Reading is as essential to me as the air I breathe. In the days before smart phones, I would find myself in a cold sweat if I realized I was going to be stuck waiting somewhere without something to read. In desperation I can read the backs of cereal boxes or even find something interesting in Car & Driver magazine. I try to always have two books going at a time, a fiction and a non-fiction selection. Fiction won out this year, but I’m not sad. It feels as if I spent years reading nothing but books on parenting, so I think I can cut myself some slack and soak in some really good fiction. And boy oh boy, did I read some good stuff this year.
In no particular order (except my top 3, which I’m putting at the bottom to force you to scroll through the entire post … muah ha ha!), here’s everything I read in 2013:
Bossypants by Tina Fey: Entertaining read- not life-shattering, but humorous. I especially loved the essay about becoming Sarah Palin (coinciding with Oprah’s appearance on 30 Rock and her daughter’s birthday party: “If Oprah thinks you’re overextending yourself you might want to rethink your commitments.”) and the mother’s prayer for her daughter. If you like Tina Fey this will be a treat for you.
Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott: I adore Anne Lamott. This was the last gift my father-in-law, Paul,gave me, and I read it as he spent his last days critically ill in the hospital. It’s tiny and full of comfort. I will read it over and over as I need reminders about God’s grace and the power of prayer.
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty: Alice hits her head in a gym accident and wakes up thinking it’s 1998, she’s madly in love, and expecting her first child. Only problem? It’s 2008, she had 3 children, and she’s in the middle of a nasty divorce. Ten years of her memories are gone, and she’s left wondering who she’s become (skinny? busy? bitter?) and what happened to the girl she knew. I really enjoyed this book and the way it was written. It makes you think about how 10 years really isn’t that long, but how much you can change in those 10 fast years, and not always for the better. What if you could take a step back and reshape those years using your best qualities from your youth along with your hard-learned lessons as you age?
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes: I struggled through this one, and probably would’ve given up if it hadn’t been so short. Don’t remember where I saw it recommended, but it wasn’t my thing, despite it being up for an award. An older gentlemen, divorced with a grown daughter, receives a surprising gift in the will of his first girlfriend’s mother. He spends the entire book remembering his first girlfriend and the way things ended, only to find that things weren’t quite as he remembered. There is a surprising plot twist at the end (and I mean the very end, like last few pages), but I was bored to tears until then.
Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin: This is the second book I’ve read by Rubin,the first being The Happiness Project. Her books, and her notion that happiness is something you can work on and essentially add to your to-do list, are fascinating to me. I’m definitely a glass half-full kind of girl, so we think very much alike: that you can be in charge of your own happiness. While the first book was interesting, I found this one more inspiring, as she focused more on what she could do to affect her happiness and satisfaction in the area she loved and felt most close to: her home and the people living in it. I’ll definitely be putting some of her ideas to work in my own life.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed: Amazing memoir from Ms. Strayed, who found her life falling to pieces around her in her 20s. Her mom died, the family drifted apart, and she faced drug addiction and a marriage in shambles. Without any experience or even much outdoor aptitude, she decides to hike the Pacific Coast Trail from California to Washington … alone. I rooted for her the whole way, hoping she would not only make it, but that nothing horrible would happen to her. I won’t tell either way, you’ll just have to read it for yourself. The movie, starring Reese Witherspoon, will be out this year.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett: Ms. Patchett writes books that never seem appealing to me, but always manage to capture my attention and keep me turning pages long after my bedtime. Bel Canto was amazing and so is this. It’s the story of a female researcher who is sent to the Amazon by her pharmaceutical company boss (and lover). Her task is to find out how their most expensive research project is going and why her co-worker,who was asked to do the same, died in the process. Some people could sing the phone book and make it sound beautiful, Ms. Patchett could write about the phone book and make it interesting to me.
