My reading life at age thirty looks different than it did at age thirteen. Back then I'd lay on my bed all day long engrossed in a book. Not so much anymore! However, this past year my husband and I--doers by nature--recommitted ourselves to actually resting on Sundays (Revolutionary, I know!), and with that new focus came a revival of reading in our household! I read a variety of books this year, most of which were recommended to me by friends. I'm recommending to you the following seven, my most enjoyable and helpful reads of 2017:
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1. Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
Ruth Reichl tells her engaging story of the time she spent as the restaurant critic for The New York Times. Upon beginning this job, she soon realized that chefs hungry for good publicity were rolling out the red carpet for her and that she may not, in fact, be receiving the same treatment as the average diner. In order to be dealt with as a "normal" patron and thus give voice to the experience of "every man" in her reviews, she developed several elaborate disguises, complete with wigs and personalities to match. These disguises drew out different versions of herself and elicited various reactions--positive and negative--from others. This was fascinating to read about, and Reichl is a delightfully descriptive writer. I also enjoyed hearing how her stint at the Times ended and how her next opportunity providentially presented itself at just the right moment.
Health & Fitness/Psychology
My relationship with exercise has been on-again-off-again at best, so the fact that this one made it into my faves is no small miracle! My bestie told me that this book was blowing her mind, and soon I could see why--it's main premise is that exercise has a huge effect on the brain. It has been proven to be as effective as medication for treating anxiety and depression, and it helps the body and mind deal with stress. Of most interest to me is that exercise produces a chemical necessary for learning and the formation of new thought patterns. In other words, exercise is an effective weapon in getting mentally unstuck! I'm a bit of a mental health nerd, so while fitness solely for the sake of my physical health isn't moving me to action, the prospect of an infusion of power into my mental health efforts is! I know you're wondering--I'm not training for the Olympics over here, but I have resumed a regular jogging routine, and I'm feeling quite good, mentally and otherwise.
Biography & Autobiography
My husband and I enjoy watching Fixer Upper, the popular house-flipping show on HGTV, so I really liked hearing about how Chip and Jo got to where they are today. They had many ups and downs over the years, which was encouraging to read about--it's tempting to look at an adorable and ridiculously successful family on TV and think that they have and always have had it easy! Not so! Chip and Jo were in tough spots many times, especially financially, but they also experienced tons of instances of God's providence. Jo talked about the quiet but sure way that God led her to make several big decisions, and Chip talked about how he'd learned to trust her with those things--what a lovely blend of faith and marriage! Jo also described how her family thrived in a new way when she decided that beauty wasn't her only decorating aim; instead she began to assemble spaces that everyone could enjoy and in which kids could be kids. Others resonated with this as well, and this pivot in her business caused her following to skyrocket.
4. Brenda Starr Reporter by Dale Messick
It's not often a comic book makes it onto my bedside table, but I'm glad that this one did! My mom and aunt had been talking about the Brenda Starr Reporter comics that enthralled them when they were young, so I grabbed this book, which contains several storylines from the Brenda Starr comics that ran in the early 1940's. Brenda is a larger-than-life heroine in the best way; she's constantly getting into and out of wild adventures in pursuit of a good story. She's smart, sassy, and self-sufficient. Men fall at her feet, and on occasion she's rescued by a mysterious man who sends her black orchids. What's not to love?
5. Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown
What a timely message Brené Brown has written to us as individuals and to culture as a whole with this fantastic book. In Braving the Wilderness, she suggests that true belonging--something that all of us desire--requires being oneself while fitting in requires being like others. She talks about how sorting ourselves into groups of people who think mostly the same as we do is caused by fear and fosters disconnection, which in turn allows us to dehumanize our fellow man. Because of this crisis, leaning in to perspectives different than our own is more important than ever. I appreciate that Brown encourages all sides of the political spectrum to display empathy and kindness; she resists today's seductive temptations of blanket condemnation or condoning of one "side" or the other. People are complicated, and today's issues are complex, and Brown is willing to sit with the tension, giving the reader strategies to do the same.
6. The Yada Yada Prayer Group by Neta Jackson
I loved this book and can't wait to read more in the series! The main character, Jodi, is a female, white, middle class Christian (raising my hand here) who attends a women's conference at which she connects with a group of ladies who are ethnically, religiously, and in every way diverse. Jodi is intrigued by the powerful way that some of these women pray, and at the same time she raises an eyebrow at their family drama and regular smoke breaks. The group decides to continue meeting together after the conference ends. Their relationships deepen, and they pray for and support each other through a variety of circumstances. Over time it becomes apparent to the main character and the reader that the ladies in the prayer group with the messiest lives are the ones who have the best understanding of grace. Jodi comes to a new realization of grace herself when she faces a personal tragedy. I loved this book's focus on heart-change as opposed to behavior modification.
7. Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin
This book is about habit formation, and the reason I loved it is because it argues that there isn't one right way to form a habit! This is a relief for those of us who've done something for the standard 21 days, only to find that the habit didn't stick. (Anyone else?) Gretchen Rubin suggests that how you form a habit should be based on you. She gives the reader numerous questions to ask in order to know oneself better, such as, "Am I a familiarity lover or a novelty lover?" (Familiarity for me, please, in case you wanted to know.) She then details many creative strategies for habit formation, such as monitoring, accountability, and convenience. Thinking outside the box about habits I'd like to form has helped me to get moving on my most important tasks in the morning, get back into a regular rhythm of posting on my blog (Ta-da!), and--I admit it!--finally floss my teeth regularly.
Bonus recommendation: In Better than Before, Rubin introduces her Four Tendencies personality framework, which is detailed in her more recently released book, The Four Tendencies. The tendencies categorize people based on how they respond to both outer and inner expectations. This knowledge is extremely useful for motivating oneself and helping other people. I'm an Obliger; I easily meet others' expectations, but I have a harder time meeting my own expectations, so my secret sauce for accomplishing my own goals is outer accountability.
What was your favorite read this year? Leave me a comment and let me know!