At the end of 2016 I extolled the virtues of Goodreads. In that post I had read 50 books. 29 by men, 21 by women. 15 were non-fiction, and I still had 3 non-fiction in progress at the end of the year. I wound up finishing the year at 52 books. Looking at my list, 34 were audiobooks, so 18 were physical books. The only comment I’d made was to try and read more women for 2017. Of course, this wasn’t a conscious goal, just a hope, but… how did I do?
In 2017 I read 66 books, despite dealing with family stuff (shout out to my library and their amazing collection of audiobooks!). 36 were by men, 28 by women. 56 were audiobooks, so 10 were physical books. 2 books were rereads. 6 were kids books (2 of those didn’t have an author, just a company, hence why 36 and 28 doesn’t total 66). 42 were nonfiction, so 24 were fiction.
So. I did read more books by women, but I also read more books by men. Both years 42% were by women. So… Not really better. This year I’ll again try and read more women, and I’d like to read more fiction, try and split it a bit more evenly. 2016 was mostly fiction (70% to 30% non-fiction), 2017 was mostly non-fiction (64% to 36% fiction).
Without further ado, a bit about some of the non-fiction I read and enjoyed this year. (Don’t worry, I’ll only pick a small handful to talk about!)
Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill. This was a lot of fun. In 2016 I’d read How to Be a Victorian, and this was a fun follow-up to that. This was a lot more accessible and had some really funny musings about things. The conceit is that you’ve woken up as a Victorian and have to make do with all the things that aren’t familiar to you. It’s not the most in depth or serious, but there’s a place for that, and sometimes people need a fun into to history.
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. I read this because it’s by Aziz Ansari, but I didn’t know what I was getting into. I expected a humor book because he’s a comedian, and there are funny parts, but that’s not what this book is. It’s actually a pretty serious look at how we date and how that’s changed with all our new technology and dating apps. And it was super fascinating! Other than chatting over Facebook I never used any of these things when dating, and so it showed me a whole side to things I’m not familiar with.
Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady by Kate Summerscale. If you haven’t read anything by Kate Summerscale, do it. She really has a way of telling a non-fiction story really accessibly. This honestly felt like a novel a lot of the time. Even the drawn out court proceedings were interesting. This is basically a real life Emma Bovary or Edna Pontellier and it’s really well told.
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard. Earlier in the I read The President and the Assassin about the McKinley assassination and it just wasn’t great (not awful, but not great). If you want a book about a presidential assassination, read this one. Millard really makes you feel for James Garfield being thrust into the presidency, and then coming to terms with it. She really gets into who Charles Guiteau was, showing him to be a bit insane, but not over the top crazy. Dr. Doctor Bliss (I love that his first name was Doctor) unfortunately, caused the whole situation to be worse than it should’ve been. Alexander Graham Bell felt that he’d failed but it was because of Bliss. There’s so much to this story and Millard tells it really well.
The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff. I finally finished this in 2017! (I was passively reading it at the end of 2016, in that I had started it, but wasn’t actually reading it anymore.) This was a good book about Salem, but having read so much about Salem there wasn’t much new information. Additionally, I felt some of the footnotes were a bit flippant given the subject matter. It’s a good book though, and a good starter if you know nothing about Salem.
The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown. This was a bit rough to read – the Donner Party is not an easy subject. That said, Brown told an excellent story. The entry point is a new bride who is part of the party. You follow her the whole way. It’s about everyone, but her story is really compelling.
The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport. This was really fascinating and really in depth. The title’s a bit misleading as it’s about the whole family, not just the daughters, but that’s a quibble. Rappaport really makes you feel for the family, but also gives the appropriate context to what was happening.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. Everyone should read this – I want to give a copy to everyone I know. I originally heard about this book years ago through an interview Gawande did on The Daily Show. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to get to it because it’s so important. We do so much wrong medically in this country, elder and end of life care being a really important piece. We can do so much better in this country and Gawande lays out some very basic ways of going about it. Again, everyone should read this.
This year I’ve already read two books – one a novel (the first in a series) and one a kids book. I’m currently actively reading another novel (another first of a series – The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard) and listening to a novel (The Secret History by Donna Tartt) and a non-fiction book (The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip & Carol Zaleski). I’m passively reading (as in not really reading, but don’t want to actually give up on) I Wish I’d Been There: Twenty Historians Bring to Life the Dramatic Events That Changed America, which is a bunch of essays, and Fracture: Life and Culture in the West, 1918-1938 by Phillip Blom (yes, I was reading this end of 2016 too). Based on just the books I’ve bought recently (yay Christmas money), I should have no problem reading more fiction. What all have you read recently? Anything good I should check out?