Tag Archives: book awards

My Fall Reading List 2014

fall 2014 reading list

What a fabulous summer of reading! After 4 months so rich with reading that they merited two summer reading lists (My Summer Reading List 2014 and Mid-Summer Reading 2014), it’s hard to believe that Fall is here with more novels, nonfiction and young adult fiction clamoring onto the must-read list. My poet friends, note the gap in that series: we need your recommendations for poetry titles.

Here are the books I plan to be reading as I enjoy my first fall back in the north in years. Nice how the cooling, crisp weather seems perfect justification for stealing extra hours to read. Enjoy your reading, and do share your own recommendations!

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Adult Fiction

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah (2013). This Nigerian-American author has won the Orange Award for her prior novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, and had her short fiction published in some of my favorite literary magazines and anthologies. The New York Times Book Review listed Americanah as one of the ten best books of the year, yet I kept passing it up until Julianne Stirling recommended it. Her big tip: Listen to Americanah via Audible, as Julianne says the Audible narrator, Adjoa Andoh, brings pronunciation of African dialects and names to life. Update: I loved the subject and ideas of this book, but felt it rambled, so didn’t gush over this one as much as other reviewers.
  • Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (August 2014). A bit of booklove and… a pinch of guilt went into making this book an impulse buy. Guilt: too long I procrastinated tackling IQ84 (too many books to read and it was soooo long), so I was preconditioned to thinking I should read something by Murakami. Booklove: you have to see the hardcover in person to appreciate the publishing joy that went into the window-cut jacket and underlying map. Shallow reasons perhaps, but I am happy to have this renowned author from Kyoto among my reading this month. Update: Help, fellow readers. I can’t get past the first 40-60 pages. Do I push on; does all the who-cares? detail begin to mean something? So far, it’s losing out to other reads…
  • Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven (September 2014). Author Erin Morgenstern (her Night Circus was among my favorite Spring reads) raved about Station Eleven on its release today, which had me exploring Emily’s author site… I have to say, I am just as curious about two of her earlier novels: The Lola Quartet or Last Night in Montreal. I love the genre-crossover elements of crime or mystery with the depth of character typical to a literary novel. Either way, it’s my plan to read one of her books.
  • Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman (February 2014). I discovered this one in a tweet by Aragi, Inc., announcing the novel’s inclusion on the National Book Award longlist, which led me to a series of tweets and webpages ranging from a picture of Rabih, hands to either side of his head in joy on hearing the NBA news, to this description of the book on his author site: “heartrending novel that celebrates the singular life of an obsessive introvert, revealing Beirut’s beauties and horrors along the way.” I’ve shared before my aspirational admiration of agent Nicole Aragi, so could have said, “You had me at Aragi.” For all these reasons, Unnecessary Woman makes my fall shortlist.
  • Ian McEwan, The Children Act (September 2014). I once lamented that I wanted to read McEwan’s Atonement, but had seen the film already and couldn’t get far enough past it to forget the ending, for it not to be a spoiler to reading. So, as a guest at a book club, I had McEwan’s latest novel added to my reading list in Atonement’s stead.
  • Benjamin Percy, Red Moon (2013). I’ve had Percy on my radar for a couple years as a highly recommended workshop leader, and his books are definitely on my reading list this fall as I will be in a workshop with him in January. Red Moon gets the most attention as his most recent novel (other than Dead Lands, due out in April 2015) but I could read one or more of his others instead: novel, The Wilding, or short story collections: Refresh, Refresh or The Language of Elk. Update: Red Moon was a powerful and thought-provoking read — a fantasy thriller set in an alternative America, grappling with terrorism and fear of disease as the government wavers between controlling or integrating a minority population of lycans. I’ve heard nothing but praise of Percy, and found his writing muscular and compelling. I’ll be curious to read Dead Lands, and still want to catch his top-rated collection, Refresh, Refresh.

Fiction carried over from prior reading lists (links to prior reading lists are below):

Young Adult Fiction

  • lupica signing 1Mike Lupica, Fantasy League (September 2014) or Travel Team. For years, students — especially boys who swore they hated to read, but loved sports — have been telling me how great Mike Lupica’s books are. My sons and I waited an hour in line to meet with him at Fairfield University Book Store the day Fantasy League was released, so I will be reading this one or his basketball book, Travel Team, along with my sons. (BTW: If you are an author doing a book tour in the area, Fairfield University Bookstore is a beautiful indy on the walk-around main street in Fairfield – a great place to sign books.)

