“Books let us into their souls and lay open to us the secrets of our own.”
Like much of the Northeast, we were covered with a crystalline blanket of white this past weekend. The first major snowfall of the season is always exciting – well, until the storm is over and the slippery roads linger behind – and this time was no exception. It was cold. It was icy. It was windy. And did I mention snowy? We got just over a foot here, which pales in comparison to the twenty inches in NYC and the twenty-eight at the shore, but it was still enough to turn the area into a winter wonderland. Wispy flakes fluttered through the air: tiny, sparkling diamonds that clung to the grass, to the tree branches … really, to just about every available surface. And when the wind picked up (okay, that’s an understatement, considering that the gusts reached somewhere around 60 mph), well, what better to do than curl up inside with a good book? Writing + reading + snow = Perfection. If that’s not a well-known mathematical equation, then I don’t know what is.
With the end of the year quickly approaching, that got me thinking. What are my favorite books that I’ve read over the past twelve months? I was already looking forward to writing this post, and when Kristan did a similar one, it really made me stop and think. So many people love to read. So many of us love to get lost in a book, to read between the lines and go on a journey right along with the characters. When it comes to the actual stories, though, preferences vary so widely. I love that. I love that we’re all drawn to different ideas, to different subjects, to different genres. What’s that phrase? Variety is the spice of life. As a writer, I’m always interested to hear what makes others choose to write in specific genres. What makes those characters the most compelling for them? What makes those stories the ones they want to – or have to – tell? As a reader, I’m just as curious. I love going through everyone’s “best of” lists. Who knows when and where I’ll find a new book to adore?
Here are some of my favorites that I’ve read this year:
Heart of the Matter – Emily Giffin: I was looking forward to this book from the moment I first found out about its release date. I randomly stumbled upon one of Emily’s novels last year, and when I read the entire thing in one day, I knew I had found an author who would be jumping to the top of my favorites list. Well, it was more like she catapulted. There’s something very special and unique about her writing. She crafts these stories that immerse you in their pages and these characters who feel so real that it’s like they’re your friends. Her novels and their messages stay with you even after the last page, resounding and striking a memorable chord. This story of Tessa, Nick, and Valerie – and the twist of fate that made their paths intersect – is one of those. I couldn’t put the book down (literally, pretty sure I actually read straight through dinner that night), and was so, so excited to pass it along. Getting to introduce people to Emily’s work is always a joy. It’s truly like sharing a friend, because that’s what her books become.
The One That I Want – Allison Winn Scotch: This is another book that inspires. I first heard about Allison through a friend, and after rushing through her second novel because it was JUST THAT GOOD, I couldn’t wait for her third to be released this June. There are so many things I could say about this novel, so many threads that Allison interwove to tell such an important story. For Tilly and the cast of characters, the lessons they learn are all about clarity. What is life like now? What can it be like in the future? And, perhaps most importantly, where do we find the strength to turn “what could be” into “what is” instead? Allison has an incredible talent for writing stories that not only pull you in as a reader, but also make you reflect on your own life, often without even realizing it. Her books are relatable. They make you think. And, beyond that, they make you hope. Through the characters’ journeys, we consider our own. Isn’t that what great writing is supposed to achieve?
Beyond Me – Melinda Doolittle: What to say about this book? Well, it’s no secret that I think Melinda is amazing. Her heart is every bit as big as her talent, and I consider myself truly lucky to know her. She’s been an inspiration to me for years, and to say that I was elated when I found out she was writing a book is an understatement. This isn’t just the story of how she broke into the business. It’s a story of persistence, faith, and hope. It’s a story about dreaming big and then working hard to make those dreams come true. From her personal triumphs to her idea of creating a “faith wall” as motivation, Melinda doesn’t just encourage. She inspires. This whole book is uplifting and promise-filled, because that’s who Melinda is. She changes lives for the better. She changes them for good. I couldn’t be more grateful or more thankful to include myself among those lives. Melinda’s book will be one you don’t soon forget. In fact, it’s kind of impossible not to sing its praises.
A Bump in the Road – Maureen Lipinski: Sometimes there’s a novel that just gets to you in a way you can’t quite explain. That’s exactly what happened for me with both this book and its sequel. Maureen takes us along on main character Clare’s journey to becoming a mother. We watch her emotions change. We watch her perspective broaden. We watch her heart expand with a love that can only come from carrying a new little life and feeling it blossom. Clare’s pregnancy wasn’t planned, but Maureen beautifully reminds readers that sometimes the best things in life aren’t. Sometimes taking a chance and opening up your soul to possibility ends up changing your world in ways you never could have imagined. This book made me laugh (literally, out loud), it made me feel, it made me reflect … and yes, it even made me get a bit teary-eyed at the end. I read this over the summer, and I still can’t quite put into words exactly why I loved it so much. There was just something about it.
The Help – Kathryn Stockett: I owe Megan a HUGE thank you for recommending this book to me. It’s historical fiction meets women’s fiction, with so many important messages flawlessly woven throughout. The alternating viewpoints in the novel give us insight into so many characters. We see into their lives, but more importantly, we see into their hearts and souls. We learn what their worlds are like, and that only makes it even more touching and striking when they start to come together and work toward a common goal. Boundaries are crossed, lines are stepped over, and stereotypes are smashed. It’s a serious book that covers serious issues from American history, but it’s also filled with so much hope. The characters are truly inspiring, and they paint a picture of possibility. Sometimes all it takes is one person to start changing the world in unbelievable ways. Sometimes all it takes is one book to remind us of that.
A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith in Stages – Kristin Chenoweth: I’ve mentioned Kristin’s autobiography several times on here, so I’ll keep this one short. I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time now, and not just because of her singing and acting prowess. Of course she inspires through those talents – “Defying Gravity” and “For Good” mean more to me than I can put into words – but it goes beyond that. She inspires through her outlook, through her optimism and belief. This book bottles all of that in its pages. We learn about Kristin’s journey over the years, and we also learn about the grace and wisdom with which she’s approached it all. On a personal note, there’s a part of this book that resonated very, very strongly with my new novel. I’ll never forget the chill I got when I first read it. Instant connection. I think that’s what is so unique about Kristin, though. She sings. She acts. She writes. And through it all, she makes you realize that you can achieve your dreams, too. We can all defy gravity.
This is just a sampling of the books I’ve read and loved this year. A full list is here. I already have several books on my list for 2011 and can’t wait to keep reading, reading, and reading some more! How about you? Did you have a favorite book this year? Were there any that resonated well beyond their pages?