Around the Sun in 80 Books

Around the Sun in 80 Books

My year of reading started innocently enough. Emily invited me to see the movie Mary Queen of Scots to relive part of our trip across Scotland, and after the movie, I bought biographies about both the first Stuart queen (Guy) and Elizabeth I (Weir). A few weeks later, I decided to read Chernow’s Hamilton, since Emily had secured tickets to the touring production of the musical.

The problem occurred when I was putting those three works away. I stood staring at the wall of books in our front room and found myself pulling, one by one, books from the shelf that I hadn’t read, hadn’t finished reading, couldn’t remember reading, or wanted to read again. Books I had received for Christmas, books people had given me for fun, books I had taken from our family’s annual book exchange at Thanksgiving, books that had sat on the shelves of five different houses, as well as my dorm room.

I meticulously lined the books up on a separate shelf, the “Shelf of Books to be Read,” and then, like a sniper, I started picking them off, week after week. 

Fantastic beach reads (Sharp) were followed by classics (Dickens, Hemingway, Woolf, Austen) and books about Russia, Iran, China, Europe, and Africa, but oddly, nothing from South America.

I never found a work of fiction that surpassed, in my mind, All the Light We Cannot See, but I discovered that I was more of a non-fiction reader anyway, much to the chagrin of my friends and family when they realized I was starting more and more of my sentences with, “Well actually…” I gobbled up bios about Lewis and Clark, the Plantagenets, Renaissance queens, and I dreaded reading about the final moments of Marie Antoinette.

At a lecture, I corrected a professor’s explanation of the theory of The Selfish Gene (because “I just read it last week”), and I realized how faulty my dissertation on Game of Thrones was after discovering the glaring symbolism in the final chapters of Martin’s first book.

I gave myself an out if I really hated a book (Gregory and Pearl). I fell in love with authors I had never met (Shields, Kennedy and Jewett). I wrote down my favorite phrases and quotes, including Melville’s “sailing dirty,” which I cite more often than I should. I read books that had lingered for years with a contemporary eye (Fergus is bad, and the #metoo accusations ruin Rinpoche).

I found myself fascinated by books on war, especially the one my dad gave me (Bradley), although I inwardly groaned when he handed it to me.

I read the People of the Black Mountains before our visit to Wales and thought often of both volumes while on my solitary hikes around Llanthony. I reread A Midsummer Night’s Dream before seeing the production at The Globe, which I’m afraid I watched like a kid watching Frozen.

Last night, after I finished the final sentences of The Goldfinch, I texted Cass with, “And…DONE.” But then I despaired about what to do since there was not one book waiting for me on the Shelf of Books to be Read. To which she responded, “Write YOUR book?”

Maybe. Unless you happen to have a really great recommendation?


Below are the 80 books I read this year. Sixty-five were previously in my library, while the other 15 were purchased in the last 12 months. All in all, I read almost 32,000 pages.

Asterisks denotes books in my library prior to 2019. DNF = did not finish.

