Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Books I Read in 2014

A year ago, at the start of 2014, Jeremy and I decided that we wanted to read a book a month. This felt like a pretty significant goal being that both of us have never done a ton of reading for pleasure, mostly just reading for school (how did I graduate with an English Ed degree?). I'm happy to say that we both met our goal and I actually ended up reading eighteen books! Whoa. So, in case you're looking for a good read this coming year, here are my thoughts on the matter.

January: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

David Sedaris is a name I had heard a lot in the past few years, but didn't know a lot about him (my friend, Michael always raved about Sedaris). And even after reading the book, I'm still not sure I knew a lot about him, except that he's funny and entertaining and maybe that's enough. This wasn't a difficult read, just random tales of family and travel and living in Paris (which was probably the most entertaining part, in my opinion). He tells a hilarious tale of walking miles and miles in order to log steps into his FitBit device. Once he reached one goal, he kept walking to get a few hundred more steps the next day. Just because. Then, he started picking up trash. Then, the little, local town named a garbage truck after him for all of his litter efforts. Hee Hee!

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and The Fate of  Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell

You know how the recent movie The Interview has been so controversial? It's gotten all kinds of international publicity and that makes everyone want to see it even if they never wouldve otherwise? Yeah, that's how I felt about this book. The conservative evangelical's vicious response and opposition made a lot of people want to read it even more. Including me. And I wasn't let down. Frankly, I feel like religion tends to limit our interpretation of God. If you're part of a large group of "believers" you remain a part of the group by continuing to believe what the group believes. But why not dream a little? Why not hypothesize? Why not consider other possibilities? I'm all for it. How creative. How interesting. Do any of us really know exactly what the Bible is trying to say? No. In truth, we are all hypothesizing. God help us.

February: Wildwood Imperium (Wildwood Chronicles #3) by Colin Meloy

I don't do a ton of fictional reading (but I'm working on it!). This series written by Colin Meloy (the lead singer of The Decemberists, in case you were wondering) is the story of a twelve year-old girl who lives in Portland, Oregon and stumbles upon a secret world and identity that had been kept a secret from her since she was just a baby. This is the third in a three-book series and I highly recommend them.

March: Tiny, Beautiful Things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

I didn't know anything about Cheryl Strayed until a friend recommended her book, Wild. I read it and enjoyed it. I didn't know that years previous to Wild she had been writing for an online advice column. I think I enjoyed this book even more than Wild. Strayed is a gal friend most of us would like to have: witty, wise, and incredibly funny. Every question that was posed her way she answers in the most humble and non-traditional ways. It challenged the way I look at human "problems".

April: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown

Brene Brown is one my heroes and I enjoyed her first book, The Gifts of Imperfection quite a lot so I took on Daring Greatly. I didn't enjoy it as much as her first book and yet, I value the themes such as shame and guilt and healing and growth that I could still probably read it again and find something new that I needed to hear.

May: Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed by Glennon Doyle Melton

I love that conversations about imperfection and vulnerability and courage are happening in society by way of such inspiring authors, and Glennon Doyle Melton was added to my list of favorites this year. I'd been following her blog for several months before I realized she'd written a book. It's mostly popular, quirky blog posts that she turned into a book. So there's not necessarily a continuing story-line other than the day-to-day tale about how we are all doing our darndest to love each other (and ourselves) better every day.

The Truth about Cheating: Why Men Stray and What You Can Do to Prevent It by M. Gary Neuman

Jeremy has not been cheating on me. We haven't had any marital distress in this area. I can't tell you exactly why I bought this book other than it was, like, 99 cents on Amazon for Kindle. I wasn't immediately turned onto the title which seemed to imply that if my husband did stray, there was certainly something I did wrong. But, I read it anyway. If there's any takeaway from the book, I found it interesting the various studies they did with married couples. Time after time, studies showed that women assumed their husbands cheated because they had put on weight or weren't pretty enough. But men cited over and over how their mistress was not prettier or thinner than their wife, but just available, present, and interested.

June: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This is a fascinating story! I'm not sure how most of us have probably never heard of Henrietta Lacks because somehow this woman's cells have lead to the greatest scientific discoveries of the past century. For someone who dislikes/runs away from conversations about science, this book kept me interested for several reasons. Number one, her story is one that needs to be told. Number two, the book has a steady theme of race and ways that we've greatly used and abused the lack of privileges that black people had seventy years ago and now. Number three, I felt like I learned something useful and relevant.

The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband by David Finch

I've always been particularly interested in Asperger's, but definitely since I had a friend in college and one of my students in elementary school with it. I had heard an interview the author on NPR and wanted to know more. Finch makes it well into his thirties without knowing he has Asperger's, but the book tells the true story about how he came to recognize that there were specific reasons behind some of his "quirky" behaviors. The discovery provided him an outline to make big changes to his life and his marriage.

July: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

I'm quite late to the game on this book. I'd heard it was an amazing book, but certainly difficult to read. I found both to be true. The book, which is set in Afghanistan, showed me a side of the country that had nothing to do with war or Osama Bin Laden, which a narrative we rarely hear. The book follows three generations and how we are deeply changed by things from our past. Trigger warning: This book is hard to read because of rape and sexual assault. Proceed cautiously.

