What I Read: December 2016

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I’m almost surprised at how many books I finished in December, given the harried schedule I felt like we were keeping and having a new baby. But I keep my routine of a hot bath and book before bed most nights (SELF CARE for the win), and it keeps me reading most days. Plus several of these were easy, two-sittings kind-of reads.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick – In episode 40 of the What Should I Read Next Podcast, bookstore owner Holland Saltsman mentioned this book alongside The One-in-a-Million Boy and The Sparrow as favorites of hers. Since I love both of those latter two books, too, which are vastly different, and I thought the description sounded wonderful, I decided to pick up Arthur Pepper. 

Widower Arthur is fairly reminiscent of A Man Called Ove – he’s hiding from his neighbor, wondering what to do with the rest of his mundane life without his wife. But the stories diverge greatly. Arthur finds a charm bracelet that belonged to his late wife; he doesn’t remember ever seeing it nor does he understand where the charms came from. This book tells of his journey to discover the sources of the charms … and maybe some things about his wife he didn’t really want to know.

Although in some places his search just seems too easy and unrealistic, I liked the tale, especially his relationship with the neighbor and her son. It was sweet and fun, a little like Ove but maybe without the emotional pull being as high.

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior – I mentioned this book in my top 11 of 2016 post the other day. It takes a really interesting nonfiction book to catch my attention. This one is a parenting book that focuses on parents, not children. Senior tackles the question of how modern parenthood affects all kinds of parents with both research and her own firsthand observation of families. While she definitely finds that parents are stressed by the current definition of childhood and overscheduling, Senior isn’t judgmental at all. The whole book is easy to read, packed full of information, and a little too relatable for this mom.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch – Dark Matter was a big hit among the women of the book discussion Facebook group I’m in. It came out in July, and was an Amazon Book of the Month. This is the kind of book where it’s better to know very little going in and simply experience it; let’s just say that Jason, the main character, is whisked away on a trip to the grocery store and wakes up in a realm that isn’t his. The physics of this premise definitely go over my head (and my husband, the mathematician who was a physics minor, says, “It’s bad physics, but it doesn’t really affect the book”), but I still enjoyed reading this thriller. It’s incredibly readable; I think it took me three days and my husband two days to finish. I wasn’t quite as enamored with the book as some of my bookish friends (like Amy Allen Clark, who listed it among her favorites of 2016), but enjoyed it as a quick, interesting read. I’m always up for something a little different.

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon – I really loved Yoon’s 2015 book Everything Everything. It’s one of those books that I like even more the more I think about it. So I was super anxious to get my hands on The Sun Is Also a Star after it was released in November. In it, we meet Natasha, whose family is Jamaican and in the middle of an illegal immigration crisis, and Daniel, American-born of Korean parents, who is facing his future with confusion. These high-school students meet by chance, and the whole book takes place over the one day they spend together. Daniel’s poetic spirit and Natasha’s insistence on realism and science will both capture your heart. I loved it, and will quite happily read anything else Yoon writes.

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout – This is not a book with a lot of plot. If you’re looking for something plot-driven, this is not going to be your book. But if you enjoy a good character study, you will probably delight in My Name Is Lucy Barton. Lucy, now in middle age, reflects on some weeks she spent in the hospital in the 80s. Through this reflection, we learn about her parents, her upbringing, her time raising her two daughters, and how these things influenced the rest of her life. Most poignant is her troubled relationship with her parents, coming to a head as her mother visits her in the hospital.

Strout does an amazing job really capturing a character. To me, this was well worth the short time it took to read.

Chains by Laurie Hale Anderson – I found this in the library while searching for something YA to read. And here’s the thing: I just don’t think it was the right time for me to read this book. My December brain was too frantic, and I just couldn’t give enough attention to this story. Isabel is a young slave girl during the beginnings of the American Revolution, sold from a kinder owner to an upperclass, Loyalist couple in New York City. The picture of slavery in NYC alongside the information about the Revolution was very interesting. The characters are vivid, and honestly, I would like to read the other two books in the series. I just need to wait until I have more brain space for them.

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance – Strangely enough, once on Christmas Break I had plenty of brain space to dive into Vance’s 2016 memoir, extremely relevant to this election year. Vance grew up in Middletown, Ohio, pretty close to where my parents were born and raised. He tells the story of his grandparents, who left rural Kentucky for a better life in Ohio, but carried with them the “hillbilly” lifestyle. Growing up poor, with a single mother, among drug and alcohol abuse, Vance was destined to repeat the mistakes of those before him. And yet, Vance went to Ohio State and then Yale Law School and is a lawyer in California. How did he escape? What made it different? Can anything be done to help those in the same cycles of abuse, divorce, and poverty?

While his conclusions might not be especially hopeful, his story is powerful. I grew up middle-class with the knowledge I would always have meals, no one was going to hit me, and I was going to college. This election has, honestly, been really puzzling to me, as I know it has been to many. And this book did help me get a little clarity on how this all happened.

________

I’m working on a few more books, but that’s what I finished this month. How about you?

This will be added to Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy

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7 thoughts on “What I Read: December 2016

  1. I’ve heard and seen “A Man Called Ove” recommended over and over and it sounded good, but I’ve been scared of the depth of it. Also, books that make “good book club books” are sometimes not what I enjoy reading just for myself because there’s no one to discuss with and it they can be controversial. All that to say, I’m super excited about a similar book without the same emotional pull, as you put it.
    Also, I’m glad to hear there is another Nicola Yoon book! Thanks for the heads up!
    I love reading what others have read…haha!

  2. I added “The Sun is a Star” to my TBR list. It’s now on hold (digital copy) from the library. It sounds like a really good one.

    “Hillbilly Elegy” was one that I read in November. I do think that it explains a part of American life that not everyone recognizes, although he does tend to overgeneralize from time to time, and I don’t agree with everything. It made a few things with my in-laws click (like why Christmas presents need to be such a HUGE stressful deal every year.)

    I read quite a bit in December, mostly because the majority were short easy reads:
    In Twenty Years- Allison Winn Scott
    Missions is a Contact Sport
    The Splendor Falls- Susanna Kearsley
    Playing for Ashes- Elizabeth George
    The Magnolia Story- Chip and Joanna Gaines
    Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House- Kathleen Grissom
    The Parisian Kitchen- Jenny Oliver
    The Little Christmas Kitchen- Jenny Oliver
    Christmas at the Cupcake Cafe- Jenny Colgan
    Before the Fall- Noah Hawley
    Audiobooks:
    The Very Best Christmas Pageant Ever
    A Christmas Carol

    • I love little Christmas books! Didn’t read any this year but The Christmas Dog by Melody Carlson is one of my favorites. I get that about Christmas gifts – I don’t think my parents were hillbillies, but they grew up poorer, especially my dad. And we had HUGE Christmases. He doesn’t understand why we don’t do that for our kids.

  3. I read My Name is Lucy Barton last month and I felt unsatisfied after reading it. You might have hit the nail on the head when you said it doesn’t have much of a plot…maybe that’s why I was left wondering, “Wait, what was THAT all about?” 🙂

  4. Thanks so much for your list. I have Hillbilly Elegy on hold at the library and I think I will be waiting awhile because the list is long! But I have lots of other things to read while I wait. 🙂 My Name is Lucy Barton was one of my 2 favourite novels this past year (Everyone Brave is Forgiven was the other). I had to remind myself I was reading a novel and not a memoir because it felt so real. Strout is such an amazing writer.

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