olds can’t. Like Eleven-year-old Jessica couldn’t. It melted my sappy, grown-up heart a little. I said this yesterday, but I sure am glad books don’t expire, and that great children’s books in particular seem to endure long beyond the average publishing lifespan. I’m glad that they are still around for their intended audience, but for us sappy grown-ups too.

 

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

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 #5 The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Hey! Back to the countdown! Woohoo!

Thinking about Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding this morning has me yet again questioning what I value in a book; or, more specifically, what I value in a reading experience. There is a difference between the two measures. To me, evaluating a book as a book is all about gathering evidence and building a case. You can point to places in the text that support your opinions or challenge them. It requires clear thinking and an active engagement with one’s own book-biases. Evaluating a reading experience is different. A reading experience is subjective and highly personal. It’s not impossible to evaluate a book based on the reading experience is provides – in fact, this is a large portion of the essential task we librarians like to call Reader’s Advisory – but it definitely flexes different critical muscles. It’s less about the quantifiable and more about story elements, appeal factors, and other less tangible qualities.

When it comes to my personal reading, I tend to unconsciously value certain types of reading experiences. One thing I like is for a book to surprise me. I think this is why I accidentally write a lot of “Well, I thought this book would suck BUUUUTTTT….” kind of reviews. I like broadening my reading tastes and learning about new things, yes – I’m not the kind of reader who likes to read the same kind of book over and over and over. And I especially love it when a novel lures me with great writing and storytelling, showing me the fascinating inner-workings of parts of life I’d have zero interest in otherwise. Like birds. Or mountain climbing. Or baseball.

Yes, this is yet another Best Book Of Many Years Ago, just now arriving on Jessica’s radar. It’s a good things books don’t expire at the end of the year, eh? So what to say about this book that you haven’t heard before? Probably not much. This is a book about baseball, yes, but also a book about what it’s like to live and work in a small college town.  There’s a professor turned college president with a strange relationship with Herman Melville. There’s a freshman baseball recruit with unprecedented skill as a shortstop but who struggles with… you know… the other parts about being human and existing in this world. Other characters flit in between these two protagonists – the president’s wayward daughter, the baseball player’s rarefied roommate, the older guy on the baseball team responsible for summoning team spirit and keeping everyone in line. It’s a well-paced, character-driven novel with a lot to say about goal-setting and goal-achieving, about the perils and joys of pointing your life in one single direction, and about failure.

But yes, baseball. Harbach writes with such a charming, engaging tone that even I started to find baseball interesting. I was surprised and delighted, and ready to read anything else Harbach might deign to write about in the future.

 

Best New (to me) Authors of 2014

It’s always great to discover a fantastic new author whose books you just adoorrreeee. What’s better: discovering a fantastic old author with a hefty backlist that you can work your way through. Here are some (already popular and reasonably prolific) authors I was delighted to “discover” in 2014.

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Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings was possibly *the book* of the summer of 2013. Well, for me, Getting Married was *the book* of the summer of 2013, which is to say I was not particularly interested in muscling through a hefty (adult) book by a new author with a really-really long holds list. I got around to reading it this year and I was really taken by Wolitzer’s easy, intellectual language, and the kinds of stories and characters she portrayed. I listened to The Uncoupling and The Ten Year Nap on audio this year, both of which focused more narrowly on women characters and also had a little bit of a magical realism going on that I didn’t quite expect. I also picked up Wolitzer’s entree to YA – Belzhar – which was even more surreal, but just as good.

~

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Jonathan Tropper

So I really wanted to read This is Where I Leave You but I couldn’t get my hands on it. Even when I actively decided to read it this summer, my hold still did not come in on time. This is where logical people would you know, buy the book. And read it. Illogical people (who illogically pursue public service jobs in major cities and live in illogically small apartments) settle for back list. This illogical person was pretty pleased with her choice. I listened to both on audio, first Everything Changes and then The Book of Joe. They both kind of blur together for me, both books about dudes pushing middle age with Daddy issues, which is probably why neither made any of my more traditional best lists this year, but not every book needs to be a Best Book. Some books are just nice easy reading. Or listening. Perhaps I will avenge This is Where I Leave You 2015? (Or maybe just watch the movie? We’ll see how this next year pans out.)

~

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Ann Patchett

I started with This is the Story of a Happy Marriage: a chance read which I listened to while walking around New York City, and one that I liked quite a lot. Patchett references her novels many times throughout Happy Marriage, and listening to someone say “Bel Canto” and “State of Wonder” so many times sent shivers of shame down my spine. I didn’t have time to read much then, and I didn’t want to spoil either of the two books I’d heard so many praise by accidentally listening to a terrible audio recording. Plus they weren’t available on Overdrive. Patchett’s debut novel was. I listened to it. I liked it. I still didn’t want to listen to Bel Canto or State of Wonder. But Truth and Beauty? Sure. And it was just as wonderful as Happy Marriage – it was a really tough call which work of nonfiction would land on my list this year. I’m still going to save those Big Two for a good, old-fashioned ink on paper reading, but mayhaps Patchett has a few other backlist gems I can get my hands on in the meantime?