According to Goodreads, I have read 1010 books. I am quite sure this number should be higher, but honestly I have forgotten so many of the books I read. I recently looked over the list and was amazed by what I found. I know most of my Babysitter’s Club years are missing from the list. I honestly can’t remember which books I read in that series before I moved on. Also missed is the vast number of titles I read in any Sweet Valley High series before 1989. Why did I stop in 1989? I got in trouble for reading instead of paying attention to my teacher. She was terrible and reading was much more enjoyable. Most of the classic Nancy Drew titles are on the list as are a couple of the 80s era stories.
Some of my reading choices are terrible (Twilight) and some have changed my life (Fight Club). On the list there are quite a few books I may not have ever read if it wasn’t for chance and serendipity. Here is that list:
- She’s Not There by Jennifer Finney Boylan
This title I read while I was job hunting right out of Simmons. I had spent a few years researching the Hijras, a group of transsexuals in India. This book peaked my interest because it is a memoir of a transexual man-to-woman in America. While many people make this choice, in the early 2000′s we were only beginning to talk about it openly. Finney Boylan is an accomplished academic and writer so it made her story easy to read and understand. I ended the book wishing someone who transitioned from woman-to-man would write about his experiences.
- Orange is The New Black by Piper Kerman
I only read this book in the past few months. People get annoyed when I tell them I see movies and watch shows before I read books. The reason: so I will enjoy both as unique creations. I picked up this book in preparation for season 2 being marginally aware that things had deviated far from the book already. What I like about the book is the undertone of social justice that the show treats very differently. Kerman is able to gloss over some of her own personal issues to focus on the problems of the prison system. The show doesn’t have the time to get into the impact the war on drugs has on the prison system.
- The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead
I would have never read this book if not for Nancy Pearl. The premise is weird. The story focuses on elevator inspectors in New York. No, wait, come back! In this fictional world there are two schools of inspecting: empiricists and intuitionists. The real themes of the book: politics and racism. There is intrigue and a mystery and all of it centers around elevator inspection.
- Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife
This is another book I read because of Nancy Pearl. There are a few of them here on this list. I am not mathematically inclined, but I seem to enjoy the concept of math. Seife looks at why we have the number zero, how it became part of math, and what it allowed us to do. For example: fractals would never have been possible without the number zero. Without fractals we wouldn’t have cellphones. All of this because of zero.
- The Rabbi’s Cat by Joann Sfar
I didn’t really get into graphic novels until I ran the Jewish Literature reading and discussion series at Fitchburg State. I had read some Sandman graphic novels, but I jumped feet first when the books for the series arrived. The Rabbi’s Cat was my favorite. It’s is about a cat who swallows a bird and suddenly can speak. Sfar’s illustrations really bring the story to life (and he did the movie animations). The cat is full of snark and I love snarky characters.
- True Enough by Farhad Manjoo
Manjoo was on the Daily Show to promote this book and as soon as he started talking about it, I knew I would read it. I work in a field obsessed with trust, validity, critical thinking, and information. I teach students how to evaluate information to determine accuracy. Manjoo looks at the current information landscape and tries to understand WTF is going on in the news. He looks at research done for the past 50 years on how we interpret data.
- American Gods by Neil Gaiman
I would love to spend a day inside Gaiman’s head. This was not the first Gaiman book I read, but it is my favorite. The concept that gods are beings that exist only because we believe in them is not the best part. No, the best part is that our modern gods are douchebags representing the very worst of our values. Plus, there is a war between the remaining old gods and the new ones.
- Why We Buy by Paco Underhill
Yet another book suggested by Nancy Pearl. Underhill’s look at how advertising works should scare the shit out of you. The cold, calculating way retailers watch our moves in stores and our purchases choices are just the tip of an iceberg that we are only beginning to realize now. This was written well before Target started tracking your purchases and sending you coupons based on purchases. It was written well before Facebook, Twitter and other sites tracked our browser history to determine what ads we see. If you want to get a better idea of what is going on behind the scenes, start here.
- The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
Sarah Vowell is awesome. I suggest listening to the audiobooks for her works because she reads them. Not only do you get the joy of her voice (she did the vocal work for Violet in the Incredibles), but you get the full force of her snark. Vowell mixes history with her own research story in her books. The Wordy Shipmates looks at the origin of this country, it’s Puritanical beginnings, and how terrible people could be to each other. Rhode Island wouldn’t exist if Roger Williams hadn’t be kicked out of Massachusetts.
- Packing For Mars by Mary Roach
You have to be prepared for Roach no matter what book you read. I had the pleasure of hearing her speak about this book and her research for it while at Book Expo one year. As soon as she spoke about taking a poop in space, I knew I would read this book. The thing about Roach is she writes about quirky topics (dead bodies, having sex, and eating) and then she takes on the aspects of the topic that we don’t want to think about. She, like Vowell, blends the information with her experience researching the topic. Why? In this case, the process of researching is just as interesting as the topic of the book.
- A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Most people who know me would know this book is right up my alley. I love books about vampires, witches and magic. After being burned by the Twilight series, I was reluctant to take on another series about these topics. Then Christi wouldn’t stop talking about how awesome it was… Then the book club decided to read the second one (I wasn’t a member when they read the first). I gave in and just read it. The All Souls trilogy is unique because Harkness grounds her story in academia and research. She puts out there that there is a scientific and genetic reason for witches, demons, and vampires. She uses her expertise is alchemy and history to build a story. Yes, there is some questionable behavior by the male characters, but I felt she did a good job openly addressing this. Plus, I walked around Oxford pretending I was in this novel. I regret nothing.
- The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
For all that I love France, I read very little french literature. This book was selected by my book club (not by me). I don’t think they had any idea what they were in for. Barbery deals with themes like isolation, being the person you are expected to be (rather than who you are), philosophy, death, and friendship. It is funny, it is sad, and it spoke to my core in a way few books do.
- Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
I was not reading YA literature when Speak originally came out in 2001. If I had been, I am sure I would have read it much sooner. In a world where 1-in-6 women are raped, a book like this makes you realize that number is probably much higher. Speak looks at how a rape changes a teenage victim and sinks her into depression and isolation. It is not a long read, but it is difficult because you are in her head and until she can acknowledge what happens, you feel the weight of what happened as the reader.
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
First, listen to this audiobook. Why? Wil Wheaton is the reader and he is amazing. It’s also pretty meta since he is mentioned in the book. It’s one big science fiction/technology/fantasy/gamer geek fest. If you know geek pop culture, you will probably enjoy this book. In this dystopian future, most people live within a video game (think Second Life, but better) where you can build the world you want. Add in a treasure hunt/caper/scavenger hunt and world domination… It pretty awesome.
- Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
What I love about Rowell is that her characters are just abnormally normal people with problems that are probably pretty common. In Eleanor and Park we go back to the 1980s and see the world through two teenagers who slowly fall in love with each other. Park is a geek who loves comicbooks, the Smiths, and wears a lot of black. Eleanor is a spunky red head whose family life is a disaster, but can still get worse. It is not a happy story. In fact, I spent a lot of time crying, but it is real in a way most of my experience YA isn’t. This story is just one chapter in the lives of two people. There is no rebellion to lead, big bad to fight, society to lead, vampire to keep from eating you, or life changing death. It is simply two teenagers trying to survive high school and it is wonderful.
Hopefully these books will give you some new ones to read! At the very least, you have a better sense of how my mind works.