In 2018 I made a goal to read at least 2/3 of my books for that year in Italian.
I read well in Italian, but it still requires a bit more brain power and a bit more time, so I find myself rarely reaching for my Italian book when there are so many in English readily available.
In the past I always tried to alternate, adding a book in Italian into my reading year every few books or so. Then, after reading 40 books in a year (admittedly, I was home part of it on maternity leave), I decided to harness this reading power into something even more “productive.” I decided I needed to read more in Italian.
With a specific goal, I reasoned, I could no longer change my mind about that Italian book. I’d improve my vocabulary, my language. I’d find new authors. So, with the new year I started off running, reading two books back to back in Italian and four in a row after.
Only… by June I had read far fewer books than any other year. It was easier than ever to simply leave a book on my nightstand for weeks at a time when usually I’d pick it up nightly. It was around this halfway mark that I decided to scrap my self-imposed goal. I read the next 11 books in English happy as a clam. In the end, only 11 out of 27 books were Italian or about 40% … far from the goal of 2/3 of my total books.
Did the exercise help my Italian? Absolutely. Reading in another language is an excellent way to improve and grow that language. Was it fun? Not necessarily.
So, in 2019 I decided to read whatever I damn well please.
I know, I’m no genius, most people read what they please. But after a year of forcing myself into another language and plenty of time fighting through books I didn’t love, this year I gave myself the freedom to grab anything, and in the end read some of the most interesting books I have in a long time – 2019 was a good year for novels!
My Reading Year:
Favorite book of the year: Where the Crawdads Sing
Whimsical, unique, Where the Crawdads Sing really transported me to another world, one I could barely comprehend yet still taste the magic among the grit.
Least favorite book of the year: The Book Thief
People love this book but to me it was a decent idea with a weak story line and even weaker protagonist. Make a book about Ruby (check name) and maybe you’ve got something there.
Favorite fiction: Circe
A creative dive into Greek gods (and goddesses and nymphs and the like) with a fierce protagonist. I’ve read multiple different Ulysses-related stories but this one from a female point of view is my favorite.
(Runner-up: The Joy Luck Club)
Favorite non-fiction: The Library Book
I heard about this book through one of writer and artist Austin Kleon‘s annual book lists. A book about books? Sign me up! But also this book by author Susan Orlean is interesting and extremely well-written. Describing the tragic Los Angeles Library fire of 1986, it also discussed libraries themselves and the importance of these community institutions. Never once did the story drag.
(Runner-up: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind)
Favorite memoir: Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
I’d say Educated, if it weren’t for the fact that I read it in 2018. If only because PriestDaddy, another I really enjoyed, started to lose its flavor after a bit for me. But Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, is no less interesting. Does that count as a memoir? Either way, the book is his persona: raunchy, snarky, dangerous, fun.
Most boring: The Age of Innocence
The whole idea is to show how the high-society of that time was constrained by its own ridiculous rules, conform or die. It’s living an entire life without ever saying anything real. The book did just that and let me tell you, it was as God-awful boring as you can imagine. I’m not saying I don’t respect Edith Wharton – the writing was spot-on. More than a bad story, it seems to be just a victim of its time. A time which apparently was…well…boring.
Most Recommendable Book Ever: Calypso
David Sedaris is always great, but in his latest book of essays he touches on aging and the changing relationship with his siblings. It’s hilarious and the perfect cross-generational book recommendation. I enjoyed it more than Me Talk Pretty One Day.
Best Beach Read: Nutshell
Though the Sicilian Odyssey by Francine Prose was the shortest book of the year, the quickest read was this unique book by Ian McEwan. Written from the point of view of a couple’s unborn child, it follows the plot to kill the unborn baby’s father.
Unexpected Surprise: To Night Owl from Dogfish
A YA book by Meg Wolitzer and Holly Goldberg Sloan, the entire novel is written in emails between two 13-year-old girls thrust together by their fathers’ new romance. Though I’m no longer a 13-year-old, the book felt fresh, timely and spot-on regarding adolescent thinking and emotions.