  1. Allen, Sarah Addison. The Peach Keeper: A Novel.*
  2. Ambrose, Stephen. Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West.*
  3. Austen, Jane. Emma.*
  4. Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park.*
  5. Austen, Jane. Northanger Abbey.*
  6. Bradley, Omar. A Soldier’s Story.
  7. Bryan, Helen. War Brides.*
  8. Bryson, Bill. Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe.*
  9. Buck, Pearl S. The Good Earth.*
  10. Cather, Willa. My Ántonia.*
  11. Chang, Jung. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China.
  12. Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton.
  13. Chevalier, Tracy. Remarkable Creatures.*
  14. Collins, Billy, ed. Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry.*
  15. Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene.*
  16. De los Santos, Marisa. Belong to Me: A Novel.*
  17. Devoto, Pat Cunningham. Out of the Night that Covers Me.*
  18. Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations.*
  19. Downey, Kirstin. Isabella: The Warrior Queen.
  20. Eliot, George. Adam Bede.*
  21. Fergus, Jim. A Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd.
  22. Finane, Ben. Handel’s Messiah and His English Oratorios.*
  23. Ford, Jamie. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.*
  24. Frazier, Ian. Travels in Siberia.*
  25. Fraser, Antonia. Marie Antoinette: The Journey.
  26. Frieda, Leonie. Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France.
  27. Goolrick, Robert. A Reliable Wife.*
  28. Gregory, Philippa. The Other Queen: A Novel. [DNF]*
  29. Guy, John. Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart.
  30. Hamilton, Edith. Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes.
  31. Hamilton, Jane. A Map of the World: A Novel.*
  32. Hamner, Earl. Generous Women: An Appreciation.*
  33. Hemingway, Ernest. For Whom the Bell Tolls.*
  34. Jewett, Sarah Orne. The Country of the Pointed Firs.*
  35. Kennedy, Margaret. Lucy Carmichael.*
  36. Landon, H.C. Robbins. 1791: Mozart’s Last Year.*
  37. Larsson, Stieg. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.*
  38. Lehane, Dennis. Gone, Baby, Gone.*
  39. Lopez, Barry Holtsun. Of Wolves and Men.*
  40. Martin, George R.R. A Game of Thrones: Book One of a Song of Ice and Fire.*
  41. Maugham, W. Somerset. Liza of Lambeth.*
  42. Melville, Herman. Moby Dick.*
  43. Merrick, Elizabeth, ed. This is Not Chick Lit: Original Stories by America’s Best Women Writers.*
  44. Metzger, Deena. Writing for Your Life: Discovering the Story of Your Life’s Journey.*
  45. Miller, Jonathan, ed. Don Giovanni: Myths of Seduction and Betrayal.*
  46. Mishima, Yukio. The Sound of Waves.*
  47. Montalbano, William. Basilica.*
  48. Mpe, Phaswane. Welcome to Our Hillbrow: A Novel of Post-Apartheid South Africa.*
  49. Nafisi, Azar. Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books.*
  50. Naslund, Sena Jeter. Ahab’s Wife: Or, The Star-Gazer.*
  51. Nelson, Pete. I Thought You Were Dead.
  52. Noah, Trevor. Born a Crime.*
  53. Obama, Barack. The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.*
  54. O’Gorman, Frank. The Long Eighteenth Century: British Political and Social History 1688-1832.*
  55. Paolini, Christopher. Eragon.*
  56. Patchett, Ann. Taft.*
  57. Patchett, Ann. The Patron Saint of Liars.*
  58. Pearl, Matthew. The Dante Club: A Novel. [DNF]*
  59. Praeger, Dave. Poop Culture: How America is Shaped by its Grossest National Product.*
  60. Pullman, Philip. The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage.*
  61. Rinpoche, Sogyal. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.*
  62. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.*
  63. Sarton, May. Journal of a Solitude.*
  64. Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream.*
  65. Sharp, Deborah. Momma Gets Hitched.*
  66. Shields, Carol. Collected Stories.*
  67. Solomon, Maynard. Mozart: A Life.*
  68. Stoddard, Elizabeth. The Morgesons.*
  69. Tartt, Donna. The Goldfinch: A Novel.*
  70. Theroux, Paul. Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town.*
  71. Tuchman, Barbara W. The Guns of August: The Outbreak of World War I.*
  72. Vanderbilt, Arthur. Golden Days: Memories of a Golden Retriever.*
  73. Walbert, Kate. The Gardens of Kyoto: A Novel.*
  74. Weir, Alison. Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster.
  75. Weir, Alison. The Life of Elizabeth I
  76. Weir, Alison. The Wars of the Roses
  77. Williams, Raymond. People of the Black Mountains: The Beginning.
  78. Williams, Raymond. People of the Black Mountains: The Eggs of the Eagle.
  79. Woolf, Virginia. Flush: A Biography.*
  80. Woolf, Virginia. The Waves.*


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