Carryover from My Summer Reading List:


  • Jeff Hobbs, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace (September 2014). I read an interesting interview with the author of this book, which makes me want to take a moment to remember this young Yale graduate, whose life of promise was cut short.

Having just started a Masters program in educational leadership, I’ll be reading these 2 over the next 7 weeks:

Carryover from My Summer Reading List:

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What About You?

What is on your current must-read list, or what books have you read recently that you highly recommend?  How do you usually get your reading recommendations — suggestions from a friend? lists in the news? books on shelves in the store?

If you post your own reading list, feel free to share your link in the comments below. If you would like to join in a reading blog hop, let me know.

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Where do the book links take you?

For convenience, you can click book titles for their link on Amazon — or find them at your favorite indie bookseller through indiebound.org:

Shop Indie Bookstores

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My Reading List: Winter 2013

Winter reading waits. c Elissa Field

Winter reading waits. c Elissa Field

Mid-winter makes it perfect time to update my current “must-reads” list.

As noted in prior reading lists (links at bottom), 2012 occasioned release of some fabulous fiction, including several I haven’t gotten to yet. I’ve discovered some other great books released prior to 2012, as well as a few winter-spring 2013 releases I’m really curious to read. Rounding the list are 3 books by writers I love, 3 works of nonfiction, and the “challenge list” that serves to seed the reading challenge I’ll publish in March: reading books you’ve always meant to read.

I’d love to hear your own reading recommendations, recent favorite reads or link to your own reading list in the comments. Happy reading!

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  1. Anuradha Roy, An Atlas of Impossible Longing (2011). This debut novel set in Bengal is being heralded internationally as a great new voice. the author, longlisted for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize, has also released The Folded Earth (2012).
  2. Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time (2004). The name alone sold me on this book — one I had often picked up and set down before finally taking it home last month. Update: I’ve read lots of haters on this book, but hands down, it knocked me off my feet with its humor, intellect and heart. I quickly added it to a top-recommended read list for upper MG and YA (lower, if not for the f-bombs).
  3. Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies (2012). See my prior post 2012 Year of the Book: Bring up the Bodies went on my winter list after it won the 2012 Man Booker Prize, making Mantel the only woman to have won it twice. Update: I finally got a copy of this and am reading it in June. Will update further as I finish reading but, in the meantime, it’s worth sharing advice I’ve heard from others: Since all of Mantel’s work is highly recommended and since she writes historical fiction, you would be safe to decide which of her books to read based on which topic most interests you.
  4. Helen Oyeyemi, Mr. Fox (2011).

2013 Releases I am Curious About:

  1. Eleanor Morse, White Dog Fell from the Sky (Jan. 2013). Compared to Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone.
  2. Karen Russell, Vampires in the Lemon Grove (Feb. 2013). I so want this collection of stories by the author of the 2011 award-winning novel Swamplandia and 2007 collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. Vampires lost out in my most recent book run only to Mrs. Dalloway, as I have the March reading challenge to gear up for. Update: Russell’s stories are rich with intelligence and off-kilter with subjects as odd as teen girls enslaved and transformed into silk-spinners. So far, I’m partial to the title story. A little icked by the silkworm story. But genuinely impressed by her writing. Worth reading one of her titles.
  3. Ned Beauman, The Teleportation Accident (Feb. 2013). This LA crime noir/scifi novel made the longlist for the 2012 Man Booker Prize.
  4. Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed (May 2013). With its May release date, this is on my Winter list merely as reminder to look forward to it for the Summer List, considering the insight of Hosseini’s prior novels: The Kite Runner (2004) and A Thousand Splendid Suns (2008).  Update: I plan to get a copy of this new release and hopefully watch Hosseini read at Books & Books in Miami 6/19. He is on tour, so you might check if he is reading at a bookstore near you. Or, read this New York Times interview with Hosseini.

Writers Who Inspire Me:

This lists morphs over the years, along with growth of my writing and interests — but there has always been a mental short-list of writers whose work really inspires me. In addition to the 3 authors below, there is Tea Obreht, who has no book for me to add to the list as she has only published The Tiger’s Wife.

