My Holiday Book Picks

IMG_4883I’ve had a number of people ask me for book recommendations lately. Maybe it’s because I’m a loud advocate for books I love, or because I recently started another book club (yay!), or because – best case scenario – I have good taste in books? I would like to think so, but then again books are very personal things.

I’ve been painfully at a loss for what to write this last month. I think posting several essays I was passionate about in October took a lot out of me, and I’ve needed a few weeks to just mull life over, eat turkey and wait for inspiration to strike.

I’m feeling inspired to recommend books I love. After all, it’s December, which means you’re either looking for good gift ideas or will soon be lying around on the couch with extra time to kill. Either way, maybe you’ll fall in love with one of these titles, too…

DISCLAIMER – I don’t claim to run an extraordinarily diverse gamut in what I read. I will be the first to acknowledge these are largely mainstream, popular best-sellers. But I love them nonetheless, and apparently a lot of other people do, too. You won’t find much sci-fi here, or historical fiction, or deep philosophical musings. What you WILL find are compelling stories that made me laugh or cry, made me more tolerant and embracing, or softened my heart – stories about people, about morality, passion, love, loss, friendship, family, identity, bravery and adventure.

MY TOP 10 NON-FICTION PICKS:

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

This was the first book my new book club read. I challenge anyone not to find an honest piece of themselves in Cheryl’s story, her emotional journey arguably even more grueling than the physical one she tackles over months alone on the Pacific Crest Trail. I laughed, I winced in pain (That backpack! Those SHOES!!), shook my head at her utter unpreparedness, and ultimately cheered her across the finish line, into the brand new life that awaited her. Be one of the cool ones who reads it before it hits theatres this month.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

I have not eaten at McDonald’s since reading this book. I usually don’t read things this meaty (no pun intended..) and academic, but I bow to Michael Pollan’s exhaustive research and learned so much from this absorbing read. I will never think of a corn farmer, home-cooked dinner, or fast food meal the same again.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

This was the “love it or hate it” parenting book of 2012 and was nothing if not controversial. Personally, I loved it. NOT because I necessarily agree with it, or strive to follow the uber-strict parenting it endorses (Teenage piano recital at Carnegie Hall? Check. Fun sleepover at a friend’s house, ever? Definitely not check.). But because this book showed me I must be growing up – I could appreciate, respect, and even find joy in reading – someone’s story and logic that is very, very different from my own. I loved Amy Chua’s honesty – sometimes self-deprecating, sometimes unapologetic.  She reminded me that no matter how different our practices or philosophies may be, she’s just another parent, doing the best she knows how, with her kids’ best interests at heart.

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

An oldie but a goodie. Old man, young man. One dying with few regrets, one living with many. Aha moments and tears abound…

Audition by Barbara Walters

I have always had a career-woman crush on Barbara Walters. I would give up stay-at-home-mom’ing to be her. Anderson would understand. This memoir, her life, the obstacles she’s overcome, the glass ceilings she’s shattered, the people she’s interviewed and opened up to the world that was watching – are all nothing short of fascinating to me.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Written as a loose and gentle ‘instruction guide’ for aspiring writers – Lamott’s words are universal and meant to be applied to the art of living, too.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

I didn’t know anyone’s childhood could be quite this crazy until I stepped into that of Jeannette Walls. I remember reading this book by the pool on a weekend in Arizona last winter, and I kept nudging or waking up Aaron to read him passages – it was simply too outrageous to keep to myself. I found a lot of correlations between Walls and Cheryl Strayed in their childhoods (and the extent to which they overcame them), and raw, eyebrow-raising, deadpan writing styles. Highly recommend both, but have to say this is the stronger book.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Did anyone not take this indulgent, invigorating and enriching self-discovery trip around the world back in 2007? Good. Just checking.

Quiet by Susan Cain

The full title is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.

Aaron says I’m obsessed with framing people and life through the lens of “introvert” and “extrovert.” This book fueled that obsession, and gently taught me so much about the importance of those quiet moments in my own life, and those quiet people around me. Also exhaustively researched with footnotes that could be a book of their own…rivals Michael Pollan.

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

A challenge to live your life for the approval of your truest self – not your neighbors, not the other moms at preschools, not your parents, not your friends. An in-depth look at why we do the things we do, and the freedom to embrace our messy, scary imperfections and stand proud nonetheless.

