Catching up on Books: What I read last year

As we can all tell, I dropped off the band wagon last year. It’s time to pick back up. I imagine we will see a lot more cooking here, more travel this year, and you’ll enjoy lots of books I’ve read and some cultural interviews. I wanted to catch my readers up on last year’s reading, since there were a lot of books, and many of them are worth taking time to read. Some are embedded in Southern culture, but some aren’t. Some focus on race, feminism, history, and some are just good stories. So without further adieu, here is a complete list of what I read last year.

Interview with a Vampire – Anne Rice

Would you believe I’d never read this book? Believe it. Judge me for a moment. And let’s carry on. Ha! I will be very transparent about this book, I didn’t like it in text. I tried many times to read it and I just couldn’t get my head into it. I opted to listen to it on Audible and I loved it so much more. It may be because my original exposure was through the movie, so I was used to a narrated story telling already. Regardless, I really enjoyed the audible version and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to wade into Anne Rice.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – The Original Screenplay

I am an avid Rowling reader. I watched the movie, and I was so excited that there was an option to read the screenplay and delve back into the Wizarding world via words once again. While I wish we had the more immersive taste that a novel gives, I did enjoy reading this. I’ve only read a few screenplays in my lifetime and this was the best of them.

I listened to Lauren Groff’s Florida on Audible and thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved listening to someone who understands my state, but I also really just like Lauren’s writing style and her stories. I did a full review of her book which you can read here:

The Cash and Carter Family Cookbook – John Carter Cash

Why yes, I do read cookbooks regularly. I had read a biography of Johnny Cash in 2018 that resonated strongly with me. As a result, I wound up reading a few additional books centered around him and his life, including this cookbook written by his son. The cookbook displays the southern and rural roots of both the Cash and the Carter families. Readers also get a glimpse into life in the Cash family home, and what it was like as a child growing up with Johnny and June as parents. I’ve enjoyed all of the recipes I’ve tried so far.

The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien

This was a re-read for me as a partnered read with a good friend of mine. We tend to pick up little reading goals together a few times a year and we both really enjoy it. I listened to the audio for this round of the book and I liked it. The Audible narrator leans a bit of a feeling of having the story read by Bilbo Baggins in ways, mostly through his tone.

Watership Down – Richard Adams

Watership Down is generally an annual read for me. It is my favorite book ever written, and I believe it is a book that everyone should read at least twice in their lifetime. It changes a bit for me each time I read it. I find new meanings, new lessons, and I relate in new ways. I have a funny story to go with my love of this book. When I was in the fourth grade, my school librarian recommended this book to me. By then I had read Jurassic Park, Contact, The Hobbit and several other too big for me books. I hated Watership Down at that point. I couldn’t get past the first three chapters. Forget it! I picked it back up in high school and I’ve been hooked on it ever since.

Letters to a Young Farmer: On Food, Farming and Our Future – Stone Barns Center For Food & Agriculture

This book is a collaboration of letters from various influencers and writers in food and agriculture to the future farmers of our world. There is such a wealth of wisdom and knowledge offered in the pages of this book, not just for future farmers, but for anyone who is interested or concerned about the future of our food systems. We are in a pivotal age where mindful food production is critical to our continuation as a species, but the majority of people are ill educated about our food production systems. This is a great book for starting to gain some understanding both of how food production works, and what concerns are most important to address right away.

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

This was one of the most powerful books I have ever read, and it is so relevant to current events. This is a YA title, but I think it is a book that adults and youth all need to read. It is beautiful, heartbreaking, devastating and it truly changed my perspective in monumental ways. I hope it becomes required school reading across the board.

Eat Feel Fresh – Sahara Rose Ketabi

I began learning about Ayurveda and its healing principals in 2013 and 2014. I have been looking for ways to change my eating habits in ways that will better fuel my body. Ketabi’s cookbook offers not only a great introduction to Ayurvedic health principals, but it also gives a wide range of tasty and easy to make recipes. This book is just what I had been needing to not only make better meals, but help me look for recipes that fit into the eating patterns I need in the future.

Whereas: Poems – Layli Long Solider

Whereas fits into many firsts for me. It is my first book that is written by a Native American. It is the first book of poetry I’ve read by an Indigenous author. Layli Long Soldier has such a beautiful and fluid way of using words to display thoughts. Whether you intend it or not, you begin to see pictures of scenes and emotions in your mind as you read. A few of the poems took multiple reads for me to grasp all of what they were portraying, but many critics will say that is the proper way of reading and understanding poetry. I definitely recommend this collection and I am hoping to explore these poems in an audio version soon.

