2020 Reading Year in Review

A few years ago I began keeping a list of all the books I read in a given year. My hope was that I would do more reading for pleasure.

Reading. You know, that thing I’ve been doing since I was four, that activity which makes me happier than most other things, that reason (probably) I became a writer in the first place? Good grief, I love books so much.

But I was at a point in my life where I wasn’t doing a lot of reading for pleasure. I was reading a lot of students’ papers to grade them. (Spoiler alert: that is often not the same thing, even when I do enjoy reading some of those papers.) I was reading a lot of emails. (There was little to no pleasure in that.) I was reading for utility and purpose and requirement and work, but I was not taking time to read for fun. That had a very adverse effect on my entire life.

Being a list maker by nature, I thought if I kept a list of books I read, at the end of the year I would see that I’d done more reading than I thought I had, and it would boost my mood. Deciding to do this is one of the better choices I’ve made.

That first year I logged probably a dozen books, and my reading diet was very focused on fantasy, which is one of the main genres I write in. In the years since, as I continue keeping my list, the number of books I read in a year has steadily increased, and so has my reading diet. I try to read much more widely now, which has been very good for me, too.

2020 was, as you know, a challenging year. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, we opened the door to let the old year out and the new year in. (This is an old tradition.) We actually opened multiple doors. We thought about opening the windows and taking off the roof too, but it was pretty freaking cold outside. Still, I commanded the old year to “get the hell out,” and Fabulous Offspring #1 actually grabbed a broom and swept our entry hall onto the front porch to really make sure 2020 took a hike. (We are nothing if not committed to our metaphors.)

During the pandemic, particularly in the spring and early summer, I saw a lot of people online lamenting about not being able to sustain enough focus even to read. I felt that. It hit me, too. But then — even though doing actual creative work, such as writing, and actual teaching work, such as grading papers, felt nigh impossible for a while — I did manage to get back into reading. For fun. For stress relief. For calming my mind before bed. This even helped me start writing again.

And wow, did I read a lot.

This is not nearly all the books I read this year. Some were on my Kindle. Some are up in Fabulous Offspring #1’s room, and I don’t have time to find them. Some are at school in my classroom, some went through my Little Free Library, and some have been lent out to other friends.

This year I enjoyed my way through a whopping 41 books, possibly the most I’ve ever accomplished in my adult life, and definitely the most in a single year since I began teaching. So without further ado, here is my list — with some caveats:
* This year, I am including titles that I re-read. I didn’t use to but think it has value now. However, if I read a book on here more than once this year (and that did happen in at least a couple of cases), I am listing it just the once.
* I am not listing any books I began but did not finish.
* This list also does not include manuscripts I’ve read but which are not yet published. There were several of those (because critique groups, yo).

Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Circe by Madeline Miller
Limit Theory by Ronald E. Holtman
Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon
Courtship and Curses by Marissa Doyle
Slippery Creatures by KJ Charles
Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Anderson
Teach Me by Olivia Dade
Charles Bewitched by Marissa Doyle
Office Hours by Katrina Jackson
Blaze by Christa Tomlinson
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
40-Love by Olivia Dade
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch
Royally Bad by Nora Flite
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
F in Exams: Pop Quiz by Richard Benson
The Kontrabida by Mia Alvar
Catacombs by Jason Zencka
The Rogue King by Abigail Owen
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Blood King by Abigail Owen
Once Two Sisters by Sarah Warburton
Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer
On the Edge by Brittney Sahin
Your Book, Your Brand by Dana Kaye
Story Genius by Lisa Cron
White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
Sweetest in the Gale: A Marysburg Story Collection by Olivia Dade
Feng Shaun (Wallace and Grommet)
Dog Songs by Mary Oliver
Wow, No Thank You. by Samantha Irby
All Together by Brill Harper
World’s End by Clare Beams
A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
The Evil Garden by Edward Gorey
The Duke and I by Julia Quinn

If you would like a review of any of these books, please tell me in the comments, and I’ll do my best for you! Similarly, last year it was requested that I rank the romance titles I’d read by heat level, so if you want those for this year as well, I’m happy to do it. Just drop me a note in the comments.

2019 Reading Year in Review

Would you like to know what I’ve been reading the last twelve months? I made a list.

As I have done for the past few years, in 2019 I kept a list of the books I read. Generally books I read only for fun and not for school, but sometimes they crossed over. I realized a while back I just wasn’t reading enough for pleasure, and that was making my life, well, much less pleasurable. Reading has always been a vigorous Continue reading “2019 Reading Year in Review”

My Little Free Library

You might recall that back in December we installed a Little Free Library in front of our house. To say it has been a successful and positive addition to the neighborhood would be an understatement. I love my LFL and really enjoy keeping it stocked and seeing how the neighborhood interacts with it.

