Frank Reads: Favorite Books of 2015

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Right off the bat, let me be clear that, while I did read a number of new releases in 2015, others were older. So when I say that this post is about my favorite books of 2015, I mean that it’s my favorite books that I read in 2015, regardless of what year they actually came out. Also I realize that this post is coming a bit late, but life got in the way.

So… books. I like ’em. I don’t remember the last time I didn’t have something I was reading. I’ve heard there’s a recovery period after college, but for me that lasted only a few months while I got settled into teaching, and then I started tearing through books again (“tearing” might be a generous term for me because, as with everything I do in life, I read very slowly because I’m afraid of missing something, much like I eat very slowly because I’m afraid of choking, and I run very slowly because I suck).

Process

I use Goodreads to track everything I read, manage my TBR list (which is unmanageable at this point anyway because every time I hear about a book I want to read, I go to Goodreads and add it immediately to my “want to read” list), and set yearly goals for myself. The Goodreads reading challenges are definitely not perfect, but I’ve found that it works well for my purposes. If you wonder what books I’m in the process of reading at the moment, check out the Goodreads widget in the sidebar.

Right, then. In 2015, I made it a goal to read 19 books. I read 21, so I met 111% of my goal. Here’s my data, along with the books I read in the order that I read them in 2015:

Renee’s Year in Books

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I think it’s interesting that Sara Bareilles’ book was the least popular but also the highest rated. Not as many people reading it as something like Why Not Me, but I loved it. I love Sara Bareilles. Also Mindy Kaling.  Continue reading

Readasaurus Rex: 5 Favorite Reads of 2014

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photo credit: moqub via photopin cc

According to Goodreads, I read 5620 pages this year. That was just books that I finished. This was the year that I finally gave up trying to finish books that just weren’t doing it for me. A moment of silence for the ones that met the end of my attention span far before their time:

  • The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon (a re-reading, originally read in 2006)
  • The Giver by Lois Lawry (a re-reading, originally read in 1993)
  • Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed (I heard it would make me feel the feels. I felt very little. It remains on my nightstand in case I run out of books for some reason … even though I have several hundred in my apartment. Perhaps someday I will return to it).

But that number doesn’t take into account all the reading I do each day for work — the emails and articles. It doesn’t take into account all of the reading I do around the interwebs just for fun (Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Book Riot). It doesn’t take into account everything I read to keep up with things so that I can be good at my job. It doesn’t take into account all of the reading I do on social media (and anyone who follows me on any social media site knows that I am a daily participant because I think social media is fascinating for a plethora of reasons I won’t get into now).

Ultimately, I feel better having a page count at 5620 combined with all of the other reading I’ve done than I would if I would have spent, like, 6 months slogging through Infinite Jest and another 6 through War and Peace or something. There’s a reason I’ve not re-read Ulysses, as well. There are so many things to read and my to-be-read list grows weekly. I blame the following podcasts: Book Riot, Literary Disco, and Overdue Podcast.

I’ve been a reader forever. There are pictures of me as a toddler, passed out on stacks of books. I couldn’t wait to participate in the library’s summer reading program, or Book It! during the school year. I loved being a part of Great Books and reading outside of class as a kind of club activity. With very few exceptions, I only ever got in trouble in school if I was reading when I should have been paying attention (joke’s on my 7th grade life science teacher who took books away from me weekly… I still have yet to find a practical use for knowing all of the nitty-gritty details of the pasteurization process, but reading is crucial). Sometimes I’d get in trouble because I didn’t do my homework… because I’d been really engrossed in a book the night before. Sometimes my parents would take me to the bookstore on a Friday night. I’d get a new book and, being somewhat insomniac at an early age, stay up all night reading it, finishing it before the sun came up — by flashlight, so as not to wake my otherwise narcoleptic sister. I never minded being sent to my room as a kid because I’d hide in my closet, which is where my mom kept baskets full of my books — the same ones she would sit on my bed for me on days when I stayed home sick from school.

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Why Billy Joel is the Best Storyteller [With Book Recommendations!]

By David Shankbone (David Shankbone) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A few months back, I had the rare occasion to be channel surfing (I hardly ever do this, as I usually only turn my TV on when there’s something specific that I want to watch). Showtime was airing a documentary called A Matter of Trust: The Bridge to Russia and it was all about Billy Joel’s tour of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. Far from being merely a “tour diary” though, the documentary examined the difficulties involved in taking the tour to the USSR and what it meant that Billy Joel was willing to take his then-wife, Christie Brinkley, and young daughter Alexa along with him amid all the tensions between the US and USSR. Brinkley was interviewed, as well as the band members who accompanied Billy Joel, and they talked about the tour and its place in history in the context of the Cold War. It was fascinating to a pop culture junkie with a music problem (like me).

Listening to Billy Joel tell the story of what inspired the song “Leningrad” got me thinking about why it is that basically everyone likes Billy Joel (especially people from New York, who rabidly adore him). There really aren’t a whole lot of singer-songwriters who have been able to bridge generations the way Billy Joel has, after all. The answer was one that seemed so simple, but was (at least for me) overlooked:

Billy Joel is an amazing storyteller.

And I don’t just mean in documentaries or during concerts. I mean that his music actually tells stories. He writes about subject matter that resonates with real people instead of just lots and lots of love songs (to be fair, he has a number of those as well, but I find his more tolerable than others).

The reader and writer in me is particularly drawn to some of those songs that tell stories that you just don’t hear on the radio. They’re working class stories. Regional stories. Life stories. Some writers can only write what they know. Billy Joel is one of those writers who is good at telling stories beyond his own experience, as well. This is very difficult to do (think about books you’ve read where the writer just couldn’t pull off the different perspective and it seemed contrived).

