My Year in Books

In 2012, I set a goal of reading 12 books (and completing 12 knitting projects). I exceeded in the knitting and fell a few short in the reading, but I set a precedent with the “12 in ‘12” idea. I have set goals each year since to read the same number of books as the year, and I have met the goal for the last 3 years.

Going into this year, I recognized that I read mostly non-fiction and mostly male authors, not consciously, but by chance. I wanted to see what would happen if I purposely chose (more) fiction and solely female authors. I am happy I did. Here’s my 2015 recap.

  1. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Okay, so I started the year reading fiction, but by a male author. Blame it on the library and the long wait list I was on for this one. It was billed as a book you’d love if you enjoy Sheldon’s character on The Big Bang Theory, and it delivered. It was a fun, feel-good story centering on a quirky character who sure seems like he is on the autism spectrum, but no diagnosis is ever mentioned.

Take-away: No matter how different we are, we can find love and happiness.

READ (if you enjoy The Big Bang Theory)

  1. Accidents of Marriage by Randy Susan Meyers

A work of fiction with a female author – now we’re talking! It’s set in Boston, which I enjoyed, but it was not the gripping book I was hoping for. I enjoy books with multiple narrators/perspectives, but I can’t say this one did that successfully.

Take-away: Marriage is hard, and parenting is harder.

SKIP

  1. The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

As is true for most sequels, this book was not as good as the first. It did leave me thinking that if someone makes a movie from these books, I will see it.

Take-away: No matter how different we are, we can find love and happiness.

SKIP (Read the first book instead)

  1. I Thought It Was Just Me by Brene Brown

My therapist casually recommended I watch Brene’s TedTalk, and I was hooked. I cannot get enough of what Brene Brown says, and I figured reading her books in chronological order was the way to go. The researcher in me loves how she presents her work.

Take-away: Silence breeds shame, and living in shame breeds an unnecessarily lonely, difficult life.

MUST READ

  1. Small Victories by Anne Lamott

If Anne Lamott started a second career as a preacher, I would go to that parish everyday. If you think the world is going to hell in a hand basket, her words act as a salve that makes it all better. This book is the third in a series of three short books, but you do not need to read them in order.

Take-away: I’m okay, you’re okay, but George Bush is not.

MUST READ (if you aren’t opposed to recovering alcoholics, religious undertones, and liberal viewpoints/Republican-bashing)

  1. Dietland by Sarai Walker

I thought I would love this because Entertainment Weekly likened it to Amy Schumer’s comedy. It does have feminist social commentary, and I could see the comparisons to Schumer once I was in the thick of it, but in the end, Schumer is in a category all her own and Walker is not even close.

Take-away: Love yourself, whatever your size.

SKIP

  1. Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon

When Charlotte mentioned she was writing about a famous mother/daughter Mary combo, I knew the duo to which she was referring, and I could not wait for her to finish. It took over 5 years, but it was worth the wait. It is a dual biography that reads like a novel. Even if you have no idea who these ladies are, you will appreciate Charlotte’s insights.

There are so many take-aways that I won’t do the book justice, but here is one: The mother/daughter bond is an unbreakable one in so many ways.

MUST READ (Especially if you enjoy Frankenstein and/or A Vindication of the Rights of Woman)

  1. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Game-changer. Her philosophy and method will truly change your life for the better if you let it. This is a quick, easy read packed with practical advice.

Take-away: Let go of anything that no longer serves you…starting with your closet.

MUST READ

  1. Yes, Please by Amy Poehler

It’s a fun read, but not a FUNNY read. There are meaty, feminist views if you choose to notice them. The book made me want to watch Parks and Recreation, a series I passed on when it was on the air. (I am on season 3 now and have been pleasantly surprised.)

Take-away: Poehler is one smart, funny, classy lady.

READ (and it’s probably a must-read if you like Poehler, Saturday Night Live, and/or Tina Fey)

  1. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Yes, it was a page-turner. No, I did not like it. None of the characters are likeable. At all. And what is with the ending? It was disturbing, and not in a good, think-about-your-life way. Ugh.

Take-away: Things aren’t always what they seem. (I struggled on this one – this is the best I can do.)

SKIP

  1. The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick

I had to break away from female authors to get in this book selected by a new book club I joined. I would put it in the same category as The Rosie Project with its quirky characters and feel-good message. I did not know this until after I read it, but Matthew Quick is the same author of Silver Linings Playbook. I am adding him to my list of authors whose body of work I should read. (Jonathan Tropper is another member of this short list.)

Take-away: No matter how different we are, we can find love and happiness.

MUST READ (Especially if you liked The Rosie Project or Silver Linings Playbook)

  1. The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver

Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, and The Execution of Noa P. Singleton all have rather deplorable female characters. In this one, Noa is on death row for first degree murder. There was a twist, but in the end, it was a book of mainly unlikeable characters whose message was not quite clear.

Take-away: I got nothing…maybe “People are gross”?

SKIP

  1. Off the Sidelines by Kirsten Gillibrand

When you have a name like “Kirstin,” you are drawn to other Kirstins/Kirstens/Kierstins, etc. Or maybe it’s just me. I was intrigued with Senator Gillibrand when I heard her name on a tv interview. That she is a senator who does her job while raising a young family is a plus.

Take-away: Everyone should use her voice to shape our world.

READ (you need not be into politics)

  1. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

I love the idea behind this book – that a bookseller is a literary apothecary, administering books like medicine. It is a true book lover’s book.

Take-away: Books heal, as do the misfit characters we incorporate into our chosen family along the way.