Whiskey in a Teacup – Reese Witherspoon

First we had Dolly, then we had Reese. I LOVE Reese Witherspoon. I LOVE Dolly Parton. I LOVE all things super southern. This book combines all of them! Reese takes us through recipes, monograms, doing your hair in a hurry, and a talk with Dolly Parton in this enjoyable Southern Belle dedication. This book lives in my kitchen with the Cash and Carter Family Cookbook and Paula Deen. FYI, Reese also has a book club with some fantastic picks!

Ninth Ward – Jewell Parker Rhodes

Ninth Ward is a young adult novel that is first about the disastrous loss of homes and communities in Hurricane Katrina. It is also about the heritage of New Orleans’ African American community. A young girl who sees and feels spirits, her grandmother who is viewed as a healer, elder and likely grew in VooDoo culture, a community of Creole Cajun African American families who face unknown futures in the wake of a hurricane that rocked the United States. This book is heartbreaking, beautiful and it offers a glimpse into a reality that most Americans need to wake up to.

Johnny Cash Forever Words: The Unknown Poems – Edited by Paul Muldoon

Following with the cookbook, I picked up this collection of Johnny Cash’s poems as a continuation from the biography I read in 2018. This was a bit of a quick read, as most of the poems and excerpts were pieces of work, either unfinished or later tied into other work. I enjoyed the further peek into Johnny Cash’s mind and methods though.

The Sun and Her Flowers – Rupi Kaur

Last year is the first year in a really long time that I read a lot of poetry and took time to absorb it and relate to it. This was my introduction to Rupi, and I loved every page. Rupi’s collections are the page turners of poetry, and I am excited to continue reading. I do think I’d enjoy exploring this one in an audio version as well. I’ll also note that this is one I’d recommend reading with a notebook handy, both for notes and to save your favorite quotes, because I promise, you’ll want to save several.

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences – Camille Pagan

This is a cute little romance / life growth novel. It took me outside of my normal reading comfort zone and into the feel good romance zone, which is not something I often venture towards. While there weren’t any moments where I felt like I needed to whip out a tissue, I would say it is a great little read for the beach or a trip.

Pachinko – Min Jin Lee

I have a love for literature rooted in Asian Culture. I’ve always loved Memoirs of a Geisha and I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan in a day. Pachinko fit right in with my passion for the others. Asian cultures are beautiful, but in ways, they are also full of melancholy and nostalgia. This is especially true when we get glimpses into village life and traditions. Pachinko takes us through the life of a girl grown woman who never quite finds the love she is seeking. It is somewhat sad, but exquisitely written. I did the audible version but plan to read the physical sometime in the next year.

Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies – Jared Diamond

I was a bit overdue in reading this. I did the Audio and I want to go back and take notes in a physical copy. I like seeing an approach to anthropology via environmental science view points. This book touches on regional influence on society, agriculture, means of food procurement, latitude and longitude in relation to land mass arrangement and more. It is definitely a great read for the science minded individual who enjoys a good non fiction.

The Cooking Gene – Michael W. Twitty

I HIGHLY recommend reading this book. Twitty explores the deep roots of Southern cooking that are entwined in African American history and heritage. In doing so, he also expands on the oppressed history of African Americans via slavery, servitude and the continued influence of low income, reduced opportunity and racism. This is another that I think needs a notebook nearby while reading, so you can take notes on the food, on the history, and on your own thoughts as they graduate along with the book. I follow Twitty on Instagram and try to keep up with articles he writes. He is a wealth of cultural knowledge, food knowledge and historical references, and I really enjoy his work.

True West – Sam Shepard and Matthew Dunster

I listened to this Audible drama as a fun short listen. While critics gave it some thumbs down, I actually enjoyed it. It made me laugh and I actually couldn’t tell the actors true voices because they adapted their characters so well. This is a fun one.

In Tuscany – Frances Mayes

I’ve always loved Frances Mayes and her writing. Under the Tuscan Sun inspired a love for Italy that I still hold, though I’ve not been there still. I realized last year that I had not actually read this book, though I’d owned it for many years. I felt it was past due. Mayes’ books are always a beautiful combination of exquisite word use and delicious recipes. In Tuscany was much the same, though enriched by photographs of the Mayes villa and surrounding Italian countryside. The history, beauty and warmth of Italy are all long standing visions I hope to get to experience myself.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants – Robin Wall Kimmerer

This is my second Native American authored book, and it is absolutely beautiful. Kimmerer’s approach to human and nature interaction is a view that needs to be embraced and re-adopted for the sake of our planet’s future. Sadly I doubt it will be embraced by enough people. Regardless, this poetic narrative of nature and human interaction, and the wisdom of indigenous cultures is worthy of multiple reads. I did the audible version, which is beautiful in Kimmerer’s voice, but I believe the print version belongs in any and every collection.

