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
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
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
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
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?