Looking for the perfect title to stash in your carry-on or slip in a stocking? I’ve got you covered, here are my top seven reads of 2014.
Last January, I had the opportunity to hear book enthusiast and fellow educator, Donalyn Miller, talk at a conference. The Book Whisperer spoke lovingly of spending her childhood and adolescence immersed in a cocoon of novels. She referenced the impact that knowing an avid reader can have on the reading life (and academic excellence) of a child.
I have always been an avid reader, but listening to her speak ignited a fire in me. I let go of the notion that reading books was less important or meaningful than something else I could be doing at any given moment and set a goal for myself to read one book (of choice – not professional texts) every 2 weeks. It wasn’t a “reach-for-the stars” kind of goal, since that’s only 5-8 titles more than I typically read, but it was a way to say to myself: My reading life is a part of who I am and the life I live.
It’s November and I’ve exceeded my goal, but couldn’t wait until the end of 2014 to share my top picks (in order of preference)…
1. All the Light We Cannot See – I am, admittedly, still in the honeymoon phase with this book having only just completed it, so forgive me as I swoon a bit in my description. Ahem. This book is mostly about a young Parisian girl who is blind and an incredibly gifted German boy who is grappling with finding answers to some deceivingly simple questions. And it is about a mythical stone and its course through human history, and about the war as it was sensed and endured by those across Europe in the 40s. Doerr composes a vivid spectrum of characters and emotions and winds them together into a brilliant story about a girl (and a boy).
2. The Alchemist – This book reads like a folktale and will stick with you long after the last page. Millions of people have read this book and work to live out the philosophy of seeking one’s own personal destiny, wherever that might lead.
3. Lean In – I really, truly wanted to hate this book. I read all of the articles bashing her insensitivity toward women of lesser means, of color. I read that the book was essentially telling women that this “inequality thing” is of their own making. Then I put down the reviews and actually read the book, in which Sandberg addresses each and every one of these claims (and owns up to some of them), as well as identifies the extrinsic and intrinsic factors holding women back from leadership positions in the workplace. The argument that excited me most was the notion that women (often looking longingly into the future: “I met a guy, maybe in a year I’ll be married and will want to work less”) may disqualify themselves from more promising opportunities in the nearer future (“There is an opening for a committee chair at my work and my boss indicated that if I took on this project, she would recommend me for a promotion, but…”). Overall, this book was a breath of fresh air – a coffee date with a smart and savvy woman with some relevant words of warning for young women with ambition.
4. The Invention of Wings – I have a thing for historical fiction books that weave together the stories of two distinct characters, so The Invention of Wings was right up my alley. If you’ve read The Secret Life of Bees, you know that Sue Monk Kidd leans into the history of the South and tensions between whites and black that come unwound when characters learn to see each other as humans, bound by circumstances and freed by empathy. This novel is much more intelligent than her earlier work and The Help by Katherine Stockett, but if you enjoyed those books you will adore this one.
5. Twice Toward Justice – If you enjoy spouting little known historical asides during dinner parties, I suggest you get your hands on Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose. Written in a narrative nonfiction style, Hoose delves into the history of a young teenage girl who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus a full nine months before the celebrated Rosa Parks did the same. Why wasn’t Claudette the poster child of the bus boycott? Why did tensions continue to simmer for nearly another year before the bus strikes began? Colvin’s interviews and letters from community leaders reveal a little-known strategy behind Rosa Park’s refusal.
6. The Goldfinch – As the winner of the Pulitzer prize, this text will ensure that you will certainly have many a fellow reader to connect to over this tumultuous coming of age story. Written in our post-9-11 world, this novel forces today’s reader to look closely at the complexity of our modern society, the sheer depth of devastation that one human can be forced to endure, and the age-old condition of loneliness that is only worsened by economically-broken families and consumer-entranced peers. It is not an easy book to read, but there is some kind of light or inner-strength in Theo, the main character, that keeps you moving forward as only the best writing can.
7. Wonder – Of course, being a teacher, I have to end with some kid lit. This book, however, is written for readers of all ages. It chronicles the story of a boy with a severe facial birth defect as he enters the most socially brutalizing experience of the American tween: middle school. Ultimately, this is a story about how comfortable we are examining and reconstructing the ugly truths of our own hearts and the hearts of others as we navigate finding friends, fitting in and growing up.
Now… what to get the girl who’s read everything? Seriously, friends, I’m in need of some recommendations to make it to 2015. Help a lady out!