Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson
Bryson, known mainly for his European travelogues, here documents his return to the USA through a series of newspaper essays. Having tasted life in Europe, his musings about his home country are mostly exasperated. Occasionally, usually at the prodding of his British wife, he remembers something lovely about the United States, which just goes to show that it’s easiest to love greener grass elsewhere than to love what we were given.
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
The first creation stories were not especially amazing, and I almost lost hope for this book! But once we dive into character-driven narratives, there is a distinct Gaiman-sparkle that elevated the book and helped the story feel more cohesive. I’m becoming more and more interested in Norse mythology, especially because the gods seem especially unfair, and unrepentantly so.
We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist
A true memoir of one guy’s journey of Not Dating, and how this could have happened. It’s funny, and there is meaningful growth, which is good because I spent most of the book yelling “you’re self-sabotaging!” at him until he heard me and said so himself towards the end. The premise is even more fun because he frames each story through the lens of a scientific hypothesis to be proved or disproved. It was fun to see that he was mostly wrong, and had to learn that we see what we want and/or fear, not what is really there.
Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King
King is one of my all time favorite authors because she walks a fascinating “is this mental illness OR magic OR reality” line that she refuses to clarify. This book in particular dealt with a subject I haven’t really seen represented before. King confidently asserts that abuse, big or small, endured or witnessed, is traumatizing and deserves to be acknowledged, addressed, and healed. Through the lens of a teenager girl meeting other-aged versions of herself. Fun!
Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
This book is a little more PSA-y, telling the “ideal” rape scenario in which the victim knows it’s not her fault and is believed and supported by everyone. It’s not very realistic, but it’s very encouraging to see a future to work toward. Secondarily, I was very impressed that Johnston made me question my cheerleader-stereotypes, and by the end I really admired the sport.
The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
I don’t usually like books written in the form of diary entries, but Schlitz pulled the form off wonderfully. The break between entries, and how the time in between is explained either in a rush or with embarrassment, really added to the narrative. It’s set in the early 1900s, and the journey from country (which felt vaguely Little House on the Prairie) to city (which felt modern…ish) highlighted just how drastically technology changed people’s lives during that time period. It was a fun read!
Honestly Ben by Bill Konigberg
This is a sequel to Openly Straight, now told from Ben’s perspective. And thank goodness, because Ben is so good! He’s so lovely! He’s thoughtful and deliberate, and we all need a Ben in our lives. There was also so much good gender and sexuality talk going on in this book, with a gender fluid character who is almost immediately embraced by their all-male high school (if only!) and a main character who is something like demisexual…but not really? I hope there’s a third book from Hannah’s perspective.
Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron
I LOVE St. Francis, so reading a fictional book about a Protestant pastor who goes to Assisi and also falls in love with the saint was right up my alley. I mean, it’s history/travel/theology all in one! It was actually a little heavy-handed for a novel in the way that it presented a model for how the Church could be remade, but I found it quite inspirational. Definitely a book for the postmodern mystic/skeptic.
The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork
A seriously uplifting book about four teenagers struggling with mental disorders (rage, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia) inside a mental health hospital. I loved how they helped each other in their brokenness WITH their brokenness. Stork’s amazing ability to write about depression and suicide attempts is apparently based on his personal experience, but his ability to write female teenagers believably is all skill.