I wonder if any of these authors used Grammarly’s free grammar checker?
Something tells me they probably didn’t need it!
Believe it or not, one of the first arguments Elliott and I had involved reading. He said that I claimed I liked to read books but that he hadn’t seen me read a book since we started dating. His statement led to an argument because it was true, of course. I just didn’t want to hear it! Between college and my first job and dating Elliott, I’d lost the leisure time of middle and high school where I really did read a lot.
Well, reading came back. It came back when the new-life hubbub died down, when the evenings of my 20s became quiet again, when we began a peaceful tradition of reading before bed. We also started setting book reading goals on Goodreads (thank you, Johanna, for inspiring this!), which is a rewarding challenge for me.
Anyway, that’s a roundabout way of saying that last year I read 45 books, and these are my 10 favorites! Some of them were slower going than others, but all were deeply rewarding and worth reading again. It’s a varied list — fiction, memoir, nonfiction, literary travel, education, inspirational — so I hope you’ll find something right up your alley!
1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. What a strange alternate world Margaret Atwood presents here! She imagines a country (clearly the U.S.) in which some aspects of evangelical extremism have been taken to absurd levels. One rule states that all children are to be procreated specifically by “handmaids.” The protagonist — a handmaid herself — discovers there is a quiet revolution underfoot, however, and walks a terrifying line between death and freedom.
2. Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle-Melton. Would you believe that Elliott grew up next to Glennon in northern Virginia?? I already loved her writing from Momastery, and, just like her blog, this book is a completely wonderful collection of encouragement, tears, inspiration, real life, and laughter. Elliott should be glad he was traveling for work when I read it, because otherwise I would have been saying, “Oh this is so good, just listen to this!” about every 10 minutes.
3. Nurtureshock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman. This is an easy-to-read and completely fascinating book about research on children and education. Basically, prepare to be shocked about how much nurture (vs. nature) influences your kids. I wrote a book review about the 5 Ways to Improve My Parenting based on what I learned in this book. Stay tuned because I have a giveaway of another book by these authors coming up soon!
4. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. What a gut-wrencher! After WWI, a young couple tend a lighthouse off the coast of western Australia. They are unable to have children, so when a crying baby and a dead man wash up on the shores of their little island, they do the obvious thing: begin to care for the child. Before either of them can sort out what is happening, the child has been virtually adopted into their hearts and lives. But does little Lucy have family elsewhere? And if she does… then what?
5. The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball. This is my favorite book that I read all year! It’s a magnificently-penned memoir of a NYC reporter who goes to Pennsylvania for the day to interview a young farmer. That day on a farm — and the long brown arms of that curly-haired farmer — change her world completely. This is the story of the most unlikely modern farmer you could imagine, the beautiful corner of the earth that she brings to life in upstate NY, and the incredible birth of a raw marriage and a new life where you least expect it.
6. The Stone Boudoir by Theresa Maggio. I hesitated to put this book on the list because I doubt it will have a huge appeal unless you live in, will live in, or plan to visit Sicily. But I deeply value reading about the place where you live, and I loved this book, so on the list it goes. Theresa is an American journalist with Sicilian roots, and this is the story of her love affair with the little mountain towns of Sicily, some of which I visited this winter, and others of which are just an hour away from us on the slopes of Mt. Etna.
I especially loved her account of the festival of St. Agata in Catania, which is happening this week. I read that Sicilians say “semu tutti, devoti tutti” (bascially “all together, all devoted”) to the saint during the festival, and randomly a few weeks ago in Catania, a TV crew asked me to say this phrase for an advertisement. Now I am one of dozens of “Sicilians” saying this in a St. Agata ad, and so many of my Italian acquaintances have told me they’ve seen me on TV! Anyway, thank goodness for this book teaching me what I was saying and why, right?!
7. Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Pre-School Years by Elisabeth Hainstock. An incredibly short book (just over 100 pages), this little volume is invaluable for a newbie mom or anyone interested in Montessori education. I love this method’s emphasis on natural materials, real world life skills, and childhood responsibility. This book provided a great introduction to Montessori, and the last third of the book is an illustrated guide to Montessori activities to do with your growing child. It was a great resource as I began to incorporate this method into our life and home.
8. The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian. Forgive the wild ’80s cover! The book deserves much better. I was blown away by the treasure-trove of wisdom inside this swirly pink book, and I wish I had read it as soon as I got married (and then every year since!). The writer is a very wise and very tough woman who married a rather unwise and somewhat difficult man, but she has chosen to pray about their difficulties rather than trying to browbeat her husband or have a miserable marriage. The book is divided into 30 short chapters — one for each day of the month — that address topics like “his work,” “his sexuality,” “his pride,” and “his fear.”
9. Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic. Once again, this is a slender book (104 pages) that packs a punch. I laughed out loud, underlined everywhere, and wrote a dozen notes in the margins. This young mother of six is braver than I’ll probably ever be, and she writes with hilarious insight about the patience and creativity required to nurture so many little ones. She cheered my tired soul. Give it to another mom in the trenches of the little years!
10. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. I just love this series. This fiction has a goodness to it that reminds me a bit of the Chronicles of Narnia, or Little Britches, or Little House on the Prairie. There is laughter, there is anguish, and there is insight into a world (in this case, Botswana, written about with knowledge and love by a white Zimbabwean) that is far off and impossible for most of us to ever experience.
And now let’s just hope this year is as successful in the reading department… and with as many good ones to share with you! If you want to see what I’m reading this year, you can find me on Goodreads here.
Any recommendations for 2014?