More for my own benefit than anything else, I’ve kept track of my reading for the past couple years. (See the list from 2012 here and the current list, as it’s created, here.) If you’re looking for something to read, here’s a random list of suggestions and “bewares.”
The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
*Much sadder than I realized in high school English class, but just as lovely as I remembered. Previews for the Baz Luhrman movie look pretty accurate–I want to see it!
>>>Update: Saw it! I thought it was tragic but beautifully done. The afternoon tea at Nick’s house–! At the end of the movie I said, “Bummer.” If you’ve read the book, I think you’ll agree that’s about right. I don’t want to talk about the soundtrack.
The Anger Solution (John H. Lee)
*A helpful follow-up to Dance of Anger (read last year). Gives simple to-dos that are achievable even in the moment–I’ve had a couple chances to practice already! Also suggests that much of what we experience as anger in the present is actually rage from unresolved issues in the past, and that rang true for me. Nice to know what to work on.
The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex (Sheila Wray Gregoire)
*It lived up to its title. It’s a relief to have found a book that’s frank, realistic, and biblical all at the same time. (If you’ve ever read a book on sex from a Christian perspective, you know that’s rare.) This one is my new favorite.
Too Late the Phalarope (Alan Paton)
*I really wanted to like this book because I adored Cry, The Beloved Country. Too Late the Phalarope was similarly complex, but I didn’t understand it. The main character’s motivation was never really explained beyond the remark that something was “twisted” in him; and his partner in crime, so to speak, had equally murky motives. (Was it self-preservation? leverage? actual desire?) Cry, the Beloved Country is no upper, but I thought Too Late the Phalarope was an immense downer. If you want to read Paton, I recommend the former over the latter.
Shades of Earth (Beth Revis)
*If there were some way to type a happy scream that couldn’t be misinterpreted as a gag-of-death I’d type it here. But there’s not. So just imagine it, okay? SO! EXCITED! I was the first person from my library to check out this book, which is a privilege I enjoy very much. (When you put in the request for a book to be ordered, you’re the first to get it when it arrives.) After months of waiting for Revis to hurry up and conclude her trilogy already, I was pleased with the final installment–but I can’t say much because a.) it wouldn’t make much sense b.) it might give away something you should discover on your own.
Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro)
*I felt that the narrator was very dodgy and I wearied of her roundabout way of relating everything. (e.g. “But to explain what we were talking about that evening, I’ll have to go back a little bit. In fact, I’ll have to go back several weeks, to the earlier part of the summer.” Part Two, Chapter 16) She did that throughout the whole book! I kept wanting to yell at her, “Why don’t you just tell me the story in order? Or if that’s too hard, why don’t you just recap without a long preamble explaining that you’re going to recap?!” It got irritating. I knew the story was going to be sad, but I was disappointed that it wasn’t crushingly sad. All this buildup…then it ended. Kerplunk.
The Resolution for Women (Priscilla Shirer)
*I read this one on my own but I think it would be better to do as a women’s Bible study. I appreciate that her challenges, though tough, are actually doable in a real woman’s life. She does a good job of looking at the big picture, elucidating the importance of committing ourselves to the pursuit of excellence, even when it’s easier to just talk about and wish for.
The One and Only Ivan (Katherine Applegate)
*Hey, children of the ’90s, remember Animorphs? The author is back with something more philosophical: the story of a gorilla in captivity. The story is really sad until it turns happy. I’m not 100% on board with the author’s agenda, but I’ll grant that the story was compelling. Read about the real Ivan here.
Torch (Cheryl Strayed)
*I enjoyed Strayed’s brash yet endearing persona “Sugar” in the book Dear Sugar, but this book was not quite like that. I’m not complaining about her writing, because her plot flowed well despite frequent transitions between the perspectives of three main characters, and her original metaphors communicated her ideas effectively. The book even ended on a sort of “up” note after chapters and chapters of grief. I think I’m just realizing I’d rather read books about ideas than books about made-up people. Truth, beauty, goodness, justice, etc.; I’m going to look for more of that in my fiction.
I Brake for Yard Sales (Lara Spencer)
*This was the most fun decorating book I’ve read since last year’s The Perfectly Imperfect Home. Both present a bright, young aesthetic nonetheless rooted in tradition and practicality. Love it! On a budget–even better!
Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle)
*Re-read with Lovey and it was every bit as good as I remembered!
Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore (Robin Sloan)
*LOVED it! I haven’t devoured a book in a while, but I could not wait to keep reading this one. While I admit this is utterly subjective, it reminded of both The Man Who Was Thursday (G.K. Chesterton) and Ready Player One (Ernest Cline). It’s a zany adventure with some technology themes. Overall, just a really fun read! And definitely look up the recurring Latin phrase “festina lente.” I think I want that to be my new motto. (Not that it would be replacing an old motto…)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky)
*I never read this when I was “coming of age” and I think that’s a good thing: I couldn’t have handled it then. Substance use and sex of all kinds pervade the storyline. Despite that, Charlie is such an endearing character that, overall, I liked the book. His frank and innocent voice brings balance to the wild narrative he recounts.
yellowrocket: poems (Todd Boss)
*Poetry can be archaic, stuffy, preachy, and pompous–among other things. This is not. Rooted in images of rural landscapes and family relationships, each of these poems takes you to a place you can recognize, if not from your own life, then from the life of someone you know. The way Boss plays with sound becomes predictable as you read through the book, but the playful nature of his style keeps the predictability from being annoying. I really enjoyed this collection, due in no small part, I’m sure, to the fact that when I picked the book I had no idea who Todd Boss was and no expectations of what I’d find in his work. My favorites: “Wood Burning,” “Inventory,” “As in a Sudden Downpour, When,” “The Wallpaper,” “My House is Small and Almost,” “My Joy Doubled” and “A Deer.”
speak (Laurie Halse Anderson)
*Somehow an adult author managed to convey the voice of a tormented teen without being trite: hallelujah! Your heart will ache for Melinda, yet at the same time you will see that under her fear and self-doubt stands a strong girl who knows what’s right. It’s a painful story, but admirably told.
Crooked River (Shelley Pearsall)
*At first I was a little annoyed at the heavy undertone of “men are pigs,” but the author’s notes at the back of the book explain that the characterizations came straight from historical documents. This story of an accused Objiwe’s unjust trial in an Ohio “court” focuses on the ethical dilemma of a young settler named Rebecca. Will she have the courage to take a stand against her whole community, and if she tries, does she have any hope of success? Well, it’s a kids’ book, so what do you think? I thought this was a great story and I usually hate historical fiction.
So Long, Insecurity (Beth Moore)
*I did this as a Bible study with one friend, and both of us loved it. Beth challenged us to recognize unhealthy patterns and set our thinking straight in light of biblical truth. We agreed we’d like to redo this study in a couple years, hoping our answers have changed in the meantime!
The Pomodoro Technique, Illustrated (Staffan Nöteberg)
*You’d have to adore organization and productivity to immediately love this book, but I think the stick figure diagrams could win over pretty much anyone. This adaptation of the Pomodoro Technique is intense–he uses circles, boxes, check marks, and other notations to indicate all sorts of things like how highly he’s prioritizing an activity, how many interruptions he suffers, and so on. I think I’d have to include “figure out Staffan’s symbolic language” as an item on my Activity Inventory for several days before I could get into a groove, but I could implement timed bursts of work right away. I intend to as soon as we move. Not now, because I’m not buying anything new, not even a little timer.
Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too (Beth Terry)
*I skimmed this, closely reading only certain parts of it. I picked it up at the library because just that morning I had unloaded a dishwasher half full of plastic containers and asked myself if there weren’t some better way. The one hint I got about that was: store leftovers in bowls with saucers on top. That’s what my family did growing up. I have some new things to think about, but nothing earth-shattering.
The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You (Deanna Duke)
*Another skimmed book. I was mostly curious about the alternatives she found to “toxic” household substances. Score one for me for already being makeup free and using coconut oil as a moisturizer!
The Soloist (Steve Lopez)
*I liked this story because it acknowledges the complexity and messiness of mental illness, while preserving the dignity of Mr. Ayers. My favorite line was, “Music was his way of being alone without fear.” (That might be slightly off; I’m trying to recall after having returned the book to the library.)
Dinner at the New Gene Cafe: How Genetic Engineering is Changing What We Eat, How We Live, and the Global Politics of Food (Bill Lambrecht)
*Many of the facts are outdated, but this was the most balanced book I could find on the subject of GMOs. Lambrecht tried to represent both sides of the debate. I appreciated that. The other books I found at my library were of the, “Run around screaming! GMOs are coming for your children!” variety, which, while compelling, isn’t too informative.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (Jamie Ford)
*Before reading this book I hadn’t read much about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The tragedy is interwoven with a love story. Both are heart-wrenching.
French Women Don’t Get Fat (Mireille Guiliano)
*The title sounds sort of mean but I enjoyed the book. The emphasis is on deriving pleasure from moderate amounts of food, and keeping healthy through moderate lifestyle changes like staying hydrated or walking instead of driving. Very practical. The recipes I’ve tried have been good.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery)
*The prose is so dense, especially when Renée narrates, that I got antsy trying to read this book. There are so many things I want to get up and do right now that I may try this one again when I feel more like hibernating. I really wanted to like it–it has an excellent title!–but I wasn’t in the mood.
An Unquiet Mind (Kay Redfield Jamison)
*Another book about mental illness, but unlike The Soloist, this one is told in the first-person. It was especially intriguing because Jamison dealt with manic depression while seeing psychiatric patients of her own.
Truth in Advertising (John Kenney)
*This book read like a movie. I could picture the burnt-out characters delivering their fast, trashy dialogue on the silver screen. While I consider this book to have been a guilty pleasure, I have to give Kenney credit for delivering a solid message. The characters were all believable in their imperfection, and the resolution, such as it was, also seemed much more faithful to real life than to the tropes of fiction.
