Favorite Books of 2016

My original reading goal for 2016 was to read only 2 books: The Bible and War and Peace. I’m in “October” of my Bible in a Year plan (which I actually started in 2015…) and have made some progress in War and Peace but still have a ways to go. It’s just too hard to say no to so many other books! So, I’ll keep going with those two, but this year was filled with others.

screen-shot-2016-12-29-at-12-35-24-pmI didn’t meet my goal of 52 (just 4 shy!) but looking at our very active phase with the girls, I can see why it didn’t happen. Maybe next year.

Another goal was to read more fiction, and I did accomplish this, especially when I look at my list of 5-star books. Five out of the twelve books were fiction, so I’m pleased with that. It’s hard to narrow the 12 books down to just 5, but some I’ve already mentioned on the blog so I may repeat here. You can check out all of my books over at Goodreads.

Assimilate or Go Home by D.L. Mayfield
While D.L. Mayfield’s experience as a missionary is far from my own “calling,” I appreciated her vulnerability and honesty as she shared her journey. I had read Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution when it came out and this book is a wonderful real-life follow up to what living in an Upside Down Kingdom really looks like.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman
I think Neil Gaiman may be my new favorite author. His writing draws me in and his use of magical realism is superb. I read Stardust while on my retreat and I’m glad I had two whole days to do nothing else – it drew me in, sparked my imagination, and was hard to put down.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
While we are still eating animals, this is one of the best books I’ve read on factory farming, its environmental impact, and our duty as global citizens to reflect on how much meat we are consuming. Foer is brutally honest and writes this book as a longtime vegetarian. He doesn’t seem to be trying to convert carnivores, but is writing to those on the fence, who need a nudge to get started on the vegetarian path.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
This collection of letters to Dear Sugar is one of the most empathetic books I’ve ever read. Not only are Sugar’s answers beautiful, but she reminded me how to connect my own story to others; that even the most unlikely experiences can be seen as a connection.

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
This fictional tale of slavery and plantation owners in the Saint-Domingue¬†and New Orleans was eye-opening for me. I haven’t read many books about slavery in the Caribbean and this was certainly thought-provoking. I’m on the (very long) holds list for Homegoing and The Underground Railroad at the library and I’m glad I read this one to get me thinking about other aspects of the slave trade.

What were your favorite books this year? Do you wait in long hold lines at the library or do you buy your books?

Favorite Books of 2014

This has been a book-filled year for me. I wrote in August about reaching my first reading goal of 52 books for the year. Since then, I’ve read 30 more, for a total of 82. Most were good (above 3/5 stars) and I noticed I tended toward nonfiction. This year, Frank and I also worked on our reading challenge. We each read 5 of the 6 assigned books – I blame the move on the slow-down in December… (I did start the last book yesterday, so I’m counting it for the challenge, even though I’ll finish in January.) We both agreed that it was a good experiment, but 6 seemed too many. I think in the future, we’ll pick one book per year.

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 9.54.06 AM

I don’t think I’ll do a numeric goal for next year. It was interesting to actually track what I read but I don’t know if it’s worth doing every year. I think next year, I’m going to try to read off our own shelves more. As I’ve been unpacking, I notice a lot of books that I haven’t read – usually because they belong to Frank, but there are a few I’ve bought over the years and just never got around to. I think I’d like to focus on those in the coming year.

Looking at my last 30 books, only 6 were rated 5-stars. They were all thought-provoking reads that I’d highly recommend. I thought I’d highlight the top three:

The Second Amendment: A Biography by Michael Waldman
Wherever you land on the gun control/gun rights spectrum, this is a fascinating read about how we interpret the Constitution. It’s actually more about the politics of the Supreme Court, and Waldman uses the Second Amendment as his starting point. It made me question my own biases and how I came by them.

The Teacher Wars by Dana Goldstein
Obviously as a former teacher, I have a higher interest level in this topic. However, Goldstein really delves into the stereotypes of teachers, why we are averse to increasing teacher salaries, and the role of unions and tenure throughout the history of the profession. Anyone who has any opinions about America’s education system should start here for some interesting background into how we have so politicized this profession.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
I had read An Untamed State by Gay earlier this year. The subject was highly uncomfortable but she wrote with such strength and courage I couldn’t put the book down. After finishing it, I looked into other works by her and have been on hold for Bad Feminist for a few months. It was worth the wait! Gay addresses feminism, racism, and privilege through the lens of the cultural norms and stereotypes that surround these issues. It is a very timely series of essays and Gay’s honesty is tempered with humor. I’m thinking of buying this one so I can reread it.

I keep track of all my reading over at Goodreads and pin all of my 5-star reads on Pinterest.

What about you? What were some of your favorite reads this year?

Five-Star Books of 2013

This year, I read a record of 36 books. (And am hoping to finish a couple more before the year is over.) Of those 36 books, 13 received a 5-star rating. Some are classics; some were published this year. Most were new, though a couple were rereads. I thought I’d list some of my top books of this year:

The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth
I have been a fan on the BBC rendition of this beautiful memoir. The first of a series of three (all worth reading), Jennifer Worth really captures an interesting transition to public healthcare in 1950’s London. Worth’s writing style creates an amazing empathy with the people living in the slums of the West End.

Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee
No matter what your views are regarding marriage equality or whether being gay is a “sin,” this book is a must-read. It explores the journey of one young man coming to terms with his sexuality. It is well-written and gracious to his life experiences.

Baby Meets World: Suck, Smile, Touch, Toddle by Nicholas Day
A history of parenting, this book put me at ease about any parenting compromises I’ve made with Bea. (Why worry about a pacifier? She’ll find a way to soothe herself.) It’s fascinating to see how the trends in parenting have changed over the years and how resilient the human race is. Even if you’re not a parent, it’s a fascinating look at how philosophies of children as a group have changed.

Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules edited by David Sedaris
I love short stories in general, but this collection of David Sedaris’ favorite and/or influential authors was wonderful. It’s a great mix, including Flannery O’Connor, Alice Monroe, and Jhumpa Lahiri. Seemingly unrelated, it’s an interesting glimpse into the authors who have influenced Sedaris’ funny and unique style.

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto by Joan Reardon
What a beautiful story of friendship! Not only an interesting look into the world of publishing and politics, it’s a journey of two strangers becoming lifelong friends. When I finished, I hoped my friendships would last as long as Julia and Avis’ and be as open and meaningful.

I have a few more books I’m currently reading and hoping to finish before the year’s end, two of which I’m certain will earn 5-star ratings. Check out my Goodreads profile for all 13 5-star books, as well as the other good 3- and 4-star books I read this year.

What amazing books have you read this year? How many books do you read, on average?