 

MY TOP 10 FICTION PICKS

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

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Best book I’ve read in at least five years, and possibly ever. My dear friend Jodi gave it to me, and wow – what a gift! No exaggeration – I cried in the fetal position on the couch as I suffered through the last few pages (in the best way possible), and posted these thoughts upon finishing it:

“So if you’re looking for a good book to read…. For the last 5+ years I would have said my favorite book was The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst. Well, last night I think it was de-throned by Me Before You by the amazing Jojo Moyes. I was inspired, uplifted, brought to laughter and tears, heartbroken then made whole again over the nine days I read this book… I will treasure this story forever.”

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Sue Monk Kidd has an extraordinary gift for descriptive writing – she paints the most beautiful landscapes (both physical and emotional) with her words. The Secret Life of Bees is a beautiful, magical story of finding unconditional love in unexpected places and, finally, learning to love oneself. Bees serve as a perfect metaphor for leadership, community and loss throught the story. I am a more centered and awestruck person after reading this book.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

This book makes my top 10 based purely on the beauty of Guterson’s writing. I’ve never read an author quite as gifted at painting a landscape with words. This book was a major, award-winning hit for Guterson, who was a high school teacher on Bainbridge Island (and still lives there at last check) when he spent his mornings before work writing it. An elegant masterpiece from a true wordsmith.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

A rich and raw tapestry of stories grappling with pain, poverty, strength of survival and unrequited love. Yet through it all, forgiveness, grace, the unlikely formation of family, and second chances.

“She say, Celie, tell the truth, have you ever found God in church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did, too. They come to church to share God, not find God.” – p. 165

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

I read a lot as a kid, then not so much as an adolescent and teen, sadly, when I largely equated reading with the burden of homework. In my early twenties I reignited my love of reading FOR ME – and this is one of the first books that met me there. Jodi Picoult is also the auther who most inspired me to start writing again, as I emailed her and she responded about six years ago, and I began my own novel, which remains unfinished…

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

The first half of this book was BRUTALLY hard to read. It’s about the truly unimaginable, don’t-get-me-started horror of the Holocaust. It’s really hard for me to go to that place. But sometimes, I believe hard=important. This was one of those books.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

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I just finished this book last month. It circles around one of my favorite themes in books – an impossible “What would I do?” moral dilemma involving young love in the isolated life of a lighthouse’s island, a baby, and a really devastating secret. And it brings you to the 1920s in Australia with all the cultural implications of that place and time.

The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst

This was my favorite book for years until Me Before You came along. The writing is at once beautiful, heartwrenching, approachable and mysterious. The true test of this book’s integrity is Parkhurst’s ability to take a subject matter that demands great skepticism – and around it weave such a powerful story that the reader is willing to suspend disbelief and embrace the greater truths this novel delivers. The writing is moving yet whimsical, the plot twists clever and creative, and the emotion raw and real.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Most similar to Me Before You in tone, tenderness and volume of tears shedA YA novel for all ages, you’ll fall in love with these brilliant, stubborn, lovelorn teenagers.

“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep; slowly and then all at once.” – p. 124

The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard

This was a true-pager from the get-go for me; I read hours in the first sitting. Another story of impossible choices, and how life as we know it can change in an instant.

On my to-read list..

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon

The Tipping Point – or anything else by Malcolm Gladwell

HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND HAPPY READING, EVERYONE!!!

PS – I’m proud that my child is such a little bookworm…. This photo is not staged, I swear!

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PPS – Thanksgiving weekend just marked 2 years of my writing this blog. I must say I’m pleasantly proud and marginally surprised I’ve stuck with it this long. I’ve grown from the platform this has given me to become a more disciplined writer, and am so thankful for everyone who has been my cheerleader, shared this blog with friends, and otherwise made me feel supported.  I probably wouldn’t keep doing it if I didn’t think anyone cared… SO THANK YOU!!

2 responses

  1. I keep hearing about Me Before You, so that is now on my “to read” list. We are reading The Tipping Point for our next book group. My husband LOVED his David & Goliath book. Have you read Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger? It may be my favorite book ever. I love reading other peoples book suggestions so thanks!

  2. @nouveauchapeau – thanks for reading! No I haven’t heard of Peace Like a River – thanks for the recommendation. I have heard rave reviews about David & Goliath, too.

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