Best of 2016

There is general agreement that 2016 has been a terrible year for the world in many ways. I’ve written a little about why it was hard in my personal life. But books are always my escape from that hard stuff, the personal and the political, and even in a bad year, there are good books. Here are a few of my favorite books I’ve read this year.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

 

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Mereader: Year Five in Review

2016 was a tough year for the world, and in a smaller way, for me personally. I’m relieved that it is over. Here’s what I did on the blog this year.

I was published in the LA Review of Books!

I had a baby and took a break from the blog

I spoke at the school board and shared some links about education issues

I wondered why writing can be so hard for mothers

I attended the Southern Festival of Books (with my baby)

After the election, I resolved to get involved

In all, I read 122 books, reviewed 35 of them, and wrote 4 essays, for a total of 36 blog posts in 2016. Tomorrow I’ll post a list of my favorite books of the year.

Meh.

I read a lot of books. I’m never going to have time to review all of them fully. To be honest, I just don’t have much to say about some of them. They weren’t so great I want to tell everyone how awesome they are, and weren’t so terrible I want to spew bile all over them. They were just…meh. Maybe I just don’t get them. I’m fully prepared to own my lack of response as my own deficiency, especially because the list includes a couple “classics.” I want to cross some books off my “to review” list, so here are a few that qualify for this one-word noncommittal description:

The Fountain of St. James Place by Sena Jeter Naslund

The Poison Principle by Gail Bell

Wayward Girls, Wicked Women: An Anthology of Subversive Stories by Angela Carter

Howard’s End by E.M.Forster

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

Still Life by Louise Penny

I could probably add more to this list, but I guess I’m holding out hope that if I think enough about these other books, I’ll be able to come up with more than a shrug. We’ll see.

I’ve posted almost every weekday since my return to the blog, but I know I can’t keep that pace up forever. My goal for now is to post at least weekly. So if there’s nothing new here tomorrow, don’t give up on me! There should be more within a week.

Where I’ve been

So I haven’t posted in a while. (Honestly, it’s a triumph that I’ve had this blog for 3 and a half years and this is the first time I’ve had to write one of these kinds of posts.)

So what’s been going on that kept me from writing?

In January, my husband started taking classes in the evenings and Saturdays, looking toward a career change. I had to do more child care and housework to pick up the slack just as my pregnancy advanced and I started to get more uncomfortable. As I told myself I’d do, I tried to get help for my aching back. I had weekly appointments with both a physical therapist and a chiropractor, eating further into the ‘me time’ I use to write.

My second child was born on April 3, 10 days past his due date. I spent his first 3 months in ‘survival mode,’ doing the bare minimum of everything and looking no further into the future than the following day, and even then it was only to check if we had enough milk in the fridge. One major reason I felt so bogged down for so long was because we really struggled to establish breastfeeding. When I was in the thick of it, I wrote this equation to explain the situation:

tongue tie + thrush + large, flat, overly sensitive nipples  = cracked, bleeding nipples + constant breast pain = a mother who’s afraid to nurse + exclusive pumping + possible nipple confusion + a baby who doesn’t know how to use his tongue = 3 lactation consultants, a pediatrician, a pediatric dentist, a cranial sacral therapist, and a 24 hour breastfeeding hotline + over $1000 out of pocket + All Purpose Nipple Ointment + tongue stretching exercises every 2 hours + 3 rounds of prescription antifungal treatment + sterilizing bottles, pump parts, and bras + oversupply + wardrobe of only T-shirts and sweatpants + toddler tantrumming for attention – regular showers

After all that I am pretty proud that I did finally get breastfeeding to work. Around the three-month mark, my pain subsided and supply and demand were finally pretty well matched. Then we had a couple stressful weeks when the baby was refusing a bottle and my return to work was looming. Our wonderful caregiver was thankfully able to persuade him back to it. My husband is still taking his classes, and he will until the end of the year, but his mother has been taking the toddler off my hands so that I don’t have to care for two boys on my own as often. She’s been a lifesaver.

Now I’m back to work teaching, and I’m pretty exhausted most of the time. This baby is a better sleeper than his brother was, but getting up two or thee times in the middle of the night is still no fun. Often I’m so tired I have to go to bed myself as soon as both boys are sleeping, and then there’s no time to write, read, or hang out with my husband. And the tone of every day is set by whether or not the three-year-old has a tantrum on the way out the door in the morning.

All this is to say, I went into this parent-of-two thing vowing to ask for help when I needed it, and I did, and it still wasn’t enough to spare me this struggle, or give me the time for the reflection and self-care I’ve been longing to do. Maybe that’s to be expected. Maybe the amount of support I would have needed to feel better sooner would have been kind of obscene–like a 24-hour live-in breastfeeding expert who will also cook and clean for me and watch the baby and toddler. At the same time though, that’s something that for most of human history, would have been readily available to all mothers, as they would have lived in much closer community with their own mothers, aunts, sisters and other women in their tribe.

I love a metaphor I found in this blog post: fitting parenting into a full life isn’t about balance, but juggling. First you do one thing, then you do another, and you have to move between all of them very quickly so that none of them is neglected. This year, I added another ball to the ones I was already juggling–I had a baby. And where this blog was concerned, I dropped the ball. I can’t promise it won’t happen again. For now, all I can do is pick it back up, throw it in the air along with everything else, and try to keep it all suspended, with a graceful hand and a light touch.

Best Books of 2015

I picked out my favorites of the books I’ve read and reviewed this year. Here they are below, separated by genre:

Best Fiction

Sevenwaters series by Juliet Marrilier

Royal Assassin by Robin Hobbs

Best Memoir

Poser by Claire Dederer

Yes Please by Amy Pohler

Best Nonfiction

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Best YA

Winter by Marissa Meyer

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Worst

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

MeReader: Year Four in Review

This blog is four years old today, which is kind of hard to believe. Here are some highlights of my personal writing on the blog this past year:

Open Letter to Senator Lamar Alexander

Two internet roundups on education issues

My annual Mother’s Day rant

A Purposeful Summer

Mommy Wars

Reflections on the End of a Purposeful Summer

I got published on A Practical Wedding: a personal essay about the dance classes I took over the summer.

A personal announcement

What I’ll Do Differently This Time

I also changed my blog format to reviewing more than one book in one post when it seemed appropriate. Some nonfiction books were grouped by topic (psychology, teaching), some fiction books were grouped by genre or setting (mind-benders, WWII) some because they were part of the same series (Sevenwaters, Dublin Murder Squad Mysteries), I think these posts were successful, though they sometimes got kind of long.

In all, I read 113 books and published 79 review posts and 10 essays on the blog in 2015. On Monday I’ll post a list of my favorites of the books I read this year.