“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”
~Mortimer Jerome Adler
It was back in October that news broke about one of our local Barnes and Noble stores closing – one that has been in the area for twenty years, one that has become a landmark, one that has been a gateway to so many new worlds for so many different people. The doors close on December 31st, and as I wandered along the bookshelves for one final time on Monday, I couldn’t help but remember all the wonderful memories I have from that store. Sitting in the children’s section when I was younger, sorting through the tottering tower of books I’d selected as possibilities to buy. Piling up an equally large stack as an adult, mentally convincing myself that it was okay – perhaps even more than okay – to splurge on an extra novel or two. Breathing in that fresh book smell – you know the one – as I waited in line for the next available cashier. Enjoying the delicious blend of coffee in the air, paperbacks in my hand, and adventures just waiting to play out in my mind. Sitting in the car, reading the first few pages of a new story, because the fifteen minute drive home seemed too long. And so, even though my to-read list is already soaring, I couldn’t resist buying one more book there, just because. Perhaps it’ll be part of this post next year?
By “this post,” I mean my annual Best of Books post, which has become one of my favorites to write each year. Here’s 2010′s and 2011′s. As always, it was tough to narrow down the list this year, but here’s a sampling of the books that have resonated so far and beyond their pages.
My favorite reads of 2012:
Ten Girls to Watch – Charity Shumway: Pretty sure I’ve raved about this book so much over the past couple months that anyone who reads this blog would have guessed it’d make the list. It is, simply put, phenomenal. Filled with insight and eloquence, the story follows Dawn West as she navigates her way through life and love. Tasked with tracking down the five hundred finalists of Charm Magazine’s Ten Girls to Watch contest, Dawn embarks on a journey she can’t begin to imagine until she’s in its midst. Fifty years of finalists, fifty years of dreaming big and working hard, fifty years of lessons, fifty years of wisdom, fifty years of inspiration … as Dawn interviews these women, she learns not only about them, but also about herself. We watch as the dreams of writing scrawled through her heart take flight. We watch as she grows. We watch as she stumbles, falls, and picks herself up again. And as we do that, we see so much of ourselves in her. Because, truly, Dawn is someone to watch, too.
Where We Belong – Emily Giffin: I have loved all of Emily’s books, but this one is my favorite. This one is something I’ll reread multiple times. This one has stayed with me, even though it’s been five months since I got lost in its pages. There is something very special about the journey of Marian Caldwell, a television producer in New York, and her eighteen-year-old daughter Kirby Rose. Their story is about adoption, about love, about regret, about second chances, about faith, about pain, about abandonment, about hope. About life. Kirby’s quest to find her birth parents – Marian and Conrad – tugs at the heartstrings. It makes your breath catch in your throat, it makes your eyes well with tears, it makes your heart go out to everyone involved. There’s a beauty in this story’s complexity, but also a simplicity in what all the characters crave: to find their place, to find their home, to find themselves. Obviously this book struck a chord with me because I’ve written so much about adoption myself, but beyond that, it is just … beautiful. Fingers crossed tightly as can be for a sequel.
The Song Remains the Same – Allison Winn Scotch: Allison posted an excerpt of this book on her website several months before its publication date, and just from that first chapter, I was immediately intrigued. Immediately invested. Immediately eager, curious, and excited to learn about Nell Slattery and her story. One of only two survivors after a horrific plane crash, Nell is left with a memory that’s been obliterated and a life that feels foreign. It’s a clean slate, a fresh songbook. But is that a good thing? Or is it the very thing that will prevent her from moving forward? We follow along on Nell’s journey to learn more about herself, to re-learn more about herself, and to make sense of what her family and friends tell her. But when the people she has to rely on unconditionally start to keep secrets and become selective in the memories they share, Nell turns to music to fill in the blanks. Lyric by lyric, she begins to piece together the puzzle of her life – and to realize that things aren’t always as they seem. And once she truly takes matters into her own hands? Once she begins to look at this second chance as a blessing and not a curse? That’s when her song stops being the same. That’s when it becomes one she composes.
I’ve Got Your Number – Sophie Kinsella: This is, hands down, the most fun book I read all year. There’s a charm to it, a sweetness to it, a cleverness to it, a makes-you-feel-all-warm-and-fuzzy quality that will have you smiling the whole way through. As always, Sophie’s characters are infectious, and I found myself rooting for Poppy from the very beginning. First, she loses her heirloom engagement ring during a hotel fire drill. Then her cell phone is stolen. Desperate to leave the hotel a number where they can reach her if the ring is found, Poppy spots an abandoned phone in a trash can, claims it as hers, and hopes that the tides will start to turn in her direction. Instead, she ends up forging a relationship – sometimes friendly, sometimes not – with the phone’s real owner, Sam. As they communicate via text, via email, and finally, in person, Poppy and Sam inadvertently turn each other’s lives upside-down. And when it comes time for Poppy to say “I Do” … well, that’s when things are turned upside-down most of all.
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins: I picked up this book assuming that I wouldn’t care for the story. It’s not at all the type of book I normally read, not even close, and so I was more than a bit surprised when I literally COULD. NOT. PUT. IT DOWN. And when I subsequently tore through the next two in the trilogy, needing to know how everything turns out for Katniss, Peeta, Gale, and the other characters whom Suzanne paints with her words. It is clever, and smart, and overflowing with so many twists and turns. It is difficult to read at times, but even so, there’s almost a compulsion to see what happens next. Katniss is a character with heart. She would do anything for the people she loves, does do anything for the people she loves, and we see in her a courage that inspires. She is strong. Determined. Brave. And while there are parts of the trilogy that made me cringe, parts that made me cry, parts that made me so angry I wanted to throw the book across the room, there are also parts that gave me hope. That made me ignore everything else so I could stay immersed in the story. This tale is one that makes us question a lot … but one that also makes us believe in the triumph of good over evil. May the odds always be in favor of that.
These Girls – Sarah Pekkanen: Sarah’s books are like inspiration for the soul, and this one is no exception. Because these characters, these girls – Cate, Renee, and Abby – linger. Their stories linger. Their friendship lingers. They are thrown together by chance – Cate and Renee write for the same magazine, and Abby is the sister of a fellow journalist who works in the building – but become their own family by choice. And though they each have secrets which threaten to break them down, it is their bond with one another that eventually lifts them up and gives them the courage to tackle their demons. It is through facing their pasts that they’re able to find hope for their futures. What I love most about this book? About all of Sarah’s characters? They’re relatable. Reading about them, we are, in a sense, reading about ourselves. We see the goodness that can be found in the people we hold most dear. We see the strength that can blossom from having unconditional support. We see that these girls are you, me, us. And we know that, like them, we can blaze our own trails and create our own paths.
What are your favorite books of 2012?