Every year at this time, I get a little listful. Not listless. Not wistful. LISTFUL. It means that I am full of lists. Overflowing with lists. Lists are bursting forth in every medium—paper, emails, sticky-notes, brain, phone, and now, inevitably, on my blog. I cannot contain them. I list the things I did last year and the things I didn’t. I list the books I read last year and the ones I didn’t. I make to-do lists and to-NOT-do lists (just as important). I make lists of resolutions and then revise them. I make lists of things to buy and then take pictures of them. I list what I need from the grocery store, who to thank for Christmas gifts, and how many pairs of socks I own with animals on them. (Just because.)
With all these lists pouring out of me, it’s only natural that I want to share some of them with you. Here goes…
I’m thrilled to welcome 2017 into our lives. Overall, 2016 was EXHAUSTING, but I did read some good books.
My goal this year was to read at least 50 books and no more than 75. (Read this post to find out why my reading goal had a cap.) I achieved my goal, reading a total of 66 books. (Goodreads claims I only read 53, but that’s because a couple of the books I read aren’t on Goodreads, and because I don’t re-rate the ones I re-read, but I do re-count them in my official book journal.)
Here are some of my favorites:
The Best Books I Read in 2016
Best New Book in a Series: The Creeping Shadow (Lockwood & Co. #4) by Jonathan Stroud
I can’t say enough good things about the Lockwood & Co. series. I LOVE these books. They made my best books list last year too. I love the setting. I love the plot twists. I love the humor and the horror. I love the characters so much that I miss them terribly the moment the book ends. I also love-hate the cliffhanger endings. The Creeping Shadow left off with a BIG reveal and now I’m pining for book 5.
Best Middle Grade Novel (and Strangest Idea for a Story Ever): The Nest by Kenneth Oppel
Steve’s baby brother is sick. Very sick. And wasps, one of the many things Steve is afraid of, have taken up residence in a nest outside his house. But the wasp queen comes to Steve in his dreams and says they can fix the baby. They can make everything better. They’re there to help. But are they really? What is the price of their help? And why has no one ever seen this type of wasp before? And who is the odd man who sells knives from his van?
This is one of the strangest books I’ve ever read (or listened to, on audio book). It kept me intrigued until the very end and genuinely scared me at times. Great horror novel for young readers.
Best YA Novel: Tie between The Walls Around Us and Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
I just saw that Nova Ren Suma has a new book coming out in 2017. It is currently untitled and there are zero details about it on Goodreads, but I marked it as “to read” because if it’s anything like The Walls Around Us or Imaginary Girls, it will be amazing. Read about why I love her work here.
Best YA Novel with LGBTQ Characters: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Funny. Touching. Sexy. Heart-wrenching. Adorable. Real. You don’t have to identify as LGBTQ to relate to Simon’s story. Anyone who’s ever fallen in love in high school will see themselves in this book.
Best Middle Grade Novel with LGBTQ Characters: George by Alex Gino
George is a fourth grade girl in a boy’s body, but no one knows her secret. When her class reads Charlotte’s Web, George falls in love with the beautiful spider and wants to play her in the school’s performance of the book. She knows she’s the best person for the part. There’s only one problem– boys can’t try out for the role of Charlotte, and everyone thinks George is a boy. With the help of a trusted friend, George finds a way to show the world who she really is.
This is a sweet story, and an important one.
Best Graphic Novel: Ms. Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
Ok, the whole truth? This is the only graphic novel I read this year. But this charming origin story of a Muslim girl in New Jersey who becomes a superhero was so good that it made me want to read more.
Funniest Book: Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
Last June, Jenny Lawson was the keynote speaker at the Writers’ League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference, and I got to meet her when she signed my copy of this book of hilarious essays. It was so amazing to hear her speak and to get a hug from her. I can’t explain why I waited six months to read her book. Maybe I was worried it could never live up to her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. Or maybe it’s because I knew how much I would love it and wanted to savor it. Who knows. All I know is that I’m glad I waited because this book was just as funny and relatable as her first one, and it was the best book to read during the wonderful/stressful/joyous/exhausting weeks of theholidays. I laughed out loud (literally– I cackled) so much while reading this book, but I also learned a lot about what it’s like to struggle with mental illness. If you are a fan of irreverent humor and/or want to read multiple stories involving Jenny Lawson’s “lady garden,” go get this book today.
Saddest Book: Out of Darknessby Ashley Hope Perez
This is a good book, but it is a dark book, and you should know that going in. Ashley Hope Perez is a brilliant writer and an incredible teacher. I took a workshop with her at The Writing Barn last January, and I left full of energy and inspiration. Her powerful story of love and loss and racism and abuse set in east Texas in 1937 received a Printz Honor in 2016. If you read it, you’ll understand why.
