2019: The Year in Books


“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” ― Charles W. Eliot


As the years winds down, I have a book in queue (The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler) and the manuscript for a dear friend’s new book in my lap. It’s my favorite reading time of year: this hot coffee, chilly air, fire in the fireplace, cat on the lap season that it is.

In this week’s in-box, the Goodreads “Your Year in Books” reports that I have read 51 books this year, and some 13,451 pages. The shortest, at 40 pages, was Wabi Sabi, a wonderfully collaged children’s book by Mark Reibstein; the longest at a whopping 545 pages was The Witches of New York by Ami McKay.

Speaking of pages, this was the year I instituted my 29-page rule: if I’m not all-in by page 29, I’m all-out. Life is too short to be half-in on anything, isn’t it?

Books with 5-star, all-in ratings this year included:

  • The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly
  • Almost Everything, Notes on Hope, Anne Lamott
  • Witchmark, C.L. Polk
  • The Alice Network, Kate Quinn
  • Peony in Love, Lisa See
  • The Forest Lover, Susan Vreeland
  • Beyond the Bright Sea, Lauren Wolk

Through no fault of her own, Barbara Kingsolver earned the only one-star rating this year for Unsheltered. My review said something like this: “I adore Kingsolver’s work and her commitment to helping us better understand the natural world and our environment, but…we. are. still. living. the. nightmare. I’m off to read some escapist fiction now. Thank you. And no hard feelings.”

Which could explain why I devoured Ottessa Moshgegh’s book My Year of Rest and Relaxation, in which the protagonist drug-sleeps her way through an entire year.

But who needs drugs when you have books? I mean, what better way to escape for a moment or week than to time travel (Time After Time, Lisa Grunwald), get lost in a mystery (The Clockmaker’s Daughter, Kate Morton), consider other monsters (Melmoth, Sarah Perry), or just find solitude (The Salt House, Cynthia Huntington ).

What better way indeed?

Now, here’s some happy news with which to start your year…the new Ransom Riggs book, The Conference of the Birds, hits shelves January 14! I’m pre-ordered. Are you?

Happy New Year and Blissful Reading!

©2019, Jen Payne. IMAGE: The submissive reader, Rene Magritte

The 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge (Yay!)

For the second time in five years, I successfully completed my Goodreads Reading Challenge, reading 50 books in 2017! In a year fraught with way too much reality, fiction was the name of the game: magical children, brave creatures, curious characters, time travelers, mystics. Yes, yes. yes!

This year’s tally of 11,193 pages otherwise included 8 books of poetry, 10 non-fiction, and 4 children’s books. Also on the list were a few Young Adult novels including the final book in Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series, as well as the Last Survivors series by Susan Beth Pfeffer. (The first of which, Life As We Knew It, remains the most haunting book I read this year.)

According to star-ratings, my least favorite books in 2017 were The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō and Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi.

There were a few other low-star rated books—mostly me wandering out-of-genre (Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Jaren Russell) or buying into hype (The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman).

I was generous with my five-stars this year, but I always am. If it captures my attention, makes me wonder, keeps me interested to the final page? Yes! Bestsellers like Dan Brown, Amy Bloom, and Mary Oliver, of course, but even more so for friends and local authors like Luanne Castle, Robert Finch, Gordy Whiteman and Nan Meneely. What delights!

(Was it shameless of me to include my own book, Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, in the mix?)

A few classics showed up this year—The Long Christmas Dinner by Thornton Wilder, and A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas—and a few personal favorites returned (Thanks Elizabeth Gilbert and Alice Hoffman!)

The most memorable books of the year? Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick, and The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey.

But my most favorite (also probably most recommended) was definitely the Roland Merullo Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner with Buddha series. I thoroughly enjoyed each book with equal measure and still pine for Rinpoche’s humor and wisdom—some seven months since turning the last page.

That this year’s collection of favorites included the counsel of a Buddhist monk, pages and pages poetry, and a dystopian end-of-the-world series is not ironic. It is, I think, reflective of this new and startling world in which we find ourselves.

Thankfully, so is the book I’m reading today. In Braving the Wilderness, social scientist Brené Brown outlines a clear path out of our “spiritual crisis of disconnection” by advising that “People are hard to hate close up, move in; Speak truth to BS, be civil; Hold hands, with strangers; Strong Back, strong front, wild heart.”

And so we bravely go…2018. Are you ready? And are you reading?

Book Launch! Evidence of Flossing!

Join us to celebrate the publication of the newest book by Jen Payne!

LAUNCH PARTY
Saturday, October 14 • 3:00PM – 6:00PM
Book Signing, Refreshments & More

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SUNDAY SALON
Sunday, October 15 • Noon – 2:00PM
Artist Talk with Jen Payne & Martha Link Walsh
Conversation, Refreshments & More

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Hosted by
Martha Link Walsh Gallery
188 North Main Street • Branford, CT

For more, email 3chairspublishing@gmail.com.

Don’t Miss Evidence of Flossing!

Mark your calendar for these upcoming events to celebrate the launch of Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, then follow this blog, or Like our Facebook page for event detail as they become available!

OCTOBER 14
Launch Party for Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind
Saturday, October 14, 3:00PM – 6:00PM
Book Signing, Refreshments & More
Hosted by the Martha Link Walsh Gallery
188 North Main Street, Branford, CT


OCTOBER 15
Sunday Salon
Sunday, October 15, Noon – 2:00PM
Artist Talk with Jen Payne & Martha Link Walsh
Conversation, Refreshments & More
Hosted by the Martha Link Walsh Gallery
188 North Main Street, Branford, CT


NOVEMBER 18
Book Signing: Rock Garden
Saturday, November 18, 11-2
Book Signing, Refreshments & More
at the Rock Garden
17 South Main Street, Branford, CT


A Year in Books: Five Oh!

completed-1Fifty. A number of particular significance these days, as 2016 marks my 50th year on the planet. I’m not sure why I am so excited about this milestone, but I am. And I am kicking it off with another milestone—my first successful completion of the Annual Goodreads Reading Challenge with 50 books read in 2015!

Fifty books, 12,133 pages, that included nine books of poetry, five novels by Alice Hoffman, six set in France, and seven that weren’t fiction at all. My favorites included:

A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki
All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain
Rising Strong, Brené Brown
The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver

See the full list here >

2015Books

Here are a few things I learned along the way:

  • It’s great to read about people and places in your current circle of awareness; reading The Lacuna after seeing the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the New York Botanical Gardens this summer was great!
  • Reading unrelated books about the same time period is fascinating; I rounded out the year with several books about France during World War II. Different characters and different storylines, both fictional and not, created an interesting perspective.
  • Following the breadcrumbs of Recommended Reading links is a great tool for finding the next book to read. It’s how I found All the Light We Cannot See, my second favorite book of the year!
  • If you are not enjoying a book, just put it down. It’s OK. I wasted weeks reading my two least favorite books of the year—Breathing Lessons and The God of Small Things—and let’s be honest—there are so many books and such little time. Move on!

Speaking of moving on…I’ve already started a new To Read pile for 2016. Here is the Top of the Stack:

  1. Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future, Margaret J. Wheatley
  2. Stop the Pain, Dale Carlson
  3. Letter from Italy, 1944, Nancy Fitz-Hugh Meneely
  4. The Japanese Lover, Isabel Allende
  5. The Marriage of Opposites, Alice Hoffman
  6. Engaging Your Power, Mary Ann Robbat

Let’s get reading, shall we? What’s on your list?

©2015, Jen Payne. IMAGE: The new novel, Winslow Homer