31 December 2014

My Favorite Books from 2014 Book A Week

A few of the books I read in 2014
This morning I finished reading my 52nd book in 2014. What a terrific feeling to have accomplished my personal goal of reading a book a week consistently for the entire year.  I began this journey on January 1st of 2014 feeling confident yet slightly cautious. However, knowing I'm someone with determination once I set my mind to do something, I never really thought I wouldn't achieve what I set out to accomplish.  I believed I would do it all year long, and I did. As is typical with my favorite genre of books, many of the books I read were about individuals on journeys of some sort.

As predicted, I read more nonfiction than fiction, and somewhat surprisingly, I read only a handful of professional books. 37 works of nonfiction. 9 works of fiction. 1 collection of poems. 5 professional books for a total of 52 books read for pleasure, knowledge, inspiration and sheer enjoyment.

Here are my 14 favorite books from 2014 (in no particular order). Keep reading below for short descriptions on why each of these books made my top 14 list.

1. Wave: Life and Memories After the Tsunami by Sonali Deraniyagala
2. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
3. A Sliver of Light:  Three Americans Imprisoned in Iran by Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal, & Sarah Shourd
4. Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of a Creative Mind by Biz Stone
5. A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout
6. 46 Days: Keeping Up With Jennifer Pharr Davis on the Appalachian Trail by Brew Davis
7.  Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary Confinement with the Bard by Laura Bates
8.  A Long Way From Nowhere: A Couple's Journey on the Continental Divide Trail by Julie Urbanski and Matt Urbanski
9.  In My Father's Country: An Afghan Woman Defies Her Fate by Saima Wahab
10. Become Your Own Great and Powerful: A Woman's Guide to Living Your Real, Big Life by Barbara Bellissimo
11.  Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink
12.  Thinking in NumbersOn Life, Love, Meaning, and Math by Daniel Tammet
13.  Hatching Twitter:  A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal by Nick Bilton
14.  Ultima Thule by Davis McCombs

General reasons these books made my top 14 list
**They made me laugh, cry, feel outrage, want to speak out, want to take action, and want to make changes in my life**

Two of my January 2014 reads made my top 14 list. Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala was heart wrenching while also offering hope. The author was the only one in her family to survive the 2004 Tsunami. I read this book while traveling for work and could hardly wait to get home to be with my family because I know without a doubt how fortunate I am for their presence and love.  46 Days made my list because I enjoyed reading the daily journal of logistics and support as Brew Davis helped his wife set the record for the fastest AT thru-hike. Both hikers amaze and inspire me to get outdoors & get moving more.

Only one of my February reads made my top 14 list of books this year. Hatching Twitter was interesting and fascinating as well as it transported me to another world of high technology and business start-ups.  You can read more of my thoughts on the book here.

March proved another fantastic month for reading, and once again two of the books made my top 14 list. Recommended to me by a friend who knows how much I enjoy nonfiction, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, left me wordless and unable to articulate just how much I learned and experienced while reading about the lives of people half a world away from me in Mumbai. Also of note in March was Daniel Tammet's Thinking in Numbers which took me into a world of thoughts about how numbers connect to every aspect of our lives, including language and poetry.

When National Poetry Month rolled around in April, my list had to include at least one collection of poems. Though I love poetry, I don't take nearly enough time to read it daily (other than the poem a day which comes in my inbox). Ultima Thule by Davis McCombs provided the perfect segue into a field trip to Mammoth Cave I took with my son. With great anticipation, I also read A Sliver of Light in April. This story of three American hikers imprisoned in Iran kept me curious for years so reading their book provided more details of their experience and awakened me to other issues of solitary confinement and false imprisonment, issues that continue to keep me curious and wanting to take action.

Four of my five reads in May made my top 14 list, all nonfiction, of course. Because I've been thinking a great deal this year about my career, my life, my family, Barbara Bellissimo's book Become Your Own Great and Powerful:  A Woman's Guide to Living Your Real, Big Life was inspirational. I have found when you start your career as a teacher, it's not easy to think about asking for what you want and need for yourself. You are taught to believe--you do it because it matters--so money, comfort, and stability shouldn't matter. This year is one when I've been denying that expectation as truth, and I've been thinking more than ever before about what I really want and need from my career and personal life.

Five Days at Memorial, Things a Little Bird Told Me and A House in the Sky also made my list. Each of these books left me thinking throughout the year for different reasons. When I visited New Orleans for a conference in October, I was taken back in memory to the fantastic journalistic piece by Sherri Fink. When the beheadings of other journalists in Syria this year were reported, I remembered with vivid detail Lindhout's story of her captivity.

Half way through the reading year June-September, I continued reading with a list of both nonfiction and fiction, though none of the books from those months made my top 14 list here.

By October, I was beginning to realize I really would make my goal of a book a week as long as I continued to stay consistent through the busy work conference and holiday seasons of October-December. Included in my top 14 list was In My Father's Country: An Afghan Woman Defies Her Fate by Saima Wahab. In this memoir a young woman was sent to America to live with relatives at the age of 14 so she would be spared a childhood marriage. If you care about women's issues around the world, I would encourage you to read her story.

I ended my year by reading memoirs for all of December. Each story was interesting and inspirational as the authors shared their personal stories and journeys. However, the story of Julie and Matt Urbanski hiking the Continental Divide Trail was the only one of the five to make my top 14 list because I enjoyed the book as each spouse took turns writing chapters from their individual point of view. Since the book was about their hike and their relationship, it was inspiring to see how the couple worked individually and cooperatively to meet personal goals and solve problems.

Cheers to a great year of reading!