2016: One for the Books!

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2016: One for the Books!

In 2016, I took on some new, bookish challenges in the hopes of connecting with people. First, I tackled the 20 Books of Summer challenge with Cathy over at 746 Books. I got a bunch of reviewer copies sent to me out of the way and plowed through the entire Anne of Green Gables series.

I also found a book club in my area and made several new, amazing friends! We’ve since made crafts, played board games, supported an LGBTQ choir concert, rocked at trivia, and, of course, read books! For the sake of Grab the Lapels, I always push the book club to choose books written by women. So sneaky of me!

How did I do overall in 2016?

I’ve read 71 books. I’m proud of this number, given a full-time composition professor has a lot to read (textbook, rough drafts, final drafts), and 71 books is more than one per week.

This was a big year for nonfiction reads: 11 by women and 8 by men.

Some stand-out books were:

  1. Shrill by Lindy West: a book of essays about being fat, when comedy bullies people into laughing, and abortion rights.
  2. Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-five Years Among the Poorest Children in America by Jonathan Kozol: a masterful work by a man who listens to homeless families in New York City beginning in the 1980s, when people were happy to watch Les Miserables on Broadway but demanded actual poor children begging be removed from sight.

In this turbulent year, I needed some nonfiction to help me learn and understand what’s going on, or to help me feel situated in this world as the person I am. For instance, Carli Lloyd‘s memoir showed me the strength of women. Jon Krakauer’s Missoula reminded me of the unpunished crimes against women.

I read very little poetry and few short story collections or graphic novels.

  • 3 books of poems, 2 by women.
  • 4 short story collections, 3 by women.
  • 8 graphic novels, 6 by women. Some I hesitate to call “graphic novels,” such as Lynda Barry’s memoir/notebook Syllabus and Ji-Hye Song’s The Time Garden, which is more akin to a coloring book.

Poetry has never been my go-to genre, but that’s because I find myself steeped in academia where nonsensical poems are praised, and I just can’t connect. I prefer traditional (smartly) rhyming works or poems that create strong imagery. Yet, it’s my job to go find those works, and I’ll endeavor to do better in 2017.

I truly enjoyed re-reading The Rabbi’s Cat and discovering the joy of The Rabbi’s Cat 2. I highly recommend both graphic novels. They’re set in Africa, discuss Judaism and Islam, and are incredibly funny.

rabbis-cat

rabbis cat 2.png

I don’t feel bad about the short story collection count. As an MFA grad, I can reassure you that I’ve read enough short stories to last me a while. Truly, it’s novels that I can’t seem to keep up on. However…

2016 was a huge year for novels, which is uncommon for me!

23 novels by women, 8 by men.

Some stand-outs were:

  1. Reading the entire Anne of Green Gables series was a moment of pride to me for family reasons.
  2. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier was a haunting, visual joyride that I’m so thrilled to have read (and eagerly want to read it again).
  3. 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell: I never read these in high school, so my husband suggested them for our “bedtime picks” (we read to each other every night). I felt horrible, distraught, and had to put the kibosh on such books, as I was so miserable I couldn’t fall asleep. I wrote this about Animal Farm after reading it:

Every time I think about Boxer’s face looking out the window of that cart, I burst into tears. My husband says its because the book is an allegory and I care about people. I say its because Boxer was a good horse, a real horse. I am utterly ridiculous.

My husband and I have been talking about this book for hours. I’m mad; he’s hopeful.

Aaaaaand, now I feel like crying all over again.

boxer.jpg

There was some diversity in my reading.

But mostly not. I devoted myself to cleaning up the books sent by publishers and authors and reading the entire Anne series. That took up a lot of time. Also, some of the authors I read who are not white don’t write diverse characters (or, if they do it’s not clear). Here are some #OwnVoices books:

  1. I got through three books in the Lesbian Career Girl series by Monica Nolan:
    1. Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary
    2. Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher
    3. Maxie Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante
  2. Julie Maroh’s Blue is the Warmest Color

And then there are the books with LGBTQ characters written by authors who are not, and books with straight white characters whose authors are not. Puzzling.

