62 books in a year! And the best ones were…

I love January 1st. I love new beginnings. It’s all so exciting because anything seems possible. A year ago I made a commitment to read 52 books — a book a week — and I’m very proud to announce that I exceeded my goal, wrapping up 2013 with a grand total of 62 books. The challenge was far easier than I thought, because once I got into it, I couldn’t stop. As soon as I finished a book, I had another one ready to go. Here’s what I read in December, followed by a list of my top reads from the whole year:

1. “Catherwood” by Marly Youmans

Catherwood

This short work of historical fiction tells the interesting story of a young English woman, recently immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1600s. She gets lost in the wilderness with her baby daughter and struggles to survive for months while searching for home. It was a tragic, gripping story that made me realize how lonely, empty, and wild this new land must have been back then. While the main character’s ability to navigate the wilderness seems surprisingly (and unconvincingly) advanced, considering that she grew up in upper-class English society, it was still a fascinating book.

2. “Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat” by Bee Wilson

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This book studies the kitchen and its tools, tracing the origins of pots, stoves, spoons, knives, and measuring cups as far back as possible throughout history. Though at times it felt a bit like reading a textbook, I learned so much about the kitchen implements that I take for granted on a daily basis. It made me realize how lucky I am to inhabit the present society with its wonderful, labour-saving kitchen devices. The image that stuck with me most was the medieval cooking fire in the middle of a peasant’s cottage, smoke filling the room, a cauldron on top that never got cleaned but simply assimilated the remnants of the previous night’s meal in the next night’s. Definitely a good pick for any foodies out there!

3. “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion” by Elizabeth Cline

I wrote a review of this book a few weeks ago. You can read it here.

4. “The Kitchen House” by Kathleen Grissom

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This book came highly recommended by several friends, so I was excited to start reading. It tells the story of an Irish immigrant who’s orphaned and adopted by a plantation-owning family in the South. The little girl spends many influential years in the kitchen house, finding love and friendship among the slaves who worked there. But then things turned dark, and she disappointed me tremendously as a character. I have mixed feelings about the book because I really thought it would be great, but felt let down by its predictable ending.

5. “The Virgin Cure” by Ami McKay

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After reading and enjoying McKay’s first novel, “The Birth House,” I thought this one would be great. It wasn’t, and I struggled to finish it. The story was not compelling, and the title seemed to have very little to do with the book. Instead, it was the disjointed tale of a little gypsy girl living in New York City in the late 1800s who basically moves from rags to riches in an unconvincingly fast period of time. I’m interested to hear what my book club has to say about it later this month.

As for my favourite reads of 2013:

1. “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese
2. “The Sisters Brothers” by Patrick DeWitt
3. “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls
4. “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim” by David Sedaris
5. “Vagina: a new biography” by Naomi Wolf
6. “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed
7. “Half-Blood Blues” by Esi Edugyan
8. “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation” by Michael Pollan
9. “This Is How You Lose Her” by Junot Diaz
10. “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini

How about you? What was the best book you read all year?

Related Posts:
November Book Reviews
January Book Reviews
My Addiction is Reading

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9 thoughts on “62 books in a year! And the best ones were…

    1. I’m so pleased that someone is actually using these recommendations! The Diaz book was definitely a little different, so I’m not surprised if you weren’t a fan.

  1. I’m so glad The Glass Castle made your top 10! One of my favourite books I read this past year was Half Broke Horses which pairs with the Glass Castle – I highly recommend it!

    Congrats on surpassing your goal! I too have used your monthly lists to create my own “To Read” list! I often take your list to the library and grab whatever is available. I hope you’ll continue sharing what you read in 2014!!

  2. I remember you stating your intent to read 52 books last year and love the fact that you reached beyond your goal…and wrote countless brilliant blog posts in between! Way to go Feisty. I’ve only read one of the books on your Top Ten: A Thousand Splendid Suns. I’d love to get to the others but the parental Kindle is kaput. Do you think I could get away with sneaking “Vagina – a new biography” onto my eldest son’s one? 😉
    Happy New year to you and your gorgeous gingers. x

  3. Interesting critique, and the negative comment is over an issue I definitely considered at the time of writing–I’d probably say that she didn’t start out as anything more than a very poor child, scrambling to survive… And there are other things in her history that helped… But it was definitely a concern of mine that I tried to address, back in the 90’s when I wrote the story.

    I’m glad you liked “Catherwood.” I was sad that when it moved from Farrar, Straus & Girous to a Bard paperback, the book was stopped dead by the Harper Collins implosion–that took down a lot of imprints. But it will be out once again in a reprint from Mercer University Press in 2014. Having a press request a book for reprint is always a good thing, as it suggests a book has some life and legs, so I’m happy about it.

    Happy new year, and thank you for noticing an early book of mine!

  4. I loved Catherwood, too! It really brought out the feeling of wilderness in a different era, something I enjoy being immersed in.

    I’ve been reading mostly non-fiction this year, and 2 of my favorites were in research for a writing project on the history of my Dutch ancestors in New York. The first was book was written in 1655! “A Description of New Netherland” by Adriaen Van Der Donck. I didn’t read it straight-through, but skipped around, research-style, and was fascinated by much of it. It’s written in a straightforward voice, and is simply a first-hand description of the land, wildlife, and people of that early Dutch settlement, (now New York). Particularly interesting was the description of the Native tribes, and of course all the wildlife. Terrific read, if you like history.

    Second, was a related book, “Island at the Center of the World” by Russell Shorto. It’s basically the same subject, but written from a modern perspective. Also fascinating.

    I always enjoy your book reviews! Happy New Year!

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