Borrowing all my books from the library feels somewhat antiquated in today’s age of e-readers, but if I didn’t get my books for free, reading would quickly become a pretty expensive hobby. In 2013, I read over 50 books! I’ve narrowed that number down to share my top ten picks here. Half are nonfiction, which doesn’t surprise me. I find myself gravitating toward autobiographies more and more lately; isn’t it interesting when the truth is more fantastical than fiction?
Nine Inches by Tom Perrotta — I am usually not a fan of short stories (I find them to be abrupt), but Perrotta is such an excellent writer that each tale feels rich and complete. If you aren’t familiar with Perrotta’s work, you’re in for a treat. Two great films — Election and Little Children — are adaptations of his novels and a good place to start.
The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan — From a field in California to a Walmart in Detroit and an Applebee’s in Manhattan, journalist McMillan goes undercover to understand more about the American food system. Food has become a fascination for me — what are we eating and why? — and I loved seeing McMillan tackle these questions.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh — This book is not new but was new to me. A troubled orphan phases out of the foster care system with no connection to the world except a gift for using the Victorian language of flowers, where each flower has its own meaning, to communicate. Hands down, my favorite part of this book was learning more about the lost art of selecting and gifting plants because of their hidden meanings. Be sure to have tissues on hand…
The Heavy by Dara-Lynn Weiss — This memoir tells the story of a mother who helps her seven year old obese daughter lose weight, addressing the flack she receives for putting her child on a diet. I thought Weiss did a good job of tackling a very loaded subject; she argues that parents have a right to treat obesity as a health issue, similar to a fatal allergy or diabetes, that needs ongoing management. Although everyone might not agree with her methods, the unconditional love for her daughter is palpable throughout the book, and the outcome — a happy, healthy child — is validating.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt — This coming-of-age story follows a young girl devastated by the loss of her favorite uncle. In learning more about him post-death, her childish naivety is lifted. What I liked most about this book is how the author really depicted what it’s like for teenagers to learn that their parents, siblings, and idols are people too, with flaws and needs — a scary process, but one that ultimately makes relationships even deeper and less one-sided.
Love in the Time of Algorithms by Dan Slater — I met Benton through online dating, and while I wasn’t a big fan of the process, I can’t deny that it works! I really enjoyed reading more about how today’s relationships have been affected by technology, and how meeting/dating/marriage trends have shifted in the last few decades.
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer — This story follows a group of teenagers from their days at summer camp through middle age. All six start out at the height of youthful promise, but over time, their friendships are tested by varying levels of success, money, power and happiness. I thought Wolitzer did a good job of exploring the dynamics of group relationships, where everyone is bonded together but within the group, best friendships exist simultaneously with relationships that would dissolve without the group structure bringing everyone together. I feel like this phenomenon is so prevalent in real life but not often seen in literature.
The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan — I love books that tie characters together in small ways, and this story does that well, switching back and forth between five different plot lines that span a hundred years. As you might guess from the title, the book is all about marriage but also narrates the story of diamonds in America and how they came to symbolize the promise of eternal love. I thought it was a beautifully written book and could hardly put it down.
Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl — This memoir tells the story of Reichl’s days as the New York Times restaurant critic. To avoid special treatment, Reichl reviewed restaurants while undercover, creating elaborate costumes and back stories for her characters. Reichl paints such vivid pictures with words, you feel as though you’re right there with her, enjoying delicious bite after bite.