In the year 2013: top five books I read this year.
I read 38 books this year; nearly 10,000 pages. Here are 5 that stood out (in no particular order):
Just Kids by Patti Smith.
I love memoir/autobiography. To me this book really captures what I imagine life in New York City was like when Patti Smith was young. It captures youth, resilience, and friendship.
Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman
I read the book before I watched the TV show. Both are great. What I like about the book is the commentary and sociological context she provides to her experience. The author also does an OK job acknowledging her privilege too.
Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus
I enjoyed this book for several reasons. One, it exposed to me this movement that was just out of my reach in the 90s, having grown up in a conservative environment. I knew of this movement, but was never able to engage with it. I think the 90s me would have appreciated this exposure to feminism. Better late than never, I guess.
What We Talk about When We Talk about God by Rob Bell
Rob Bell keeps me hanging on to a spiritual life. I love his honesty, theological humility, and logic.
If Sedaris writes something, I read it and I love it. Then I listen to it; his audio delivery is truly brilliant. He also wrote a beautiful essay in the New Yorker this year, which I mention here.
And, yes, I realize none of these books are novels or fiction. I DID, in fact, read some good fiction this year, but they didn’t crack the top five. Maybe next year. Despite what this list indicates, this year was perhaps my most diverse reading year in terms of genre. You can see the full list here.
I discovered David Sedaris in my friend Annie’s tiny apartment in Paris during my freshman year of college. We would huddle around a boombox and listen to Me Talk Pretty One Day on a cassette tape. Annie and I were two Americans living in France (me for one year, her for three), trying to learn French and this book on tape opened a new world for me. It resonated so strongly for us Americans, struggling to learn a language and adapt to and understand a culture we loved. it exposed me to a brilliant writer and humorist, David Sedaris. I’ve been reading and listening to his work ever since.
Recently he had an essay published in The New Yorker about his sister Tiffany’s death earlier this year. This essay is so beautifully written and hits notes of sadness, grief, and humor so well. Read it, friends.
“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”— -Susan B. Anthony
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
"I don’t know why the Holocaust happened or why that young girl was abducted or why that uncle got a brain tumor. And neither do you. None of us does. And anybody who can tell you why God decided to come here and act in one instance but not another should not be trusted."
-Rob Bell, What We Talk About When We Talk About God
“And we will be ready, at the end of every day will be ready, will not say no to anything, will try to stay awake while everyone is sleeping, will not sleep, will make the shoes with the elves, will breathe deeply all the time, breathe in all the air full of glass and nails and blood, will breathe it and drink it, so rich, so when it comes we will not be angry, will be content, tired enough to go, gratefully, will shake hands with everyone, bye, bye, and then pack a bag, some snacks, and go to the volcano.”—Dave Eggers, from A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.
my first week as a public librarian is wrapping up and I would summarize it by quoting the following line from the movie Elf: "This place reminds me of Santa’s workshop. Except it smells like mushrooms, and everyone looks like they wanna hurt me."
“A historical property has morals and ethics of the society that created it and it can be revived. What I mean is that we can discover new possibilities from the process of dismantling, transforming, and recreating.”—
“[The ‘spiritual but not religious’] are the ones who are happy to accept the continuing beauty and mystery of life, without it needing to be tied down and exhausted by belief in God.”—Kester Brewin (via iamstillrobdavis)
"I no longer ask You for either happiness or paradise; all I ask of You is to listen and let me be aware and worthy of Your listening.
I no longer ask You to resolve my questions, only to receive them and make them part of You.
I no longer ask You for either rest or wisdom, I only ask You not to close me to gratitude, be it of the most trivial kind, or to surprise and friendship. Love? Love is not Yours to give.
As for my enemies, I do not ask You to punish them or even to enlighten them; I only ask You not to lend them Your mask and Your powers. If You must relinquish one or the other, give them Your powers, but not Your countenance.
They are modest, my prayers, and humble. I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.
I ask You, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me. God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.
I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only implore You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.”
from Piers Anthony’s author’s notes in his book FractalMode
"One thing you who had secure or happy childhoods should understand about those of us who did not, we who control our feelings, who avoid conflicts at all costs or seem to seek them, who are hypersensitive, self-critical, compulsive, workaholic, and above all survivors, we’re not that way from perversity. And we cannot just relax and let it go. We’ve learned to cope in ways you never had to."
I will never be a brain surgeon, and I will never play the piano like Glenn Gould.
But what keeps me up late at night, and constantly gives me reason to fret, is this: I don’t know what I don’t know. There are universes of things out there — ideas, philosophies, songs, subtleties, facts, emotions — that exist but of which I am totally and thoroughly unaware. This makes me very uncomfortable. I find that the only way to find out the fuller extent of what I don’t know is for someone to tell me, teach me or show me, and then open my eyes to this bit of information, knowledge, or life experience that I, sadly, never before considered.
Afterward, I find something odd happens. I find what I have just learned is suddenly everywhere: on billboards or in the newspaper or SMACK: Right in front of me, and I can’t help but shake my head and speculate how and why I never saw or knew this particular thing before. And I begin to wonder if I could be any different, smarter, or more interesting had I discovered it when everyone else in the world found out about this particular obvious thing. I have been thinking a lot about these first discoveries and also those chance encounters: those elusive happenstances that often lead to defining moments in our lives.
I once read that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I fundamentally disagree with this idea. I think that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of hope. We might keep making mistakes but the struggle gives us a sense of empathy and connectivity that we would not experience otherwise. I believe this empathy improves our ability to see the unseen and better know the unknown.
Lives are shaped by chance encounters and by discovering things that we don’t know that we don’t know. The arc of a life is a circuitous one. … In the grand scheme of things, everything we do is an experiment, the outcome of which is unknown.
You never know when a typical life will be anything but, and you won’t know if you are rewriting history, or rewriting the future, until the writing is complete.
“Like all culture, literature is a matter of directing the will inward, to create an inner life; this was a necessity for most of human history, when the conditions of outer life could not be changed.”—
“The ironic frame functions as a shield against criticism. The same goes for ironic living. Irony is the most self-defensive mode, as it allows a person to dodge responsibility for his or her choices, aesthetic and otherwise. To live ironically is to hide in public. It is flagrantly indirect, a form of subterfuge, which means etymologically to “secretly flee” (subter + fuge). Somehow, directness has become unbearable to us.
Ironic living is a first-world problem. For the relatively well educated and financially secure, irony functions as a kind of credit card you never have to pay back. In other words, the hipster can frivolously invest in sham social capital without ever paying back one sincere dime.”—