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."