** denotes favorite book(s) of the month
The Stupidest Angel – Christopher Moore : This book is straight up ridiculous, but why not have a Christmas filled with a dumb angel, zombies, and a final showdown at a church Christmas party?
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness – Susannah Cahalan : Cahalan’s experience with a rare brain disorder is both terrifying and fascinating, as readers watch how quickly an intelligent and independent woman succumbs to paranoia and mental collapse.
**Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne : I don’t care what anyone else says, I absolutely loved this play, maybe mostly because I missed Hogwarts so so SO much and I loved seeing the gang back in action.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon – Kelly Barnhill : This book is a fairy tale about a witch and a little girl and magic, as well as governmental deception, mental health, power struggles, and revisionist history (so, not at all applicable).
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote : I’ve meant to read this book for a long time, and I found it to be compelling and engrossing as the Capote creates a world of places and characters: a family, a town, and two murderers.
Yes Please – Amy Poehler : This time, I listened to the audiobook (on New Years’ Eve, doing a puzzle, because I’m awesome), and Amy’s voice made the stories richer, sweeter, and sadder, while her invited guests (Patrick Stewart was my favorite) enhanced her essays even further.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – Oliver Sacks : While Sacks’s book doesn’t necessarily hold up as well to a modern audience, the text discusses fascinating neurological issues, and the book’s missteps reveal the social construction of disability and our need to create meaning out of fragmentation.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Jean-Dominique Bauby : After watching the movie, I picked up the book, and I was impressed by how near to the text the movie kept, for Bauby’s musings on life without motion are bold and lovely.
Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis : One of the earliest novels about academia, this book does not paint the academic life positively, and while it’s funny and absurd, it’s also sexist and cynical.
**Stitches – David Small : This graphic memoir is able to capture the experience of illness (physical and mental) and muteness in a way mere words cannot, leaving the reader to ask questions about what disability actually is.
Research Methods for English Studies – Gabriele Griffin, editor : I like the idea of this book, since research methods aren’t often discussed in English studies, but the Brits obviously have no conception of rhetoric and composition, and as such, this book was super unhelpful.
Introduction to Scholarship in Modern Languages and Literature – David G. Nicholls, editor : Honestly, I didn’t read every part of this huge book, but we read 5/6 of the book for class and it was fine, I guess, as an intro to the field, but not overly engaging.
Planet of the Blind – Stephen Kuusisto : Kuusisto has a poetic writing style that can seem overwrought at times, but his memoir about coming to accept the truth of his blindness shows the power of honesty and naming.
The Realm of Rhetoric – Chaim Perelman : Perelman describes the components of persuasion, putting words to some things we do naturally or without thinking when working to change someone’s mind.
*Wit – Margaret Edson : Edson’s play asks questions about purpose and legacy, as we follow a literature professor through the final stages of her cancer treatment.
Ready Player One – Ernest Cline : A student recommended this book to me ages ago, and I was drawn in by Cline’s vision of a dystopian future and increasing reliance on virtual reality, tied with considerations of world-building, online gaming, and community.
The Slow Professor – Maggie Berg, Barbara K. Seeber : This book argues that the frenetic pace of the academy makes it difficult for academics to do their jobs effectively, and as such, the academy should take a page from Slow Food and focus on enjoyment and engrossment, an argument with which I concur but find impossible to implement.
**Hamilton: The Revolution – Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jeremy McCarter : Lin knows what I love: annotated lyrics and beautiful photos and lovely essays and a book that is intentionally aesthetically composed, all of which are a precious gift to those of us who love the world of Hamilton.
*Let Your Life Speak – Parker J. Palmer : Palmer’s small book on finding and following your vocation is honest and gentle, recommending that we follow our own interior calls while admitting how difficult hearing that call can be.
*Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari, Eric Klinenberg : I have recommended this book frequently since I’ve read it, for it is both well-researched and engaging (and funny, of course) as it describes the frustration and uncertainty of young people trying to find love in a modern technologically-composed era.
The Evolution of College English – Thomas P. Miller : Miller traces the development of English departments in American universities in a text that is well-researched, dry, and a little whiny about how rhetoric/composition is treated as a second-class citizen in the academy (he’s not wrong).
Rhetorical Criticism: A Study in Method – Edwin Black : In Black’s slender text, he evaluates neo-Aristotelianism, the only available form of rhetorical criticism at the time, to be helpful in only certain contexts, determining that other systems of criticism are needed to advance the field (he’s right).
The Two Kinds of Decay – Sarah Manguso : Manguso’s clever, fragmented, humorous memoir balances the light and dark of a chronic illness and ensuing identity conflicts.
**The Golem and the Jinni – Helene Wecker: This beautiful novel takes mythical figures from two different ethnic backgrounds and makes them strong and compelling characters in a drama both mystical and grounded inside New York communities in 1899.
Graduate Study for the 21st Century – Gregory Colón Semenza : Semenza knows how to be a successful graduate student so he tells you all about it, and while I bristle a bit at some of his advice, the text is a helpful guide to the timeline of grad school.
Autobiography of a Face – Lucy Grealy : Grealy’s memoir of her childhood cancer and facial surgeries speak to the issues of identity and agency involved in social constructions of disability.
