Kate Chopin

Favorite Books of 2016

I know there are many people in the world who rarely read, which is probably one of the most depressing things to know about our society. I feel no shame in the time I spend daily reading or thinking about reading or discussing reading with my roommate.

In 2016, I read 92 books and plays, which is a personal record (I was determined to out-do my 2014 total of 91, so congratulations from me to myself). Unlike past years, I set a few goals at the beginning of the year other than reading a total of 52 books, which included reading works by specific people. By Thanksgiving, I’d accomplished all of those goals, so I’m upping the ante for 2017 (see my new reading list in a day or two if you’re curious about how nerdy/obsessive I can be).

Below, in the order I read them, is a list of my favorite books I read in 2016, followed by some honorable mentions. This list contains books both new and old, some of which have even achieved favorite status. You can consult my full 2016 reading list here.

What books did you love in 2016? Maybe I’ll add them to my shelf.


Brooklyn, Colm Toíbín

Both as a book and a film, Brooklyn has taken deep root in my soul. I adore this coming-of-age story (they tend to be my favorites anyway, but this one is especially great). The novel, which tells the story of a young Irish immigrant Eilis who moves to New York City to start a new life in the 1950s, is just as profound and beautiful as its Oscar-nominated film adaptation. This is a perfect book to enjoy on a cozy winter afternoon.

Collected Sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay

I grabbed this book at a used bookstore to help fill out my reading list for my master’s comprehensive exams in the spring and was fortunate enough to love it as a piece of literature. I quickly became obsessed with Edna St. Vincent Millay herself (this girl was crazy progressive and hip in the 1920s) and her poetry doesn’t make me feel like an idiot as most poetry does. She’s witty, hilarious, and heartbreaking in equal parts.

‘Night, Mother, Marsha Norman

It’s strange that I only read ‘Night, Mother earlier this year because the story feels deeply engrained in me already. My mom has loved this play for a long time, and I finally understood why when I read it myself this spring. Norman’s play is sparse and simple but still incredibly profound. It’s impossible as a reader not to share the characters’ anxiety as the story progresses in real time toward a potential suicide. I can’t wait to share this play with my students this spring.

Hamilton: The Revolution, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

This may come as a surprise to you, but I’m a fan of Hamilton (okay just kidding I haven’t listened to any other music in a year). Since annotating is one of my favorite pastimes, reading the annotated edition of the complete musical, accompanied by beautiful photographs and behind-the-scenes information, was a dream. Hamilton: The Revolution is a must-have for fans of the musical. Though it’s a little pricier than the Chernow biography upon which the show is based, it’s far less likely to sit untouched on your bookshelf.

Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed

My only prior encounters with Cheryl Strayed came from seeing the film adaptation of Wild  and reading a few nonfiction essays in a writing workshop, but after my roommate loved this one and gave it to me as a graduation gift, I too fell in love. I intended to bring this as my reading material on a long drive to Nebraska over the summer, but I got so into it I breezed through the entire book before our departure. Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of Strayed’s Dear Sugar letters, a column she wrote for The Rumpus. Strayed clearly answers each person with deep thought and tenderness, but she isn’t afraid to answer with honesty. Each entry makes you feel understood and valued. I have a feeling this book will be one I continue to share with friends and family.

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy Schumer

After solidifying my love for Amy Schumer in 2015, I of course had to read her memoir when it was released this summer. Schumer doesn’t disappoint in this book that is equally laugh-out-loud funny and sweetly sad. Though I read this book months ago, there are still stories here that I think of and laugh about often.

The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith

The Book of Other People is a collection of short stories written by several famous authors whose sole prompt was to create a character and write a story about them. As with many short story collections, the end result is a bit of a mixed bag, but the general feeling I had was a very pleasant one. When my roommate and I read this aloud together (now one of our favorite and cutest habits), we sometimes had difficulty stopping ourselves from reading indefinitely. Though many of the stories are great, see if you can get your hands on “Magda Mandela” by Hari Kunzru. It’s a quick read and you will not be disappointed.

A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness

I haven’t even seen A Monster Calls yet but I’m already guessing this will be the #1 tearjerker of 2017. The book tells the story of a young English boy named Conor whose mother’s cancer is continually worsening. Conor is visited nightly by a tree monster, a clear manifestation of his frustration and grief as he watches his mother fade. This is a beautiful story about love and loss. Just maybe skip the eye makeup before reading.

Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty

I’m very rarely a reader of mysteries, especially contemporary ones. However, once I saw the trailer for the upcoming HBO miniseries adaptation of this novel, I was too intrigued not to read it before the February air date. Who knew I’d be such a fan? The book rounds out at over 500 pages, but I couldn’t put it down in the 2 days I spent reading it. I think Moriarty does a great job of telling a dramatic story in a way that still feels authentic (something I’m a little worried about based on the footage from the miniseries). It was refreshing to see a story about women who come from various backgrounds, aren’t all about competition, and keep cattiness to a minimum. Though this was my first encounter with Moriarty, I’ve already purchased her latest book, Truly Madly Guilty, and look forward to enjoying it early next year.

State of Wonder, Ann Patchett

2016 was a year of Ann Patchett for me. I’d never read her previously, but my roommate and I read Bel Canto together in the fall and I became a fan. Though I generally try not to be too easily distracted by my book purchases, when I bought State of Wonder in October, I couldn’t resist starting it almost immediately. The story is clearly inspired by Joseph Conrad’s classic Heart of Darkness, but differs in that it follows a woman sent to retrieve her female boss from the depths of the Amazon where she’s developing a fertility drug. Though I was—and still am—frustrated by the book’s conclusion, it features beautiful writing and some great twists that make for a worthwhile read.

The Penguin Arthur Miller

In my 92 books read this year, this one feels like the biggest accomplishment. In fact, it’s one book that contains 18—this is the complete canon of Arthur Miller’s dramatic works. Miller and I go way back at this point, but before 2016, I’d only read 3 of his plays. This edition isn’t exactly an easy one to travel with—note its comparative size to my cat in the featured photo—but now it has a stately position on my bookshelf made all the more grand by the fact that I’ve read all the words in it. Miller is an undeniable master of American drama, and I loved spending so much time with him this year. If you remember, think of him on February 10—the date not only of his death, but also the anniversary of the Broadway premiere of Death of a Salesman.

Why Not Me?, Mindy Kaling

My general relationship with Mindy Kaling over the past month has gone from casual fan to actively seeking friendship (so, Mindy, if you’re reading, let’s hang out!). When I bought this book in the airport a few weeks ago, I was just looking to be mildly entertained on my journey home, but many times I was made to laugh aloud. Then I watched the entirety of The Mindy Project in just a few days, and I became even more enamored. Though it would be wrong to call Why Not Me? a page-turner, it’s still the kind of book you have a hard time putting down.


Honorable Mentions: The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, Voyager by Diana Gabaldon, At Fault by Kate Chopin, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy

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2016 Reading List #51: Bayou Folk, by Kate Chopin

Because Kate Chopin is just one of the coolest ladies in literature, I jumped right into Bayou Folk, one of her two published short stories collections, just after I finished At Fault a few weeks ago. Though I read two other books and started a third in the time I was reading Bayou Folk, that doesn’t reflect on my feelings about the work. Once again, Chopin is a joy to read.

Overall, I didn’t enjoy Bayou Folk quite as much as I have Chopin’s novels, but that’s probably true of most short story collections. I really loved some, others were fine. I was interested to realize though, that Chopin operates in a way that mirrors what Faulkner is famous for—carrying characters and locations through several different works to create an interconnected network for her writing. It’s fun to jump into a world of familiar names and places and see where the new story takes you.

And since finishing Bayou Folk, I only have one book left to complete my 2016 goal! Look for a post on completing my reading goal soon.

 

2016 Reading List #48: At Fault, by Kate Chopin

I think it’s time we all just take a moment to recognize the joy that is reading Kate Chopin’s works.

I think I’m a little late to the game with Chopin, especially as far as English students are concerned, but I love her. True, deep love.

In high school, I only encountered her short story “The Story of an Hour,” partially because I opted to read something else over The Awakening. I only read The Awakening a few years ago, but I think I had a much better appreciation for the novel with a bit more maturity than the other people who hated it when we were juniors in high school. High school students aren’t really prepared to like novels in which things don’t end happily, but my 21-year-old self could handle it.

In college (and grad school), I revisited “The Story of an Hour” more than once and became acquainted with “The Storm,” which is perhaps the steamiest way you can spend 10 minutes of reading.

I received the Chopin’s complete novels and stories for Christmas and hadn’t gone too deep into it until a few days ago when I was inspired to jump in with At Fault, the first of Chopin’s two novels, originally published in 1890.

To say Kate Chopin is a badass is probably one of the most objective assessments of her character. She was crazy smart, kept a sassy journal, survived the deaths of siblings, parents, and her husband, had six kids in eight years, dealt with the massive debt left to her after her husband’s untimely death, had hushed affairs with men while maintaining a living to provide for her family, and wrote some really great early feminist literature.