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell: I could not figure this book out for the life of me. For the first half, I had to prod myself to read it. The story seemed forced, entirely unrealistic, and the characters cartoonish. Something clicked a little over half-way through, though, and I found myself invested in the story and needing to know how it would all turn out. It’s the story of a family in southern Florida who owns and operates a small alligator-themed amusement park. The main draw for tourists is the mother, who is a legendary alligator wrestler (do you see what I mean about unrealistic and cartoonish?). When she dies from cancer and a more enticing theme park opens up on the mainland, the family begins to fall apart. The story follows the stories of the 3 children, neglected by their father and trying to figure out what of their former lives is worth saving.
Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum: This was the first book I cracked open in the summer – leave it to me to pick a book about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust as my first “beach” read. The story alternates between Trudy, living in the Midwest in the late 1990s, and her mother, Anna, living in Germany in the years before and during WWII. Trudy knows there is much about that time and her childhood that her mother holds secret. She uses an opportunity at the university where she teaches to interview other Germans about their experiences during the war, in hopes that their answers will shed light on her own questions. As we read Anna’s account of what it meant to be a single mother during that dark time, we are forced to wonder what choices we would make when faced with such hardships. It was gripping, heartbreaking, and yet a wonderful read.
The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller: This book was the inspiration for my anniversary post. I’d read an article by Mr. Keller that really hit home with me, so I gave his book on marriage a try. He’s the founder of Redeemer Church, so the book is obviously based largely on theology and Christian principles. At times those parts got to be a little much for me, but I still found so much inspiration in this book. I wouldn’t call it “self-help,” but more of a insight into realistic marriage. It helped me to understand my spouse better, see my role more clearly, and hopefully improve my marriage.
The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball: Interesting perspective on someone who comes to farming quite by accident. Kristin was a city girl who met her farmer husband while researching a story. It provided great insight on the not so pretty side of organic farming – the never-ending work, the worry, the debt, the strain it can put on relationships.
The Midwife’s Confession by Diane Chamberlin: The story of two friends who thought they knew everything about their best friend, until she unexpectedly commits suicide and leaves behind a mysterious letter. Beyond the friends, you are drawn to the relationships between the characters, their families, and their past. This is the kind of book that is an enjoyable breeze to read, perfect for the pool or the beach.
The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila: A great primer for anyone looking to move away from buying certain pantry staples. The pictures are beautiful, the directions are precise, and the stories behind the recipes are interesting to read. Definitely a cookbook that could find itself well-worn and dog-eared.
The Silver Star by Jeanette Walls: Fiction from the author that wrote one of my favorite books of all time, The Glass Castle. Silver Star is the story of two sisters who are used to fending for themselves during the many periods of time when their mom disappears to “find herself” or “perfect her craft.” When the police finally start snooping around, checking on the girls’ welfare, they make their way cross-country to take shelter in their uncle’s Virginia home. In a place their mother swore she’d never return, the girls learn about themselves and the past that shaped their mother.
Faith by Jennifer Haigh: As a pedophilia scandal rocks the Boston Archdiocese, a sister and a brother come to very different conclusions as to whether or not their brother, an accused priest, is guilty. A fascinating and heartbreaking read, that has you full of doubt and questions. I loved the way the author weaves the entire story around the relationship of a priest and a boy, without ever writing more than a handful of scenes or dialog involving them. Instead we see the relationships around them and how horrible things can happen and be interpreted in many different ways.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio: Elena read this book first and insisted I read it … and I’m so glad. I devoured it in a couple of days. It’s the story of a boy born with a severe facial deformity. He’s spent his life homeschooled and sheltered from the pitying looks and downright rude reactions from the outside world. In a pivotal year, he attends school for the first time, at the same time his sister tries to break from the mold of being “that boy’s sister” in a new, unknown school. A great story of bravery, empathy, and what it means to be a friend. It inspired our Mother-Daughter book club.
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein: What if our dogs could tell us everything they feel? What would they say about us, about themselves? Enzo is a dog who feels practically human … the only thing that holds him back is his inability to communicate verbally with his owner. We see the lives of his human family through his eyes. If you have a soft spot for pet stories, you’ll love this one.
