The Top 5 Books I Read in 2013

I started a batch of croissants the other day, and it was my well-intentioned plan to finish them today, then make that my post.  But we’ve been in this so-called polar vortex  since I started them 4 days ago, and it’s just not warm enough in my house to let them rise.  In fact, the beginning of this cold spell started off with several hours of rain.  The rain kept dripping off our roof over the blades of the HVAC units, and when it began to freeze, well, the blades on the units also froze.  So they stopped working.  As it got colder outside, it got colder inside.  The past couple of days I woke to temperatures of 48° inside my house!  And I grew up in Florida, so regular cold is already hard enough on me…  Thank goodness we have a wood-burning fireplace, and doors that close to keep the main living areas warm enough for daytime, and blankets aplenty for nighttime.  Anyway, until it’s warm enough, the croissant dough will just have to stay in the fridge (or maybe I should just let it sit on the counter?!?).

As I lay awake shivering last night, I thought about the last book I had read – Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn.  I was not a fan, but I started mentally tallying the books I read this past year in which I found something of value.  In no particular order, here are five that I loved:

I found Moonwalking with Einstein in a bargain bin at the grocery store one day.  I’m a compulsive list-maker and crosser-offer, but to learn how to really remember something complex seemed like a worthwhile thing to know.  In a nutshell, when you have a long list of numbers, tasks, directions, or what have you, you assign an outrageous symbol (it can be a person, thing, or combination)  to each thing in the list.  Then, you place those symbols in your memory of a real physical place – be it your home, street, school, town, etc… – and mentally walk yourself through said place.  For instance, say you want to memorize a list of 10 numbers.  #1 is assigned the symbol of Superman ironing his cape, and you would place him in the entry of the house (the better to dash out to save the world!).  #2 might be your dog skateboarding in a pink bikini and she’s skateboarding around the dining room table in the dining room, just to the left of the entry.  The more ludicrous the object juxtaposed with a familiar place helps to jog your memory as you try to unwind the list later.  Foer started researching memorization techniques as a lark, and wound up becoming the world champion of a memory contest.  I don’t know that I’ll ever get that involved, but knowing this technique has helped me when the electronics I use to remember something were unavailable.

U2 by U2 was a book my son gave me last Christmas.  I’m a big U2 fan, dating back to when I saw them before they were getting much airplay.  This book chronicles the band’s journey to super stardom and beyond in their own words.  It was interesting to see how each member of the band, as well as their manager, perceived their rise to fame.  Despite being a serious look at their 20+ year career as a band – and friends – they even discuss their horrible haircuts and clothing choices, which made it amusing as well.

I started reading Emily Freeman’s blog Chatting at the Sky a few years ago, and was delighted when she released this book.  It was tailor-meant for me, as a long-suffering good girl perfectionist wannabee.  Or, should I say, wannanot?  Grace for the Good Girl: Letting go of the Try Hard Life isn’t about unleashing our inner rebel, but is meant for all of us who have exhausted ourselves always trying to do the right thing.  All the time.  For everyone.  Which is pretty much an impossible task….  It’s about how, when we spend so much time trying to make everyone around us happy, we make ourselves miserable.  Beyond that though, pleasing everyone crowds out any room for the grace of God to work in our lives.  This book was invaluable to me, and I have referenced my notes a lot!

My niece gushed over The Book Thief on Facebook.  She just kept discussing and swooning over this book until I had to buy it for myself.  Since this is considered a young adult book, I bought it to read in our school room.  Yes, even though my kids were/are in high school, I am one of those homeschooling moms that still reads aloud when I can.  Experts and studies say that reading aloud to any age student is beneficial to lifelong learning and continual reading, especially in this age of technology.  Regardless, this book was stunningly wonderful.  It was so beautifully written that it haunted me, truly.  Rare is the book that does that to me.  At times, this is difficult to read, as are most books set in Nazi Germany. This might be even more so, since it is narrated by Death.  However, this novel speaks to the reader about the power of words, love, and hope.  My niece wasn’t wrong on this one…

Finally, The Boys in the Boat was another book that I read to my kids in school.  I firmly believe that some of the best stories are real stories, and my children should be exposed to those as well.  Like Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (which we also read aloud), this was a tale of perseverance and faith.  Faith in oneself, and faith in the people that are an integral part of one’s life.  It’s the story of the unlikely University of Washington mens’ crew team that battles their way to the 1936 Berlin Olympics.   The boys in the shell (boat) weren’t privileged or elite rowers, as are so many in the sport.  These boys led hardscrabble lives during the Depression, often working multiple jobs while studying and practicing several hours a day.  Most counted on their place in the boat as a means to help them achieve an education.  This book was uplifting in so many ways, and it reads like a novel.  Why is it that the best non-fiction books always do?  I recently read that this is being made into a movie, and I know I’ll definitely see it in the theater.

I read other books, but I think these were probably my favorites of the year.  If you have any suggestions, please feel free to share them with me!  As my journey as “just a mom” is coming to a close, I’m finding more time on my hands to devote to reading.  Oh, beloved reading….

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