I first learned of Little Free Libraries in 2014 and thought, I want one of those! Not only is the concept AMAZEBALLS but my neighborhood could really use some culture and interaction between people. Gah. I thought having one would make our street a better place to live. I thought maybe it would give me a chance to find out that I had something in common with the people around me. Because while we got along well with our next-door neighbors and across-the-street neighbors, there was pretty much no one else there whom we talked to or appeared to have anything in common with — or frankly, ever saw.

The bigger problem was that it wasn’t the right place for us to be living. We’d been there almost 13 years but hadn’t really been happy there for a long time. With no other kids in the area near our kids’ ages, with few adults in the area close to our age, with an hour-long commute each way each day, and with its being the suburbs (not our groove), we decided it would take more than a cute little house full of books to fix things. So we moved, and the LFL project got put off.

Fast forward to now. We live in a home that’s big enough, in the city, close to where we work and go to school, and have lots of neighbors we love with amazing kids who play with our kids. This is, for us, a happier place. So at the end of last year, we put up a Little Free Library, which my husband built.

It’s shaped like a tiny house — painted blue, because that’s one of my favorite colors — and has a roof painted and shaped like an open book. The doorknob is also shaped like a book, which he created on his 3D printer. The whole thing is so charming. And people come by often, sometimes more than once a week.

***

Whenever I see someone stopping at the LFL, I come out to say hello. If I’ve never met them before, I tell them I’m the steward and ask what they like to read. And often they thank me for putting the LFL up and say that it’s been such a great addition to the neighborhood.

That’s all I’ve wanted, really — to make a positive contribution to my community. To get literature into more people’s hands. To make it easy for them to have the occasion to read more books. To put more books in front of people so they say, “Why not?” instead of “Maybe later.” I really think that society is better off when people have more good books to read — and read them.

Countless studies have shown that one of the best ways to cultivate empathy is to read fiction, and lots of it, from a young age. Connecting with a protagonist who isn’t like yourself and caring what happens to that character? That’s empathy. That’s what it looks like, that’s where it can start. And wow, do we ever need more empathy in the world — which sometimes feels like a giant raging dumpster fire, doesn’t it? I admit it’s hard to handle the firehose blast of bad news out there, especially right now. Things are sucking. But as this wonderful post from Heather over at Becoming Cliche reminds us, sometimes in addition to the political activism we engage in, what we have to do to combat the Big Ugly is to cultivate the Small Beautiful, over and over again, in concert with lots of other people, until that Beauty radiates outward and cleanses the rest with its light.

***

I tend to rotate the stock for my LFL about once a week or so. So where do the books come from? A variety of places! Some of them are donated to me by authors and editors who are friends of mine, which is awesome! (By the way, authors who might be reading this, I’m happy to put your book in there if you want to send it to me. Leave me a note in the comments and I’ll get back to you.) I also have approximately more books than should be allowed by law in my own personal collection. And since I’ve been told only one room in our house may be an actual private library, I have to confine my books to what will fit on the shelves lining the walls in there, so…

I’m always acquiring new books, which means I have to let go of some of them from time to time. And whenever I end up with duplicates, the duplicates go to the LFL. And when our kids outgrow their books and want to pass them on? Boom, LFL. And when our library at school withdraws books and gives the withdrawn copies away, I go and reclaim as many as I can and share those with the LFL. And two of my colleagues — actually my kids’ own first-grade teachers — recently cleaned out their classroom libraries and gave me a carload of books for very young readers! (Thank you, Dana and Jenny!!!) Sometimes other colleagues and friends bring me books they’re happy to donate, too.

And one of the appeals of the LFL is that it’s a community project, really: the neighbors add books to it as well. They started doing this immediately. I’m so grateful for that and love it; the whole reason I wanted to start a Little Free Library was for the engagement. I love that the people here love my little book house.

So what’s in it? All kinds of things — lots of genres and lots of categories! I have noticed that children’s books are very popular, so I have them in all age ranges. MG and YA tend to get snapped up. Also most popular is adult fiction in all genres, especially mysteries, science fiction, and fantasy. We have poetry in there, a few plays, some books in other languages, and nonfiction. I have noticed that nonfiction doesn’t move quite as well as other stuff, so when that doesn’t get picked up for really long stretches of time, I tend to take it out and save it for later or sometimes donate it elsewhere. Now and then we even have a magazine or two in there.

Do you have any Little Free Libraries in your neighborhood? Tell us about them in the comments!

 

New Year’s Round-Up (Part 2)

Yesterday I posted the first part of this round-up, in which I discussed my blog’s 2017 statistics and some cool author and artist things coming up for 2018.

