As I did last year, I’m ending 2015 reflecting on all of the wonderful books I read this past year and I again feel sincere gratitude for all of the richness that reading has brought into my life- wonder, laughter, learning- it all can’t really be expressed. Reading has also brought many wonderful moments with my son and has sparked such interesting conversations. This is also the first year that my son can read to me– which brings an entirely new level of amazement and joy as a parent.
Here are a few of my most meaningful reads of 2015.
Middlemarch by George Eliot: I am not sure how I missed this gem until now. It did not cross my path during high school or undergraduate studies, but my goodness am I pleased that I picked it up. It is simply wonderful. This book is a time investment but is absolutely worth it. Its pages contain complex, well-developed characters whose lives intertwine in interesting and unexpected ways. It is at turns funny, tragic, dark, uplifting. Eliot’s writing is smart and beautiful. What most rings true, even today, is her message of the importance of everyday kindnesses and the impact of each life (even those uncelebrated) on the way the world unfolds. Middlemarch is definitely, and unexpectedly, among my top 10 favorite books.
The Ramona series by Beverly Cleary: Unlike Middlemarch, this was a return to familiar, beloved territory. I remembered the Ramona series as one of the favorites of my youth. This time, my son and I set off on reading them aloud together. I find Cleary’s series about spunky Ramona and her family perhaps even more meaningful as a parent. We are through the first 4 in the series, and so far I think Ramona the Pest might be my son’s favorite (he definitely identified as a fellow 5-year-old starting kindergarten). My own favorite this time around might be “Ramona and Her Father“, with its themes of a family sticking together through hard times and a child dealing with not always being able to get what she wants. All are wonderful, though, and have sparked really cool bedtime conversations.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: Written with exquisite attention to detail and obvious care in the choice and placement of each and every word, this book rose above most others for me this year. The characters are so well developed and vividly described that the reader comes to care deeply about them. Doerr somehow managed to illuminate a part of World War II that I had not carefully considered before, despite reading a number of books on the subject. My only (small) criticism is that I wonder if he should have ended the book sooner, leaving us with the characters as they were at the end of the war. Regardless, a unique and wonderful read.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio: As someone who cares for many kids who are unique or different in some way, this book really spoke to me. Palacio weaves lessons on kindness and celebration of differences into the story of one very unique boy’s life. I love that the story is told not only from the point of view of the main character, but also touches on the impact for his parents and sibling, perspectives that are sometimes lost when there is a child with special needs, in my experience. My bet is that reading this book would send a much more powerful anti-bullying message to kids than almost any lecture on the topic, and I hope that all middle schoolers and their parents will read Wonder at some point.
Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers by Nick Offerman: As a big fan of the television show “Parks and Recreation” I decided to read all of the recent books authored by its cast members. I was quite surprised that Offerman’s offering (sorry, couldn’t resist) rose to the top for me (although I did really like Poehler’s “Yes, Please” and may go back and read it again now that I’ve finished the TV series). Gumption was a very enjoyable read (and lots of fun as an audio book read by the author). The book is made up of short biographies of 21 Americans mixed with Offerman’s own take on living a meaningful life. My only criticism is that he could have EASILY found a few more women to include (although he does admit this shortcoming). My takeaways from Offerman for living a life of gumption:
-Spend time engaged in hard work that is meaningful to you.
-Read a lot of books.
-Take time away from technology.
-Follow your dreams and remain hopeful even when the going gets tough.
-Laugh every day and don’t take yourself too seriously.
Pretty decent message, I’d say.
I read a lot of other great books this year. Three that could have easily been above are, “A Monster Calls” by Patrick Ness, “Congratulations By The Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness” by George Saunders and “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, which I had (shockingly, I know) never read before, and I’m glad to have that remedied.
What were your favorite books this year? I’d love to get some suggestions for 2016. I’m upping the ante for myself again this year with an audacious Reading Challenge over at Goodreads. Want to join me?