Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Often nowadays, the young adult genre disappoints me more than it thrills me because the older I get, the less I relate to the plot lines, characters, and conflicts. However, every now and then, I’ll read a real winner that is not only entertaining and written well, but that also speaks to both youth and adults. That’s what Wonder was for me–totally readable, great for all ages, and with a really powerful message at its core about learning to look beyond the outward appearance. Wonder is the story of a boy with a rare facial deformity who learns to rise above the judgmental stares and cruelty through the power of friendship and self-acceptance, and it’s a message that deserves to be shared.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Chances are pretty good you’ve heard of this book, as it seems to be making its rounds through the blogosphere and Internet in general. Being the sucker for minimalism and simple living that I am, I didn’t want to put a hold on it at the local library (after learning that over 40 people had gotten there before me), so I snatched up my own copy and proceeded to meander my way through it over the course of about a month. While many of the methods Kondo mentions for tidying up your home are not new, her quirky ideas about the relationship between objects and people are.
Basically, the two biggest takeaways I got from this book are that 1) I should only keep objects that bring me joy, and 2) once I’ve really tidied my home (aka, gotten rid of anything that doesn’t bring me joy), I don’t need to do it again. In other words, this book is mindset-changing: instead of suggesting that you conquer your clutter a little bit each day (as most people suggest), Kondo suggests that you do a massive “tidy” over the course of about 6 months and get rid of most of your stuff, then use her organizational system for the rest. Having taken a year to massively pare down our belongings back in 2013, I can say from personal experience that she has a point about the whole “only needing to really tidy once” idea. Anyway, if you’re looking for motivation to overhaul your physical space, check this one out.
Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
This book was a total surprise for me–I usually only read stuff that’s on multiple recommended reading lists or being talked about by seemingly everyone in America, but I picked up this book after one mention of it on this blog, and I’m so glad I did. Garlic and Sapphires is a memoir written by famous food critic Ruth Reichl about her experiences “going undercover” to get the real food story at restaurants. Basically, one day Reichl realized that duh, restaurants were going to bend over backwards to try and please her and pull out all the stops because she was one of the top food critics in the nation. She decided that she wanted to get more of the “real” story of the restaurants she was critiquing, so she goes undercover in all these disguises under all these different identities to try and figure out which restaurants really are worth getting into (even as an average joe), and which aren’t. Hilarious, thrilling, and with the most scrumptious descriptions of food imaginable, Garlic and Sapphires is a fun read that will make you want to eat every time you pick it up.
Honorable Mentions (books I’ve read this year that are worth reading but don’t get me quite as excited as the 3 titles above):
– The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan (I’ve always been a sucker for Chinese American writers)
– The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi (a young adult classic)
– The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (another YA read, and one of the most unusual books I’ve ever come across)
– The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (surprisingly accessible for a classic, even if the ending shocked me a bit with its abruptness)
– Living With Less by Joshua Becker (another simple living book, this one by one of my favorite bloggers)
In addition to the titles above, there are some other books I’ve read this year that I’d recommend to certain people, with caveats attached. Here are a few of those:
This Pulitzer-Prize winner from last year has some of the most stunning writing I’ve ever come across, not to mention a pretty compelling plot line (a museum bombing kills the mother of a thirteen-year-old boy, who walks away from the bombing with one of his mother’s favorite paintings from one of the exhibits–a 17th century masterpiece of a goldfinch–under his arm). This book has been all I can think about for weeks now, and I finally finished it last night. If we were just looking at the gorgeousness of the writing or the fascinating storyline, I would recommend this book to anyone I know who is not afraid of almost-800-page novels. However, based on the fact that this book liberally drops the F-bomb throughout (we’re talking a few hundred times, probably), I can’t shout about this book from the rooftops like I want to. But if you can look past the strong language used by certain characters, this book is a real masterpiece.
My Life in France by Julia Child
After the success that was Garlic and Sapphires, I eagerly searched out more foodie books to feed my newfound obsession with all things memoir and eating, and since this was recommended by the same blog that recommended the other, I figured I’d give it a shot. While I loved certain sections of this book (like Child’s first cooking lessons in Paris and all the photographs taken by her husband), there were other parts that dragged by pretty slowly. My enjoyment of the book was heightened though by the fact that I love the movie Julie & Julia (although not the book by the same title, surprisingly enough), and it was fascinating for me to get a more in-depth look at Julia’s Paris years. So, if you’re a Julia aficionado or a lover of all things Paris or foodie-culture, this is probably a book you’ll (mostly) enjoy. For everyone else, it’s probably a little too slow to whet your appetite.
If you’re looking for masterful writing or an un-put-down-able read, this book is not for you. However, I include it on the list because I found it greatly inspiring. I Dare Me is about Cahn’s year-long journey to try a new thing every single day in order to pull herself out of a midlife crisis. While some of her experiences are much more interesting than others and while I did have to force myself to push through the last couple sections, I have thought about this book often since reading it. Reading about Cahn’s experiences (and the research she included on the power of novelty in our lives) could be just the jumpstart you need if you’re looking to take a new direction in life–I know it has prompted me a good number of times to try out the unknown instead of going with the tried-and-true.
Honorable Mentions (other books that were good but that I wouldn’t recommend for everyone):
– Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (great if you’re into fantasy)
– Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You by Sam Gosling (promising premise for a nonfiction book, but it’s pretty dense with psychological studies and doesn’t include any pictures for reference)
– The View From Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg (although this YA read is well-written and has a makes-you-think ending, its slow pace is not for everyone)
And there you go! That covers pretty much every book I’ve read this year (except The Red Badge of Courage, which was sloooooooow and circular and not at all to my taste). Hope you found a title or two to interest you!
Now, if you have any recommendations on what I should read next, I’m all ears!