Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Top 10 Books I Read in 2012

In 2012, I didn't read as much as I would like to, but isn't that always the case?  I fell off the reading bandwagon for a bit in the summer months after HP was born (no surprise there).  I am hoping 2013 will be a year of books for me.  When I am reading, I feel more like myself.  I need to remember that watching television generally doesn't make me feel good about how I spend my time and make reading a priority.

I have a horrible problem where I struggle to remember books just a few months after I read them.  I don't mean I struggle to remember the titles of what I read (though that's also true), but I can't even recall the basic plot lines of books.  On the one hand, it's great, because if I enjoy a book I can pick it up again the next year and it's like I'm reading it for the first time.  On the other hand, I've been in many situations where I try to explain something I read in a book, only to discover--much to my dismay--that key facts are no longer in my grasp.  Two years ago I started writing down the books I read each year, with stars next to my favorites so I can come back to them again and again.  In the last few months I've started jotting down notes and favorite quotes from each book to aid my leaky memory.  So here are the ten books that garnered the most stars in 2012, in order of when I read them:

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Beautiful writing, beautiful story.  This was one of those books where I just drank in the prose and wanted to slow down to better savor every word.   There are many novels written about Germany in the years leading up to, and during WWII, but The Book Thief, narrated by Death, has to be one of the best. 

The Dirty Life  by Kristen Kimball
Oh, how I wished I lived down the street from this farm so I could abandon the grocery store and get all of our food from their lovely operation.  This book chronicles the start of Essex Farm as Kimball and her husband pioneer a new way to envision local food.  Instead of a CSA (community supported agriculture) where members  purchase a weekly share of food, members pay a set amount for the year and then can take as much produce, meat, dairy, and eggs as they can eat.  I love the concept and hope it spreads.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
I had been avoiding reading this book because I was intimidated by both its length and subject.  Once I started, I could not stop reading.  Hillenbrand describes the Louis Zamperini's experience in the Pacific during WWII, first as a fighter pilot, then as a prisoner of war.  I learned more from this book about the Pacific Theater than from any history class I've taken.  A well-written, important work.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Neil and I listened to this book on our trip to New Mexico in the spring. I liked it so much in audio form that I listened to the next two while painting the house.  The books are narrated by Flavia de Luce, an 11 year-old aspiring chemist and sleuth in post-WWII England.  A lovely, light read.

The Color of Atmosphere: One doctor's journey in and out of medicine by Maggie Kozol
So fascinating.  A pediatrician describes her experience first as a doctor in the armed services, then in a private practice.  Ultimately, she decides to leave the profession.  This book gave me new insight into our medical system.  It's no secret that I am not a fan of health insurance, and this book showed their evils shortcomings from the doctor's perspective.

Maybe One by Bill McKibbon
McKibbon, the founder of 350.org, makes the argument for having fewer children.  I wrote a whole post on my thoughts on this book last summer.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
If I had to pick a favorite of my favorites, this one might be it.  The whole time I was reading I kept nodding along and exclaiming, "Yes, yes, YES!"  We live in an extroverted world and as an introvert, it was a refreshing read.  Introversion produces results that are different, and sometimes (dare I say) better, than what extroversion yields.  I found myself especially interested in Cain's description of how our society caters to extroverts.  Something both powerful and important is being lost when we do not create spaces for introverts to flourish in our schools, workplaces, and families.  A must read.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
This was the first book I read after HP was born, and drew me back into reading for pleasure after a month-long hiatus.  It is a beautifully written story of twin boys born to an Indian nun in Ethiopia.  It follows them--and their complicated family--from India, to Africa, to America, and back again.  Verghese tackles wide-ranging concepts with ease, from Ethiopia struggling to find its post-colonial identity to the inequality inherent in the American medical system.  

Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman
Duckerman, an expat living in Paris, compares and contrasts the French and American styles of parenting.  I loved the practical, well-balanced perspective the French bring to their child-rearing.  Much of it resonated with how I was raised and how I am trying to raise HP.  Now if only HP could have slept through the night at two-months like all the French children...

I have to admit that this book was a little on the scary side for me.  What can I say?  I'm a wimp!  Even so, I was engrossed in the story and look forward to the sequel.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Neil and I both flew through this one near the end of the year.  The two main characters are involved in a magical competition set in a circus.  Fantastical things happen, but I felt invested in the outcome (which isn't always the case for me).  I was transported into their world, but it still felt like my own.  Magical realism at its best.

And yes, I realize there are actually eleven books on the list instead of ten.  I just couldn't pick one to cut out.  Hopefully 2013 will also be filled with interesting, engaging books.

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