By mid-December, I’ve read 44 books this year. By the end of the month I’ll be at 48. (I plan to finish this novel and finish up several of my non-fiction reads - such as this one on parenting and this one on food.)
I read some great stuff this year and my stack for next year is already full of titles I’m excited about. After a bit of a reading slump while in the baby stage, I feel like I’m back in a good groove again. A huge part of this has been embracing the kindle. I know I sing ebook praises often, but it really has changed the way I read. Now I always have a book in my purse and I’m reading more than I have in a long time. This year I’m taking the further step of purchasing my absolute favorites in hard copy for my physical library as well. Yes, this means I’ve purchased some of them twice, but that’s okay. I willing to do that for the convenience of reading on the kindle and the minimalism of only having things in my library that I love.
It was hard to narrow down the best this year. There are really good things I read this year that aren’t on here. But all of these stand out for one reason or another. My reading tastes run the gamut, but there’s something on this list for everyone. So here goes, in no particular order:
11/22/63 by Stephen King. Now, I’m a Stephen King fangirl and he’s written some of my favorite things of all time (such as IT - which is horror - and On Writing - which is not), but even so this book blew me out of the water. It’s a departure of anything else I’ve ever read by King, so if you don’t like horror or are otherwise opposed to reading him, let that go for this book.
11/22/63 is a time travel moral dilemma love story. Maybe that doesn’t sell it. I’m not sure what to tell you except that this story made me think differently about history and made me cry and I couldn’t put it down. I read it on our annual family ski trip to Colorado and one of the days of our trip I was struck down by one of the worst migraines I’ve ever had. After the initial crushing pain subsided, I was still bed bound for hours and the only thing that took my mind of it was this book. I can’t usually read when I have the edges of a migraine. That’s my full endorsement of this novel.
The Dinner by Herman Koch. After I wrote about The Dinner last spring, several people told me that they read it on my recommendation and didn’t care for it at all. I don’t think of this book as being something only a specific kind of reader will like, but maybe it is. There’s not much plot - it literally takes place over one dinner between two couples - but I just thought it was so interesting. You get a glimpse into each of the four people’s perspectives during the meal and the backstory that is happening in relation to one another. I really don’t want to give too much of this book away, but it’s a quick read and one I’m still thinking about months later. I picked up Herman Koch’s Summer House with Swimming Pool to read next year.
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty was my favorite beach read of the year. “Beach read” meaning simply that it was pure entertainment with characters I loved. Moriarty has a way of writing women that is so familiar, so comforting and also cringe worthy. I see myself in her female protagonists and I see my friends. I didn’t want Big Little Lies to end, it was such a lovely vacation for my mind. I hold a lot of sentimental attachment towards Moriarty’s What Alice Forgot, but Big Little Lies might really be my favorite from her.
Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. This short novel utterly surprised me. I had let some of the mixed reviews creep into my head, so I didn’t expect such a delightful, magical story. This novel was creepy and inspiring at the same time, an unusual combination. I was so satisfied with the ending. This is another one where I don’t want to give too much away, but if you like very well done tales, I highly suggest it.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Fowler. #1 Rule of this book: READ WITHOUT READING ANYTHING ABOUT IT. I promise this will be a much more fulfilling story if you let it take you on the wave for the first quarter. And then after that you might just keep shaking your head at the interesting and strange premise. I had to stop and google if this was a true story or not, so engrossed was I in what the narrator was saying. It reads like memoir, both the heartbreak of it and the can you believe this family? craze of it. Fun and short and a thinker.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. If The Goldfinch was the book everyone was talking about last year, All the Light we Cannot See is the one that is buzzing in every circle this year. It does live up to the hype in story, writing, and character. I’m not usually drawn to war stories, especially those involving children or Hitler. It’s difficult reading at times. Not the words, the sentences are beautiful and flow easily, but the subject matter. You feel compassion where you want to feel none. The characters in All the Light We Cannot See will stay with me far beyond anything else I read this year.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. In some ways, I didn’t want to read this book because it deals with a family after the disease and death of a loved one. I thought it would hit close to home in an unenjoyable way. But I think this book and subject matter is really important, actually, and it didn’t hurt like I thought it would, but it did make me think a lot about relationship and regret. I keep recommending this book to people and many haven’t even heard of it, which makes me doubly want to pass it along.
