WEST FORK KICKAPOO - Dane and I both love to read, so when we first met, looking over each other’s yearly reading list and sifting through each other’s bookshelves was a great pleasure. For 2020, we both recommitted to keeping track of the books we read.
It turned out to be a novelyear for staying home and reading! I finished out the year with 73 books read, while Dane completed 43. It helps that I’m a fan of young adult books, which are typically a faster read. I also like seeing what kids are reading these days. I remember devouring Nancy Drew books as a child, as well as any book about dogs or horses.
I learned early on that many of my favorite animal books left me in tears. Why did the dogs, the heroes of the story, always have to die? I vowed to write a story someday where the dog lived forever, but I haven’t—yet.
The following are a few favorites from my 2020 booklist.
Beautifully written, ‘The Samurai’s Garden,’ by Gail Tsukiyama, takes place in Japan. A young Chinese painter is sent to his family’s summer home to recover from tuberculosis. The housekeeper, Matsu, a master gardener, cares for Stephen, and as they form a bond Stephen learns Matsu’s secret. Reading this book left my mind quiet like a bright blue Caribbean sea. Master storyteller Tsukiyama has woven a tale that goes right to your soul and stays there. After finishing ‘The Samurai’s Garden’I went on to read two more of Tsukiyama’s books, enjoying each one, but ‘The Samurai’s Garden’ remained my favorite.
My writing coach is famous for saying, “Hand your readers a ticket to your story within the first or second paragraph.” Ann Patchett does just that in her book ‘Commonwealth.’The book begins with a kiss at a christening party from a man who wasn’t invited. That one kiss leads to two divorces and two families coming together. I was hooked! Patchett’s story follows the lives of the people in both families over decades and reminds us that the smallest of actions has consequences. I was torn between laughing and crying and remained fully engaged until the end. Even so, ‘Bel Canto’remains my favorite book by Patchett.
A friend recommend Pam Houston’s book ‘Cowboys Are My Weakness,’but instead I read her memoir, ‘Deep Creek.’I wasn’t disappointed. Pam’s writing took me to the Colorado Rockies where her beloved ranch is located. The landscape, her neighbors, her past, and a wildfire all come together to create an intimate look at the importance of finding that one place you call home. I’m fond of saying that my best nights are those where I’ve laid on the ground and slept inside my tent. In some ways, that’s how reading Houston’s book felt—like I was in the raw outdoors, surrounded by the vastness of earth, trees, animals, and often snow.
If you love winter, nature, and a good tale, Peter Geye’s ‘Wintering,’the second in a trilogy, might be for you. It immersed me deeply in the backcountry of Minnesota, trying to survive a cruel winter, while mystery and interweaving relationships kept me reading late into the night. Geye’s writing is clean and crisp, and his characters gripping.
Will Harlan’s book ‘Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight for Cumberland Island’won’t be for everybody, but it was great for me. I adore memoirs about unique characters who have a fiery passion. Carol Ruckdeschel is a self-taught scientist who built her home in the Cumberland Island wilderness, eats roadkill, wrestles with alligators, and makes many people furious. I love her! Ruckdeschel is passionate about saving sea turtles, and her cabin is knee-deep in decaying turtle shells, various other carcasses, and unlikely critters as pets. She is the nemesis of the National Park Service, and I leave it to you to decide whether she was acting in self-defense when she killed a man. Reading ‘Untamed’ unleashed my curiosity about people who will go to any extreme for what they believe in, while increasing my knowledge about Cumberland and what is and isn’t natural on the island. Ecology-minded folks will glean many truths and just as many disillusionments from Harlan’s book.
As I skim my list, book number 33 stands out: ‘One on One,’ a young adult novel dealing with the dynamics between athletes and ‘oddballs.’ It’s written by Tabitha King, Stephen King’s wife, and why she isn’t as well-known as her husband is a mystery. King’s writing swept me along in this tale of coming of age/sexual initiation, the differences in family backgrounds, the drama and exhilaration of high school sports, the cruelty and kindness of teens, the horrors of addiction, the agony of not fitting in, and the triumph of finding your way. I’ll be reading more of Tabitha King’s books this year.I’m not even halfway through my list and have many more titles to share. Keep on reading, and I’ll be back with other favorites, and maybe even my first novel about an immortal dog. If you’d like to share your reading list, please send it! And if you’d like to see my or Dane’s full booklist, email me at email@example.com.