If one thing were in common among these writers, it is each of their lack of fear of being intelligent in their writing (think that through: they don’t fear when the writing begs complexity or a long sentence, don’t rush it into something more commercial), fueled by a familiar ease with folklore or magic.

  1. Alice McDermott, Child of My Heart (2003). Child of My Heart was McDermott’s first novel after her National Book Award winning Charming Billy — and my love of her writing in CB was impetus for seeking out ChildUpdate: I may post separately about the experience of reading this, as it became a favorite read for 2013, although I fought it the first 25 pages.
  2. Nathan Englander, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges (2000). Nathan Englander is on the short list of authors I’d like to workshop with, which says a lot.  His 2008 novel Ministry of Special Cases made my favorite reads of 2011, as intelligent, poetic and haunting. His 2012 collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank , made my reading list last year. Update: tsk. Despite my love for Englander, Unbearable Urges lost out on recent buying trip when I realized it was a story collection. LOVE his stories, but Ishiguro’s novel won out.
  3. Colum McCann, Fishing the Sloe-Black River: Stories (1996). I love listening to interviews of McCann for his soft Dublin vowels and his ease with poetic intelligence. He also tops my list of writers I’d love to workshop with, and this collection is one of his books I’ve not yet read. McCann is best known for his award-winning, best-selling Let the Great World Spin.
  4. Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero (2008). While Ondaatje was best known for his Booker Prize-winning  The English Patient (loved), my favorite was his novel In the Skin of a Lion (1997). I’ve not read his more recent work, and Divisadero came recommended by a friend. (I’ve also heard good things about his 2011 The Cat’s Table.)

Rolled Over from my Fall 2012 or 2012 Year of the Book lists:

Follow links to either list in the title above to read more about these highly recommended or award-nominated books.

  1. David Abrams, Fobbit (Sept. 2012).
  2. Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Mar. 2012)
  3. Matthew Dicks, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend (Aug. 2012).
  4. Sarah Winman, When God Was a Rabbit (Apr. 2012).
  5. Margot Livesey, The Flight of Gemma Hardy (2012). I’m trying not to cheat and look this up, but I can’t help finding inspiration from Jane Eyre in this one. Livesey is an intriguing writer and this is in my current stack. Update: I thoroughly enjoyed this book – you could feel Livesey’s childhood thrill of Jane Eyre in richly reimagined scenes — although I couldn’t help feeling the love more flat than sultry. Top marks for all but that.

Three More 2012 Releases That Call to Me on Every Book Run:

  1. Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus (2012). I resist the circus theme, but can’t hold out much longer — I’ve heard such great buzz about this book.
  2. Carol Rifka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I’m Home (2012). You had me at the title.
  3. Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins (2012). You had me at the cover.

Young Adult and Middle Grade Fiction:

These are titles I’m reading with my sons, my 5th or middle grade students, or (admit it!) just because I love YA & MG fiction:

  1. Rebecca Stead, Liar & Spy. I wish I could take credit for discovering this one. I do follow Rebecca on Twitter and had her 2009 novel When You Reach Me on my to-read list, but this book came as a Christmas gift to my son from Mimi & Papa. Update: Quiet in its own way, Liar & Spy is funny, mysterious and so intelligently written. Rebecca earns my Gold Star for Writers Who Get Kids. It’s one I quickly recommend to my kids.
  2. Katherine Erskine, Mockingbird (2011). A National Book Award winner. Update: ever empty a package then keep shaking for more to come out? I wanted to like this book, but eh.  Pros: for the same reasons I liked Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time(above), I liked the POV of an Asperger’s narrator. But. I’m around kids all day (the age of the narrator) and the plot arc felt too issue-y and forced. Perhaps the author’s note at the end rammed it a little too far. It still is a 3-4 star book, but not on my top-recommended.
  3. Theodore Taylor, The Cay (1987). Set in Curacao during World War II, this is a novel I’m reading aloud with my 5th graders. I inherited this one from prior curriculum, not yet sold on it.  Update: I am NOT a fan of this book. The best thing to come from it was the opportunity to teach kids that “setting” can be expressed myriad ways: within the opening pages, there are 2 sentences that each hold 6 separate means of expressing setting — which is great, as kids so often think it is only made up of literal time (date, hour) and place (actual location).