I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak: I picked this one up for Mike and thought I’d read it first, given that I loved Zusak’s earlier book, The Book Thief. It was totally not the story I thought I was going to read, but I enjoyed it.
The Healing by Jonathan Odell: Set in the deep South during the time of slavery, Odell tells the story of Granada. Taken from her mother at birth, she is sent to live in the Big House with the master’s wife, who is overcome with grief about the loss of her own daughter. Granada grows up to see herself as nearly white, and nothing like her own people, until the master brings Polly Shine to the plantation. A slave who has powers to heal, she sees something in Granada and refuses to let her live the life she thinks she deserves.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart: A National Book Award finalist, and another choice for our Mother-Daughter Book Club. Frankie ended her freshman year at Alabaster Prep, an elite boarding school, as a geeky girl no one really pays attention to. She transforms into a beautiful girl who catches the eye of the school’s most desirable senior. Smitten with her new status on campus, she realizes she’s not so comfortable with being arm candy. Soon she’s sneaking around, discovering the all-male Alabaster secret society’s secrets, and on her way to becoming a criminal mastermind.
The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider: So I saw this recommended somewhere checked it out for Elena. I decided to read it first, so we could talk about it together, until I got to the blowjob scene in the first chapter! Didn’t stop me from reading it, though! Ezra has it all – good looks, popular friends, tennis team captain, until his reaction from finding his girlfriend cheating sets off a chain reaction that ends with a terrible car crash. Without his girlfriend, friends, or the ability to play sports, he loses all sense of who he is. Until he meets Cassidy. Can she save him? Or will she be the end of him?
Defending Jacob by William Landay: I don’t normally enjoy legal thrillers, but this one kept me captivated. Andy Barber is a well-respected district attorney in his hometown. A chilling murder of a young boy has the town reeling and wanting answers. Soon after, Andy’s son is the main suspect. It brings up so many questions. How well do we really know our children? Can a tendency towards violence be inherited? To what lengths will we go to protect our children?
The Round House by Louise Erdrich: Joe is thirteen the summer everything as he knows it changes. Living on the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota, his days are spent hanging out with his friends and enjoying the attention being an only child gets him. One day his mother returns home, brutally beaten and raped. Joe and his father, the tribal judge, want justice. And if justice isn’t an option, thanks to unjust tribal land laws that prevent non-natives from being charged with crimes on sacred grounds, then revenge may be Joe’s only option.
And now for the top three books I read in 2013:
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: I nearly dismissed this book after Mike told me he couldn’t finish it … only to realize he just didn’t make it to the good part! A fantastic, suspenseful read about a marriage gone horribly wrong. Amy Dunne disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary, leaving behind a trail of clues. It’s these impossible clues that her husband, Nick, dreaded every anniversary, a scavenger hunt he viewed as just another way for Amy to make him feel like a failure as a husband. Now he’s a suspect. Think you have it figured out? You SO don’t have it figured out.
Moloka’i by Alan Brannert: Rachel Kalama is just seven when she contracts leprosy. Set in Hawaii over a centure ago, the law demanded that anyone suspected of having leprosy was to be quarantined on the island of Moloka’i. She was whisked away from everyone she knew and loved. Rachel spends nearly her entire life on the island, but she refuses to let her condition get in the way of a life well-lived. If you like historical fiction, you’ll enjoy this story of life as a leper on Moloka’i.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell: One of my favorite genres now is Young Adult, and this was a YA book that I couldn’t put down. Eleanor couldn’t stand out in her new school any more if she tried … a tough break for a girl who wants nothing more than to fade into the scenery. The bus rides to and from school start out as pure torture, until her seatmate, Park, gradually opens up to her. He shares his love of comics and music with her, and we watch as they fall head over heels into that wonderful first love we all remember from high school. Like John Green in The Fault In Our Stars, Rainbow Rowell writes teenagers authentically and compellingly.
I’m ready to read more great books this year (and participate in the #read26Indy challenge). What did you read and love last year that I should add to my list?