The Imperfectionists – Tom Rachman

This is a witty little novel about the staff of a newspaper on the eve of widespread internet media. It reads a bit like the shorts of characters in Love Actually, or New York I Love You. We get fleeting glimpses back and forth into the lives of each of the reporters on the newspaper’s staff, as the newspaper itself gradually landslides thanks to an inability to adapt to the times and the gradual move of media to the internet, social websites and blogs. There are sad moments, funny moments and a few moments where you feel rage for the characters. It is also very real, with characters that almost anyone can relate to.

Songs of Innocence and of Experience – William Blake

This is a classic collection of poems. I have an older printing of it that I’d not read. This continued in my poetry trend last year. I read it fairly quickly. The poems are fairly simple, well written and enjoyable for a quiet afternoon.

The Eagle Tree – Ned Hayes

I listened to the Eagle Tree on Audible and I think this is the absolute best way to take this book in. Will Ropp narrates this story perfectly, grasping the speech and thought process of a young autistic boy whose attention focus is trees. As awareness about Autism and how Autistic people function continues to grow, this book opens their world a little more to readers, and invokes empathy. The book also takes us back to environmentalism and the need to protect our planet and its diverse ecological structures. This is categorized as a young adult fiction, but it fits young and adult readers alike.

What You Need – Lorelei James

By far, not my favorite read. I am not a romance fan, I am not a steamy erotica fan. This is a touch of both I suppose. I am sure it is a lot of fun for many who enjoy steamy reads while hanging by the pool. It just isn’t my jive. But I did it!

Blind River – Ben Follows

This actually turned out to be a good thriller/mystery. It took me a hot minute to get into, mostly because I was in a distracted part of my year, but once I did get involved, it became a page turner. I don’t commonly like mysteries as much, but I’m beginning to find some that I enjoy, and this was one of them.

The Stones, The Crows, the Grass, The Moon – Walter Kirn

This is an interesting look at grief and the many ways it can be encountered. I didn’t fully absorb it, and I honestly need a physical re-read vs. the audible, as it became a bit hard for me to follow.

A Solider of the Great War – Mark Helprin

This book is absolutely beautiful! I actually read it as part of a book club read. It is the account of an elderly man’s life as he recalls it to a young man. The language in it is gorgeous and the writing style reminds me a bit of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I read two books that mimic his writing style last year, and I love finding authors who have such poetic use of language. It is worth re-reading at least once, maybe twice, or more!

Girls and boys – Dennis Kelly

This play read by Carey Mulligan is beautiful and haunting. It borders on being a bit philosophical. From what I understand this is now a live play, and I’d really love to see it.

Wizard’s First Rule – Terry Goodkind

Terry Goodkind’s novels have long been one of my favorite series in literature. Wizard’s first rule is the first book in his Sword of Truth series, and is gripping. While this is deemed fantasy, Goodkind’s story finds basis in moral values, and have taught me many life lessons. He also embraces a deeply beautiful love story between Richard and Kahlan, the protagonists. There is humor, adventure, horror, war, mystery and suspense. I so wish they would be adapted to proper movies. I am working on re-reading the first books so I can finally finish the entire series.

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

Ready Player One is completely out of my normal comfort zone for novels, and not one I would have picked up of my own accord. I did so at a friend’s recommendation, and I am so glad I did. It had me completely wrapped up. I loved all of the nerdy references to pop culture, comics, movies, etc. It has a gripping story line that keeps readers on the edge of their seats. Sci Fi and future based novels normally don’t keep me so drawn in. This was the exception, and I really thoroughly enjoyed it.

Emma – Jane Austen

This was another Audible listen. I actually very much enjoyed experiencing Austen in a narrated format, vs. reading. I love the detail in her books, but I feel like this offered a new dimension to her writing style. Admittedly, I don’t generally watch the movies that are made of classics, because I find them a bit disappointing. Emma is one of her more frivolous characters, and I found myself not liking her much. I actually had a moment of comparison to the French aristocracy portrayed in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels. Like a twittering bird. Still, she was a fun read.

A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin

Listen. I’m late to the game. I tried to pick Game of Thrones up when it was first released, and I won’t lie, I couldn’t follow it. I kept losing the characters. Once I watched the full series, I felt I was a bit more capable of knowing who was who. I think that actually helped me to follow the story immensely, despite differing characters and plot lines. A Game of Thrones follows the first season of the show almost exactly. That also made it hard to make myself read the more droll bits. I am now reading the second book and am much more caught up in it.