At Fault, Chopin’s first published work, wasn’t even written until after she had her kids and lost her husband, and since she died at the age of 54, that’s pretty impressive. When the novel was rejected, she paid for its publication herself.

Did I mention that I love her?

I think one of the craziest things about Chopin’s writing is how very approachable it is—both in terms of content and style—more than a century after original publication. Her stories are often romantic in nature and she’s incredibly bold in the way she addresses female sexuality. I can’t believe there hasn’t been greater effort to adapt her works into TV or film because her writing feels very contemporary.

The only aspect of this novel that really ages it is some of the language used to describe the black servants. Chopin spent plenty of her adult life on a plantation in Louisiana, so it’s not exactly surprising that the treatment of black characters wouldn’t be great, but her clear feminist stance might make you hope she’d write something a bit more tolerant. The best thing to note about her black characters is that they seem much more significant and involved than in many other pieces of Civil War-era writing, but there’s still something to be desired here.

Now that I’ve finished At Fault, I’ve decided to continue through this collection to Bayou Folk, a collection of Chopin’s short stories. I’ll likely be pairing a novel with this reading since balancing short stories and a novel is fairly easy and gets me reading more. Funny how easy self motivation comes when it’s about reading…

Year in Review: 10 Favorite Books of 2013

As we near the end of 2013, I thought, like all other somewhat self-centers millennials, it might be fun to write a few year-end posts reflecting on my favorite pop culture ventures this year. To start it off, I’ve decided to discuss my favorite books I read in 2013, and I’ll move on to TV and movies closer to the end of the year (there are still too many worthwhile movies to see before I can make my decisions!). So, in the order in which I read them, here are the 10 books I most enjoyed this year.

Little Women

1. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, completed January 2013

There isn’t much more to say than that this is a rather perfect read, especially in winter, for all female audiences. I’d also like to say it’s appropriate for male readers, but there’s something about the March women that speaks to women of all ages. This is one of those stories that can simultaneously warm and break your heart, and it certain to be one you’ll want to revisit.

 A Moveable Feast

2. A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway, completed March 2013

It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a Hemingway fangirl, so you can’t be too surprised here. Not only does this book present Hemingway’s characteristically simple writing style, it also features the idyllic setting of Paris in the 1920s. As a French major who loves Papa Hemingway, this book is basically catnip for me. An added bonus: my favorite Hemingway wife, Hadley, is present for the majority of the book. She’s perfect, and you should read this, but only after familiarizing yourself with some of Hemingway’s great fictional writing. This cannot be fully appreciated if you don’t know Hemingway’s writing or life to some extent.

Fault in Our Stars

3. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green, completed March 2013

In all fairness, this was a reread, but it doesn’t get any less devastatingly perfect the second time around. In fact, I think I cried more this time because I knew what was coming. Even though this book was just released last year, it’s become an instant classic; it’s an absolutely essential read for young and old audiences. John Green, you’re a god. And an added perk: the film adaptation will be released in June of 2014, so if you haven’t read this yet, be sure to before then.

The Great Gatsby

4. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, completed May 2013

Another reread, but also a perfect classic. I reread Gatsby before the new film was released, and I was happy to realize that I was just as enamored with the book now as I was when I first read it four years ago. Fitzgerald’s story is timeless and brilliant; I feel like I marked or underlined every other sentence because I loved the language so much. If you’re looking for “easy” but literary reading material, this is a must read.

The Awakening

5. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, completed May 2013

Before I started this novel I basically knew the whole story; I remember hearing my fellow students complain about the ending my junior year of high school. This knowledge, however, did not stop me from loving the 100-page novel so important to feminist literature. I understand why my classmates disliked this story in the past, but since I was four years older when I read it, I think I had the necessary perspective to understand how great it really is.

Divergent

6. Divergent, by Veronica Roth, completed June 2013

I debated reading this series for a while before finally buying the first installment on a whim, and I’m so very glad I did. This series is definitely for fans of The Hunger Games as it also features a strong-willed teenage female as the story’s heroine, but it’s important not to compare the two series too often. The film adaptation of Divergent comes out in March of 2014, and the sequel begins filming in April, so read this over Christmas break if you want to be part of the hype for what I imagine will be the next big thing in teen reading.

