The Books I Read!
Countdown of the 38 Books I Read in 2012 from good to BEST
38-36: 50 Shades of Gray, E.L. James—So I read them, don’t get all grouchy at me. They’re not terrible, but not particularly great writing. A little juicy, a little dumb. I was inspired that mediocre writing could make millions! I also particularly enjoyed the fantasy of a wealthy-beyond-belief guy who was devastatingly attractive but so emotionally tormented. Until he meets the protagonist. My friend Denise and I called this the “but he needs me” syndrome.
35 Spoon Fed: How 8 Cooks Saved My Life, Kim Severson—I enjoyed Severson’s tales about herself and found myself impressed with her ability to talk about her family in a reveling but cautious way. I felt like I knew her family without any lines of their privacy being crossed. I wish I could say the same for how she writes about the cooks in her life. I found her narrative about them at turns, catty, rude and neurotic.
34 Some Assembly Required, Anne Lamott, Sam Lamott—I wish this had made it higher on my list! But mostly my dear role model came off as a really annoying mother-in-law to have! I liked some of Sam’s writing but his voice isn’t quite developed yet. He’s the type of person who stumbles into a lot of funny and odd situations so I think his voice will get better if he continues to write. It was a great idea but Anne Lamott’s charming self-deprecation that made her others books so rich and honest, just came off as immature and repetitive. It was especially disappointing because her fictional “Imperfect Birds” was her best fiction yet. But I think this is her worst non-fiction. Is this maybe what happens with personal non-fiction?
33 A Homemade Life, Molly Wizenberg—This is a cute book. The chapters are short and blog-like. I sometimes wished she had a little more depth in her writing but I walked away really enjoying the book as a whole.
32 The Ungarnished Truth, Ellie Mathews—This is a memoir of an amateur cook who wins a million dollar recipe contest. Sounds exciting, huh?! And it is although Mathews is quite dry about it. Almost like she doesn’t want to come right out and say how f***ing awesome it is that she just won a million bucks. The story moves right along and I loved hearing about how those contests work.
31-25 How to Train Your Dragon 1-7, Cressida Cowell—My niece Fiona lent me these books when I asked her what I should read next. I loved that I could read half of one before bed. Save these for when you are busy and troubled. They are one underdog story after the next and bound to give cheer!
24 Drums of Autumn, Diana Gabaldon—This is like the fourth or something in the Outlander Series and it literally takes forever to get going. But when it does, it takes off with the same surprise and enjoyable writing as her other books.
23 The 10, Make That 9, Habits of Very Organized People, Steve Martin—A collection of tweets from Steve Martin. At some point it includes the responses of his followers and it gets pretty hysterical seeing how things escalate. I got it from the library but if I owned it, it would be stationed in the bathroom next to Calvin and Hobbes.
22 The Butcher & the Vegetarian, Tara Austen Weaver—This is memoir of a woman trying to navigate meat in her diet after growing up as a vegetarian. She is thoughtful, funny, and asks and answers provoking questions about what it means to be meat-eaters. Or not.
21 Not Becoming My Mother, Ruth Reichl—This is a shorty memoir from Reichl. It’s a sweet attempt to honor her bat-shit crazy mother. I loved the stories and her attempt to re-frame some of the questionable behavior of her mother.
20 Blood, Bones, and Butter, Gabrielle Hamilton—I ended up loving this book but it took me half the book to warm up to the author. She is at turns abrasive and defensive. But by the end she is a sympathetic storyteller. I liked her romp as a grad student of literature and how she fell in love with her Italian mother-in-law.
19 Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver—Kingsolver is easily my favorite fiction writer. But she drove me crazy in this book. I started it a couple years ago and couldn’t finish it. I gave it a second chance and was pleasantly rewarded. She’s a brilliant writer, passionate, although abrasively preachy! But then she would woo me with her descriptions of her tomatoes and chickens. It’s a practical and cleverly formatted book. There were times my heart literally sang with the same desires she has, but I had to wade through a lot of preaching-to-the-choir.
18-16 Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins—I had so much fun reading these. I ate them up. Maybe the writing was a little weak at times, but I loved how she walked the line of gruesome. They go quickly and even though the storyline had me wanting to throw the book across the room, I kept reading. And plan to read again!
15 Born Round, Frank Bruni—What a life with food this man has had! I really enjoyed how deep he dug into his complicated relationship with eating, dieting, and exercise. I also loved how his time in Italy changed his eating habits. It was the theme of the year in my reading (Kingsolver and Hamilton both have transformative eating experiences in Italy).
