The thing I remember most from this little stretch of books is the feeling that I was SO CLOSE to being finished with this project. I wasn’t traveling, so a lot of these photos are just from places around my house that I hadn’t used for backgrounds up to this point. Pretty early in the project, I decided I was going to try and use a different background for each photo and, for the most part, I was about to do it. There were a few similar photos — it’s easy to hold a book up to an interesting skyscape and snap something — but for the most part I don’t think there were any obvious repeats. These aren’t the most exciting bunch, in terms of photos, but I was trucking along to the finish line.
81. The Residence by Kate Andersen Brower
Books in the wild, this time on a “Nonfiction to Read” table at Barnes and Noble. The Residence by Kate Andersen Brower is a sort of Downton Abbey-esque look at the daily lives of the maids, butlers, cooks, florists, doormen, engineers, and other staff who serve the First Family and make the White House function. Brower conducted a ton of interviews with White House staffers and former First Family members to fill out this book, and the depth of research shows. The book manages to shed light on the lives of the residents and workers at the White House, with just a little bit of gossip to make the book feel more intimate. I really liked getting inside the workings of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and feeling like I heard stories I wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise. Brower has another book on a similar topic, First Ladies, that I’m looking forward to reading.
82. Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay is on fire this year, with a new memoir, Hunger, and this short story collection, Difficult Women, now on the bestseller list. It’s hard for me to put my thoughts on this collection into words. The characters are fierce and funny and real, put in impossible situations yet making their way through them. I loved how unique and focused each voice was. These women speak on some universal issues, but each from a place of great specificity. I feel like that can be hard to pull off in a short story collection, but Gay does it really well here. I checked this one out from the library, but hope to make it part of my permanent collection soon.
83. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
The Harry Potter series holds a special place in my heart… can the first book really be 20 years old? I literally grew up with Harry, Ron and Hermione – I was 12 when the first book was published in the United States, and 21 when the final installment hit the shelves. This series matured with me, matching the experiences I was having in a way few book series could. I never battled wizards, but I had crushes on boys who didn’t seem to like me back. I never learned spells, but I did get anxious preparing for my first real high school dance. I never became an advocate for house elves, but I did learn to raise my voice in support of causes that matter. The books aren’t perfect – rereads as an adult have show some pretty big blind spots – but I still love these books with my whole heart.
84. Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
Henry Jones and his family own Howling Books, a used bookstore best known for the Letter Library – a section of the store with well-loved books where people can leave letters, write notes, highlight passages, in the hopes of finding a connection with other readers. But the bookstore is in trouble, and the future of the Letter Library is in jeopardy. About this time, Henry’s old friend, Rachel Sweetie, returns to the city and the bookshop. She’s grieving the sudden loss of her brother, and wants to avoid Henry if at all possible. Before she moved, she confessed her feelings for Henry in a letter… but he never responded. As they work together, Henry and Rachel start to find comfort, solace and friendship in each other, and see the value of connecting through words. I read Words in Deep Blue last fall and just loved it to pieces – it’s a wonderful young adult read about love and loss and connection and finding second chances in a world that is often out of our control.
85. Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan
At 24 years old, Susannah Cahalan was poised to begin her adult life, setting out on her first post-college job and just settling into her first serious relationship. A month later, Cahalan woke up strapped to a hospital bed, unable to move or speak, after a terrifying autoimmune disorder almost took her mind and her life. In Brain on Fire, Cahalan reconstructs her month of madness through medical records, interviews with friends and family, and a journal her father kept throughout her ordeal to tell the story of what happens when our minds and bodies betray us. This book is stellar, and really interesting example of a reported memoir that is both terrifying and exciting to read. I like that Cahalan does the work to put her illness in context, and help a reader understand how something like this could happen (even if, for the most part, contracting a rare disease is entirely unpredictable).
86. Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink
Well, Five Days at Memorial is another uplifting choice, huh? Not really. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, leaving most of the city flooded and thousands stranded, the staff at Memorial Medical Center were faced with trying to care for patients until help arrived. As the water rose, power failed, and heat climbed, certain patients were designated last for rescue. Later, several of the health professionals at the hospital were criminally charged with injecting numerous patients with drugs that would hasten their death. In Five Days at Memorial, journalist and doctor Sheri Fink reconstructs the five days after Katrina, putting together a carefully sourced and brutally factual account of choices that range from criminal to morally reprehensible amidst increasingly terrible conditions. I was struck by a lot about this book, including how the issues raised here – access, economics, corporate concerns, and complicated decisions about treatment – are reflective of larger issues in our healthcare system. This is book is hard to read, but very, very good.
87. Wonder Woman Unbound by Tim Hanley
After seeing Wonder Woman on the big screen earlier this month, I wanted to learn more about the character and her history. After digging a bit, I settled on Wonder Woman Unbound by comics historian Tim Hanley and the first two volumes of the current Wonder Woman run from DC Comics. Hanley’s book was a delight, a perfect mix of nerdy humor, data and close reads of the Wonder Woman comics published since the 1940s. Hanley convincingly argues that portrayals of Wonder Woman – more than those of most comic book heroes – reflect the motivations of a particular creator rather than the complicated, slightly subversive values of her original creator William Moulton Marston. I thought it was a ton of fun, and I’m excited to pick up Hanley’s other books on Lois Lane and Catwoman. I was less enamored with the DC Comics I chose to read. Volume 1: The Lies felt like it required too much background on recent DC Comics runs for a newbie like me to enjoy without a lot of outside work. Volume 2: Year One was a lot better, especially as an origin story for the character, and it had some really beautiful illustrations. Despite the mixed review, I’m curious enough about the rest of the 25 issue run (which just wrapped up recently) to finish it digitally or later this fall in trades.
88. Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick
While working as a journalist in South Korea, journalist Barbara Demick met members of a small but growing community — residents of North Korea who had escaped and defected to South Korea. Through the stories of six of these escapees, plus her own limited exposure to North Korea, Demick tries to show what life is like for ordinary people living in an unordinary country. Nothing to Envy is a book that’s both difficult to read and impossible to put down because of how well Demick is able to reconstruct what life is like for the people who live there. This book made me sad and angry and frustrated, which is what some of the best narrative nonfiction ought to do.
89. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
The Imperfectionists takes places an English-language newspaper in Rome, which has been a source of international news for expats for 50 years. The book is a series of connected short stories about the tumultuous personal and professional lives of the journalists, editors, and publishers of the paper, set against the monumental shifts from print to online in the newspaper industry. As a journalist by training, I was (in some ways) predisposed to love this book. But I think others will enjoy it too. Each of the stories has both humor and sadness in it, a mix of both the best and the worst of what people can be. Many stories were funny, others cringe-inducing, and others quite sweet… I didn’t want to put it down.
90. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbaugh
The Art of Fielding is a tricky book to recommend – not everyone is going to fall in love with a more than 500 page book set at a small college in Wisconsin that pays homage to baseball and Moby Dick, but I was charmed by it. The main character is Henry Skrimshander is the baseball team’s star shortstop. A wild throw upends Henry’s life, as well as those of four other people, which the book follows through the baseball season. I loved the way author Chad Harbaugh was able to write about so many different kinds of things – life at a small college, the life of a sports team, what it’s like to grow up and try to find a career, finding yourself, moving back home, illicit affairs, confused sexuality, natural talent versus practiced excellence, the pursuit of perfection. It’s a book about baseball… but also a lot more than that.
The end is near! You can check out Days 1 through 10, Days 11 through 20, Days 21 through 30, Days 31 through 40, Days 41 through 50, Days 51 through 60, Days 61 through 70, and Days 71 through 80 on the blog, or follow me on Instagram for more bookish photos (outside my 100 Days project).