READ (and it’s a MUST READ if you are a book lover)

  1. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

This is Brene’s second book, and there is an e-course associated with it that my husband bought me, and I finally took it on this year. For a recovering perfectionist like me, this book lays it all out.

Take-away: The struggle for perfection (which is unattainable) robs us of joy and true connection.

MUST READ (Especially if you are a Brene Brown fan)

  1. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

Her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, was laugh-out-loud funny (and that says a lot coming from me). This one is just as funny, but it takes on more serious topics, as Lawson doesn’t mince words about depression and anxiety.

Take-away: Depression lies; life is good.

MUST READ (Especially if you live with, worth with, and/or love someone with mental illness)

  1. Quiet by Susan Cain

Reading this after Lawson’s and Brown’s books made for the perfect three-fer. If you can swing it, reading them in succession is a great idea. Cain’s research and anecdotes on introverts (and even what that word actually means) is eye-opening.

Take-away: Preferring quiet to noise or working alone to working in a group is not only okay, but necessary for societal (and relationship) balance.

MUST READ (So many implications for school, work, relationships, parenting, etc.)

  1. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

I read this with no prior knowledge about the book, so I was not expecting the perspective shift that occurs when we move from “Fates” to “Furies.” I enjoyed the shift, but it was not enough to make me recommend the book.

Take-away: Things aren’t always what they seem.

SKIP

  1. Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes

I picked this one up because Gretchen Rubin mentioned it (her book will be my first for 2016), and it sounded interesting. As one fascinated with food and health, I thought I ought to read more on the subject. I was NOT expecting a book that would change my mind, and that’s what I got.

Take-away: The “calories-in/calories-out” idea does not play out in research; rather, we get overweight due to insulin resistance that occurs over time.

MUST READ

*    *   *

Women Authors: 15/19 (excellent!)

Works of Fiction: 9/19 (needs improvement, but this WAS an improvement)

Themes: 1. Quirky, imperfect people succeeding in making the best of what life hands them, and 2. Iconoclastic women whose thoughts and actions transcend their time period.

Goals for 2016’s Year of Books: I need to continue to read more female authors to make up for my miseducation (through most of high school, the authors assigned were men). I need to find more meaningful fiction – books that aren’t just good in the moment, but ones that have lasting effects. Should 2016 be the year of historical fiction? Would this be a compromise?

Please give me some book recommendations!

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Letting Go of What No Longer Serves Me: The Closet Reckoning, Part 1

Few experiences make you realize you have way more than you need than packing up a house you’ve lived in for 12 years. I don’t remember the final box count, but it was much higher than it should have been, and that was with multiple donations to the Vietnam Veterans that were large enough to make neighbors think we were having a yard sale.

I knew we were boxing up items that should have been trashed or donated, but when you have two full-time working parents and kids with evening and weekend activities, you don’t have much time to assess each item’s worthiness of a spot on the moving van. We moved rather quickly from, “Should we keep this? Will we need it in the new house?” to “Just throw it in the frigging box and we’ll deal with it later!”

As much as it drains you, moving rejuvenates you as you get to start fresh. It was in this spirit that I read Marie Kondo’s The Lift-51H8x07Fd7L._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_
Changing Art of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
, a book I fortuitously saw on a friend’s facebook page as I was making arrangements to fly to our new house and meet the movers to start unpacking. 

Kondo’s book echoes my life mantra: Let go of anything that no longer serves you. I highly recommend this book because it is a quick, easy read that will give you the shot in the arm you need if you’re at all curious about where to start reducing and why it’s important. Much of what she writes was not new to me, but the way she presents it inspired me to take stock of my stuff, and the order and method she suggests for doing so was helpful.

First: tackle your clothes. I use this verb on purpose because – I’m not gonna lie – I approached this process like a dirty barroom brawl – hardly the peaceful, zen-like activity Kondo proposes, but viewing my clothes as my opponent worked for my competitive spirit. If there could only be one winner, it sure as hell wasn’t gonna be a pair of corduroy pants or – GASP – my much-loved Tieks collection.

It was going to be me. I would own my stuff.

Each item would need to convince me of its rightful place on a hanger in my closet. And I would not fall for that, “Oh, but your father gave me to you as a Christmas gift in 2007 – don’t you remember?” crap.

Nope.

There was no room for sentimentality in my dresser drawers any more, nor did I have space for items that fit my former self (even if that former self was 10 pounds lighter and a size smaller, and even if I hope that former self’s physique decides to visit again soon…ANY DAY now would be fine, really).

Because you know what wasn’t serving me any more? A closet and drawers overflowing with clothes and the feeling that I had nothing to wear. The feeling I got when a pile of pants taunted me because I cannot comfortably wear them. Wearing the same go-to outfits over and over again because they took the guesswork out of getting ready in the morning (does it fit? does it match?). Clothes I had treated like a security blanket and kept for far too long simply because I’d had them for so long.

None of that was serving me, so I had to let it go.

So, I knew I was going to do this closet clean-out crusade, and I knew I was going to win, but Marie Kondo’s book wasn’t quite enough to galvanize me. I turned to Google and Pinterest and read more about the idea of a “capsule wardrobe” – a collection of clothing staples you wear for a season. I stumbled upon Project 333, which piqued my interest because of my family’s penchant for the number “33” (a longer story than I have the word count for right now).

Project 333 takes the idea of a capsule wardrobe and breaks it into steps, and the end result is 33 items that you will wear for a three-month season. I bought a mini-course from Project 333, which gave me resources, pep talks, and handouts, which I supplemented with a free wardrobe planner from Unfancy’s blog.

I tell you all this so that you can replicate my planning process if you wish to take on this task. Stay tuned for how it turned out.

(Spoiler alert: I do, in fact, win.)