I read 47 books in 2012. I don’t usually keep track so closely, but last January I joined a Forty for 40 challenge organized by members of my Mount Holyoke class. We graduated in 1994, and many of us turned 40 in 2012. And so, Forty for 40!
Signing on to read 40 books in 2012 wasn’t a New Year’s resolution. Though looking back now I realize having a goal made it fun to check in on Goodreads and take a tally of how I was doing, of how many more books I had to go. Having a set goal that was exactly perfect for me–not too easy, not too much of a stretch–made it almost easy and definitely fun to work toward. And who doesn’t like success? I have something to celebrate now!
Revealing the books that I’ve read feels vulnerable in a way that it shouldn’t be to a person who writes publicly on the Internet. But there’s something inherently intimate about reading–and writing–and I find myself wanting to not share certain books. The ones I hesitate to mention aren’t the popular trilogies (The Hunger Games, Fifty Shades–yes, I read them all) but the ones that touched me most deeply, whether for their flawless writing or the purity of the subject matter or simply the timing of when I read them and how they spoke to me because of what I was going through in my life at the time.
And yet, isn’t that what writing (and therefore reading) is all about? Letting in the vulnerability. Sharing personal experiences. Reaching out to others and encouraging feedback. Starting a conversation. And so, as 2012 comes to a close and I look toward 2013 and my goals for the written word, I decided to be brave and share a few of the books that meant the very most to me this past year.
When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams. This book is like a miracle. TTW, as my dear friend Liz refers to Williams, is simply gorgeous. She exudes kindness and calm and beauty, both in her written words and in person. I had the pleasure of hearing her read from her previous book, Finding Beauty in a Broken World, four years ago (and Liz has met her in person more than once!). TTW is remarkable. And this book is one that I will return to again and again, each time marking up the margins more.
Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg. I have long admired Klinkenborg’s writing. His words have always spoken to me directly. His writing is visual, full of textured simplicity. Though I read this book straight through, I think I’ll enjoy it just as much or more as I pick it up and settle on passages at random.
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. In June, my sister Sarah and I went to a writing retreat with Dani Shapiro. During the three days we were privileged to be sitting in a beautiful yoga studio thinking and talking of nothing but the craft of writing, Dani mentioned this novel at least twice. I’m so glad she did. By the jacket synopsis, I’m certain I wouldn’t have picked it up. And yet, it was one of the most beautifully written books I read all year. How did Walker write such lyrical prose? And how did she do it while working full time? This book inspires me in more ways than one.
Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt. How do you outlive your daughter and come to be a parent to your grandchildren? This, from the jacket of the book: “Luminous, precise, and utterly unsentimental, Making Toast is both a tribute to the singular [Rosenblatt's daughter] Amy and a brave exploration of the human capacity to move through and live with grief.” Don’t let the subject matter keep you from reading this slim volume. It’s full of life and beauty.
The Fault in our Stars by John Green. Adolescence. Life. Love. I picked up this book, fell into it, ignored my family and didn’t put it down till I’d turned the last page. Then I told everyone I know to read it. Read it.
The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen. This book made me want to write fiction again. Really write it. Commit myself to it. Dig out the drafts piled high with dust and Get. To. Work.
Room by Emma Donoghue. I resisted this book for a long time. I knew enough about the premise to be terrified to read it. And it is terrifying. And heartbreaking. It’s also a wonder of a book. The details of voice and experience are so precise, so perfect, it’s simply masterful. And unforgettable.
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. This is one of the last books I read in 2012, yet I’ve already returned to a passage about creativity that appears toward the end: “It’s almost taken for granted now that people–children especially–should be encouraged to create. Mom certainly appreciated that. But she also was content not to make things but just to enjoy them. ‘Everyone doesn’t have to do everything,’ she told me. ‘People forget you can also express yourself by what you choose to admire and support.’”
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these books or the ones that meant the most to you this past year. My list of books to read grows longer daily, and I’m grateful for any and all recommendations. The power of books gets even more powerful the more I give myself over to them, one word at a time.