August: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

While I've read some great books this year, if I had to pick one that was probably the most important, I'd say it was this book. I'm also a bit late to the Barbara Kingsolver train and really want to read some of her works of fiction. This one is the true story of how her family, who was living in Arizona, came to the important realization that human life was never meant to thrive in the desert. Most, if not all, of the water and food was being shipped in from somewhere else, which just felt wrong. So the family moved to Virginia and started farming. They vowed to spend the next year eating only what they could grow or purchase at their local farmer's market. Quite a task! The story is pretty amazing and reconnected me with importance of knowing the story behind where my own food comes from. In short, Jeremy and I have decided to one day become organic farmers. We're sold. We can all do better.

September: Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman by Yvon Chouinard

Jeremy love, loved this book, so I basically had to read it in order to be able to talk to him during the month of September. This is the story of Chouinard, the owner and founder of the outdoor outfitter company, Patagonia. The company was started with the purpose of making good, quality products, but morphed and changed into a company wanting to do even better. This book tells the story about where our clothes come from: what field, what people, what kind of damage to the environment. Basically, if you are buying cheap clothes at places like Walmart, Target, or even higher-end dealers, chances are someone else is paying the deficit. Shirts can't cost $10. From the crops, to the process, to the chemical dyes, to the formation, to the distribution all around the world. The cost to the planet far surpasses any money we are laying on the counter. And, in case you're wondering, Jeremy has kind of sort of taken a vow to only buy clothes at Patagonia for the rest of his life. That's pretty convicting!

Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together by Pamela Slim

This was probably my least favorite book this year. I didn't have great expectations. It was handed to me by a friend and I opened it only because I'm trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. Maybe I just wasn't ready for the information, but by and large, it wasn't too useful to me. The theme is that these days it's good to have a variety of skills and gigs with which you can earn money.

Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers by David Perlmutter

If there's a book that has most changed how I live day-to-day, this is the book. The title is a bit too "doom and gloom" for my style, but by the end of the book, I more understood their point. Essentially, the book highlights that diabetes and heart disease have been on the rise ever since the 1970s when the FDA endorsed a high-carb and low-fat diet, only to find now that we've been overdoing carbs and fat is not the culprit we thought it was. In fact, the less grains and more fat and cholesterol a person eats, the lower their cholesterol and risk of heart disease becomes. As someone who has always had high cholesterol, I've spent the past few years laying off of animal proteins, butter, milk, and cheese as a means of regulating my cholesterol levels but to no avail. However, now I've been eating more meat, more cheese, more dairy and more fat, and instead, cutting out most grains and starches and sugars. The science makes sense. Check it out.

October: Through The Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders by Joy Ladin

I was turned onto this story through an NPR podcast as well. Gender has always fascinated me and so this tale of a man who becomes a woman was really interesting. The book is written heavily in a journal-style and highlights a lot of the inner turmoil and pain that comes with being born into the wrong body and finding your way in a world that is largely unaccepting to the transgender community.

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

Apparently, only my second fiction book of the year (geez, what am I so afraid of?). Another recommendation from a friend. This is a sci-fi style book that hypothesizes the damage done by fundamentalist, black-and-white, this-or-that-no-matter-what thinking does to our souls. In this world, all physical blemishes or deformities are seen as sin and error, worthy of death. Imperfect babies? Killed. Abnormal thinking? Done away with. It's a world where the rules are so precise, so limiting that no one wins and everybody loses, even those making the rules.

November: Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle

I'm still digesting this one even though I finished it almost two months ago. The intersection of technology and ethics is one I find to be so interesting and so important. Turkle is a psychologist who studies the way that technology changes us. The first half of the book was largely about how people--young and old--respond to robots. I didn't take many notes and struggled to keep reading. But the second half of the book sent me furiously scribbling down notes to research more on my own. She digs into our new, digital lives: online and always connected. How that changes our relationships and the meaning we find in our lives, how we tend to hide from real-life interactions. How we see listening to voicemails as troublesome when they could've just sent a text message. And how if someone knocked on our door without warning, we'd be bothered--annoyed even--when this is how most of human kind has related to each other for centuries. We are alone and we are together. Always.

December: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

A friend who lived in Korea left this book behind for me to read and admittedly, I didn't love it. I kept waiting for there to be some kind of great resolution, some reason why I'd read this long and challenging bil-lingual story about a fat kid who couldn't get any "action" with girls. By the time I finished, I didn't feel connected to any of the characters and didn't care whether they got what they wanted or not. If any redeeming qualities, I did learn quite a bit about Dominican culture, particularly that of immigrant families constantly straddling two worlds.

There you have it. Eighteen books. (I actually read nineteen, but that was a re-read. I can never get enough Anne Lamott, so I read her Grace Eventually: Thoughts on Faith.)

Number one recommendation: 
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

Close second: 
Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle

Have you read any interesting fiction you would recommend? Leave me a comment!


Emily said...

"The Language of Flowers" by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

I really enjoyed this one!

emily said...

Thanks for the reviews! Will have to check some of these out. Non-fiction: A deadly wandering by Matt Richtel is one Mitch enjoyed. I haven't read it yet. It's on my list.