**Literacy and Orality – Walter J. Ong : Ong discusses how writing itself is a technology, both separate from and relating to oral forms of language, and argues that literacy makes possible patterns of thought that could not be created prior to the written word.
Home – Marilynne Robinson : Robinson’s companion novel to the exquisite Gilead, this book follows Glory and her experience with her increasingly frail father and her prodigal brother, and while it pales in comparison with Gilead, its new takes on familiar characters kept me hooked.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery : This novel about an apartment concierge’s friendship with a precocious girl is very French, by which I mean dark, philosophical, devastating, and lovely.
**The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare – G. K. Chesterton : A clever “nightmare” about detectives infiltrating a radical community, this book is creepy and dreamlike.
The Memory Palace – Mira Bartok : Bartok writes about her mother’s mental illness and her own debilitating memory loss through layers of objects, literature, and hazy memories.
*The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz : This layered story about a Dominican family and their curse was fascinating and compelling in so many ways; while I can’t say I loved it while reading it, the characters, story, and prose has stuck with me.
A novel written by a friend : It was a full-length novel, so it counts; it was also really good, and I hope it gets shared with the rest of the world.
*Daring Greatly – Brené Brown : Oh Brené, you hit me (lovingly, while forcefully) in all the important places in this book about the value of vulnerability and the ways we avoid it.
Love Me – Garrison Keillor : While not a Lake Wobegon book, but still very much written in Keillor’s signature gravelly voice, this book was light, satirical, and witty.
Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate – Justin Lee : Lee recounts his journey of self-acceptance and biblical study as he argues passionately for an increased conversation between people of faith and the gay community.
**Birds of America – Lorrie Moore : A recommendation from a friend, Moore’s characters blew me away with their vulnerability and their strength, as they live and move within a world that is so realistically funny and sad (also, there’s a story in here that hit extremely close to home in such crazy ways that it left me crying in seat 18A somewhere between Kansas City and Dallas).
The Chosen – Chaim Potok : This tale of two friends, two fathers, and two ways of conceiving one faith asks questions about family, religious practice, friendship, and calling (though, personally, I was more moved by Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev).
The Liars’ Club – Mary Karr : While many would say this book is notable for its prose style and “terrible childhood” theme, I found Karr’s memoir to be utterly amazing in its detailed recounting of her life from ages 6-8, as well as her honest discussion of the gaps in her memories.
Reading Lolita in Tehran – Azar Nafisi : Subtitled “a memoir in books,” Nafisi uses the texts she taught in her university courses to highlight the experience of living in Iran in the 1980s-1990s, and enhances the reader’s understanding of both these classic texts and the brave students (and teacher) who read them under such a regime.
*All the Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy : McCarthy is known for a distinct gritty yet poetic style that does justice to this story of young men, horses, Mexico, and falling in love, and to call it merely a Western or a love story would be to do it a disservice.
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood : Maybe shouldn’t have started my summer reading with a dystopian novel about the subjugation of women, but hey, who needs convention?
**Out on the Wire – Jessica Abel : I finally finished this graphic novel about radio narrative journalism, and it is fascinating and beautiful in both content and form.
Dakota: A Spiritual Geography – Kathleen Norris : Norris’s poetic memoir about life in western South Dakota brought back all of the latent feelings of my childhood on the prairie.
A Circle of Quiet – Madeleine L’Engle : L’Engle’s journal is softly musing, even while asking the big questions about love, purpose, and faith.
**The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University – Kevin Roose : An interesting and ultimately poignant undercover report about a “secular” student infiltrating Liberty University, and the things he questioned and came to understand.
Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi : A graphic novel (can you tell I was teaching graphic novels?) about life in 1980s Iran published in French and translated to English, the story is strong and has meaningful moments, but the novel employs the medium in a purposefully simplistic way about which I have mixed feelings.
Radio: An Illustrated Guide – Jessica Abel, Ira Glass : This short booklet about the art of radio is a behind-the-scenes look at the development of a This American Life episode, and while I enjoyed a drawn Ira Glass, I’m not sure the graphic novel medium added much to the narrative, and perhaps it detracted from it.
Why Not Me? – Mindy Kaling : I love Mindy, but this book was only marginal for me, the reason perhaps being that I feel her writing style lends itself more to a longer (perhaps fictional) narrative, for I enjoyed the longer, more story-based sections of the book far more than the shorter essays.
**Tooth and Claw – Jo Walton : If you like Victorian novels of manners or dragons, this novel is for you, for it’s an brilliantly entertaining combination of the two.
March: Book Two – John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell : The graphic memoir continues as Lewis recounts his time as a Freedom Rider, and the illustrations by Powell beautifully show the violence and hope of the Civil Rights Movement leading up to the March on Washington.
**March: Book One – John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell : Yes, I read this again, but it’s still one of my favorite graphic novels, a beautifully illustrated story about John Lewis’s education into the Civil Rights Movement.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic – Alison Bechdel : Bechdel’s story about embracing her own sexuality while dealing with her father’s inability to embrace his is a graphic novel rife with literary allusions (too many at times) and lovely images.