Goals for 2017:

Now that I’ve got almost the entire pile of reviewer copies completed, my goals are:

One: Read more books by women of color. I have a lot of them in my personal library.

Two: to read books by or about fat women. I’ve pointed this out a few times on Twitter, using the #diversebookbloggers tag, and everyone seems like “like” my Tweets, but it’s not taking off. Not once have I read a book about a fat character portrayed in a positive way (or any way at all). On my immediate list are:

  1. I Do It With the Lights On by Whitney Way Thore
  2. Dietland by Sarai Walker
  3. 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad
  4. Skinny by Diana Spechler
  5. Stick Figure by Lori Gottlieb
  6. Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
  7. Possibly some Hilary Mantel, whose writing can be difficult to follow.

Recommendations to #diversebookbloggers

  1. Fat Girl, Terrestrial by Kellie Wells
  2. What are You Looking At? edited by Ira Sukrungruang and Donna Jarrell
  3. Scoot Over, Skinny edited by Ira Sukrungruang and Donna Jarrell

I know It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell was on a list for best Goodreads books, but I started reading this memoir and found the voice leans toward “I was fat and now I’m not, which makes me happy, and you can be happy too.” This is an adopted tone that “encourages” fat people to “get their lives together,” one that I do not support.

Best wishes for completing your reading goals in the new year!

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About Grab the Lapels

I'm a graduate of the MFA fiction writing program at the University of Notre Dame. I also have a MA and BS from Central Michigan University. I teach composition, creative writing, and literature, which has inspired me to follow along with trends in teaching, publishing, and reviewing.

41 responses »

  1. Impressive year and good luck with your 2017 reading plans.
    The great thing about these posts (yours and on other blogs) is that you’re reminded of standout books that might have been forgotten. Missoula looks fascinating – I’ve downloaded a sample, prompted by your mention here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a tough book to read because the victims’ stories are told in detail (to get the facts, to affirm the violence of the crime, etc.) and then there are the people who try to smear the victims, which is hard to read too. It’s a huge book, but I read it in two days because I was so mad that campus rape and victim blaming are so prevalent. Even my own graduate school, Notre Dame, is mentioned in Missoula.

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  2. Oh my goodness, Dietland is so terrific! When I read that you haven’t read a positive portrait of a fat woman, I thought of this book. Initially it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be, but give it time. It’s a book that surprised me. I just adore it and think of it often.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You’ve had a good year! Oh dear, I’ve just scheduled Animal Farm for a re-read – I was wrecked by Boxer in my teens, but hoped it might be different now I’m an adult and would be more aware it’s an allegory, but now you’ve got me worried… poor Boxer! *sniffles*

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  4. All the best for 2017 Melanie, I’ve very much enjoyed your adventures in women’s writing over the past year. Re women of size, you might like to try something from the series by Australian author Kerry Greenwood, Earthly Delights “featuring Corinna Chapman baker and reluctant investigator”, I’d also like your opinion of the McColl Smith’s No.1 Women’s Detective Agency series which features a large Botswanan woman although I guess as it’s written by a white Scotsman it won’t fit into GTL.

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  5. It’s because he’s a horse, sorry!! I love how thoughtful and purposeful you are about your reading, a very good example. Yours has become a go-to blog for me for diverse (in all sorts of ways) and interesting books. Happy (thoughtful, purposeful) reading for 2017!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Liz! When I look at some of the other blood out there, I see how limited my reading choices are, but I feel really good about my 2017 goals. I’ve already reached out on Twitter to find some fat fiction, and I’m always eager to read more American fiction by authors of African descent, as it is a lit class I occasionally teach.

