January 08, 2020One of the things that defines me most clearly is my love of reading. It's been a passion as long as I can remember and one I'm trying my best to pass on to my children.
I've maintained a list of books I've read basically my entire adult life. I can't remember why I started recording the titles and authors, but, once I did, I kept it up.
I'm so glad I developed this habit. I can look back at my past lists and recall specific events in my life that occurred while I was reading certain books. I connect many books to life events.
The length of the lists is revealing as well.
I was voracious as a recent college grad and new reporter, devouring between 35 and 40 books annually in the mid-'90s.
The new millennium brought a new job for me — newspaper editor — and I lived, ate, breathed and slept the newspaper. I continued reading but didn't have nearly as much time to commit to it. I read as few as 10 books (2004) but as many as 20 the next year.
Darin and I married in 2006, and I became pregnant with Hays shortly thereafter; I read about a dozen books in those years (not counting the hundreds of children's books I read aloud, of course).
I had Sylvia in 2009 and Warner in 2010 with a new low of just one book (true crime, my favorite genre) recorded. That was a very hard year as I struggled to deal with a demanding job, three children age 3 and younger and to cope with the untimely death of our teenage next-door neighbor.
I have no books recorded for 2011 or 2012.
I distinctly remember how "not right" I felt during this period. Yes, I was incredibly busy as a full-time working mom, but something was missing. I desperately needed to find a way to read for pleasure again. Early in 2013, I decided personal reading was too essential for me to abandon. I managed 13 books that year.
I now average in the high teens to the low 20s, not counting the books I read aloud to the kids. We've been working through "A Series of Unfortunate Events" for years and are almost finished and recently started the "Chronicles of Narnia."
Some of my very best childhood memories are sitting on my grandma's lap while she read to me. I decided when I had children of my own, I would read to them for as long as they'd let me.
This past year was a pretty diverse one reading-wise for me. While I was at Franklin College, I had the opportunity to visit both East and West Germany and tour a concentration camp. It had a lasting impression, and I find myself reading more and more about World War II.
"Fly Boys" by James Bradley is easily my favorite book of the year and makes my top 10 list of best books. This true story of a group of World War II American pilots captured, tortured and killed by the Japanese in the Pacific Theatre is unforgettable. It's also an impressive history of not just the United States and Japan, but of the entire world. It should be required reading in every high school.
"Hidden Child of the Holocaust," by Stacy Cretzmeyer, is the story of a young Jewish girl living in France when the Nazis invade. It's a harrowing tale of narrow escapes, heartbreak and, ultimately, life.
I discovered a new author, Jenny Lawson, and read two of her books, "Furiously Happy" and "Let's Pretend This Never Happened." Lawson's take on the world is absolutely hilarious, yet her writing is so direct it almost hurts at times. She makes no attempt to sugar-coat her struggles with depression and mental illness, and I love her for that honesty.
"The Astronaut Wives Club" by Lily Koppel was a great read on the 50th anniversary of man's walk on the moon. It's from the perspective of the women left behind on Earth to cope and carry on while their husbands risked (and sometimes lost) their lives pioneering the space program.
I love narrative nonfiction, and "In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex" by Nathaniel Philbrick was an incredible read. I knew nothing of this 1820 tragedy and virtually nothing of the huge industry that whaling was in this country's early years. I could not put this one down.
A couple others I read this year include "Room" by Emma Donoghue, a novel about a child born in captivity after his mother is abducted. The only world he knew was the room in which they were imprisoned. "Ordinary Grace" by William K. Krueger is a novel in which the protagonist recalls the events of his 13th summer 40 years later, providing a unique perspective.
I think JoJo Mayes ("Me Before You") is an amazing writer. She wrote "The Last Letter from Your Lover" before "Me Before You," which was made into a movie. I loved "Last Letter," which I read last year, every bit as much.
I've started my 2020 list already, finishing up "My Sunshine Away" by M.O. Walsh, which I started in December. I love coming-of-age stories, and this is a very unique one. I'm now onto another account of a child's experience during the Holocaust, "A Lucky Child," by Thomas Buergenthal.
I wish you a year filled with literary treasures and long afternoons lost in a great book. I can't think of a better way to measure a successful year than book by book.