Is it the end, or just the middle?

As I sat down to write an essay for this blog, I thought about a post that would look at the transitional period between the fall and spring semesters – an odd time that’s simultaneously the end of a year in our personal lives, but only halfway through the main part of the year in our professional lives. I think there are a lot of tensions and competing emotions in that space that would be interesting to look at. Now, you may be looking at me sideways – it’s true, I don’t work in a library anymore. But I can still remember the feeling of exhaustion that would wash over me during that last quiet week of the semester, when library instruction was done and the building was full of panicked students cramming for exams and writing papers, and mostly just asking for help citing their sources.

That’s when I realized that I really never managed to get anything done in those couple of weeks before the library closed for the holidays. Even reading all those blog posts and issues of C&RL News that had piled up was sometimes too much for me. Professionally, I needed some time to relax and reset.

So, in the spirit of providing a useful diversion, I’m going to talk about some of the best books I read this year. In particular, books that have nothing to do with libraries, except for the fact that you can probably borrow them from your local branch.

In March, I finally managed to sit down and read a book I’d had since the 2011 Maryland Library Association conference – Marilyn Johnson’s The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries. The book is a fascinating read about the history of obituaries, but it is also full of jewels – lovely bits of prose and scathing humor that any reader will surely appreciate.

I’ve never considered myself a mystery reader, but Tana French’s In the Woods changed my tune. The first in her Dublin Murder Squad series, we follow detective Rob Ryan as he and his partner investigate a homicide that hits a little too close to home for Rob. In November I picked up the second book, The Likeness, which focuses on a new investigation featuring Rob’s partner from the first book, Cassie Maddox. The series is not new, but if you also missed it when they started appearing in the US, I urge you to give them a try. But be prepared for a wait – as I write, the hold list for a digital copy of the first book is 112 readers deep!

Another series also caught my eye this year – The Parasol Protectorate series kicks off with Soulless, a Victorian comedy of manners – featuring werewolves and other supernatural types. Gail Carriger has created a wonderful world that pulled me in immediately. I enjoyed this immensely, and the bluestocking heroine – who is somehow still a proper young lady – was one of my favorite characters this year. If you have a fondness for Jane Austen and are a fan of Joss Whedon’s work – make sure you get your hands on this!

I’ve seen The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker, on a couple of best books lists recently. You may not think that a dystopian coming of age story is something you’d enjoy, but I’d encourage you to pick this up. The interesting concept and well-written characters made for a compelling story. While it’s not officially a Young Adult novel (at least as far as I am aware) it is certainly appropriate to share with any teenage readers in your life.

I know that many people look at historical fiction with great skepticism, but when an author does their homework, you usually wind up with a wonderfully absorbing story, and The Lotus Eaters is no exception. Tatjana Soli’s novel of a female photojournalist during the Vietnam War is full of lush descriptions that flowed very naturally around the action.

On the cookbook front, it was a good year. Two of my favorite food bloggers released gorgeous cookbooks full of delicious food. In both cases the recipes are clearly written, and the opening chapter offers up a variety of useful hints and information for those less sure-footed in the kitchen. In The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook Deb Perelman has deliberately kept things accessible, noting that you can take her dishes upscale using fancy versions of the ingredients called for, or downscale, using whatever is available at the corner store. Her meticulous testing also comes through in the clear instructions and side notes. Joy Wilson’s Joy the Baker Cookbook is funny and personal, and her recipes are always a hit – her peanut butter cake even drew praise from those who don’t like peanut butter. The recipes themselves are kept short, and while the book is is mostly focused on dessert, you’ll find some breakfasts and a few savory dishes as well.

I hope you find some time to relax and pick up a book during the semester break. What’s next up on your nightstand?

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