Please enjoy my second annual Books of the Year post. (I read them this year, not all of them were published this year.)
All my favorite books this year were nonfiction titles. With the exception of the the Steve Jobs biography, of the five favorites, four were memoirs by women. Last year all my favorites were fiction. Do these things just go in cycles? Was I searching for something relevant to my own life in memoir, or is it just that the fiction I read didn't inspire me? Am I looking to live more authentically or with more excitement? Am I wondering how to find myself again now that the kids can do so much more for themselves? J will be a high school senior next year, focused intently on his path out of the house.
The lives described in the memoirs are very different from my own. One is the journey of a confused woman in her twenties, one explores a prominent life from early motherhood to grandmotherhood, one is a travel journal of a woman is in her 50s on a honeymoon, and one explores the loneliness and pain of old age.
My favorite books of the year in no particular order are:
Blue Nights by Joan Didion
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Against Wind & Tide by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Le Road Trip by Vivian Swift
Cheryl Strayed has written a beautiful memoir about her 26th year when she found strength after tragedy during a grueling 1100 mile walk on the Pacific Coast Trail through California and Oregon. The writing was powerful. She pulled you into her alternating past and current stories. People she met along the way... people she wanted to leave behind (her abusive father)... people with whom she need to make a final peace (her mother who had died before their relationship had been worked out). She explores the harms she did to herself through irresponsibility with men and drugs. Unlike me, she is intensely poor in money and relationships. It is interesting how she views poverty both as she lived it in her childhood and on the trail. Her lack of money and family made her totally self reliant. I have always known that in bad times I could count on someone. I have resources to fall back on. Could I ever be as brave as she was to pursue a dream with nothing but spirit?
Joan Didion's memoir is heartbreaking. Her previous one, A Year of Magical Thinking, explored the time after her husband died. Here she digs deep within herself after the death of her only child. She is aging alone. It seems the most honest, fearful discussion of decline due to age I have ever seen. It is not the stuff of AARP magazine, ads for elder living communities and cruising seniors. This is an exploration of losing one's balance, losing one's relations, and losing the past. I don't think I could get through this if I were in my 60's or older. It would be too scary.
from Blue Nights :
"I continue opening boxes. I find more faded and cracked photographs than I want ever again to see. I find many ingraved invitations to the weddings of people who are no longer married. I find mass cards from the funerals of people whose faces I no longer remember. In theory these mementos serve to bring back the moment. In fact they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.
How inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here is something else I could never afford to see."
Le Road Trip
On a lighter note, Vivian Swift wrote and illustrated this charming travel journal detailing her honeymoon in France with her new second husband. There are descriptions of old walled cities, casual yet delicious meals, the serendipity of train travel, and many, MANY cats. But the thing that attracted me most were the sketches and watercolors on every page. There were repeated studies of sunrises and sunsets. (It's the type of thing I have tried to capture on vacation in drawings or photos and haven't been able to do well). There are pages of paintings of windows of stone, of wood, in many colors, with cats... I love books that combine art and words, pictures that tell a great story and words that bring life to the pictures. This is one of those books.
THE WHOLE LIST
1. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
2. Blue Nights by Joan Didion
3. The Summer Book by Tove Janssen
4. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
5. Fed Up with Lunch by Sarah Wu
6. Samuel Adams the Father of American Independence by Dennis Fradin
7. Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin
8. Spontaneous Happiness by Andrew Weil
9. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
10. An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler
11. Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
12. 50 Shades of Gray
13. Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman
14. The Good of the Land by Wendell Berry
15. The Lives of Margaret Fuller
16. The Indispensable Zinn
17. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
18. Smut by Alan Bennet
19. War Dances by Sherman Alexie
20. Running Waves
21. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
22. Against Wind & Tide by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
23. The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman (YA Newberry)
24-26 Hunger Games Series
27. My Ideal Bookshelf Thessaly La Force (ed.)
28. Farther Away by Jonathan Franzen
29. The Receptionist by Janet Groth
30. Le Road Trip by Vivian Swift