On My Shelf • Favorite Books of 2013

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


We took a drive up to New York City and Long Island this weekend for Alex to enlist into the Air National Guard and we've been perpetually tired since. Don't get me wrong, I love road trips, but after all of the less than ideal weather and traffic, we were just ready to spend a few days not in a car by the end of it. While I was there, I decided to try to put the camera down and enjoy myself. Alex actually decided to pick up the camera and try to learn about the settings while we were driving (which is where to picture above came from). Anyway, we were holed up in the apartment on Monday and couldn't stand it any longer, so we spent yesterday tying up lose ends from the move, buying some groceries, and Alex applied for a few jobs at some places nearby. We're talking about possibly getting an apartment in the DC area until he gets back from training, but more on that later. Tomorrow we plan on heading to the library to pick up a few books since all of ours are in storage and hanging out at a playground for a few hours. I've been reading a few books through the Kindle app on the iPad, but I miss holding a real life book. What do all you have planned?

I've had this post in the works for quite some time now, but the thing is - I never stop reading. I keep waiting on a stopping point, a breather in between books to gather my thoughts and come up with deep, lengthy reviews for each of my favorites, but let's face it  - my favorites might be someone else's equivalent of toilet paper. That's kind of the fun thing about reading, and writing for that matter, there are many different types of books and you don't have to read or like them all. I usually lean towards non-fiction and self help books (I like books I can learn from.), which Alex gives me unending crap for, but I will drop everything for a good fiction book too.

I will always buy books - coffee table books, photography books, cookbooks, novels - I can't resist a hard copy, especially if the cover is beautifully designed. Good design reels me in and will make me want to buy a book without even knowing what it's about. It's strange, but I also like the way books feel in my hands, some being the perfect size and weight with each page having just the right thickness to them. When Alex and I were dating, there was a running joke about how many books he might find in my car when he went to clean it out. I'm not in the car much anymore, but I do tend to stash a book in the diaper bag or make a point to grab one on the way out of the house. The way I read would probably drive a lot of people crazy - most people read a book at a time, but I will sporadically start books, pick them back up, get into them for a few days and move to another one for a few weeks, which results in having a stack of six or more books that I'm working on at any given time.

And don't you love how books look in a home? I decorate in a really simple (maybe too simple) way - I don't buy a lot of trinkets, I don't have a lot on my walls (I find it hard to commit to holes in the wall - the gypsy in me I guess, always subconsciously ready to move.), I don't buy a lot of furniture or items that don't serve a purpose, but book clutter is welcome. I think that's the first thing I notice when I walk into a new friend's home. If they have shelves of books, friend for life.

Anyway, like I said above, I'm no scholar - my literary taste is a bit eclectic, but here are some of my favorite books that I read in 2013:


    

        

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls: I have a thing for memoirs - well, thing isn't really the word. . . if I had to choose what genre to read for the rest of my life, it would be memoirs. This is obvious in the selections above, since almost all of them are memoirs or lean towards being a memoir. I'm telling you, my husband is almost at the point of calling Ted and Marshall and Lily for an intervention (How I Met Your Mother reference). Anyway, I've never been tempted to buy a duplicate of a book "just in case" until I read 'The Glass Castle'. I ran across a second copy in a thrift store and brought it home as a last minute gift or if we're being honest, mostly in case I lost my first copy. It's a 'sad' memoir written in a way that is sad without being depressing or having an air of complaint. For someone with a childhood so similar to the author's, this is sort of my soul story. I really can't share more for fear of ruining it for any of you, so use take my word and put it on your list of books to read this year.

Real Food by Nina Planck: I'm a food lover and a food book junkie, which means I've read a lot of similar books and this is my favorite by far. It's packed full of information and basically takes the common sense road to eating healthy, which is eat real food like grass fed meats, raw milk, free range eggs, etc. It is dense in scientific studies and jargon, but Planck does her best to put it all in terms that normal readers can understand. This book made our family do a complete diet overhaul and I recommend it to everyone who asks why we eat the way we do.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain: Oftentimes, I am more interested in reading a book once I learn a little about the life of the author. 'The Paris Wife' is the story of Ernest Hemingway's romance with his 'Paris wife,' Hadley. After reading it, I wanted to devour everything of Hemingway's. I was at a loss for words after finishing this book. I can't explain how beautiful a novel this is. I loved it all, every page, every line. This is one of the best books I've ever read.



Farm City by Novella Carpenter: Like I said, I'm a food book junkie and this sort of falls into the 'food book' realm. Immediately after finishing it, I passed to Alex and told him he had to make time to read it too. You see, we've always talked about sustainable gardening and how much we would love to own a small bit of land and sell at a farmer's market one day - but we are too in love with the city to ever move far away from one. This is a memoir of one woman who felt the same way, so she decided to start farming in an abandoned lot beside her apartment. The results are hilariously entertaining, charming, and unforgettable. You won't be able to put it down.

Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman: I think I enjoyed this book so much for two reasons  - it resembled a memoir in that there were stories of living in France scattered in the parenting tips, and the parenting advice that was given was very 'common sense' kind of advice, sort of like talking with an older wiser woman who has already raised kids and all she's really doing is giving you the confidence to follow what you already know. The part about sleep habits was especially helpful since I swear, my lack of sleep turned me into a completely different person the first year of Ev's life. She didn't sleep through the night until she was 14 months old, and I can't say that what I learned in this book was the secret, but it gave me the confidence to face it all head on without fearing I was going to permanently damage her by letting her cry a bit at night. If you're looking for an enjoyable and entertaining parenting book to read, this is it. (I'm currently reading 'French Kids Eat Everything,' which is similar, and I also recommend it for anyone interested in avoiding or combatting a picky eater.)

The Help by Kathryn Stockett: This book and I almost never met, and that would have been a tragedy. It's no secret that this book exists - it experienced a lot of hype when it was released. I went into 'The Help' with low expectations - It sounds so pretentious of me, but I shy away from the trendy books because I usually come out disappointed and wondering what all the hype was about. It was not so with this book. I deep belly laughed. I cried. I was glued to each page. Alex wondered how I could read a book so incredibly fast. I devoured this book and wandered around in a haze the day after I had finished it, at a loss as to what to do with my extra time now. This is not your average civil rights movement novel. It is full of humor and trust and love, and is a compulsively readable, heartwarming story. If you've been avoiding it because you too are turned off by the trendy novels that become movies, just read the first chapter. You'll regret having put it off for as long as you have.

One and Only by Lauren Sandler: Alex and I have struggled with the decision to have another child for months and months, since Ev was just a few weeks old it seems like. It became such a heart wrenching, emotionally draining thought for me, so I had to do something. I did what any nerd does and I set out in search of a book on the topic. I didn't expect a lot out of this book considering the topic it was written about. I wasn't sure how one could go about making the topic of only children interesting, but Lauren Sandler did it. I found myself nodding my head in agreement, reading passages out loud to Alex, and legitimately interested in the scientific studies and statistics she presented. All in all, we still have not come to a conclusion in our decision, but this book did bring to light a huge stigma in our society and has given me a different perspective from which to think about raising an only child. In my opinion, any and everyone should read this book even if you have no interest in having an only child, just to bring some perspective into your life and to be able to relate to only children better. The societal stigma of only children needs to be broken whether one child or fifty children are right for you. 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer: Reading this book was a strange journey for me. I can usually tell whether a book will be a favorite within the first few chapters, sometimes within the first few pages. I hadn't decided what I definitively thought about it until I had come to the last half. It's a funny thing, because it wasn't because I didn't enjoy the book. It's just such a unique story that it took me a while to process it and connect with the characters. At the end of the book; however, I was sure that I would remember this story for the rest of my life. This is such a lovely book. It was captivating and heartwarming and all the things I look for in a good story. Don't let the long title fool you - this is anything but a complicated, long, or awkward to read kind of story.

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne: When I was pregnant with Ev, I was a childbirth book reading maniac. This was partially beneficial in that it gave me the confidence to approach childbirth with courage, but at the same time, I had a really quick labor and hardly had the time to think about using anything I had read. Whereas, when I was up all hours of the night with a newborn, I had a lot of time to think and what I thought about most was how I wish I had read more about parenting a baby and toddler. Since then I have set out reading quite a few parenting books and I have to say 'Simplicity Parenting' is a favorite, if not the single book I would recommend to any parent if had to choose just one. It is sensible, inspiring, and encouraging. It basically takes the stand of 'less is more' with everything in life, but especially with children and parenting. It brought the stages that Ev has been in/is in now to a whole new light.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: I have to say, I had mixed feelings about this book until I came to the end. I really have no idea how one, this woman has any friends and two, hasn't committed suicide yet. She talks about plenty of her 'writer friends,' then goes on to bash them or condone stealing their ideas. She at one point says that she deliberately stopped talking to a woman because she became successful and her ego couldn't take it. These things are said with air of humor, but I found them tacky and her underlying tone to be self-pity. Regardless of those two things, I managed to get something out of this book. Dare I say, some of her words will resonate with me throughout my life and career. It's funny how that can happen - you can love everything that is being said, but dislike the person who is saying it. If you have a dream of writing professionally, this is sort of a must read on the topic.

I have a similar post in the works about the books I plan on reading this year - what are some of your favorites? What books are on your list for the year?


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