I read way more in 2019 than I have in YEARS. By both page count and number of books, I read over three times as many as in 2016, which was the next-highest count in the years I’ve been tracking on GoodReads. I’m not super goal-oriented about it, but I do like to keep some measure of how much reading I’m doing. GoodReads is also great because I often forget the title of something cool I’ve read, and I can go back and find it easily. My sister and I usually give each other our favorite book of the year for Christmas (I gave her If We Were Villains, which was actually a re-read, but I loved it even more the second time around). GoodReads lets me sort out the books I gave 5 stars to and generate a list to pick from that way.
I do count graphic graphic novels, plays, audio books, and the chapter books I read to the kids. Probably my count is a little higher than what GoodReads has because I have read a few unpublished plays and novels and I can’t add those to GoodReads. But here’s the basic stats, and my favorites are highlighted.
I read 97 books this year. 17 of them were audio books. 42 of them were chapter books that I read to the kids, or that we listened to together.
The two authors I read the most books by were Tui T. Sutherland and Phillipa Gregory. Sutherland wrote the Wings of Fire series (including four novellas), which my kids are obsessed with. They are pretty good! They are about a world where dragons rule. Lots of things about politics and power. My favorite thing about them is that each book is from the perspective of a different dragon. In the first book, for example, you think that Glory is a serious jerk, but then when you read the book that is from her perspective, it changes how you see her. Such a wonderful series for developing empathy. I highly recommend it for elementary aged kids.
Phillippa Gregory was my “unofficial dramaturg” for Richard III. I read all of her books about the English monarchs (some of them in 2018). They were pretty good, and the research in them was fascinating. My favorite was The Constant Princess, about Catherine of Aragon. It made me want to visit Spain, and changed how I thought about medieval England. I wrote her a little fangirling note thanking her for her work, and she emailed me back. So that was cool.
Besides Wings of Fire, the other big winner this year in terms of new series for the kids was Soman Chainani’s School for Good and Evil series, which challenge all kinds of binaries and fairytale tropes. I think our favorite was the second book, but they’re all really good.
My Shakespeare friends recommended Appleblossom the Possum, which we adored. It was a cute and also informative story about a family of possums who practice playing dead by acting out scenes from Shakespeare.
Late in the year, we got into The Birchbark House series. We haven’t finished them yet, but we loved this Native American response to the Little House books. The first book, especially, has many parallels to Little House, and I adored the craft of that. I wept reading the end of the second book. I could barely finish reading aloud for the last couple pages.
We also read them the Wrinkle in Time series and His Dark Materials, which both are as good as I remembered them…or better! Pullman has begun a trilogy to accompany HDM, which we’ll start soon…and I’m also very excited to watch the show!
I’ve written a series of book reports on theater books I’ve read this year on my professional site. So many of them were so good. The one I keep returning to and asking the actors I work with to read is The Lucid Body by Fay Simpson. It’s a metaphorical framework that integrates the inside and outside work of the actor in a novel and exciting way. It was a tremendous influence on my production of Richard III at Pigeon Creek Shakespeare, which was a show I loved working on. Peter Hall Directs Antony and Cleopatra and Brutus and Other Heroines were wonderful examinations of the practical processes that go into creating a play, and I want to read more books like that!
I read a lot of plays this year, as well. The two I’m the most excited about were Emelia by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and Nell Gwynne by Jessica Swale. I’d love to direct either of these some day although I think I liked Nell a tiny bit better.
Nonfiction (not theater-related)
I got really into Brene Brown this year, and I read The Power of Vulnerability and Dare to Lead. I’m nearly through the audiobook of Daring Greatly. I would recommend any of these books to literally anybody. The Power of Vulnerability offered a fantastic framing for a lot of things I’ve been working through as a leader, a parent, and an artist this year.
I also read Quiet: The Hidden Power of Introverts, by Susan Cain. When it came out back in 2010 or so, I wasn’t into the idea of it–it sounded like the kind of pop science writing that annoys me. But then Emily recommended it to me, and she’s a serious scientist. I loved it. Cain’s research explained so many things that I’ve just always thought of as weird personality quirks of mine, but it turns out that they are related to introversion (she says, typing this at 10:24 pm, in her pajamas, in bed, with a cat, on New Year’s Eve). Introverts might find this book interesting and reassuring, but really, I wish extroverts would read it so they would begin to understand what they’re dealing with.
I don’t re-read much (beyond sharing childhood favorites with Petra and Silas), but certain books call me back to them every now and then. I read The Motel of the Mysteries for the first time since I was in high school, and it is as hilarious as I remembered it. Do yourself a favor and go get that one.
The Marvels is the book I’m constantly pressing into friends’ hands, especially theater friends, and especially history nerds. It’s kind of a theater history story and kind of an elaborate performance and kind of about love and family…it’s a lot. I can’t even begin to explain it, but I reread it over the summer and it was so wonderful.
Also, I wrote to Brian Selznick as well, and he sent me a hand-written note. I’m not usually a big writing-to-authors type; I only wrote to three this year and didn’t expect anything in response. It’s just important to me to say, “Thank you.” But I was undeniably excited to receive responses from two of them!
I had been thinking about rereading If We Were Villains, which I had read in a library copy when it came out, and then Pigeon Creek serendipitously gave me a copy as a cast gift from Richard III. I had forgotten how brilliant it is. The last few pages were so lovely I reread them three or four times after I had finished the whole thing.
Other 5-star books
Just a quick list:
- All’s Faire in Middle School–a cute graphic novel, which I gave my mom (a middle school guidance counselor) and stepdad (who was involved with starting a Ren Faire this year) for Christmas.
- The Hunger Games–excellent, despite all the people who say so.
- Victorian Lady Travellers–amusing, and very useful for my work on On the Verge at York College this year.
- The Revolutionists–It’s a funny play, and I could imagine directing it one of these days. I think I’d like it better on stage than page, as with most plays.
- The Places that Scare You–It’s good to read some Buddhism every now and then. This book was challenging and also comforting, somehow.
- Ms-Directing Shakespeare–Opened my eyes to how little I knew about the women who came before me.
- Truth & Beauty: A Friendship–I love Ann Patchett. Everything she writes is gold. This true story examines the difficulties and joys of loving a truly impossible, wonderful person. I’m so grateful for this book.
- Women of Will–Tina Packer writes with such a lively voice, she radiates off the page.
- Fall of Giants–My sister’s pick for me last Christmas; I still haven’t finished this massive trilogy, but the first book was fantastic.
- The Climb from Salt Lick–My mom’s friend wrote this one! It’s really interesting.
- Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869–high-quality retrofuturism.
- Parenting Forward–I think this is the most important parenting book I’ve read in a long time. It’s an effort to reframe parenting in a justice-oriented paradigm, and I am here for it.
- Roller Girl–same author as All’s Faire. It’s a graphic novel about determination, hard work, and roller derby.
- The Magicians–extremely well-written fantasy. The writing is unspeakably gorgeous, and the world-building is solid but unobtrusive.
So…how about you? Any great reads in your year? Any tomes sitting on your bedside table? What were your five-star books? And if you’re on GoodReads, send me a friend request!