Best Poetry Collection: Language of Crossing by Liza Wolff-Francis
It’s hard for me to choose favorites among books of poetry. They’re all so unique and personal. My tastes change from day to day, sometimes from moment to moment, depending on my mood. But Liza Wolff-Francis’s chapbook about the US/Mexico border spoke to me on a deep level. She puts into words the struggles of the Mexican immigrants and gives voice to the horrors they face. This is a small, but powerful collection of poems.
Best Re-Read: Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
This year, I finally decided to re-read the Harry Potter series. I listened to all seven books, back to back, and I’m so glad I did. I thoroughly enjoyed reliving this series that meant so much to me, my family, and my students. Here are my thoughts about tagging along on Harry’s adventures a second time.
Story That Stayed With Me the Longest: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
This year, I finally read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and I loved it. Shirley Jackson is a masterful storyteller. It’s hard to talk about this novel without giving anything, so I’m just going to say, go read it. It’s short and surprising and unique and will linger in your thoughts for weeks after reading it.
Most Surprising Book to Make This List: Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space and the Subsequent Assault of the Equally Evil Lunchroom Zombie Nerds by Dav Pilkey
There was a consistently empty shelf in the elementary school library where I used to work labeled “Captain Underpants.” It was empty because the books were always checked out. The kids loved them, coveted them, sometimes fought over them. I knew nothing about them except that they looked silly and most adults I knew rolled their eyes when they mentioned them. I’d never read one. Then, over Thanksgiving, my family celebrated my niece’s sixth birthday and she squealed with glee when she opened a box full of Captain Underpants books. Later, after turkey and pie and more pie and birthday cake, when I had taken up permanent residence on the couch, I picked up one of the books and read it. And now I get why kids like these books so much. It was funny! More than once I laughed out loud at the clever puns and silly scenarios. It’s fast-moving and action-packed, and there are cartoons and drawings scattered throughout. I was quite pleasantly surprised. It’s not like I’m going to go out and read the whole series, but I definitely understand why the books are hits with kids and won’t be rolling my eyes about them anymore.
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This year, I’m not setting a reading goal. I don’t need to. I love to read, and I love letting books pile up. I love making lists of novels I *must* read and then finding new stories that catch my eye before I can finish the old ones. I look forward to whatever books 2017 has in store for me. Let a new year of reading begin. 🙂
At this point, you’ve celebrated your accomplishments from last year and have made a list of balanced, attainable goals/resolutions/intentions/wishes for 2015. (Right? If not, there’s still time. After all, Tip #3 is Ignore the Calendar.)
Tip #8 = Share Carefully
In life, there’s a fine line between sharing too much and sharing too little and I’m usually on the TMI side of it. I’ve learned the hard way that sharing my resolutions with everybody is a bad idea. After all, it’s possible that you won’t accomplish all of your goals this year, especially if you end up accomplishing new things that you didn’t even set out to do. It happens, and being flexible is okay. But it’s hard to remember that when people keep asking you about x and you’ve already moved on to y. It can lead to some awkward conversations. So remember that it’s okay to keep some things to yourself.
Then again, if you don’t share your resolutions with anybody, it becomes pretty easy to pretend they don’t exist, and that’s not good either. You need to have someone in your life who asks how things are going once in a while and helps keep you accountable.
My advice is share, but share carefully. The exact formula is up to you, but I like to share all my resolutions with one person (my husband gets to be the lucky recipient of the full list) and I choose a few select goals to share with the world. (Click here to see the ones I shared last year. I get three checks and a check-minus for that list. Not too shabby.)
Here are the resolutions I want everybody to know about for 2015:
* I will complete my first poetry manuscript and submit it to a contest.
* I will read at least 50 books. Some of the titles on my must-read list are:
– The Shining by Stephen King
– The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
– Song of Myself by Walt Whitman
– Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
– Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural, edited by Marvin Kaye
(I’ve been picking my way through this anthology for a couple of years now. It’s time to finish it.)
* I will participate in the World Horror Convention in Atlanta in May. (Note: This does not say I will “go” to the convention. I’m already going. I’ve got tickets and plane reservations and a hotel room and a posse of two writer friends to travel with. It’s a done deal. My resolution is to participate. When you fly across the country to hang out with other lovers of horror, that’s no time to be shy. I plan to be present every second of the weekend and soak up as much inspiration as possible.)
* I will continue to monitor my use of have to, need to, and want to. (<– This is the best resolution I’ve ever made, and I make it again every year. Read about how it started here.)
Feel free to check in now and then and ask me how things are going. And if you have a resolution you want to share with the world, post it in the comments below!
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NOTE: This blog turns one year old this weekend! To celebrate, I updated the About page and added a FAQ tab. Head over there to find out if you’ve been pronouncing my last name correctly in your head. Chances are, you haven’t. 🙂