My Favorite Books Of 2013

When offering her book recommendations to me, my friend, Alexis, has told me on more than one occasion, "You would like this type of author, Colleen, she's the type of woman that puts a pot roast in the oven and then grabs her book to read while it's cooking."

To that I say, "Yes, please," because the only type of reading that happens around here is while I'm waiting for the roast or for the dryer to buzz.  When I'm disciplined and resist the lure of the bright blue haze of the Internet (which, really,

WHY

do I waste my time????), my go-to pleasure is a novel and I have them stashed all over the house. 

I have a degree in Psychology and I love people.  People

fascinate

me and stories are almost always about complex people with lots of baggage and pain and good stories are about complex people with lots of baggage and pain who somehow manage to find redemption in a world of struggle. Good stories also can teach you something about life, and love, and God, and humanity. 

So again I say, "Yes, please."

This year and for the first time ever,  I kept a log of all the books I read.  As I reviewed the list, I realized that I wrote about almost all of my favorites on this old blog almost as soon as I finished reading them, so if you are a regular to these parts, some of these may not be new suggestions. 

Here goes...

Best Spiritual Book:

The Practice Of The Presence Of God

The simple words in this book have revolutionized my thoughts about and approach to prayer.  This is a powerful, small treatise.  Highly recommend. 

A favorite quote:

"Let us thus think often that our only business in this life is to please GOD, that perhaps all besides is but folly and vanity.”

Best Fiction:

The Language of Flowers:

I loved this book.  Fast, easy Summer beach read that was also meaningful.  The author had some powerful insights on life as a new mother. 

A favorite quote:

"I believe you can prove everyone wrong, too, Victoria. Your behavior is a choice; it isn't who you are.” 
“Anyone can grow into something beautiful.” 

Best Classic Novel:

Les Miserables

Somehow, I had never read or seen a production of the sprawling epic, Les Miserables, so the story was completely new to me.  And what a beautiful story it is.  The story itself contains everything:  moral issues, political diatribes, melodrama, history, and love.  Victor Hugo, a genius story teller,  was masterful in his insight into the human person.  I shouldn't have waited so long to befriend this story.  My kids will know it much sooner than I as the Broadway music is already required listening at my house.  (After I finished the book, my aunt kindly slipped

this musical version

into the mail for us.  Lovely.)

Best Book On Writing/The Creative Life:

Steal Like An Artist: Ten Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

Here's the thing about books on writing or the creative life:  the tone of the author is either helpful and user

-

friendly or high-handed and condescending.  Kleon's tone is most certainly the former.  This quick, easy guidebook inspired me to make several resolutions and to work on cultivating creativity everyday.  High recommend this little manual.

A few favorite quotes:

“Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use – do the work you want to see done.” 
“Creative people need time to just sit around and do nothing.” 
“You don’t get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to and you can pick the books you read and you can pick the movies you see. You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences. The German writer Goethe said, "We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.” 

Best Memoir:

My Sisters The Saints

Campbell's book is one of the best spiritual memoirs I've ever read (and is the kind of book I would like to one day write).

It's a blend of her personal narrative about her father's descent into Alzheimer's and Campbell's infertility struggles and coupled with how the stories of six women saints helped her in her suffering: Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Faustina of Poland, Edith Stein of Germany, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Mary of Nazareth.

If you are looking for a good spiritual book that is both edifying but easy to read, this is a terrific pick. 

And:

An Invisible Thread:

The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny

This memoir is about the unlikely friendship between a female business professional and an impoverished young boy.  Stories like these remind me there really are good people in the world and that I want to be one of them.

Funniest Read:

The Year Of Learning Dangerously:  Adventures In Homeschooling

This is an engaging, quick read which details Quinn Cumming's decision to embark upon the unfamiliar territory of homeschooling.   I identified with Cumming's a lot because like her,  when it came time to put the pencil to paper ( ha, ha) and actually educate my own offspring, I felt completely incompetent.

She writes about hiding in her laundry room during her first week of homeschooling:

"I had a rock solid reason to be slumped on the linoleum wheezing into a paper bag.  I had been homeschooling my daughter for two whole days and found myself suddenly, brutally aware of how completely unqualified I was for this assignment.  Here was my child--my one shot at creating a decent, kind, productive member of society--and I was treating her like a goldfish I'd won at a carnival."

 Yes!  Goldfish! 

Exactly.  

"Look at me with my adorable offspring and look at what I can do with them!  Now, blow bubbles, Topher!"

Part of Cumming's foray into homeschooling included investigating the various types of approaches to educating children at home--specifically by attending conferences or speaking to  Radical Unschoolers, Classical educators (which is where I fall), Fundamentalists, and Gothardites.    I particularly loved her honesty about her inability to "glow with delight" over her child.  She had attended a Radical Unschoolers Convention and writes about how different she felt:

"I sensed that none of these women had ever hidden in the laundry room to get away from her child.  I could tell that none of them hated Candy Land.  Not one single person at this entire conference had ever driven past the nearest public school after an especially long week and heard the low, dangerous voice say, "You know we don't have to homeschool.  Legally, they have to take her.  I could just leave her here."  I was a horrible teacher and a thoughtless mother.  And Alice would never taste a really fresh egg."

(Because almost all the homeschoolers she met raised their own chickens...yes, yes, and yes.)

I have some of those exact thoughts and desires every week and I frequently feel so out of place in a convicted group of homeschoolers.  

All in all, I found the book to be refreshing but I must warn you:  Cummings's is irreverent (which I love), so if you are a super religiously convicted homeschooler, you may be offended by this book.  For the most part, I found her insights about the different types of homeschool groups (including the Conservative Christians groups) to be fairly accurate and insightful.  I consider myself a Conservative Catholic but I have to confess, the observations she made about various Conservative Christian homeschool attitudes/practices were things I've encountered and often, these attitudes and practices are not attractive.

Honorable Mentions:

The Great Gatsby

Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess

What about you?  What was the best you read this year?  Any recommendations for me?  I'll take them.