I've always heard people say the years go faster as a person gets older, and wow, did this one fly past. There were some big events this year - I turned 50, my last living grandparent died, we had an exceedingly dry and hot summer, my son started his final year of high school, my daughter is now old enough to have a driver's permit. Between all that, I found time to read some things I enjoyed this year, including some things I wouldn't have expected to like.
Best Discoveries - Maybe this is the recency effect in action, but A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich would have to top my list this year. It was scholarly and yet created Martha Ballard as an unforgettable "character." Plus it hit several of my favorite buttons - women's history, gardening, and the drag of housework, among others.
Another discovery I enjoyed this year was an unpublished manuscript by the sister of a friend from church, about the struggle she and her siblings faced when their father began to be debilitated by dementia and they had to take control of his life. The story is dramatic and she told it well. I hope she has success in getting it published so the rest of you can read it someday.
Saddest Disappointment - When the biggest disappointment of the year was Abel's Island by William Steig, I guess it was a pretty good year of reading. That's not to say this is the worst book I read all year; I think I just had such high expectations for it that I felt unfulfilled after finishing it. I don't know what I expected....Abel to go home and reject all his "creature comforts" after a year of living in the wild?
Favorite Classic - I'm not sure if some of the things on my list that I consider "classics" would be considered so by other people, but fortunately, my favorite is undoubtedly a "classic" in everyone's book: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I say that even though I complained about the style that is part of what makes it a classic....
Favorite Love Story - It's hard for me to choose a favorite romance this year. Although the "telling" style of Pride and Prejudice occasionally got in the way (as far as I was concerned) of the love story, I was still won over by Mr. Darcy. But I think my favorite romantic moment came in Lisa Klein's Two Girls of Gettysburg; it was sweet in a young, first-love kind of way.
Favorite Historical Fiction - Ann Turnbull has another winner in this category! Seeking Eden taught me more about the history of the slave trade during the colonial period of this country than any of my history survey classes in high school or college. Not only did it give facts, but it also set those facts in a powerful emotional context, which is exactly what great historical fiction is best at doing, in my opinion.
Greatest Reading Accomplishment - I read four nonfiction books this year: A Midwife's Tale; His Excellency, George Washington by Joseph Ellis; The Battle for Christmas by Stephen Nissenbaum; and The Complete Guide to Successful Event Planning by Shannon Kilkenny. (Ok, that last one was for one of the classes I taught this fall, but hey, I read it, so I'm counting it!) That's not very many, I know, but I read nonfiction so very slowly that to have read as many as this feels like a big accomplishment. And I learned a great many interesting things!
Biggest Failure - I read about half of Savvy by Ingrid Law before I just decided to quit. I had seen a lot of good reviews, and my daughter liked it, but it annoyed me. And life is just too short -- those years roll past too quickly -- to read things that annoy you.
Favorite Re-Read - Hmmm. There were three things I re-read this year: The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Edge of Time by Loula Grace Erdman, and The Dark Moon and the Full, a one-act play by Joseph Hart. I enjoyed all three, so I can't really pick a "favorite." I will say that all three of them were different reading experiences for me this time than they were the first time. I'm a firm believer that although the words in a work may stay the same, what the reader brings to the work makes it different each time. Re-reading is not a waste of time.
Once is Enough (Books I Probably Won't Ever Read Again) - The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks tops this list. As part of my "market research" into what sells, I decided to check out something by Sparks, because I know he is a mega-bestselling author. My reaction? Decidedly underwhelmed. The story was ok in sort of a sappy way, but the style broke a lot of what I consider solid rules for good writing. I don't think I'll be seeking out any more of Sparks' novels. (See "Biggest Failure" above...)
Books I Thought Would Be Amazing But Were Just So-So - There are three books I would put on the "so-so" list this year: The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood, A Painted House by John Grisham, and O'Sullivan Stew by Hudson Talbot (a picture book). I was hoping Grisham's book would be good because I had read some of his other work and liked it. But it just didn't impress me much. I was really disappointed in O'Sullivan Stew; the pictures were very attractive (which is why I bought it) and it is an Irish folktale, which I thought would be cool. But it was rather predictable.
Books I Thought Wouldn't Be Much But Were Actually Good Stuff - I was pleasantly surprised by Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. It's not my genre, so I didn't really have very high expectations for liking it, but I'm glad I read it. It didn't convert me to trade my historical fiction for science fiction, ha ha, but it wasn't a waste of my life (See "Biggest Failure" above).
Plans for Reading in the New Year - I am feeling a hunger for fiction, and lots of it! I never got around to reading Nancy Dane's final installment in her Civil War series (An Enduring Union), so I definitely want to read it this year.
Plans for Writing in the New Year - Honestly, I had hit a slump in my writing recently. I thought when finals were over, and the Christmas preparation was over, and I didn't yet have to be getting ready for next semester, that I would have plenty of time to write. But in the first few days after Christmas, I didn't write anything and just didn't feel like writing anything. It was more interesting to clean, believe it or not. Over the last few days, though, two people have out of the blue said they'd like to read my first book, which seems to have helped bring back my motivation. (Thank you! You know who you are!)
What I'd like to accomplish in the coming year would be to completely finish the revision on my second book and get it out to some beta readers. I would also like to start a first draft of a completely different story, with new characters and new things to research.
Maybe putting it in writing will hold me responsible for doing it!