The Yard (Alex Grecian)
*I read this one for a book club. I’m not going to give much of an opinion here because the hateful reviews I read on GoodReads affected me too much. My untainted impressions were, “Ooh, grisly!” and, “Wow; they solved that fast!” I was also left to wonder what Cinderhouse’s vendetta was. That’s all I’ll say.
Rich Dad, Poor Dad (Robert Kiyosaki)
*This isn’t the most polished prose you ever read, but the content got my pulse racing. There’s so much exciting information to explore in the world of finance! See the next entries on the list to discover how much Rich Dad, Poor Dad inspired me.
Warren Buffett Invests Like a Girl–And Why You Should Too (Louann Lofton)
*I took a trip and, despite renewing the book to compensate, didn’t finish it. (I avoid traveling with library books.) The premise is that Buffett displays many attributes typical of female investors–e.g. questioning his own judgment, refusing to follow the crowd, etc.
Alif the Unseen (G. Willow Wilson)
*The jacket copy does (thinly) hint at the supernatural element in this book but I opened it expecting pure tech thriller. To my surprise I got a Muslim saint and some demons thrown in the mix, but they made it lively! Some of the philosophy really struck me. For example, “[Demons] are cowards… As the Enemy of Man is a coward. We are not meant to fear them because they are powerful, but because we ourselves are so easily misled.” (Chapter 12)
World War Z (Max Brooks)
*I haven’t seen the movie–shocking, I know. My husband has been strongly encouraging me to read this book since he read it in 2010. The gore and violence were difficult for me to process; it’s amazing how evocative verbal descriptions can be. But he wanted me to read it not for the images but for the ideas about how humanity would respond to a global crisis. That’s the element that’s led us into good book discussions.
Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters (Meg Meeker, M.D.)
*Just read this because I was curious. If you have a daughter, please read this–the younger she is the better. Even if any of it is overstated (I’m always skeptical of “statistics”) the underlying ideas are solid.
World Made By Hand (James Howard Kunstler)
*This one came highly recommended by two guys my age (independent from each other). I wanted to like it but thought it was depressing. Paints a picture of a post-apocalyptic United States: civilization reverts to nineteenth century standards. It gets grisly.
Is Marriage for White People? (Ralph Richard Banks)
*As a married white person I couldn’t not read this book. Though I found the argument fascinating, I have no way of knowing how accurate it is. Excuse me while I dramatically oversimplify things, but basically the author suggests that, because of number and power imbalances between genders in black society, the best way for more black women to find quality black men to marry (men who aren’t destined for prison or an affair) is for some black women to give up the ideal of marrying within the race and “marry out.” The book discusses several reasons why this isn’t happening.
Shadow Syndromes (John J. Ratey, M.D. and Catherine Johnson, Ph.D.)
*The subtitle : “Recognizing and Coping with the Hidden Psychological Disorders That Can Influence Your Behavior and Silently Determine the Course of Your Life” I hardly need to say more, do I?
God’s Politics: Why The Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It (Jim Wallis)
*I didn’t get a chance to finish this one before its due date but the points he was making were compelling. Basically he was saying that under George W., Republicans adopted the “God is on our side” argument, which created a divide we haven’t recovered from.
Walking on Water (Madeleine L’Engle)
*I always love this one–I’ve read it over and over. It reminds me about the mystery in everyday things.
Boundaries (Cloud & Townsend)
*Still good, and I think I digested it a little better this time (my second).
The Butterfly Mosque (G. Willow Wilson)
*Read on the recommendation of a former library co-worker who said if I liked Alif the Unseen I should read Wilson’s memoir. The flavor was much different, but the story was just as compelling.
There’s Cake in My Future (Kim Gruenenfelder-Smith)
*I broke one of my own rules for 2013 book selection, which was, “Fluff fiction is usually disappointing and therefore not worth your time.” I wanted brain candy and, well….
Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids With the Love of Jesus (Elyse M. Fitzpatrick & Jessica Thompson)
*Some good insights, especially regarding how wrongheaded some “Christian” parenting advice can be! Steers the parent away from moralism and toward grace. I don’t see myself delivering the lengthy speeches outlined in the book, but I like the general idea.
Here I Am: Using Jewish Spiritual Wisdom to Become More Present, Centered, and Available for Life (Leonard Felder)
*Sometimes I think Christianity has left behind some important cultural remnants in its embrace of “newness.” This book talks about Jewish spiritual traditions I’d never heard of–basically just ways of thinking about life, particularly its challenges. Each chapter focuses on a saying or prayer, such as thanksgiving for functional digestion or acknowledgment that good may arise even from personal tragedy. Fascinating and practical at the same time.
Monday Mornings (Sanjay Gupta)
*A fictional account of the real practice of “Morbidity and Mortality” meetings–where surgeons have to discuss the details of situations resulting in the deaths of their patients. The novel intertwines the narratives of several characters’ professional and personal lives. At the end I wished there had been more change in some of the characters, but overall it was an interesting read.
I read more than this but unfortunately I got sloppy about keeping track. Oh, well. A new year, a new start!
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (Ina May Gaskin)
Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son (Anne Lamott)