Sounder – William H. Armstrong

I’m surprised that I did not read this in elementary or middle school. It is generally required reading. I follow a lot of second hand book sellers on Instagram and this was part of a sale, so I grabbed it up, and I’m glad I did. I feel like stories like Sounder are incredibly important to impress the impact that slavery, indentured servitude and poverty have had on African Americans and their culture here. Sounder of course is partially about a loyal hound, but it is even more about the challenges faced by an African American family whose father/husband has been arrested. It is a sad and desolate story, but one that is important to every generation.

Misery – Stephen King

I’ve been reading between one and four King novels a year for the past three years. It’s funny that his novels are now making revolutions as movies, and doing really well. I think Misery now ranks as one of my top three King Novels. I had watched the movie years ago, but the book is just so much better, as always. King has such a magical way of capturing madness and evil. I know that sounds slightly morbid, but I love horror, and he is very honestly the king of horror. Misery is of course based in psychological horror, but it is just so twisted and so…. GOOD.

Binti – Nnedi Okorafor

Binti is a shorter novel, and falls in with the emerging African based Sci Fi genre that started with Black Panther’s popularity. I love the strength of the female characters that this and other similar novels have featured. I feel also that the audio version of this was really worth the listen. I am excited to listen to more of this series and find out what happens.

The Feather Thief – Kirk Wallace Johnson

I read The Feather Thief as part of my Read Harder Challenge via BookRiot last year. I chose it first as the true crime without violence category filler, but also because I had read a bit about the fashion feather craze when I read Gulf, and found the topic interesting. The Feather Thief follows an exotic feather heist that ended up being a bit of an unsolved case despite knowledge of likely culprits. It is fascinating to me that feathers were and are such a huge black market commodity. I’d love to read more about the topic, since it ties with this and Gulf, and both expound upon the large markets for exotic and often rare bird feathers used for material purposes.

The Carrying – Ada Limon

The instant word that comes to mind to describe the poetry in this book is emotional. The Carrying features a collection of poems that face us with the gripping reality of every day challenges that can strain the threads holding our worlds together. From miscarriage, to illness, to aging, the poems wind and flow through topics that can be hard to discuss, but are beautifully painted in Limon’s words. This is a collection I will definitely be re-reading.

All My Goodbyes – Mariana Dimopulos

I’m not going to lie to you. This book was a bit droll and I had a hard time absorbing it because I kept getting distracted. I plan to try it again in the future to see if I might find it more interesting.

The Epic of Gilgamesh

I l.o.v.e.d. reading The Epic of Gilgamesh. I love finding historical parallels to the bible that reintroduce prior beliefs, and solidify the existence of myths and deities outside of Christianity. I believe there are so many parallels to the bible that bring unity to multiple belief systems, and The Epic of Gilgamesh solidifies that again for me. It also ties in with some of the Viking beliefs, which is really cool to me. I also loved that I got to intrigue a few of my friends who are strongly Christian, and had them interested in reading something that steps outside of the bible.

The BFG – Roald Dahl

This was part of a cumulative Kindergarten read for my son’s class. I had not read it before. As always though, I loved Roald Dahl. The acceptance of those that are different than us rings as the main message of this story, with its silly made up words and fantastical story line. My son loved it as well.

The Wife Between Us – Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

This book is another that was stepping outside of my normal zone. It was SO GOOD though! It is a psychological thriller that is based around domestic abuse and the real traumatic effects behind gaslighting and mental abuse. It was a bit overwhelming because there were some things that I could relate to on a personal level. There are some huge twists that you do not expect. The writing is so well done that you don’t realize any of the twists are even coming. I loved the outcome, I loved the writing, and I love the message that ultimately comes from a novel like this.

The Tommyknockers – Stephen King

This was such a bizarre book. I almost couldn’t finish it, because it was just so strange. King has a few novels where he delves a bit into sci-fi and this is one of them, and I really just wish he had taken this to some kind of horror or possession. It felt scary in ways, and I WANTED it to be scary, but it was so strange I wasn’t able to fully feel it. I’m not sure that I’ll re-read it. I DO Think it might make an interesting movie. Maybe?

Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman

This was by far one of my favorite “reads” of the year, and I loved the audible narrated by Gaiman himself. I have slowly been delving more and more into Norse mythology, Vikings and the history surrounding. I loved the show Vikings and it inspired a deep fascination in me. I had read Vikings, which was a detailed history of their conquests, but it didn’t expand on the actual myths and legends surrounding their gods and deities. Gaiman’s book helped expand this for me, which was something I had really been wanting to explore. It is definitely worth reading.

