2016 book report

Last year, I got the idea of doing an annual book report from one of my favorite blogs, like want need. It was a nice way to revisit all of the different books I read throughout the year. I realized suddenly that it's already halfway through March and I never posted one for 2016! You can read last year's book report here

This year I tried something different - I had been wanting to reread the Harry Potter books (my favorite books of all time, no shame), but I didn't want to spend my already limited reading time just rereading the same books over and over again. My friend Maggie gave me the idea to listen to audiobooks during my commutes, and that has been awesome. Not only are the Harry Potter audiobooks really well done, it's made my dreary hours in the car so much more enjoyable. The audiobooks are quite expensive if purchased individually, but with an Audible subscription you can get them for much cheaper. You can sign up for a free 30-day trial and get one free book credit *here!

  • GOAL: 16 books - though I see now that when I wrote last year's book post, I thought I'd read 24!

  • READ: 17 books

  • BOOKS BOUGHT AT INDIE STORES: 7 - this is slightly down from last year, which is probably because I started Book of the Month Club as well as threw in some audiobooks

  • FAVORITE: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. A close second was Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.

  • LEAST FAVORITE: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. This book wasn't bad, really. It just felt like an attempt to capitalize on all the hype from Gone Girl, and it wasn't nearly as well done.

  • LONGEST: Although I listened to the audiobook instead of reading it, Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix is easily the longest at 870 pages. Next was A Thousand Splendid Suns (372 pages).

  • SHORTEST: The Pearl by John Steinbeck - 96 pages.

  • FUNNIEST: This is one of the reasons I like doing these reviews... not one of these books is really "funny", and most were kind of depressing. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo is pretty lighthearted, I guess. Maybe I should read some at least a funny book or two this year...

  • SADDEST: Quite a few sad books in this group, but I think Sophie's Choice is the clear winner here. Runner up would be All at Sea by Decca Aikenhead, a memoir about the aftermath of her partner's drowning death.

  • BEST COVER: I do really love the Harry Potter cover illustrations, but Dark Matter's cover is my favorite out of the new books I got.

  • WORST COVER: I really disliked the covers for both Sophie's Choice and Under the Net.

  • MOST OVERRATED: Definitely The Girl on the Train.

  • READ OFF MODERN LIBRARY TOP 100: 3 - books #94-96. I really didn't read enough of these this year, I need to focus more on that list in 2017.

  • READ FOR BOOK CLUB: Only 4... my book club sadly fell apart last year.

  • BOOKS FROM BOTM CLUB: 2, and I still have a whole pile to get through. I actually stopped ordering them until I can catch up!

  • AUDIOBOOKS: 5, which is quite a few for someone who never enjoyed an audiobook before in her life.

  • GOAL FOR 2017: Trying to keep things reasonable and just adding 1 book per quarter, so 20 books.

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a look back, a look forward

What a year 2016 was. I have so many mixed feelings about it, because it was really a total roller coaster. It was also, however, one of the best years of my life on a personal level. I've heard/thought enough doom & gloom about 2016 to last an eternity, and I'm ready to appreciate the good parts in order to start 2017 off on a good note. I've got a couple resolutions for 2017, but mostly I want to just keep doing more of what I've been doing.

I traveled all over the US and across the pond to spend time with friends & family. I watched my youngest sister graduate. I got to attend FIVE weddings, celebrating friends from grade school, high school, college, and afterwards. 2016 included my first vacation with my boyfriend, and then we went on a couple more trips for good measure. I visited some great friends, and some friends visited Chicago too! I saw Hamilton from amazing seats with great company. I ran my first ever half-marathon. I made new friends and rekindled old friendships too. 

Some of my 2017 resolutions:

  • Read 20 books (up from 17 in 2016)

  • Run a half-marathon in under 2 hours - I was close this past year, but an injury made the last couple miles a struggle

  • Work out 4-5x per week

  • Volunteer 2x per month

  • Update this horribly neglected blog at least a couple times per month

  • Learn something new - maybe finally take a real swing at learning French?

 
  I also will be spending 2017 livin' large & getting into trouble in honor of my Uncle Kevin, who passed away suddenly late this year. He was one of the coolest guys around, and had a laugh that filled the room. We miss him immensely.

I also will be spending 2017 livin' large & getting into trouble in honor of my Uncle Kevin, who passed away suddenly late this year. He was one of the coolest guys around, and had a laugh that filled the room. We miss him immensely.

 

an afternoon in the chicago botanic garden

I have spent the majority of my life living in or just outside of the city of Chicago. You would think that by now, I'd have seen most of the major attractions, and truthfully I thought I had. When my aunt was visiting from out of state a few weeks ago, my mom suggested we go to the Chicago Botanic Garden, and I realized that I had never been there before. Well, I was certainly missing out. 

Am I the only one who didn't know about this incredible place? I asked a few other friends and most of them hadn't been there before either. It feels like a hidden gem, maybe because it's not actually located IN Chicago - it's in Glencoe, about 20 miles north of the city. 