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  6. There is a very lovely, very sad short story by Edna Ferber with a fat main character–I think it’s in the Buttered Side Down collection. Basically, she wrote it in response to the fact that no-one ever writes about fat women, and her conclusion (bearing in mind that this is maybe 1910s) was that no-one ever writes about fat women because the world is cruel to them, so it’s not a fun story to tell. Totally reasonable for the time, but it’s a shame that we haven’t really made any progress on telling those stories in the last hundred years! Now that you’ve mentioned it, I will also be looking out for stories by or about fat women.

    (Ooh, and I’ve just seen a recommendation for The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency as excellent books featuring an overweight woman, which is a recommendation that I second).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just looked more into Ferber, and it sound like she’s the kind of author we should all be reading but never heard of! The detective books you mention are quite a large series! They sound fun and light hearted, but the series is written by a man, so not quite what I’m looking for. I’m glad you stopped by; I haven’t seen you around in a while!

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  7. Coming of age in Mississippi, I love the title 😀 COngrats on a very productive year and I hope you meet your goals in 2017! I’ll be here, following your posts as usual ^^

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Annie! You must read A LOT of books each year. You seen to zip right though them. Any exciting reads that you’re looking forward to? Do you like nonfiction crime books? A friend was telling me about a compelling work called The Psychopath Whisperer.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t like non-fiction, I’ve tried it and with crime but I always prefer fiction! 😔😔😔 There are tons of books I want to read this year…minimum 100 haha

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  8. I’ve never read Animal Farm, but now I’m not so sure I really want to. The part about Boxer sounds terribly sad.
    And wow – that is a lot of nonfiction that you read! Good for you!!! 🙂
    Here’s to a wonderful 2017 with great reads and great reviews!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Alicia! I was actually surprised by how limited much of my reading was because I read so many reviewer copies sent to me. I’ve been closed on submissions for a while, but if and when I do re-open them, I’m going to request very specific types of books.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. YES! Shrill was one of my favorite books of 2016 by far. I honestly never thought of “fat” people as pariahs or discriminated against, but she really opened my eyes. I completely support your goals for reading more books about positive body image, by and about fat women. This is definitely a voice we need to hear more from.

    You did a great job this year, and I love following your blog. Good luck with all your goals and dreams for 2017– I know I’ll be following them! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Jackie! I’m glad we found each other. I’ve been searching all over the place for fiction by or about fat women, and so far the search is pretty disappointing. Most books are romances about a fat woman who loses weight and then is happy. Most are romances in general. *sigh* I’m still looking!

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  10. Can I just say how sweet it is that you and your husband read to each other at night? I love it!

    Congrats on 71 books this year! What a huge accomplishment 🙂

    I LOVE that you are wanting to read books about or by “fat people.” Coincidently I am currently reading 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl. I haven’t sorted out my feelings about it yet… I will review it at some point. I hope you enjoy it when you get to it 🙂

    Cheers to a wonderful reading year in 2017!

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  13. I haven’t read Animal Farm (yet), but from the sounds of it I would also be a sobbing mess. You’re not alone. Now I’m curious what you would think of Fifteen Dogs. Because it’s about dogs, I thought it would wreck me, but it didn’t. It just made me think. (Okay, a couple of parts wrecked me a little.)

    Are you planning a quest to find a fat-positive book?! Sounds awesome!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed I am! Check out my post from today to see my list. I’ve also reviewed 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl.

      I think you should read Animal Farm. It makes the reader a hot mess, true, but it’s also an important book. Like i tell my husband, it’s important to feel all the feelings if they mean something deeper comes out of it (e.g. I’m not going to read Nicholas Sparks so I can cry just for the sake of crying over a book).

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  14. Kudos to you for getting through your review copies. It took me a long time to get through mine and I haven’t accepted any in a while. I do requests some books myself, though. That’s different 😉

    Juliet Takes A Breath has pretty positive fat girl rep, I think! Juliet is definitely not skinny and she doesn’t care.

    Liked by 1 person

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