The Holy Wild – Danielle Dulsky

This was a bit of a New Age, inner Goddess read. I am enjoying reading some books that focus on the inner strength of women, and finding the untamed part of ourselves. I think this is important for embracing our own inner strengths and finding the deep rooted parts of ourselves that got tucked away in patriarchy. This is a fairly easy read, and has some great wisdom in it.

A Light Amongst the Shadows – Kelley York and Rowan Altwood

Ghosts, forbidden romance, mysterious staff and hidden secrets. I loved this young adult semi fantasy novel. I enjoy finding books that comfortably and openly discuss gay relationships, picturing them as normal as they should be in every day life. I enjoyed the mystery and suspense that the school shrouds in this novel. It is part of a series, so there are secrets still to discover and I can’t wait to pick up the next installment.

The Greatest American Poetry

This is a collection of various authors’ poetry throughout American History. I wanted a short poetry listen that featured some classics and this fit the bill. I enjoyed hearing some of my favorites vs. just reading them.

Mannish Tongues – Jayy Dodd

This is a deeper collection of poetry, and one that I feel needs a more drawn out time frame to fully absorb the messages lingering in the words that Dodd lays in the pages. It is one that I feel like I need to re-read and take notes, and listen more with my mind.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous – Ocean Vuong

There is a reason that this book has been on best selling lists, and highly recommended by reviewers, publications and celebrities. It is heartbreaking, and staggeringly beautiful. It forces the reader to face realities that are swept so gently under the rug the majority of the time. Race, sexuality, class and differing cultures shadow over the life of a growing young man and his single mother. The relevancy of the topics in this novel makes it a necessity in home libraries today. It is the cry of everyone wanting to be heard, and the whisper of everyone trying to belong.

One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Gabriel Garcia Marquez has long been one of my top three authors. After many years, I finally picked One Hundred Years of Solitude back up, both in print and audio at the same time. I don’t normally do this consecutively, but I felt like it gave a lot to me with this book. I always tell people that One Hundred Years of Solitude is the best way to introduce yourself to Garcia Marquez’s writing and his style. I love how the narrative of the families in his books almost leans to the nonsensical. His descriptions are beautiful, and his stories are captivating. Start with this, then read Living to Tell the Tale, his autobiography which explains a lot of his writing, and then follow those with Love in the Time of Cholera. Then re-read at your leisure.

Insomnia – Stephen King

Where Tommyknockers was bizarre to the point of not enjoyable, Insomnia is eerily weird and full of spooky strangeness. The supernatural accents to this story are creepy, and seem to tie back into Doctor Sleep and The Shining in ways. The auras seen in Insomnia make me think of “The Shining” or essence that we see in Doctor Sleep. I keep waiting for this monumental moment in one of his novels where it all makes sense, and everything comes together to explain one great strange horror filled common thread. I’ll keep looking.

Uzumaki – Junji Ito

Uzumaki is a Japanese Graphic Horror Novel in three installments. I had all three parts in one. It is creepy, and would probably make a really cool movie. I have a hard time getting graphic novels to come fully to life for me. They don’t have extensive detail, so I can’t paint the pictures beyond the graphics set before me on the page. That being said, I think this would be cool brought to life.

The Art of Loading Brush – Wendell Berry

I’ve recently become enamored with reading Wendell Berry’s works, which are a combination of poetry, essay and agricultural revolutionary thoughts. I think his thoughts on agriculture are actually very vital to the successful future of food production. The Art of Loading Brush emphasizes a need to return to proper use of our land, with a lot of history of the success of pre-industrial agriculture and why old practices could be key to securing our future. Berry takes a philosophical stance on our food production, which is much needed in our world. He has multiple books, poetry galore and essays that are really important for readers and farmers to explore I think.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michael Chabon

This was probably my favorite book I read last year. Chabon weaves the tale of two Jewish cousins who make a small fortune writing and drawing comic books in the dawn of comic popularity and an America strapped into World Wars. It is a tale of immigration, a tale of heartbreak, a tale of lost souls and wandering. I found myself laughing, crying, and sitting in suspense of what was to come for Kavalier and his cousin. Definitely going in the permanent collection.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard – J.K. Rowling

The Tales of Beedle the Bard is required reading for any Potter fan. I have plans to re-read The Deathly Hallows this year, so I wanted to go ahead and re-read Beedle the Bard to refresh my mind.

Life – Keith Richards

I listened to this autobiography. It is gritty, full of the traditional Rock and Roll atmosphere, and quite enjoyable. Keith Richards has a really cool mind, and has lived such a raw life. A fun read.

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