23 June 2016

The Reading Rainbow of My Heart

I'm reading a pretty terrible book right now. Normally when I don't like a book, I give myself permission to quit after 100 pages or 1/3 of the book, whichever is sooner. I keep reading this particular story because it was written by a celebrity and I'm a bit of a voyeur (or so it would seem).

As someone who writes a lot for work and in my personal life, I'm picky about writing styles. I tend to like varied sentence structure. I'm a sucker for good grammar and vocabulary. I notice a clever turn of phrase and am especially amorous for an awesome alliteration. For all of the things I love about reading, I can think of two things I find really irritating:

  • Ellipses as periods....they are not.....write a proper sentence you jackass....
  • Excessive exclamation points!!!!!!
The book I'm reading right now has both. But I keep reading, and I will until all the other library books I have requested magically become available.

To distract me from this current book crisis, and to honor my childhood as a fan of Reading Rainbow (which I just learned was the #1 most downloaded app in the first 36-hours of launch in 2012), here are my favorite books of all time (or at least dating back to 2011, when I started keeping track of books I read for pleasure and not things I had to read for school (some of which I also really enjoyed)):

The Book Thief
Runner(s) Up: Lamb, All The Light We Cannot See

In my mind I am solely a reading of non-fiction, but when I think back on all of my very favorite books, they tend to be historical fiction where I can really lose myself in the story. Each one of these books is absolutely fantastic. The Book Thief is set in Germany during WWII, and follows the life of a young girl who steals books the Nazi party intends to destroy. Each book becomes a symbol of the time in her life when she's reading it. I couldn't put this book down, and if you like the writing of Zusak, I highly recommend his other novel I Am Messenger.

Lamb is the story of young Jesus as told by his best friend Biff. If you're familiar with the story of the Bible and can take a good joke, this is a must-read. Moore has written a number of novels, but this is by far the best.

All the Light is another story set in WWII (as is a theme with many of the books I really like) and tells two parallel stories - one of a young blind girl caught in the crossfires of war, and another of a young man recruited to the Nazi party. It's compelling and heartbreaking and reads like a love story, yet is really about two lives tragically interwoven by the perils of war.

Fiction (but so realistic it might as well be non-fiction)
The Martian
Runner(s) Up: A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Earlier this year I wanted to do some reading, but was struggling to find new books. I did the only rational thing a person would do in my situation: I asked Facebook. The responses blew me away, and a number of people recommended The Martian. Far outside of my normal comfort zone, I gave it a chance based on the glowing reviews from friends, family, AND colleagues. I'm here to tell you, they were right. This book is fantastic and you can't put it down. Plus, it was written by a non-author who works for NASA and all of the science is sound. I haven't seen the movie yet, but it's on my list now too. The book felt so realistic it might as well be non-fiction.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is absolutely wrenching and everyone should read it. See also: The Kite Runner.

I'm a sucker for a local book. Set in Seattle, Hotel tells the story of a young Chinese boy in the 1940's, and what happens to his best friend - a Japanese girl - during the internment. The story alternates between between present-day (1980's) Henry and young-child (1940's) Henry, and it's well written, delicately told, and happy and sad in all the ways you want it to be.

The Boys in the Boat
Runner(s) Up: Wild, Minus 148-degrees, Bossy Pants, Sixty Meters to Anywhere

Non-fiction books are my favorite. My colleague Jeff summed it up recently when he said, "Why would I want to read something fake when real stories are so much more interesting?" 

If you are the 1% that hasn't read The Boys in the Boat, go get it right now. Seriously, why are you still reading this blog? It's one of the best books I've ever read, and I know nothing/do not care at all about rowing. The storytelling is so well done, so vividly portrayed, that you feel like you're sitting in the boat with the oarsmen. Plus it's a true story with a tablespoon of national pride. Did I mention it's set in Seattle AND Nazi Germany? Yes, buy it now.

Moving on: when I got laid off in 2013, I made a point to have a list of things I wanted to accomplish while out of work. The first day I reorganized my kitchen. The second day I read Wild. I know there's a lot of hype around this book, but I really enjoyed it. Cheryl Strayed has such an incredibly relatable tone in her writing. She's very open and vulnerable, and I feel like I learned a lot from her about myself. She's also the author of the Dear Sugar column, and I'd recommend her collection of column excerpts in Tiny Little Things as well.

If you liked Into Thin Air or Touching the Void, or even if you didn't, you'll enjoy Minus 148*. It chronicles the journey of the first winter descent of Denali, and the harrowing efforts to get off the mountain alive. Davidson writes for the layperson (meaning nothing too technical) and the story of resilience and tenacity is one for the ages.

I love Tina Fay. I loved Mean Girls and own every episode of 30 Rock. I think she's incredibly talented and I enjoyed the story of her life. It's nothing overly personal or groundbreaking, but when you're a fan-girl sometimes you have to indulge.

Speaking of fan-girl, I'm a total fangirl for Brendan Leonard. I discovered his blog shortly after he started writing it in 2012, and his writing style and commitment-to-weekly-publishing has really inspired my own blog. He's written funny, adventure-based irreverend blogs like Dude, it's okay to hug your bro and Obsessive Campfire Adjustment Syndrome and has evolved to write more introspective blogs on big picture issues like How Gratitude Makes You Happier and the importance of Loving what you do, even if you don't do what you love. On his blog he writes, "I think we all need to spend more time doing things we love, going to places that make us feel small, remembering to laugh at ourselves, and getting a little cold, tired, and scared every once in awhile." His book Sixty Meters is really, really great, and tells his personal story of a life changed by addiction and climbing.  

Johnathan Livingston Seagull
Runner Up: The Prophet

Both of these books are short, and both were given to me by people who knew I needed to read the book at that time in my life. You can read each book in just a few hours, but the lessons you gain from them can be studied and applied for a lifetime. 

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