One of my goals for 2012 was to read at least ten books in the year (one of the resolutions I kept), and I actually read a grand total of thirteen books (and a lot of magazines, mind you!). I’m not sure if this is awesome or shameful, but I’m proud nonetheless. I’m continuously on the hunt for a book that is beautiful, life changing and earth shattering, but that is not easy to come by. Finding a book like that requires reading the right book at the right time – when the author is basically peering into your soul and telling your very own personal story. Each word is a golden nugget of advice specifically pertaining to you, your feelings and your situation, etc. I haven’t found a book that special to me since 2006, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t found some beautiful pieces of literature along the way. In the spirit of a new year with new books, here are my top five favorite books from 2012. Enjoy.
#1 NO EXCUSES: 9 WAYS WOMEN CAN CHANGE HOW WE THINK ABOUT POWER – Gloria Feldt
This is an inspiring and motivating book written by Gloria Feldt, former president and CEO of Planned Parenthood. Feldt argues that no one is keeping women from making big changes in their personal and work life but themselves – a huge statement for a feminist; however, this book’s purpose is to not assign blame, but to highlight areas where women can step through and open doors. Women have made huge leaps in equality, but we still have a long way to go. Women still face discrimination in regards to pay, representation in politics, boardrooms, and often get boxed into “traditional roles” when it comes to personal relationships. We must change the way we think about power and use it to benefit ourselves and others. Feldt explains this by saying, “Look, power exists. Somebody is going to have it. If you would exercise it ethically, why not you? I love power. I’m power-hungry because when I have power I can make things happen, can serve my community, can influence decisions. I can accomplish things.”
This book pumped me up! It offers stories of everyday women making a difference in their lives, in their communities and in their businesses just by taking advantage of the opportunities in front of them. When it comes down to it, making these changes are not really difficult, we just need to move past the limitations we set for ourselves (and often by society) and push for change. This book also gave me the courage to ask for (and get!) a higher salary starting my new job last year because I knew that I was worth it, and you don’t get what you don’t ask for.
#2 WILD: FROM LOST TO FOUND ON THE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL – Cheryl Strayed
I’m a sucker for memoirs, and this was a very powerful and personal story of a twenty-two year old woman who had basically lost everything. After her mother’s death, her family falling apart and her divorce, she made the decision to solo hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California, to Oregon and to Washington State. Kickass bold move. She had no experience as a long distance hiker, but it was an idea that had planted itself in her head and would not leave. She explains this impulse by saying, “I was trying to heal. Trying to get the bad out of my system so I could be good again. To cure me of myself.” This feeling struck a familiar chord within me, and although I did not hike eleven hundred miles in a few months, I did move about seventeen hundred miles away from home to a ranch that was seven miles off a dirt road. The feeling of just needing to be quiet, to be no one and be nowhere for a while, and to just get back to the root of yourself.
This book will make you laugh out loud as well as break your heart a little as she faces loneliness, beauty, pain and herself.
#3 TRAVELING WITH POMEGRANATES: A MOTHER AND DAUGHTER JOURNEY TO THE SACRED PLACES OF GREECE, TURKEY, AND FRANCE – Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor
This book was a particularly great read for me because my mother and honorary grandmother, Joan, read this book before me and left their notes and underlines in the book. I always love to read a book with these scribbles to see what someone else thinks or what lines stand out to them. It’s a way for me to see others in a new light and get to know them on another level.
This dual memoir is written by a mother (Sue wrote The Secret Life of Bees as well as other works of fiction and non-fiction) and her daughter, Ann, who not only travel together, but also reconnect with one another. Throughout their travels, Sue struggles to make sense of the signs of bees that keep popping up in her life and with the idea of writing fiction. Ann, fresh out of college, struggles with heartbreak, depression, and the big question of what to do with her life. Complete with the beautiful scenes, places, and personal pilgrimages they make, they develop a new relationship with themselves and with each other.
The details and experiences of how Sue got started writing her famous novel, The Secret Life of Bees, was very interesting, and to see a mother/daughter relationship turn from one of parent and child to one of parent and friend is one I can relate to. It made me miss my mom, to say the least!
#4 UNORTHODOX: THE SCANDALOUS REJECTION OF MY HASIDIC ROOTS – Deborah Feldman
This was a super interesting memoir to me because I knew pretty much nothing about the Hasidic community or faith before this. Feldman tells about growing up in Brooklyn’s Satmar Hasidism neighborhood with her strict Orthodox grandparents, being denied a formal education (education stopped at eighth grade for girls, no pleasure reading allowed, and only one English language class was taught), and getting married at age seventeen to a boy she had met for thirty minutes before. Unable to consummate their marriage for a year (there was also no formal sexual education as well), she developed crippling anxiety and depression over the public shame of not being a dutiful wife. Finally, at age nineteen Feldman escapes the Hasidic community and leaves all of her family and former life behind.
This book is not about bashing a community or faith, but a view into the life that she and so many others experience that is generally off-limits to outsiders. It’s an eye-opening and insightful memoir about overcoming the struggle to have a voice and individual freedom where it is not encouraged or allowed.
#5 COMMITTED: A LOVE STORY – Elizabeth Gilbert
I love me some Elizabeth Gilbert, and this book was very interesting, well written, funny and informative. Gilbert wrote this before her memoir, Eat Pray Love, blew up and became a bestseller. In Eat Pray Love the author falls in love with Felipe, a Brazilian born man with Australian citizenship, who conducts his business around the globe. The couple vowed to never get married again after suffering from their own bad divorces; however, this book picks up when Felipe is stopped at the airport and not allowed into the country. The two are faced with one of their worst fears: they must get married or Felipe cannot return to the U.S. again. In attempt to get ready to make the marital plunge again, Gilbert dives head on attempting to expose every aspect and corner of marriage: what it has meant over time, what it means today in our society, and what it means to other cultures. “When it comes to matrimony [Gilbert] frankly examines questions of compatibility, infatuation, fidelity, family tradition, social expectations, divorce risks and humbling responsibilities.”
This is not just a book for those getting ready to marry or for those in a relationship – this is great information (and just a great story – seriously, I l-o-v-e how this woman writes!) about relationships and the history of the ever evolving and changing institution of marriage.
Now, sit back with a nice cup of coffee, put your feet up and enjoy your reading. I’d love to hear what books inspire you, so sound off below in the comments! Another year, another book shelf to fill.
Other books I read in 2012: Up for Renewal – Cathy Alter; Pilgrims – Elizabeth Gilbert; Bossypants – Tina Fey; The Mermaid Chair – Sue Monk Kidd; Are You My Guru: How Medicine, Meditation and Madonna Saved My Life – Wendy Shanker; A Year by the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman – Joan Anderson; A Thousand Days in Venice – Marlena de Blasi; Easter Everywhere – Darcey Steinke