Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Most Impactful books I read in 2014

I am avoiding saying "best" books I read because after I read this: 

It is an impressively arrogant move to conclude that just because you don't like something, it is empirically not good.
~ BossyPants by Tina Fey

I started paying more attention to the way I say things are good or not good. It's such a simple insight, but so overlooked. I remember as a server I would always be annoyed when people would ask me for suggestions on what they should order. "What's good here?" they'd ask. I hated that question because what I liked didn't mean they would like it. We are always saying we like "good" books, movies, or music to feel superior to people who care for something else. The fact is, if you enjoy it, it is good to you. If you don't enjoy it, that doesn't mean it's bad. It means it's not for you.

Last year was my best reading year yet, hitting 40 books. If you're keeping tally on my right sidebar, you'll see I read a lot of other books that are famous for being "good" and I totally agree they are, but they didn't make the list because I was re-reading them and I find you get the most impact out of a book the first time you read it. So out of all the books I read, these ones impacted me the most (in the order I read them):

1. Comeback: A Mother and Daughter's Journey Through Hell and Back 
by
This is a memoir written about the drug addiction Mia lived through and conquered. It's pretty powerful because you read both her account as someone fully immersed in it but then also her mother's side of the story. It's pretty amazing to read two perspectives on the same battle because we usually only focus on what we think, not what anyone else does. Claire's love for her daughter is strong and tough when it has to be. And I hope to hell my children never face any drug addiction.

2. Old School  
by Tobias Wolff
I picked this up because of the author. He also wrote, This Boy's Life which is also fantastic. Any way, this book is about high school boys who are all quite avid readers and literary critics. They write compositions to win the prize of different authors coming to meet them. This is right up my alley, of course, so maybe I liked it more than most people would (my two favorite books are also about school-age adolescents) and I totally geek out to all the literary references. There are a lot of poignant thoughts and observations you pick up from someone young who is discovering what adults are too hardened or uninterested to observe.

3. The Pearl 
by John Steinbeck
So I might be a little behind the game by just now reading it (I think it's a high school read usually). But better late than never. I fell in love with Steinbeck last year reading Of Mice and Men and the love continues. He is just one hell of a story teller and a writer (not just an author). This book is about a man who finds a giant pearl and the great fortune actually destroys what was a humble yet happy life.

4. Bringing up Bebe
by Pamela Druckerman
This book got me over a definite hump in parenthood. I was not the boss of my child, but he was the boss of me. We are still working on that in many ways, but at least he goes to bed without screaming now and sleeps in a bed rather than a crib. I learned from this book that just because every other parent seems to do it this way doesn't mean that I have to. I also learned about babies' sleeping patterns and sleeping through the night and worked some real magic on Holden. Now, of course, he has regressed and wakes up screaming in the night from teething pain every few nights, but it was blissful at first.


5. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar
by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl is wonderful. The short story the book is titled after is absolutely fantastic.  I even got my husband (who never reads [OK, he reads emails, Twitter, and the newspaper]) and his brother to read it. They both loved it, too. There are a couple other gems in this collection as well, but you'll remember the story of Henry Sugar the most, to be sure. I had only read Roald Dahl's children's books prior to this. He is a fantastic children's book author, of course, but he can write for adults, too.

6. Autobiography of Malcolm X
As Told to Alex Haley
People who don't read don't understand my fascination with reading. But basically everything I've learned I've learned by reading. I was homeschooled for ten years which meant reading rather than hearing lectures. Reading someone else's story shows you a new perspective you never considered before, which is exactly what I got from Malcolm X's story. Beware - this book is long with tiny print. I don't usually read books over 350 pages, but this one was on a respectable list of books to read so I bit the bullet. It was worth it. Malcolm X is fascinating. I especially respected his self-discipline and work ethic.

7. The Middle Place
by Kelly Corrigan
I bought this book because it was on clearance and it was a NY Times Bestseller. I didn't really know what I would be reading. But it is about a mother of two who discovers a lump which turns out to be breast cancer. She is in her thirties and battles and subsequently beats cancer while her father is battling a different cancer across the country. "The Middle Place" refers to "that sliver of time where childhood and parenthood overlap." Perhaps that's why I related to this book so much. That, and the most likely fear of mine - getting cancer in my thirties.

8. Orange is the New Black
by Piper Kerman
Let me preface this by saying I don't watch the show. I tried to watch the show, but gave up about ten minutes into the first episode. So I picked up the book to see what all the fuss was about. The book was fascinating. A woman who doesn't fit the standard profile for a drug prisoner is locked in prison for a year. She chronicles her life inside - what she does to stay busy, the people she meets, the terrible food and the little joys the prisoners find despite the circumstances. Sometimes I wonder what I would do if I was jailed for a year, and I like to think I would spend my time much like Malcolm X and Piper Kerman do - reading a lot of books, to start. Piper also runs each day and does yoga, which is basically my life in a nutshell. Lastly, the author has a badass name.

9. Dark Places
by Gillian Flynn
Gillian Flynn is best known for this year's blockbuster "Gone Girl" which I also read this year, but I found this book to be better. The story revolves around Ruby, now in her thirties who survived a massacre at her house back when she was six in the eighties. Her brother is locked away for the crime, but many people don't believe the truth was ever exposed. This book follows her as she seeks to discover the truth. Her now dead mother and her brother serve as narrators as well: you hear their side of the story as Ruby is discovering new information. It's thrilling. This is also being made into a movie and will be released this year.

10. This is Where I Leave You
by Jonathan Tropper
This book is a quick light read. Something my mom would call "fluff." A family sits shiva together for the seven days after their father's funeral. The main character has just discovered his wife sleeping with his boss prior to shiva and is going through a transition period, as is everyone else in his family for different reasons. As the days tick by, you realize why they don't typically spend much time together. Each character is impulsive and selfish, which seeing them interact together makes for some great entertainment. This is also a movie, which I will watch eventually.

And now comes a new year with new books to discover! I have a laundry list of ones to read. I don't think a reader's life can ever be long enough to read everything she wants to.

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