My Books in 2013

Looking back on my Good Reads list, this year was pretty big for new authors that I love

The Fault in Our Stars by John GreenFirst and foremost is John Green, all of whose books I’ve now read, most notably of which is The Fault in Our Stars. I didn’t fall in love with all of this books, but TFiOS is now and forever more one of the best pieces of writing I’ve ever come across. I can’t stop recommending it to (or buying it for) people, and I only wish I had figured out how great it was when it first came out so I could have jumped on the bandwagon sooner. As a direct result of that, too, I’ve become a fan of his brother Hank and their YouTube pages, which help me while away all sorts of time I should be spending writing.

Speaking of books I missed the first ship on: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I mean, Jesus. The Fault in Our Stars is one of the most well-written books I’ve ever read, but man I think this is THE best book I’ve ever come across.

Then there’s Rainbow Rowell. Eleanor and Park simultaneously broke and swelled my heart about as much as TFiOS, and Fangirl gave that wonderful, well, fangirl flutter in my gut that I don’t feel as often as I once did. I still haven’t read her adult book, but it’s certainly on my list.
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Also of note: this year, Sara Farizan, another Lesley graduate, published her first book, If You Could Be Mine, a wonderful love story. It makes me so proud to have been in the same program as her.

Not in the YA grouping: David Sedaris. How have I not read this man before? His nonfiction essays reveal a life that in most ways is very different from mine, but he still manages to write things that click and mesh with the way I see the world, that echo thoughts I’ve never said out loud because who else would possibly think that way? I’ve read almost everything he’s written, which is really depressing in its own way, since I could read his books forever. But luckily Sedaris is one of those magical readers that stand up to rereadings (or re-listenings, since I switch between his audio books and print books) so I can just go back to him again and again and again.

Boxers and Saints2013 was also a year where I started getting into different forms of reading. audiobooks became my go-to way to pass the time doing chores or driving, though I do find myself being very picky with what I listen to: it has to be something I can spend only about 80% of my brain on, and I can’t make myself listen to anything that equals more than 10 or so CDs. I’ve also discovered a new love of short stories, with Aimee Bender and George Saunders, and also J.D. Salinger and another new favorite book, Franny and Zooey.

Always there are new comics. This year I found a new favorite webcomic, Boumeries, which I’ve talked about before. I’ve also loved Gene Luen Yang’s new duet (duology? twosome?), Boxers & Saints about the Boxer Rebellion in China. Other good ones were Message to Adolf by Osamu Tezuka, Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim, and Marbles, a memoir on bipolar disorder, by Ellen Forney.

Really, I could go on and on about the books I loved this year. There are plenty I didn’t name. But those are some of the things that stuck out for me. How about you?

Book Thoughts: New Finds

  • Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen Audio BookI’ve recently started listening to audio books, mostly while I putz around the house. I was never sure if I’d enjoy doing this, but since I discovered that I concentrate better on cleaning and any other chore that doesn’t use a certain part of my brain, I figured I’d give listening to stories a shot. And it works — my house is often much cleaner than it used to be, since I want to keep listening but need to find something to do with my hands. It works for longer car rides, too. Right now I’ve just been listening to young adult (Sarah Dessen) and funny stuff (Tina Fey) so it’s not as crucial for my concentration to be quite as full.
  • Also, obviously, I’ve been reading (listening) a lot of Sarah Dessen. I never thought I’d like her, but her stories are sweet and tough some inner teenager part of myself. Then I discovered that a bunch of her books have overlapping characters, and now I’m kind of hooked.
  • My grandmother went to Prince Edward Island a few months ago and of course read all the Anne of Green Gables books. I mentioned that I read the first one and would get to the rest eventually. She logically interpreted this as I wanted to borrow each one from her at exactly the same time, so now I have them all in a sack, on the floor, because where the heck are 9 books going to go?
  • There is a great amount of relief in recommending a book to someone wholeheartedly and having them enjoy it as well. Takes away the potential embarrassment of you flailing around and thrusting a book in their face, half-shouting “It’s good! It’s so good!!” when they also have an emotional response. This happened recently with my frantic praise of The Fault in Our Stars. (Which, have you read that yet? You should. Go read it. Go!)

Quick Look: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars by John GreenI’m a little late jumping on the John Green love bandwagon, and I don’t want to dwell on it, but let’s just say I read Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars and started watching his video blog and now I adore him.

One thing I noticed with The Fault in Our Stars is how this book is both very sad (the main character, Hazel, is 16-years-old with terminal cancer who falls in love with a boy who’s had his leg amputated from his own cancer) and very, very funny. Often, these two things occur simultaneously, like when Hazel finds out she’ll be able to go on a trip to Amsterdam, and she says to her lungs (which don’t function properly) “Keep your shit together.” Green does this in bigger ways, too, resulting in scenes that must have been so difficult to craft but wind up revealing something so very true about people.

There is one scene in particular that I have been quoting to people since I read it, because it struck me as very empathetic, harsh, sad, and also kind of funny. Hazel is talking with her friend Isaac, who has just had his second eye removed because of his own cancer. Prior to the surgery, his girlfriend broke up with him, “so she wouldn’t have to dump a blind guy.” Now, he’s trying to figure out why she won’t get together with Augustus, who she obviously really likes.

“Do you like him?” Isaac asked.

“Of course I like him. He’s great.”

“But you don’t want to hook up with him?”

I shrugged. “It’s complicated.”

“I know what you’re trying to do. You don’t want to give him something he can’t handle. You don’t want him to Monica you.”

“Kinda,” I said. But it wasn’t that. The truth was, I didn’t want to Isaac him. “To be fair to Monica,” I said, “what you did to her wasn’t very nice, either.”

“What’d I do to her?” he asked, defensive.

“You know, going blind and everything.”

“But that’s not my fault,” Isaac said.

“I’m not saying it was your fault. I’m saying it wasn’t nice.

At first glance, this seems pretty harsh, as it looks like Hazel’s blaming Isaac for getting dumped. But really, she’s just pointing out the truth — for a 16-year-old girl, having your boyfriend go suddenly blind is an emotional shock, the need to be there for him is overwhelming, and while it’s obviously harder for Isaac, he can’t get out of the situation, while she can. This is where the subtle humor comes in, through Hazel’s deadpan assertion that, even though Isaac can’t help it, his cancer (which, as other parts of the book establish, is a part of the sick person, is the sick person) is being pretty mean to his girlfriend. You may cringe, but you also have to chuckle. And then you understand the truth. Most people can’t handle a situation like this, it’s overwhelming, and causes them to be bad people and dump their sick boyfriends, so no, it’s not a nice thing to do to them. It’s really sad, kind of funny, and ultimately empathetically honest about what people are really like.