Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

The Reading List (The Last)

Good morning, and Happy New Year to all of you! I hope you had a good–and safe–celebration, and I wish you the very best for 2017.

I have a thematically-appropriate post on Resolution drafted, but it’s not ready enough this morning and I’m not prepared to craft it into perfection this morning; instead, I give you my final reading list for 2016.

FOURTH QUARTER READING LIST (In the order read, with or without commentary):

State of Wonder, Ann Patchett (2011). My wife’s book club book for October. I read it, she didn’t. I enjoyed it!

The Death and Life of Dith Pran, Sydney Schanberg (1985). The tale of Dith’s survival and eventual escape from Cambodia makes for some harrowing reading.

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr (2014). I wish I’d written that! Seriously, this was a book I could not put down. My wife’s book club ended up reading this for December, and I belive they were unanimous in their enjoyment of it.

The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson (2012). Hmm, I seem to be developing a trend in my reading here, between this and the Schanberg book. This one was related somewhat to my current project, which in turn has been influenced (I’m not sure inspired is quite the right word) by developments in American politics (and, I should add, in much of the rest of the world, too). I did learn something from this book, though I found it a little difficult to get through.

The Girls, Emma Cline (2016). One of the most-hyped books of 2016, it was good, but I felt a little let down by it. I’m not sure I ever really loved the main character enough, though, which may explain some of my disappointment.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Bryn Greenwood (2016). And we have a winner for “Most Uncomfortable Subject Matter, 2016!” Greenwood dares to go there as she traces the growing love between a man and a very much younger girl, set against a life lived with drug dealers and users. In this case, “there” is them having their first sexual encounter when the girl is thirteen. Despite the high squick factor–or maybe because of it–I enjoyed the book, and applaud Greenwood (and her publisher) for taking chances.

At the Water’s Edge, Sara Gruen (2015). Finished on Christmas Eve. This book will factor into that post on resolution I mentioned at the top. This also raises a question that can be explored some other time (or, I guess, you can answer below): Is it better to have a smash hit right out of the gate that all of your future work will be compared to, or to have modest success that builds over time? This book has a lot of flaws, but even when I read positive reviews (after the fact; I almost never read reviews before I’ve read the book), most people insisted on comparing this one to Water for Elephants.

Extinction, Mark Alpert (2013). Techno-thrillers are not my thing, and though I know some of the technology Alpert employs here (retinal implants, prosthetic devices powered by thought) are real, I found some of it to be a little too much. Not a bad read.

So, that’s the list for the fourth quarter: Eight books read, six fiction, two non-fiction. My reading fell off a bit; this was the lowest number of books read, and the second time this year I read less than ten books, the other being the first quarter of the month. Schanberg’s book also was extremely short, maybe 85 pages.

The total for the year: 42 books read. 37 fiction (including one play), five non-fiction. In a couple of weeks I think I’ll talk a little more about the reading list and some things that interest me from my selections.

Oh, one last thing: I’m not usually good at playing favorites, but people usually want to know, so…Hmmm. If I had to pick the top three books I read this year (not counting re-reads), I would go with…The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi, NOS4A2, by Joe Hill, and All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.

That’s it for now, what about you? What books did you enjoy this last year? See you next time!

9 Responses

  1. Happy New Year Jeff!
    I'm pretty sure I'd never be able to get through All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. I get far too stressed about that kind of subject matter. I read every morning while I'm walking on the treadmill so I did go through a lot of books this year. Favourites?? Probably something by Jill Shalvis 🙂

  2. I could get through Ugly either. Having been the victim of a pedophile makes me too sensitive to the subject matter. *shudders*

    I got through 106 books in 2016. Thank heavens for audiobooks. 😀

  3. My list of finished books reading in 2016 was pathetic. I just couldn't finish reading most books and I started a lot. Sigh. Congrats on your reads and I definitely want to get my hands on All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. These negative subject matters like pedophelia and rape – including statutory and otherwise, need to be discussed in the open. Kudos to that writer and publisher. I got The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead late November. I plan to start reading it soon. So glad it ended up winning Goodreads Historical Fiction Award. Happy New Year Jeff.

  4. I like how you put the publication date. I'm going to start doing that (mainly because I'm curious how many newbies I actually read!).

    My reading must really be focused (or I don't pay attention to ads) because I only recognized one book you listed up there–Sara Gruen's. I read Water for Elephants (after having watched the movie). Not surprising that people would compare her later work to that. That's what you get for being popular, I suppose. Oh, but what a problem to have, huh?

  5. Happy New Year, friend! I have heard amazing things about All the Light We Cannot See, but have not had a chance to pick it up myself. I've been an incredibly lazy reader this year, but I am currently reading and loving Illuminae: The Illuminae Files_01 by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. So far, I recommend it!

    I also think it's funny that you read a book for your wife's book club, but she didn't read it. 😀

  6. -Jemi–It was definitely a distressing book, which I don't necessarily mind. The wife listened to an audio version of "All the Light…" and I heard the last bit of it while driving. Not my favorite way to experience a book, but then I can't multi-task very well while reading paper!

    -Donna–I'm sorry to hear that. Greenwood based the central relationship to some extent off her own experiences, and pushes the idea that these relationships are not always predatory and damaging. I get her point BUT. No room in the comments for what comes after the BUT, maybe another blog post someday.

    -Sheena-kay–I hate not being able to finish a book. I think the only one on my list that I started and didn't finish was "Great Expectations." I am getting to the point where I think, "I don't have time for this crap!" I'll have to take a look for the Whitehead book.

    -Stacy–I think that's why I did it in the first place. I'll break down the reading list a little more in another blog post, but I've made an effort to be much more "current" in my reading. Since I don't buy a lot of books, that puts me at the mercy of my library system (it took months to get "All the Light…"). As someone who doesn't have Gruen's problem, I'd be happy to have it. I imagine it's sort of frustrating to her, though. If she reads her reviews!

    -Bonnee–she had it lying around, and I was in need of something to read, and it looked interesting, so, there you go! (I did read "All the Light" before they chose it, though, and she did read that) Interesting concept of "Illuminae," thanks for the rec. Given that you've spent most of the year in college, I think it's understandable that you are a "lazy reader". I did not read for pleasure through most of my twenties, too busy!

    Thanks for all the comments and the book recommendations, and Happy New Year, all!

  7. Go you! I think that's about 10 times what I've managed to read this year. I must have started 40 and abandoned them (Instafreebie's free books are a new addiction), and about 10 are partially read, but just didn't quite hold me enough to finish. (It takes a lot to keep me reading.) I'm glad you found a number of books you liked! I hope you manage to find even more in 2017!

  8. -Lexa–I hate abandoning books, though I find myself more and more willing to do it as I get older. I guess we become more patient in some areas, and less in others!

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