  1. Charles Baxter, Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction (2008). Baxter wasn’t my workshop leader when I went to Bread Loaf Writers Conference, yet I came away from that intense week more impacted by the advice in Baxter’s afternoon lectures than the whole week of my workshop.  This collection of writing on craft just arrived in the mail. I also recommend his Bringing the Devil to his Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life (2001).
  2. Shane Connaughton, A Border Diary (1996). I’m fascinated by the culture of borders within related but disputed lands, which was motivation for the hometown of my main character in Wake. This memoir is an odd first-person source in that it recounts a small village along the Antrim-Fermanagh border at the time of the 1994 ceasefire — but during the border country’s use in filming The Run of the Country, as recorded by the hometown Irishman who authored the story.
  3. David A. Sousa & Carol Ann Tomlinson, Differentiation and the Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner-Friendly Classroom (2010). If the first 2 were for development of my craft in fiction, this goes to craft in teaching. This book applies decades of brain research (into how brains learn, and how individual students learn differently) to concrete methods for differentiating in the classroom to reach and activate all learners. Love this book.

Writers I’ve Been Meaning to Read:

Shared by the Library of Congress, this poster is from a Chicago promotion 1936-1941. No known copyright restrictions.

Shared by the Library of Congress, this poster is from a Chicago promotion 1936-1941. No known copyright restrictions.

This part of the Winter List will receive special attention and an update in March, as I’ve stumbled across a vintage literacy challenge to take on reading of a book “you’ve always meant to read.”

I’m curious about the kinds of books we forever postpone on our “to read” lists — and what keeps us from tackling them.

  1. Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (2006).  I was a huge fan or Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day but haven’t gotten myself to read anything he’s written since. Update: ooh, since I misplaced my Mrs. Dalloway, can this count as my March Challenge book? I read this in 2 days, over spring break. For all of part 1 I argued with his narrative style — talk about unnecessary clauses and modifiers that added nothing! The plot twist in part 2 lights a fire, and I did read nonstop to the finish. Not my favorite, but thought-provoking.
  2. Haruki Murakami, IQ84 (2011). Like Ulysses, I keep hearing this is a book that a writer should challenge themselves to read. I see that brick-of-a-book and can only think of the 3 or 4 books it has to be good enough to take the time of.
  3. Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton (Sept. 2012) or one of his earlier works.
  4. Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925). I’ve read other works by Woolf (I’m a fan of To the Lighthouse) and have read and viewed so many adaptations, but don’t know that I’ve ever read the original of Mrs. Dalloway. Update: Don’t laugh. I swear I can’t find my copy of Mrs. D. Honest – I did not hide it. Looking, looking…

Hmm… What other books have I never gotten around to reading? And which are on your list? 

If you have a minute, please click this link to a survey where you can leave your insights or the kinds of authors or titles you never get around to reading.

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What Are You Reading?

I’d love to hear your own reading suggestions in the comments.  Let us know the favorite books you’ve read this year or ones on your must-reads list.  If this inspires you to blog your own list, share link to your post so we can come read with you.

Where do the book links take you?

For convenience, you can click book titles for their link at Amazon — or find them at your favorite indie bookseller through indiebound.org:

Shop Indie Bookstores

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or via email or RSS feed. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

Recent posts:

My Reading Lists from 2012:

Happy reading, all!


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2012: Year of the Book


2012 was the year of many things — politics, gun violence, Hurricane Sandy, Olympics (remember way back that far?). But for those of us who crave getting lost in a great read, 2012 was something else: it was a year of new releases for many fabulous novels and works of nonfiction.

2012 was the year of the book.

Compiling reading lists before summer, I was astounded at the riches — only to find fall’s new releases a true embarrassment of riches. Even as pundits mull once again the death of the novel, death of publishing, death of print; even as self-publishing flooded in with more than a million e-releases via Amazon last year, the real news — the heady tweets and retweets throughout summer and fall — were the immensely satisfying novels arriving in print, lining up on the shelves of real bookstores.

It seemed everywhere people were reading. The question wasn’t, “What can I read next?” but, “What fabulous book on the many kudos-lists for 2012 have I not yet gotten to?”

