Growing up, I didn’t really identify as a “reader”. I wasn’t one of those kids who snuck books under their desk and didn’t really listen while the teacher was talking, or who read all 7 Harry Potters in 2nd grade (my sister Hanna who was two years younger than me did, and I never read them all until 8th grade). I was never really above grade level with reading, and I HATED the reading logs I had to take home to fill out and bring back to school that forced me to read 20 minutes a day.
I always liked the idea of being a reader though. It sounded enchanting and romantic and smart, like a beautiful thing to identify with. I watched as we went to the public library and my dad would get lost in the shelves. It seemed like there was something magical I was missing out on. But it just wasn’t me. Yet.
Then when I graduated from college my evenings magically opened up. I didn’t have piles of homework to do, and after I got better at teaching and reduced working hours I no longer had piles of lesson planning either. My husband was still in school though, so I had to find a way to keep busy while he was in the lab or doing assignments, and scrolling through Facebook was making me feel like crap.
So- I decided it was time to pull out some books and try reading for pleasure once again.
But this time I was going to do it different. I wasn’t going to read for a certain amount of time or a certain amount of pages or a certain genre or topic. I was going to read what I was interested in, and then stop as soon as I lost interest. Halfway through a book and bored? No problem- ditch it.
And reading became SO MUCH FUN.
The first year I discovered how much I loved reading at the end of the day to help me fall asleep. I mostly read religious/historical texts.
The second year I discovered how fun it is to read in the bath with bath salts. And I started reading more mainstream literature that I actually feel comfortable recommending to the general populace. :D
So here’s a list of my FAVORITES from this year that I recommend to you! They’re all a little different, but you’ll quickly discover a theme in what I’m interested in- history, social justice, biographies, understanding groups of people I don’t have that much exposure to, and just a tinge of self help every once in a while.
Of course this isn’t everything I read this year. Just the best ones.
1. Becoming by Michelle Obama
Before reading this I didn’t realize how little I knew about both black women in America in general and also the Obama administration, both of which felt shameful to me after reading. I mean, I graduated high school and went to college under Obama and still had pretty much zero idea what was going on except that Michelle Obama “ruined” school lunches and vending machines and that Obama “ruined” the healthcare system. I think both those earlier perceptions were heavily influenced by the fact that I was a kid in school consuming lunches I didn’t like, a student teacher watching students eat school lunch they didn’t like, a nursing intern listening to nurses adjust to Obamacare in hospitals, and a college student with a tax problem with healthcare where we ended up having to pay extra taxes because we didn’t have qualifying healthcare. And in all of those places my mentors were from far right conservative, small-town, religious backgrounds. It felt weird to feel like I’d never considered or respected the other side of those issues or that the administration made some huge leaps forward in many ways for America.
Some of my favorite quotes-
“Keep a strong vision of the world as it could be, rather than staying focused on the world as it is.”
“This is what a control freak learned inside the compressed world of college, maybe above all else: There are simply other ways of being.”
“Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result. It’s vulnerability that breeds with self-doubt and then is escalated, often deliberately, by fear.”
2. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Before I read this all I knew about it was that it was really famous and Abraham Lincoln credited it with starting the Civil War. Any book that’s really famous in history usually gives me the illusion of being so great I just have to read it because the idea of appreciating something so important in history sounds romantic, and then it usually turns out being as boring as mud (i.e. Pride and Prejudice, The Jungle. Couldn’t STAND those ones.) So I was pleasantly surprised when after page 3 I was really pulled into a quick moving, very engaging plot line. Hadn’t found that in 1850s books before. I liked all the slang the author writes with and spells out that helps you hear the southern drawls and black accents.
I think the power of this book is that it’s:
1. Really easy to read and interesting. More like Harry Potter in approachability and less like the Bible or the Constitution.
2. Not out to expose all the worst stories ever about slavery. Yeah, there’s bad stories. There’s also lots of good stories. The story is mostly about two of the best, kindest, most generous and progressive slave owners there were at the time. So, slavery doesn’t seem as bad as you think it would be. It’s not a book full of page after page of whipping and raping like I thought it would be. And yet- that’s the power of the book. If even the best slave owners couldn’t be their best and inevitably still were forced to break up families and make difficult decisions because of a system, then the system itself is broken. Of course slavery is bad at its worst- the whipping and raping. But that’s not what this book said to me. The argument was even more powerful. This book implies that if at its best slavery still inherently stinks, why are we keeping it around?
3. The Historical Figure of Jesus by E. P. Sanders
If you like to believe every single word of the Bible exactly as its written and love that tradition so much that you aren’t interested in considering how those words came to be on that page or that they may have actually originally been slightly different words with slightly different meanings, that’s totally fine! That’s fine to be that way- I respect you. If that’s you, this book might not be for you.
I have recently been super interested in the historical Jesus. Probably because 1- Religious history is my new huge interest, 2- My very faithful uncle invited me to read this book with him, and 3- We went to Israel last year and saw many holy sites, about half of which were not what I expected them to be, which got me thinking about faith tradition versus real history. This book does a really great job at sticking to the history and making space for any and all historical nuance (we don’t really know who wrote the gospels), historical error (like that Jesus wasn’t born in the year 0 BC), while still giving credit to people’s experiences and taking them seriously when they say, for example, that they saw Jesus after he was crucified. SO FASCINATING.
4. Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
I read this book because this summer my life and marriage became unmanageable and rather than continuing to try to control or change my husband I started to realize the only person I can really control or take care of at a deep level is myself. This book isn’t for everyone, especially if you are prone to narcisism, taking advantage of other people, etc. This book is for those of us who are prone to self sacrifice, selflessness, or taking care of others at a huge personal cost that can start to become unhealthy. It’s for us wanna be Mother Teresas who are giving to a fault and not taking care of our own health. It’s been life changing for me. I changed a lot after reading it, and I still have a lot more personal work to do. But at least now, when I do things like neglect to go to bed on time or neglect to eat good food or exercise because I am distracted by someone else, I know that my declining health is my fault, and not someone else’s. I have felt enlightened and enpowered. Life has got better since reading this.
5. Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos
This is technically a children’s chapter book. I read these every once in a while to see if they’d be a good fit for my instagram page @outofthebestlittlebooks and website. This one ended up really opening my eyes to the life of foster kids and children with special needs, specifically who have low functioning autism or are nonverbal. This fictional, quick children’s chapter book was meant to entertain, but it ended up changing my perspective on a lot of things. My newest interest is the foster care system- how does it even work and what’s it like to go through it? I’ve been obsessed with asking people about this lately after reading this book. What a crazy system and most of us have no idea how it works or what the kids are going through.
So those have been my favorites!
Have you read any of these? What are your thoughts? What have been your favorite reads this year?