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown is a game changer for those who are seeking personal development. Brown writes primarily about shame and vulnerability, how we all have the first, how we all need to open ourselves to the second. Her words were so much a message I needed to hear. Life didn’t use to be this hard. A happy enough childhood thrusts us into a friendly world, right? But slowly, life chips away. We shut down whole areas of our hearts. We construct (or live within others’ constructs) rules to keep us from hurt, from rejection, from feeling the feelings because as adults we should be Bigger Than That.
The Gifts of Imperfection is a must read for all of the women in my life. Of course men could benefit from it, too, culturally males are even more prone to repressing their emotions than women, but I’m a woman who desperately needed to read this book and I see my women friends who could take so much from it. If I could, I would wrap this book for all my friends to put under their tree.
Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach. Technically this is a cook book, so should it even be on this list. But this is one of my standouts for the year. Not just the recipes (many of which I’ve made and loved and have even become standard in my kitchen), but the stories behind Jenny and her husband’s quest to make dinner the sun of their life. I appreciated what she said about raising children in a busy city, entertaining friends, her own career aspirations and re-routes. I just loved the whole thing and read it like a novel. This book in particular would make a good gift.
Not that Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham. I debated leaving this book off the list because it has sparked so much ire and controversy. I’m not exactly dying to court that, but since my goal is to be honest in this space, this was one of my favorite books of the year. Lena Dunham is either your cup of tea or she’s not. She’s much more graphic than I generally like, but I appreciate what she’s doing as a voice. Her writing (both in her book and on her show GIRLS) resonates with me and I think she’s telling stories that are important and are a snapshot of a very certain type of young woman.
When I posted on the HH facebook page several weeks ago that I supported Lena Dunham and did not believe her to be a pedophile, I lost followers. I know that she is a divisive writer, to some people she’s a criminal. That’s not where I stand. Not that Kind of Girl is not for the faint of heart or for anyone easily offended.
Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor. I read this book while on a solo weekend trip to Palm Springs and I sat in my hotel room and cried. Barbara Brown Taylor writes so well about faith and doubt and love, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve had such a crush on a writer. I also read her books Altar in this World and Learning to Walk in the Dark this year (both excellent), but it was Leaving Church that has left the strongest mark.
Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer. This might be the most important book I read this year. I gave warning when I wrote about life-changing books that this one goes pretty woo-woo and if you’re not already in a place to receive what’s happening in the Untethered Soul, it’s going to sound like a bunch of weird stuff. This book would have read like Chinese to me if I had picked it up two years ago. Instead, in combination with the Gifts of Imperfection, it fed my spirit and gave me the distance from myself (that makes more sense in context of the exercises in Untethered Soul) that helped me in almost every single one of my personal relationships.
I also want to give a shout out to three books I read this year by people I know. All deserve more than a simple shout out - they are all truly great reads - but this is not an unbiased opinion, so in that sense they receive an asterisk from me.
Some Girls by Jillian Lauren chronicles the true story of how a Jersey girl ends up in a harem. A harem, y’all. Just take it in. Fascinating reading.
Girl at the End of the World by Elisabeth Esther is about growing up in a doomsday cult. I could not put this book down. I thought it was very well told and gave so much insight into the ways our childhood affects everything that comes after.
Speak by Nish Weiseth gives power to everyone to tell their story. I have been so empowered by my friendship with Nish and the way she weaves in other people’s stories to her personal narrative will make you want to bust out a journal. Or start a blog. Both of which I highly encourage.
It was a great year for books with more on the horizon. Happy reading!
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