The Penultimate Peril

7. The Penultimate Peril, by Lemony Snicket, completed July 2013

I’m happy to say I completed the entire Series of Unfortunate Events in 2013, and there’s really only one reason why this one stands out as my favorite: this book had one of the funniest lines I’ve ever read in children’s literature (if you’re interested, I posted it as a quote in July after finishing the book). The entire series is great, but I’m not sure I’ll ever quit laughing over some of the humor in this one.

The Cuckoo's Calling

8. The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith, completed August 2013

This is probably the most talked-about book of 2013 due to its real author: J.K. Rowling. It was definitely worth the fuss. The twists and turns are sure to keep readers’ attention, but the story also keeps to a rather straight and simple format that makes it an easy read. I certainly hope Rowling feels compelled to continue this in the future.

My Antonia

9. My Antonia, by Willa Cather, completed August 2013

Like The AwakeningMy Antonia is a notable work of female literature, though the settings and events of the two couldn’t be more different. As an almost-native of the plains of Nebraska, this novel speaks to me in a way that’s probably difficult for most readers to comprehend. Cather captures the frontier lifestyle of Nebraska perfectly; one reason I enjoyed this book so much was that I felt so at peace when reading it. I could feel the wind and smell the earth that can only be understood by visiting the region. This is certainly a novel I’d recommend, but a regional recognition is almost imperative to really appreciate it.

The Giver

10. The Giver, by Lois Lowry, completed November 2013

I had a hard time picking my final book, partially because this fall I took a long time to get through one reading project, but also because nothing else was really standing out to be as especially stellar. Maybe I’m being picky, but I had a hard time picking great books from those I read this year. On a positive note, I read several things outside my normal genres this year and completed some bucket list goals (A Series of Unfortunate Events, for instance) while exceeding my year’s goal by 10 books (so far). Ultimately, my favorite book I’ve read recently was probably The Giver, though I wasn’t totally satisfied by it. I liked the story so much for probably three-quarters of the novel, but I felt like Lowry rushed through the book’s climax and conclusion so much that I was left in a lurch. The ending chapters struck me as very odd, and I’m interested to see if it plays better on screen when the film adaptation is released in 2014.

So, what books did you read this year? If nothing else, here’s to a 2014 filled with quickly turning pages and stories worth reading.

Book Update #5, 22-25

Excuse my lack of humility for a second, but I am pretty proud of myself for the progress I’ve made thus far, and I’m excited to see if I can surpass my goal for the year. Here are my thoughts on my latest reading ventures.

The Vile Village

22. The Vile Village, Lemony Snicket

So, I was wrong in my last post when I said that The Ersatz Elevator was the last Series of Unfortunate Events installment that I’d read before. It took me about 10 pages of reading The Vile Village to realize it, but I now know that this was actually the last one I’d already read. This book definitely marks another turning point in the series, as the Baudelaires begin to take matters into their own hands rather than relying on Mr. Poe. The worst part about this book: the enormous number of crows in the village. Birds stress me out.

The Hostile Hospital

23. The Hostile Hospital, Lemony Snicket

I finally reached the section of the series that I’ve never read! This somehow feels like an accomplishment in and of itself. This isn’t the most exciting of the series, but it’s interesting to see Klause and Sunny cope without the help of their sister for about half of the book. I also enjoyed the literary allusions in some of the patients’ names (like Clarissa Dalloway and Emma Bovary) and seeing little Sunny grow and learn to speak more like a real person. This book also offers a few more clues into the mystery of the fire that started the problems for the Baudelaires, so I’m interested to see how this all pans out as I near the conclusion of the series.

The Awakening

24. The Awakening, Kate Chopin

I was excited to read this, because I remember when most of my classmates read this my junior year of high school, but I chose to read something else instead (I like to rebel in very minor ways). The Awakening is a must-read for lovers of American literature. I breezed through it in three days, and I actually wished there could have been more to it. The ending is upsetting, but satisfactory. I would definitely recommend it for others looking for a more serious summer read.

The Carnivorous Carnival

25. The Carnivorous Carnival, Lemony Snicket

It’s safe to say that I am thoroughly enjoying getting into the parts of this series that I never read as a child, especially since these books get closer and closer to solving the mysteries of the Baudelaires’ misfortunes. Again, The Carnivorous Carnival offers up a few more bits of evidence and hints of the connection between the Baudelaires and Count Olaf, but these mysteries are still far from being solved. For now, I’ll be taking a brief break from reading these books to reading some others, but I’m anxious to see how the story continues.

Stay tuned! My current read: Beautiful Chaos — book three in the Beautiful Creatures series.