14 My Life in France, Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme—This was excellent. There are a few tired moments and tedious details but I loved the descriptions of particular meals she ate in France. I think she is fascinating and I have a fond affection for her which in no little way affected how highly this book is ranked on this list!
13 Olive’s Ocean, Kevin Henkes—If you are a fan of Henkes picture books for children you will also love this piece for young adults. I just read it before giving it to my niece, Hayley for her birthday. It’s sad and a little lonely. But like his children’s books, he tackles tough emotions with graceful acceptance.
12 Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Mindy Kaling—This lady cracks me up and she told me all the juicy things I had hoped to hear. She’s smart, hilarious, and won my heart with her love of romantic comedies.
11 The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, Jacques Pepin—I enjoyed this man’s cooking and absolutely loved his storytelling. His voice is so clear, you can literally hear him telling these stories from his life. I felt so cozy and entertained. I was so sad when it was finished and felt downright mournful he wasn’t in my life.
10 The Princess Bride, William Goldman—This book gets into my top 10 because it tricked me so completely. The book’s narrator basically finds S. Morgenstern’s book and then decides to translate it. The narrator (which I assumed was Goldman, himself) has this running commentary about how difficult it was to translate the Princess Bride which was actually a real story mixed with myth. Anyway, I can’t tell you how confused I was by trying to decide whether or not the whole thing was real. When I finally googled the whole thing and realized I had been tricked, I was very impressed. I’ve never enjoyed being so gullible as I did with this book.
9 Round House, Louise Erdrich—This tale takes place, as many of her books do, on a reservation in North Dakota. It’s a dark tale and it highlights the issue of jurisdiction within a reservation and what happens if a crime’s exact location cannot be placed. I love how rich her characters are. Besides the bad guy, who is basically just a bad guy, everyone else is layered and complicated and relatable.
8 A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson—This is my second or third time reading this book and I still laughed just as hard. I loved the character Kats even more and wished I was on an adventure with them. No one mixes facts with hysterical narrative quite like Bryson. I walked away, entertained, and surprised I had also learned so much.
7 I Feel Bad About My Neck, Nora Ephron—I had never read any of Ephron’s books despite loving her movies. I laughed, I cried, and was incredibly lonely when I finished. She seemed like such a kindred spirit and I loved her description of how good books affected her.
6 700 Sundays, Billy Crystal—This is a bit of a dark horse on this list. I didn’t expect to love it so much. Crystal gave such a heartfelt narrative. I laughed and was genuinely intrigued with his storyline. And then I was heartbroken and wept at his losses.
5 Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl—A memoir of being a food critic in disguises? Yes, please! What great storytelling! My favorite parts are the discoveries she makes within herself as she eats food in disguise. While it was mostly a way to see how a restaurant would treat someone who wasn’t a food critic, the disguises gave her a freedom to eat and experience the food differently.
4 My Heart is an Idiot, Davy Rothbart—This might have been the best if it weren’t for the story towards the end where I figured out the guy was an asshole. He falls in love with everyone. And then leaves a horrible wake. But somehow, you root for the guy at every turn. My friend Phoebe recommended it to me but warned me that at some point you realize he’s kind of a dick. I read story after story wondering what she was talking about. And then I did. But it’s a good ride, nonetheless.
3 Tender at the Bone, Ruth Riechl—This memoir is a more linear story of her life and I couldn’t believe how moving it was. She teases out the sources of her insecurities and follows them until they are grown up. It’s a coming-of-age story that only someone who has grown fond of herself could tell.
2 Wild, Cheryl Strayed—A memoir of walking part of the Pacific Crest Trail in the 90’s. Her story is almost too painful at times, I had the urge to look away. But I also felt like I hadn’t ever read someone tell a story that could have been mine so unabashedly. She’s funny and likeable. If you’ve ever traveled on your own, or been mostly broke, or have been on a ridiculous adventure, you’ll resonate with this as well. I read it in the summer and had a hard time not packing up and leaving for my own adventure.
1 Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson—It was close but this was my favorite book I read this year! It’s so incredibly funny. I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed so hard at a book. Lawson haphazardly walks you through her growing up years and her misadventures, including walking into a deer carcass and barfing, and getting her arm stuck in a cows vagina. I’m not sure how she does it but she manages to neurotically stray far from the point and still keep the story seamlessly going with little confusion.