When I was in eighth grade, my brothers got to participate in Book It. If they each read five books, they would receive a coupon for a personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut. This was a reading incentive program not something my parents dreamed up though it would have been amazing if they had. I was too old to participate, a great disappointment to both the competitor and reader in me. So this year, I made my own. After adjusting for life with a toddler, I decided to set a goal of reading 52 books in 2013. And while there was no personal pan pizza waiting for me, I am proud to say I did it anyway. Here are the last books I read in 2013, ranked by my personal preferences. I have some thoughts about my reading project that I will try to share next week or the following. But here are the books and my thoughts on them.
Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jaime Ford- What I originally thought was a romance turned out to be a coming of age story of a Chinese boy living in Seattle during World War II. His best friend is Japanese and is sent to an internment camp. Alternating between his life during the war and present day, we get to see and imagine what might have been.
Mrs. Buncle’s Book and Mrs. Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson- These charming books were originally published in 1936 and tell the story of Barbara Buncle, a secret author who must remain secret because she has written about the people of her town, Silverstream, and they are furious. A terrific look at life in small English villages with excellent social commentary.
When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris- in case it is not obvious to anyone else, Sedaris is far and away the treasure I discovered in 2013. His stories are laugh-out-loud funny and his wit and sarcasm make me love him. This book is mostly about quitting smoking and living in Japan but was still incredible relatable and readable.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett- I confess to not knowing much (read: anything) about pharmaceutical research protocols but I loved this story of a woman trapped between two worlds, her lab in Boston and the research of her mentor in the Amazon rainforest. Compelling from beginning to end.
The Paris Wife by Paula Mclain- Historical fiction about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Katie. Great details about his writing process and their life in Paris. As you can imagine, not the most uplifting book I read this year but really well written.
Monuments Men by Robert Edsel- I had higher hopes for this book which got a little slow in places. The story was fascinating- a group of men sent to Europe to find stolen and hidden artwork as the Third Reich fell.
Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson- Somehow I missed this on the eighth grade reading list but I think I appreciated it more now than I would have back then. As someone who regularly struggled with self-comparison to anyone but especially a talented sibling (or three), this book was almost haunting. It brought up emotions and memories I had not experience in years. Great Young Adult novel that is profound at any age.
The Happiest Toddler on the Block by Harvey Karp- I enjoyed his book about babies so I thought I would read the one about toddlers. His main piece of advice is to remember toddlers brains are not developed like ours. We need to treat them like little cave men- speak slowly, use small words, etc. I felt like that was obvious but as I see more and more parents attempting to rationalize their actions to their two year olds, it might not be as obvious as I think.
Lady Windemere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde- A play about upper class Londoners in the 1890s, I found myself really enjoying the characters and the case of mistaken or hidden identity at the center of the play. Many of Wilde’s famous quotes come from this play. “I can resist anything except tempation.”
Sycamore Row by John Grisham- As gripping as a typical John Grisham, it was not his best. That I would save for Pelican Brief or The Chamber but Sycamore Row was easy enough to get into and interesting enough to read in a day.
King and Maxwell by David Baldacci- Not going to lie, I read this one mostly because I love the “Will they or won’t they fall in love” aspect of these stories. The actual case was pretty interesting though the writing is campy per usual.
The last four books I read in 2013 were the first four Narnia novels by C.S. Lewis. I try to read them every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. They are heartwarming, wise and profound while still remaining easy for anyone over ten to read. I find a new gem each time I read them and this year was no exception. “Take courage dear heart.”