As I gear up to compile my winter reading list for January, I came upon announcement at The Morning News of their annual Tournament of Books. Their 2013 list  reads like a summary of various award nominees from throughout the fall (click here to read my prior post for several of the awards’ longlists).

Considering these top-reading lists, as well as my own and those of friends this year, had me taking stock: which were my favorite new releases of 2012, and which 2012 boooks have I yet to read

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My Favorite New Releases of 2012:

I am not a fast reader, yet both of my top-picks compelled me to drop everything. Literally. All day in bed, reading. Through the night, reading. To the point of reading the second I woke, without stopping to make coffee.  No joke: I took the second with me into a movie, suspecting I might be tempted to read a chapter by light of my cell phone, between scenes.

  • Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds . Hands down, I think this is the most important book published in 2012.  Beautifully written (battle described with haiku-like stillness), without hammering over the head, yet you cannot help be changed by the knowledge imparted. As a teacher, its impact left me expecting it will someday be assigned reading, as my generation once read The Red Badge of Courage.
  • Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl . Where Yellow Birds was “important,” Gone Girl was ubiquitous as the “must read” page-turner of summer. I slogged through the first few chapters, skeptical over the characters’ self-indulgent narration… and then hook-whizzzz! Flynn had me. What began as self-important introspection reveals itself as the intricate mind-battle between two genuinely intriguing characters — and yes, I read compulsively, without stopping from page 60 through to the astonishing end, all the while seamlessly in love with Flynn’s ability to spin characters and story. To convey the extent to which Flynn won me over: through the whole last third of the book, I was actively thinking how glad I was to know she’d written other books I’d have to fill the gap once Gone Girl was done. Rare, hooked.

My other favorite-reads of the year weren’t published in 2012, but you can find them on my reading lists linked at the bottom of this post.

2012 New Releases Still-to-Be-Read:

There are another half dozen 2012-releases on my must-read lists that I’ve not yet gotten to.

  • Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies  — winner of the 2012 Man Booker Prize, and the first woman to ever win the award twice.
  • Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and David Abrams, Fobbit In a way, it’s unfair to list these together, as if they are equivalent, but together with Yellow Birds, these were three of the remarkable books written by veterans this year — each adding a unique voice to the experience of America at war.
  • Matthew Dicks, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend
  • Nathan Englander, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank Everything Englander writes is charged with his intellect, and deeply meaningful. I’ve read one story from this collection, and look forward to the rest.
  • Margot Livesey, The Flight of Gemma Hardy This is one of two books I am dying to read by Livesey — who not only impresses me, but has endeared me with encouragement on a story in the past.
  • Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton

For other books on my reading lists, but not published in 2012, see the links at the bottom of this post — and be sure to share any of your own recommendations, as I’ll consider them in compiling my Winter 2013 list!

Said shyly: “Great” Books of 2012 I Put Down Without Finishing:

Caveats are required, here, because I am a discerning reader… but also an impatient one.  Perhaps even moody. It is likely that these books did not fit my tastes at the time of reading, but these were two books I highly anticipated, then could not read past the first chapters:

  • Ann Patchett, State of Wonder I have heard only rave opinions of all Patchett’s work, but I could not get into the plot, setting or characters of this one. I’m hoping it will hook me in another year, or I’ll read one of her other books.
  • Jan-Phillip Sendker, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats  A lovely book, set in a country I had been studying so was easily intrigued by… yet I could not get past feeling it was not well-edited, with the feel of a self-published book full of first novel errors. Impatience kicked in and another book took it’s place in line.

Are you like me — do you often find yourself quick to put books down?

Of a dozen books, I feel like I might eagerly make it past the third chapter on only 3-4 of them. Other well-reviewed books I put down in 2012 included Elegance of the Hedgehog (I didn’t feel like reading about Paris) and The Imperfectionists (it didn’t seem to go anywhere and I preferred the narrator of the first chapter, who then disappeared).  With limited time and so many good books to read, I almost never force myself to finish a book that hasn’t hooked me. Then again, more than once I’ve stumbled across one of these later — in a different reading mood, perhaps — and loved it. Is there advice in that? I wonder how others experience this?

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My Reading Lists posted throughout 2012:

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