Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Six Months of Books in 2013

At the beginning of the year, I set a goal to read 26 books in 2013. The year is a little more than halfway over, and amazingly, I've kept pace with that goal. As of June 30, I've read 14 books. I've started another four, but I won't get into my issues with reading multiple books at the same time here.

Appropriately, last weekend at McKay's I picked up a memoir by journalist Sara Nelson called So Many Books, So Little Time. It's about a year of reading, one book a week, what the author read and what she thought of it, how it played into her daily life and relationships. Although I've only read the prologue thus far, a line in the jacket flap copy caught my attention. It read, "She had a system all set up: fifty-two books, fifty-two weeks...and it all fell apart the first week. That's when she discovered that the books chose her as much as she chose them." In my own experience with a year's reading list of 26 books (I'm less ambitious, giving myself two weeks per book, which was wise, as a goal of 52 books would have me failing miserably to keep up), this has been so true. The books choose you as much as you choose them. And there's no controlling it.

I started out with over 40 books on my list and had to whittle it down to the 26 I wanted to read most. The final list included books that have been sitting on my shelf for years waiting to be read, the top prize-winning books of 2012, and a few titles that I'd downloaded onto my eReader and hadn't yet read. I've found myself deviating from it in unexpected directions. Some of this has been mood-driven, some of it discovery-driven. Some of it was just happenstance. There have been a couple of valuable re-reads too, of which I'm not ashamed and which I am counting.

My reading choices are always a mixed bag. The English major in me craves really good literature. The journalist in me loves nonfiction, especially biographies and food journalism. The foodie in me loves a good food memoir or food-related fiction. The francophile in me can't pass up a good read on Paris or Provence. The part of me that still dreams of Kenya craves books with an African theme. The Christian in me needs some spiritual growth reading thrown into the mix. The new mommy in me just wants some help, for Pete's sake!

