the 10 Best Books I Read in 2013


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?


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15 Responses to the 10 Best Books I Read in 2013

  1. Effie February 6, 2014 at 9:31 pm #

    I have not read The Dirty Life yet. Just always have so much to read, and a big stack of books on the Kindle and the bedside table.
    I also LOVE The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency! So charming! Amazingly simple, but beautiful.

    Hope to see you in Sicily and compare more notes:)

    • Becca February 6, 2014 at 9:52 pm #

      You have GOT to read it, Effie! It’s so beautiful.

      I know what you mean about the huge stack. :-/ I finally ordered a bunch of used books last month, AND I got a bunch from the library/Navy Europe library system, AND I have a great book my sister-in-law gave me… so there are books everywhere on the floor and bedside table! I seriously need a vacation just to read.

  2. Eden February 6, 2014 at 9:58 pm #

    I’ll have to file these recommendations away!

  3. Luz February 6, 2014 at 10:03 pm #

    I love seeing No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency on your list! I’ve yet to read them, but I’ve been listening to the radio dramatizations on BBC which have that same “goodness” you describe. They’re broadcasting some new episodes right now on Radio4 and think you’d enjoy it as well.

    • Becca February 7, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

      This is a great recommendation! I really need to listen to things while I wash the dishes at night (generally 20-30 minutes of my life), but often I just space out instead. Which is good. But I might find the time even more enjoyable and productive if I had something fun to listen to!

  4. Meg February 6, 2014 at 10:25 pm #

    Thanks for all the recommendations! You do such a great job enthusing over the books. I know you’ve read tons, but over the past year, these are your top 10 out of about how many?

    • Becca February 7, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

      In 2013 I read 45, but in 2012 I read 54! So how many will I read this year?? Not sure with the move, but I’m aiming for around 40 again.

  5. Jess February 7, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

    Ug, need to read The Dirty Life! I’m just stuck because my goal was to read all the books I ordered last year before got more! But I already have several on the wish list.

    • Becca February 7, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

      It’s SO good and you’ll love it.

      Do you use the Cville library system? I love library books because they’re FREE, although here I often have to wait a few weeks to get a book.

  6. Becca Arthur February 7, 2014 at 3:42 pm #

    I’m guessing you saw this article, but it’s always interesting to see what ‘top lists’ other readers compile…

    In other news…Josh laughs at me every night when I’m curled up with “The Dirty Life” – a farmer’s wife I’ll never be, but what a unique world to escape to in the pages of her book. :) she makes even the hardest things seem idyllic

    • Becca February 9, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

      I hadn’t seen that list! But it’s kind of disappointing that they’re all written within the past 100 years. Oh well, still so many good recommendations on that list!

      So glad you’re enjoying “The Dirty Life.” :-) Love you!

  7. Lucy February 8, 2014 at 6:46 pm #

    I love your reviews! I would like to be even half the reader you are. I think my pick of those at the moment is The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Maybe I can read one of them while visiting you?

    • Becca February 9, 2014 at 1:41 pm #

      We have the first one in the series, so you can read it while you’re here!

  8. Maggy February 12, 2014 at 3:11 pm #

    Oh I am so glad you posted this… I have book buying (downloading…no room for books storage in these parts) commitment issues and you posted a couple of books I have thought about reading! I just finished reading The Shoemaker’s Wife and LOVED IT. It’s a simple read, but a beautiful story I will surely read again and again. You should certainly add it to your list – plus the main characters are Italian. :)

  9. Becca February 12, 2014 at 3:21 pm #

    Thanks for the recommendation, Maggy! I love reading books set in/about Italy, and love simple and sweet stories, too.

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