Of course, then I started thinking, “Well, if you like this Billy Joel song, you might like this book….” So I want to talk a little about some of the storytelling that makes Billy Joel’s music so appealing and relatable. Please note that there aren’t book recommendations for all of these, and of the recs given, I haven’t read all of them. Some of them are just based on my understanding of the book, which could certainly be incorrect. Feel free to leave kind rebuttals in the comments. Continue reading

Does Listening to an Audiobook Still Count as Reading?

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There isn’t a time in my life that I can recall not having books around me to pick up and escape. While most kids probably enjoyed staying home sick from school to watch TV, I enjoyed it because my mom kept plastic bins full of books in my closet, and when I’d stay home sick, she’d put those two bins up on the bed with me so that I could read. Before we went to sleep every night, she read to us. (Meanwhile, my dad made up crazy stories which probably contributed to my love of creative writing, as well. He sometimes also used hand puppets and silly voices to tell those stories, which is possibly why I am amused to review books using a homemade dinosaur puppet on this site.)

Book stores, book fairs, RIF days (Reading is Fun..damental, aka free book day!), library programs, book order forms, you name it and I was bleeding my parents dry doing it. I basically never got in trouble in school unless it was for reading when I was supposed to be paying attention (or not doing my homework because I’d been lost in a book). For a period of time, I wanted to be a “book keeper” when I grew up because I thought this meant someone who collected and shared books. Aka… a librarian. (Now that I know what a book keeper actually does, I would NEVER want to do that. Ever.) I don’t even know if I played at recess until 3rd or 4th grade. I just took out a book and read. It reminds me of this great and totally true thing that one of my college friends said:

“I used to love to play outside and read. And then I kept reading and stopped playing outside, which is how I got to be what I am today: an out-of-shape English major.” 

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Frank Reads: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

When I heard that Stephen King was coming out with a book called 11/22/63, my heart jumped for joy. In case you aren’t aware, I am fascinated with the Kennedys, but the uncertainty over the assassination is what most piques my interest.

When I read the premise, I was even more excited. You know who was tasked with preventing Kennedy from dying? An English teacher! In case you aren’t aware, I used to be an English teacher.

On Christmas morning I unwrapped this massive 850-pager, much to my delight, and started reading it somewhere around January 2nd. I just finished it last week. Slow reader, yes, but there was also about a month and a half when I barely read at all because my employment situation kind of exploded.

Just to warn you, this post is about to get really weird. Why? Because you’re about to watch a video of a dinosockosaurus (aka Frank) review this book for you. Oh yes.

You’ll forgive him if he seems a bit scatterbrained. This is his first time on camera. Allow me to answer a few questions for you ahead of time:

1. Yes, I made Frankasockosaurus.
2. No, I’m not sure what exactly his accent is or why it changes so often.
2a. No, we don’t hate Canadians. Duh! One of our favorite readers lives in Canada! Frank just meant that maybe he’ll have a Canadian accent in his next video (and let’s be honest, it will be totally botched anyway).

So without further ado, I give you…. Frank’s review of 11/22/63 by Stephen King.

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Goodbye, Borders. Godspeed.

When I read the news that Borders would be closing its doors for good, I cried. Not sobbing uncontrollably, but my eyes filled with tears. That might seem like a bit of a strong reaction, but I think it might be more about what this symbolizes. Sometimes I really fear for literacy, and I mean that.

You also never realize how much something meant to you until it’s gone.

Growing up in the middle of nowhere, we didn’t have trendy bookshops. We didn’t have large retail chains like Barnes & Noble, although on special occasions we’d visit the one an hour away. No, we had a shopping center with a small retailer called The Book Store that was hit or miss, and we had a shopping mall with a Waldenbooks, a subsidiary of Borders. So many of my best childhood memories involve books and begging my parents to take me to buy them. It follows, then, that this bookstore in particular has brought me much joy in my life.

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The Hopeful Reader

Last week I wrote about my Top 5 favorite pieces of escapist literature, and this week I’m here to talk books again. Specifically, I’m thinking about how reading is just as crucial as writing for mental well-being (I’m not saying that it always works, but it does help). Books don’t always need to be escapist in nature to give us something, do they? Different genres elicit different feelings, all of which are necessary for surviving the cruel, cruel world, no?

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An Inadvertent Writing Lesson

Sometimes I could swear to myself that I wasn’t a creative writing minor in college. I could swear to myself, in fact, that I’ve never taken a fiction-writing class in my whole life. The basic fundamentals just seem to escape me every now and again, and I’m not sure what that means. Either I’ve internalized them to the point where they’re no longer always a noticeable cognitive step for me, or I’m just a really bad writer. Okay, I suppose there could be some middle ground there.

I don’t really remember how old I was exactly when my fascination with writing started. It was pretty early, maybe somewhere around first or second grade, and it began simply as a love of creating something. Even if I just wrote a bunch of nonsense or someone else’s song lyrics down on paper, I was already moving in that direction. And I did it because, at least on some level, I recognized that I wanted to emulate the people who wrote the books that I loved so much.

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Resolve

I’m not typically the kind who makes New Year’s Resolutions. It’s not really my style. That being said, the only resolution I can ever remember making was on the final day of 2005 when I let a friend make my resolution for me: I’d start carrying a purse and not just my keychain wallet. Sigh. Okay. I stuck to it too, and now it feels weird if I don’t have my purse (mostly because it’s full of the gum that I compulsively chew).

The theme of my 2010 seemed to be, coming off of a terrible 2009, that I was just trying to figure out what I want. I don’t know if I’ll ever totally figure that out, but as I’ve been sitting on these first couple of weeks of 2011, it’s occurred to me that there are a few things that I want to work on.

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