New Year’s being a traditional time to make resolutions about one’s life, and my general penchant for fresh starts and improved routines being an ever-present concern, I feel optimistically compelled to participate.

Yet I’ve had some real trouble crafting this blog post. All of last week, it was so hard to do it. It’s not just that Continue reading “New Year’s Round-Up (Part 2)”

Is It August Already?

I go back to school this Friday. After the last five weeks, I am more than ready. I’ve been on three trips, yes, but we’ve also had quite a few crazy things happen in between them, and I’m eager to get back to a consistent routine which includes my children being in school.

I have not done enough writing, or reading, to satisfy myself, though I concede I’ve done quite a lot of both. And with the way I’m revamping my curriculum this year, I’m hoping to have more time to do both even when the semester is in session. We shall see. (More on that later, perhaps.)

Last week, a short piece I wrote about how what I do in my personal time informs my teaching career came out in my school’s magazine. I was thrilled to be asked to contribute it in the first place, but even more so when I saw the illustrious company I was somehow included in — which was comprised of some of the most talented colleagues I’ve ever worked with.

Because I’m headed back into my classroom at the end of this week, I thought I’d repost (with permission) the piece I wrote for the school’s magazine. I hope you enjoy it, but even more, I hope you enjoy what’s left of your summer (if you still have some).

***

The first time I ever read one of my short stories to an audience, I was in fourth grade. It was a character-building experience.

Even though very few of my classmates had gone on that fantastical narrative journey with me — and my teacher looked at me sideways while trying to figure the story, and probably me, out — my love of writing could not be dampened. By the time I hit middle school, my path to becoming a writer had been paved.

From there, teaching was an easy choice. The ability to share my love of writing with others, to teach them how to do it and to appreciate its value, contributes to my sense of purpose. Through literature we more clearly understand our humanity and our place in the world. The enjoyment and creation of literature is something I hope to instill in my students, and it’s one way I spend my personal time as well.

How can one teach something that one does not also do? If I didn’t need sleep, I would keep reading past my bedtime all through the quiet hours every night. And each break from school finds me writing, writing, writing. This pursuit feeds my creative, thinking self, yes, but also feeds my teaching self. The more I explore different forms and genres in my own work, the better I’m able to teach my students how to do it — and hopefully how to love it as much as I do (though I’ll settle for mastery of skills).

Literature — reading it, creating it, teaching it — guides me always. It gets me out of bed way too early on Saturday mornings to meet other writers and stay on word count. It makes my summer breaks a little hectic, heavy with deadlines. And when school starts up again each August, it motivates me to share with my students everything I’ve learned, too.

 

Find Me At Femmeliterate

I’m so pleased to announce that an essay of mine about Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Harry Potter, and reading with my daughter across the generations has been posted at one of my favorite blogs, Femmeliterate, as part of their Women Writers Reading series. Go check it out! Just click on this link to go there:  http://www.femmeliterate.net/reveuse-by-angelique-jamail/

 

 

This Thursday Night…

Hey there.  For those of you in the Houston area this week:  I’m giving a reading this Thursday night at Kaboom Books at 7:30 as part of the LitFuse reading series. Two others will be reading as well.  Click here for the Facebook event page.  I hope if you’re in town you’ll come out and represent.  The Milk of Female Kindness: An Honest Anthology of Motherhood  will be on sale there for $15.  If you can’t be at the reading but would like to purchase a copy, you can do so on Amazon here, or you can get one from me directly if you’d like me to sign it.

Also, regardless of where you are, don’t forget to vote on the January Haiku Contest entries.  You can do that here, and you have until Wednesday night to do so.  Keep watching this blog to find out who the winner is!

All the best.

If You Find Yourself in Houston Tomorrow Night…

I’m going to be participating in a poetry reading Friday evening, March 22nd, at the University of St. Thomas from 7:00-8:30.  It’s free and open to the public.  (More details on the flyer below.)

This is likely the final reading for the Mutabilis Press anthology Improbable Worlds, and some of the authors featured in that book (myself included) will be reading.  I feel lucky and grateful to be included among their number.  It’s a fantastic anthology!  If you’d like to order a copy, go to Mutabilis Press’ website for more information.

If you’re in the audience, be sure to come up and say hello!  I hope to see you there.

Improbable Worlds flyer

I, Too, Am A Rêveuse (repost)

PLEASE NOTE:  This is a repost from earlier today.  Due to some technical glitches in the system, this post was not received by some of my followers in their email, so it’s being resent.  The post has not substantially changed since earlier.  

*****

I recently read Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and for days afterward, I had to distract myself with other things to keep from breathless reverie. I’m trying to remember the last time I was so affected by a book, and I think it was the first time I read

cover of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Continue reading “I, Too, Am A Rêveuse (repost)”