State of the Bookshelf: 2007-2011

I have always made sense of the world through books.

Although I suffered staggering developmental delays in other areas (I didn’t learn to tie my shoes, for example, until somewhere around the age of eight), I was a very early reader. My tastes were wide-ranging and indiscriminate: I devoured every book I could get my hands on. I begged for Christmas books, birthday books, books from the Tooth Fairy. As a result, I accumulated a book collection that peaked near eight hundred. I treated each one with reverence, carefully arranging them on alphabetized shelves.

Reading was everything to me in those days. It opened up strange and beautiful new worlds, offering glimpses of a future in which I was not an undersized, nearsighted, perennially disheveled little girl with stringy hair and a stutter. Ozma of Oz let me imagine life as a fairy princess. Harriet the Spy let me imagine life in New York City. The Baby-sitters’ Club let me imagine a world in which I was — most exotic of all — thirteen years old.

These days, I can tie my shoes just fine, and I have finally shaken my stutter. But some things never change: I am still undersized, nearsighted, and perennially disheveled, and I still read everything that comes my way. In 2007, I started using an online catalog to track my reading habits. This enables me to keep an eye on certain trends I would miss otherwise:

What am I reading?

Total books read since 2007: 233

Nonfiction: 58%
Fiction: 42%

“Grown-up” books: 84%
Young adult books: 11%
Children’s books: 5%

And who is writing it?

Female authors: 50%
Male authors: 45%
Transgender authors: 5%

Straight (?) authors: 73%
Queer authors: 27%

White authors: 88%
Authors of color: 12%

I’ll spare you the long list of what-all I spent four years reading about (though you’re welcome to look at it here), but in case you’ve made a New Year’s resolution to read more good books, I thought I’d share a handful of favorites. I make no apologies if you’ve already read every last one of these. After all, if we have similar taste in books, chances are you’ve heard of Michael Chabon.

Novels
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (Michael Chabon)
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Díaz)
Bee Season (Myla Goldberg)

Short Stories
Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri)
This Is Not Chick Lit (ed. Elizabeth Merrick)
Tales From Outer Suburbia (Shaun Tan)

Memoirs
Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever (Joel Derfner)
She Looks Just Like You: A Memoir of (Nonbiological Lesbian) Motherhood (Amie Klempnauer Miller)
The Complete Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi)

Essays
Possible Side Effects (Augusten Burroughs)
High Tide in Tucson (Barbara Kingsolver)
Sex, Drugs & Gefilte Fish: The Heeb Storytelling Collection (ed. Shana Liebman)

Sex, Gender & Feminism
Speaking Sex to Power: The Politics of Queer Sex (Patrick Califia)
The Best American Sex Writing 2004 (ed. Daniel O’Connor)
I Do/I Don’t: Queers on Marriage (ed. Greg Wharton)

Religion (for Christians)
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (Parker Palmer)
The Dave Walker Guide to the Church (Dave Walker)
Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus (Mark Yaconelli)

Religion (for everyone)
Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a Higher Authority (Sue Fishkoff)
Rapture Ready!: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture (Daniel Radosh)
God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America (Hanna Rosin)

Young Adult
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie)
Am I Blue?: Coming Out from the Silence (ed. Marion Dane Bauer)
The Bermudez Triangle (Maureen Johnson)

I’m starting off 2012 with Zadie Smith’s spectacular novel, On Beauty. Leave a comment if you have ideas about what I should read next …

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4 Responses to State of the Bookshelf: 2007-2011

  1. malcolmpdx says:

    Sometimes it’s like you’re my long-lost sister, you know? I not only had similar issues with tying my shoes, but also similar habits regarding reading – and your book list matches mine, somewhat eerily.

  2. Maureen O'Connor says:

    We remember you as a CUTE little girl with her nose in a book.

  3. Anne T says:

    I understand completely. When you come out to Boston, you will see that, although I have moved far too many times in the past five years, I am still fully dedicated to book hoarding. The newest additions to the collection are Pyongyang: A Journey In North Korea by Guy Delisle and Workin’ It!: RuPaul’s Guide to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Style by, well, RuPaul. The book that stuck with me the most this past year was Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, which I cannot believe I waited so long to read. You have probably already read that, so I will instead recommend that you give China Mieville a try. His short story collection Looking For Jake is an excellent place to start. I will begin on your list very soon.

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