Here are my original 26 books and how they made it onto my list, in no particular order. Those I've read include a rating out of five stars.
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo. Winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for nonfiction. Also, culture and poverty in India interests me (thanks to Slum Dog Millionaire, I'll admit, as cliché as that might be). I seriously can't wait to get to this one.
  • The Round House by Louise Erdrich. National Book Award Winner, fiction category. Currently reading this for a book club I'm going to check out next week and am totally wowed thus far. 
  • The Pale King by David Foster Wallace. This unfinished novel was one of the three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. It was an odd year for the Pulitzer, as the judges couldn't decide on a winner and left the three finalists hanging. Of the three, The Pale King sounded the most interesting to me. Wallace himself was the most interesting to me of the three finalist authors.
  • Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Winners of the 2010 and 2012 Man Booker prize, respectively, Bring Up the Bodies is the sequel to Wolf Hall. Also, the Henry VIII era is one of my favorites in British history. I can't resist a good Henry drama.
  • Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected by Kelle Hampton. I was already about halfway through this when Baby Girl was born, and had set it aside. I wanted to finish it. I follow Kelle's blog and was curious about the story of her daughter Nella's birth (Nella has Down syndrome). It's an amazing and humbling story. I loved it. Four stars.
  • Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz. I can never pass up a good bio on Julia. I'm halfway through this, and need to get back to it. I set it aside at the point when they left Paris because, well, I was sort of heartbroken that the Paris years were over, you know? Living vicariously, I guess.
  • Nomad: From Islam to America by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. This sequel to Ali's first memoir, Infidel, about leaving Islam for a Western life has been on my list for a long time. 
  • The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I've had a copy of this since 2008, and was long overdue to read it. It's life-changing. Totally inspiring. A perfect follow-up to Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. Five stars.
  • Alice Waters and Chez Panisse by Thomas MacNamee. This book has been on my shelf for over a year. For about two years prior to that, I stalked it in the bookstore, debating about reading it. Food maven Alice Waters and her mythically proportional Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse have always intrigued me. t's a  bit dry and drags on at some points, but then, don't most of our lives? Three stars.
  • The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz. A food memoir about living in Paris? No contest. Plus, I already owned it. Lebovitz had me laughing out loud and reading sections to E. Four stars.
  • Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. This book was all over the Christian blogosphere at the beginning of the year, receiving accolade after accolade.
  • Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson. This sounded like the perfect young mom book, for the sleepless nights and insane days trying to live a balanced life. Because it is desperate at times. I'm slowly savoring this, a chapter at a time. It's validating, nourishing, encouraging - in short, it is exactly what the subtitle claims. Five stars.
  • American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. This fictional piece loosely based on the life of Laura Bush caught my attention when it first released (admittedly, it might have been the cover that did it). Now that I live in DC, it seemed an apropos time to read it. And I already had a copy. A totally satisfying piece of fiction. Four stars
  • The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party and The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection by Alexander McCall Smith. I'm not a mystery reader per se, but my mom-in-law got me into The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series three years ago, and I can't help devouring them. I was two books behind at the beginning of the year. Neither one disappointed. Four stars.
  • Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis. This memoir was almost published by my company, so I've long been interested in the story of this remarkable young woman who gave up her privileged American life to move to Uganda and adopt a whole passel of orphaned little girls.
  • The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Because who doesn't want to figure out how to be happier? Caught my eye in an airport bookstore.
  • Time Was Soft There by Jeremy Mercer. I happened across this memoir by a young man who found himself in Paris working at the famed Shakespeare & Co. in the used bookstore and snatched it up. Couldn't resist.
  • The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley. Another memoir, this one about living in Kenya in the late 1950s. I watched the movie (which starred Hayley Mills, of all people). Loved it.
  • Almost Amish by Nancy Sleeth. This book on the quest to live more simply by is written by the wife of Matthew Sleeth, champion of the Creation Care concept and author of Serving God, Saving the Planet. I'm always interested in how to live more simply.
  • Tarte Tatin by Susan Loomis. I loved Loomis' first book, On Rue Tatin. Another memoir from an ex-pat living in France.
  • 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. Another treatise on simple living from the Christian perspective. I read Jen's blog, and her book has gotten a lot of traffic online, with mixed reviews. I want to form my own opinion.
  • Chocolat by Joanne Harris. I've been trying to read this with a book club forever, but it keeps getting voted down. I figured it was time to read it on my own.
  • My Love Affair with England by Susan Allen Toth. In addition to being a Francophile, I'm an Anglophile. And actually, given a choice about where to live abroad, I think London would be my first choice (easy access to Paris). I have been meaning to read this for years, literally.
  • The Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway. Hem is my favorite classic American author, but I've never read this particular work.
  • The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. Food fiction. Enough said.
The interlopers, books I didn't plan to read:
  • Spirit-led Parenting by Megan Tietz and Laura Oyer. I had a copy of this hanging around from 2012, and just hadn't finished it. Not particularly well written, but good content. A great read for new moms who are overwhelmed by all the conflicting advice in the baby manuals. Two stars for the writing versus four stars for content = three stars.
  • Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. After watching the film verions of P&P and S&S back in February, I had a hankering to read them again (for the first time since college). I think I loved them twice as much as a married thirty-something than I did as a single twenty-something. Five stars.
  • White Jacket Required by Jenna Weber. I support the bloggers I follow by reading their books. This one was a total disappointment. It was flat and sort of lifeless. It's the single book I regret spending time with this year. No stars.
  • Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld. Since I'd put American Wife on my list, and I already had a copy of Prep, I decided it would be apropos to read Sittenfeld's first book first. Not as intriguing as American Wife (the main character has way too much angst for my taste), but still interesting and a good story. Three stars.
  • Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly. I happened upon a copy of this classic teen love story from the 1950s in the used bookstore. Couldn't resist buying and reading it again. Twenty-some years later, I still think it's the sweetest teen romance ever. Four stars.
  • It Starts with Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. This is the manual for the Whole30, so when we decided to do it, I bought the book and read it. A must for anyone who really wants to understand the benefits of the Whole30 and a Paleo diet in general. Four stars.
  • This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader by Joan Dye Gussow. When Michael Pollan cited Gussow in The Omnivore's Dilemma, it dawned on me that I'd been given a copy of her book as a gift a couple of years ago. Intrigued by Pollan's comments, I picked it up and started in. Currently reading (and enjoying).
I'm sure there will be books on the original list of 26 that I just don't get to, and thus they'll get moved over to 2014. Regardless, the main point, which is to make reading a significant part of my days, has worked. Setting a goal like this means that I'm focused on reading, learning, growing in the chunks of time that present themselves, like while I'm working out on the elliptical or bike, or waiting at the doctor's office. Reading is one of the practices that feeds my mind, heart, and spirit in a very necessary way. When I fall away from spending regular time with books, I don't feel as productive, as nurtured, as fulfilled.

What are you reading in 2013? Post a comment below - I'd love to know!

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