Midyear Reading Roundup

When July comes around, I like to reflect on my reading year so far, and share some of my favorites. Overall, this year has turned out to be a good year for numbers–but not my best year for quality, with half my ratings being 3 stars or less. (Pro-tip: I’ll never know if you just skip ahead to the book list.)

Audiobooks buoyed my numbers while my print reading suffered a steep drop-off in February. My rut was punctuated with some disciplined reading of a book here and there, but I have not been that quarantined reader who is taking on War and Peace. Library closures hit my reading life pretty hard. I’ve come to rely heavily on the library to quickly acquire THAT book and get to it while I’m excited. It’s been hard to go back to shopping on my shelves. Marie Kondo says there’s a moment to read a book, and that moment is when you first encounter it. Readers often question Kondo on books (not me! ..but that’s another topic for another day), but she has such a point here and I’ve tried to pay attention to it in my reading life. As much as I can, I read books right away when I get them, and request or buy them right away when I hear about them. I do read and love books that have been sitting on my shelves, but I have a difficult time choosing one and I almost always read them slower.

I’ve been working my way out of the slump with some discipline (and luck). Here’s what’s been working for me lately in my reading life.

1. Short audiobooks (at 1.25 speed, baby!). I love audio as a way to consume massive classics, like Middlemarch and The Three Musketeers. Usually 12 hours is my minimum, but this year short has been my go-to. I listened to 14 audiobooks January through June and most were about 8 hours. With audio sped up I go through them very quickly, listening while on walks with the kids, cooking dinner, folding laundry, driving in the car, and the like. I’m knocking some long-time TBRs off the list, and regularly get the encouragement of actually finishing a book.

2. Re-reading. My memory is too good to do this very often – I don’t just remember the plot, but also the literal words on each page. It feels like I just finished it, even if over a year has passed. But I’m starting to find I’ve forgotten almost everything about some old favorites and I’ve enjoyed going back to them. I’ve done some of my re-reading by audio or read-aloud, which brings the books to life in a totally different way.

3. Snowball method reading. Think Dave Ramsey for books. You may be familiar with Ramsey’s snowball method for debt, where you start with focusing on your smallest debt and work your way up to the biggest. Small victories along the way help you stay motivated. I applied this to my absurd in-progress stack – tallied up the pages remaining in each and started with the lowest page count. I haven’t gotten to zero yet and I keep acquiring new book debt, but I turn to this strategy whenever I’m unsure what to read next and it has kept me reading when I might otherwise stall out in indecision.

4. Reading aloud. My husband and I have taken to reading together at bedtime and it’s awesome. My husband is a fantastic reader and since I’m an insomniac, being read to in bed really helps me wind down and sleep. 

5. Ebooks. Confession: before this year I had never finished an ebook. I even had a Kindle for a while and never finished a book on it. Lately, reading on my phone seemed like a good way to fit in more books and cut down on time-wasters like social media. It’s enabled me to take advantage of little moments where a paper book isn’t practical, like when I’m nursing a baby and have only one hand free. I’ve finished two books borrowed through Libby, and am working on my third.

Okay, now for the good stuff. Here are the books I’ve been loving this year.

1. A Place for Us by Fatima Fahreen Mirza. This is definitely my favorite book of the year so far, and one of my favorite books I’ve ever read. It is the story of an Indian Muslim family in America, particularly revolving around the rebellious son, Amar. The characters are real, the writing is lyrical, and the story is a beautiful combo of hopeful and devastating. I never cry over books, but this one got me in the end.

2. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. I can’t believe I wasted so much time assuming this book would be boring. This book has everything – mystery, ghosts, murder, kidnapping, graveyards, extortion, love triangles, opera singers, mysterious foreigners – you get the idea. It gets right to the action and doesn’t waste time. I had so much fun listening to the full cast recording on LibriVox.

3. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. This books tells the story of four Chinese mothers and their American daughters. The cultural and language divides that exist between the characters beautifully highlight the barriers that always exist between mothers and daughters that make their understanding of each other imperfect.

4. The Sherlock Holmes series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in audio. I’ve been listening through the Sherlock canon on LibriVox, read by David Clarke. This is something I’d have a hard time reading in print, but I just eat it up in audio. This format is perfect for these stories. Sherlock is a character for the ages, and Doyle’s storytelling is excellent.

5. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. Thirty-something Keiko is happy living alone and working the convenience store job she’s had for over a decade, but decides to make some changes when she gets sick of the pity, worry, and disapproval from her friends and family. This book is bizarre and insightful and charming in an Eleanor Oliphant sort of way, and can be read in one or two sittings.

6. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. This is my second read through this book, and my husband read it to me this time around. I enjoyed it so much more than when I read on my own – it’s like it’s meant to be read aloud. Tolkien is just delightful, and brilliant.

7. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. This is what I call “bibliophile lit”, or fiction where the plot revolves around books and readers in a way that is probably not realistic but is delightful for book lovers to imagine. It’s also a something-for-everyone book that felt part literary fiction, part YA, part mystery/suspense, part historical fiction.

8. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. This was one of my ebook reads, and I really just tried it because I was curious and it was immediately available on Libby. I expected to find a mildly amusing, annoyingly quirky 3-star read, but I just loved this. It was funny and clever and different than anything I’ve read before. It had some really fun twists and left me really rooting for the characters.

If you’re interested in what else I’ve been reading this year, check out my 2020 Reading Challenge on Goodreads. I’d love to hear how your reading year is going, what you’re reading, and your thoughts if you’ve read any of the favorites from my list!

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