Well, I really didn’t think I was going to meet my Goodreads challenge of reading 100 books in 2017. I was consistently a couple of books behind, and while I was always close enough that I could have prioritized a little extra reading and caught up, I was planning to let myself “fail.”
It’s always made me irrationally anxious to see the little “X books behind schedule” notification, and I was determined to suck it up and sit with that discomfort. To let it go and prioritize writing or TV-watching or family or friend time instead of scrambling to attain a goal that doesn’t really matter.
But then, somehow, I squeaked by with 100 books. I didn’t go out of my way to catch up—it just happened. But I still feel a little guilty about it. Like subconsciously I couldn’t let myself follow through on this new plan of “failing?”
Ah well. Whether I subconsciously pushed through to the finish or not, it’s been a great year of reading, and I always like to look back at some stats and favorites. So here goes!
In 2017, I read three adult novels, one craft book, 47 young adult novels, 46 middle grade novels, and three that I can’t decide whether to categorize as YA or MG (the three excellent March graphic novels). I started to read a lot more MG novels at the end of the year, which makes sense because in November I decided to set aside a YA manuscript I’d been working on and accept that, for now at least, middle grade is what I feel moved to write and surround myself with. (And which also suggests that perhaps I did not subconsciously push to achieve my challenge but instead just naturally picked up my pace since middle grade novels tend to be shorter than YA? Let’s go with that!)
I was mindful of reading more novels by authors from marginalized groups in 2017. I wanted half of the books I read in 2017 to be by authors from marginalized groups, but I didn’t quite get there. It got a little tricky to decide which groups I was counting as marginalized, and sometimes I didn’t know how an author identified. But by a pretty conservative estimate, at least 40% of the books I read this year were by marginalized authors. That’s a much better rate than I had before, but it’s still a little disappointing that, even when making a specific effort to improve this rate, I still fell short of 50%. That’s on me because I could have tried harder, but it also feels significant that this goal was difficult to achieve. While many wonderful #ownvoices novels have gotten a lot of well-deserved attention this year, I still found that each time I came across a list of newly published books that appealed to me, especially if they were middle grade, the majority were not by marginalized authors.
I also listened to a lot more audiobooks this year—16 of my 100 books were on audio, and two of those were full-cast: Jack Cheng’s See You in the Cosmos and Lisa Graff’s The Great Treehouse War. I’d never listened to a full-cast audiobook before, but I thought those were especially fun.
I read 14 terrific books by Vermont College of Fine Arts alumni or faculty members, and I got to read 12 advance reader copies of debut novels coming out in 2018, all of which have been fabulous! You can find out about so many awesome debut novels coming out this year at www.electriceighteens.com, and I’m planning to post more about the 2018 debuts I’ve gotten to read at a later time…but for now I’ll focus on some already-published books I loved in a variety of categories as I look back on 2017.
Books I kept telling people to read: Up for Air, my novel that is due out from Abrams/Amulet Books in 2019, is an older middle grade novel that deals with some topics that aren’t often explored in middle grade. Ever since the deal for Up for Air was announced, I’ve heard from people who want to write or read this kind of older middle grade book and are looking for other novels that are already published. One I read this year and keep plugging is Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail. It’s funny and fast-paced, it deals with eighth-grade crush and friend dynamics, and it has a wonderful main character…who actually turns fourteen (often thought of as an off-limits age for a middle grade character!) during the book.
I also keep talking about Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes by Mary E. Lambert, which I want more people to know about because it’s a pitch-perfect middle grade that manages to be funny and relatable while also delving into a difficult topic in a graceful way. The voice is fabulous and the family dynamics are heartbreakingly lovely.
Books that made me laugh: I love funny books, and in 2017, the middle grade books that had me laughing out loud were Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan and The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo by Stephen Bramucci, and The World’s Greatest Detective by Caroline Carlson (all of which would make fabulous read-alouds for younger middle school grades), and the young adult book that cracked me up the most was Who’s that Girl by Blair Thornburgh.
Books that made me cry: I also read some wonderfully poignant tear-jerkers. Lily’s Mountain by Hannah Moderow, Three Pennies by Melanie Crowder, Forever or a Long, Long Time by Caela Carter, and The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla are four middle grade novels that made me weep, and Nina LaCour’s lovely young adult novel We Are Okay had me reaching for tissues multiple times.
Cozy-happy books: Sometimes, I just need to read a book that feels like the literary equivalent of curling up under a warm blanket and eating just-baked chocolate chip cookies. Sarah Dessen’s novels are always like this for me, and Once and for All was no exception. Other contemporary YAs that gave me this cozy-happy feeling in 2017 were Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han, The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, and When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. In terms of middle grade, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser was one of the most delightfully cozy books I’ve read in ages (so I’m very glad there will be at least two more books about the Vanderbeekers!).
Most emotionally intense reads: Ah, the feels. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, and Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios provided the most emotionally intense (in a good way!) reading experiences for me this year. They all provoked a whole lot of feelings and left me with a lot to think about.
Book I probably wouldn’t have picked up on my own: I know, I know, it won a Newbery, so it’s not like it wasn’t on my radar. But honestly, I didn’t think The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill sounded like my kind of book until it was one of our book club picks, and I adored it. Which leads me to one of my goals for reading in 2018!
Reading goal for 2018: This year, I’m not going to set a goal in terms of how many books I want to read. I want to manage my anxiety about how my own books will be received, and, as much as I adore reading, I have a feeling I may sometimes need to take breaks from books just to remove myself from the whole world of publishing and expectations and comparing myself to others. I’m guessing this will mean more TV and more baking! But I do want to push myself to read outside my usual favorite genres of MG and YA contemporary. I’d like to read more adult fiction and more fantasy just for the pleasure of exploring different kinds of books than what I write and gravitate to.
How about you? I’d love to know about your favorites in any of these categories or your reading goals for 2018!