We went on a Sunday afternoon, and while busy, it didn't feel terribly crowded. The grounds are massive (365 acres) so you can always find a quiet corner. The Botanic Garden is actually divided up into 26 different garden areas, each with a theme - naturally, some are more popular than others. The Japanese Garden seemed to be the busiest, maybe because the plants and styling of the garden are so different from what people commonly see here. One of my favorite sections was the English Walled Garden, with its separate "rooms" designed and manicured in six different ways popular throughout British history. Despite the popularity of both of these gardens, it wasn't hard to find a quiet place to sit. 

 The  Botanicals: Intimate Portraits  exhibit at the Regenstein Center. Photo by Laurie Tennent on Instagram.

The Botanicals: Intimate Portraits exhibit at the Regenstein Center. Photo by Laurie Tennent on Instagram.

It's not all gardens, however - there are exhibitions too. It was such a beautiful day that I chose to sit outside in the gardens while my family explored some of the exhibits, but I wish now I had seen the Botanicals: Intimate Portraits photography exhibit they had. Luckily for me, it's there through September 25th, so I'm going to have to plan a trip back. My brother said that the furniture exhibition called The Hidden Art of Trees was also really cool.

We ended our day with an (expensive) snack on a beautiful patio, but they do allow picnicking in a glen adjacent to one of the parking lots. I did see some people breaking the rules and eating snacks on various lawns, which I am sure you could get away with as long as you aren't a terrible human being who leaves garbage behind in a botanic garden. 

It's surprising to me that I haven't heard more people talking about the Chicago Botanic Garden, considering that it's free to go. While the parking fee is admittedly a bit steep ($25-30 per car, so make sure if you're driving you consolidate vehicles), you can take the Metra there from Chicago. There's even a $2 trolley in case you don't want to walk from the train station once you get there. You can also purchase memberships that include free parking for a year. 

Maybe it was the beautiful weather or maybe my affinity for plants has just grown stronger (seriously, my apartment is starting to resemble a ill-watered jungle)... but I LOVED it. I'm already checking Metra schedules so I can take a book and spend another summer afternoon there wandering around and reading. 

new gallery: seattle, wa

I've added a section on here called Travels that I'll be using to post some of my favorite photography from past trips. Eventually I'd like to do a full post about each one, but that's a bit more time-consuming and obviously I haven't really gotten this whole blogging thing down yet.  I've only sorted through & edited photos from one trip but I'm excited to continue to add some more - right now you can view pictures from a trip last year to Seattle to visit my aunt & uncle, sister and cousin!

 

 

2015 book report

One of the most satisfying things I accomplished in 2015 was to fall in love with reading again. I had always been a voracious reader - my parents actually used to punish me as a kid by taking books away - but somehow, particularly during a tough period of my life, I stopped reading almost completely. I decided a few years back that I wanted to read Modern Library's Top 100 Novels, and from 2012-2014 all the reading I did was various attempts at struggling through Ulysses, and that was pretty much it. 

Then, this past year, I realized it made way more sense to start reading from the BOTTOM of the Top 100 list. I also put together a book club with some friends, which provided some great peer pressure to actually finish what I started reading. It really helped me to reintroduce reading back into my life, and I once again have piles of books all over my apartment because my bookcase is too small. 

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  • GOAL: 12 books

  • READ: 12 books! I actually thought I had only finished 11 and was really disappointed, but then I remembered that I read Coming Clean on Kindle at the very beginning of the year, before I really started using Goodreads.

  • BOOKS BOUGHT AT INDIE STORES: 9 - going to local bookstores is one of my favorite things and I willingly shell out money to buy my books there. #hipster

  • FAVORITE: Easily Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman.

  • HATED: The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy. This is supposed to be a "wildly funny" novel, according to descriptions, and the first couple dozen pages involve the main character beating his wife and trying to strangle his kid. Har har. I can't believe this made the Top 100 Novels list; it's awful.

  • LONGEST: Devil in the White City by Erik Larson - 447 pages.

  • SHORTEST: The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain - 116 pages.

  • FUNNIEST: Most of these books were not at all funny, so definitely One More Thing by B.J. Novak, though I wasn't a huge fan of it.

  • SADDEST: Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli, told from a child's point of view during the Holocaust. Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller is a memoir about a childhood spent living with hoarder parents; very sad in a totally different way.

  • BEST COVER: I bought The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman entirely based on the cover, so that's a clear win. Honorable mention to The Postman Always Rings Twice.

  • WORST COVER: The Ginger Man's gross illustration matches its repulsive interior.

  • MOST OVERRATED: I know everyone loves Devil in the White City, but it left me cold, despite being from Chicago and loving the history of the city.

  • READ OFF MODERN LIBRARY TOP 100: 4 - I made it through books #100-97 (I finished #96 a few days into the new year).

  • READ FOR BOOK CLUB: 8

  • GOAL FOR NEXT YEAR: I'm being ambitious and going for 24, double what I finished this year. I'm on track so far!