Best Books of 2019

Hello, dear readers.

It’s been a while, but despite a whirlwind of a year I couldn’t let the holidays pass without writing my yearly best books post! Reading is different for me every year. Some years it’s deep digesting, some thoughtful contemplation, and some years it’s a solace and enjoyment. This year reading was a bit more light for me. When I looked at my Goodreads for this year I initially felt a little embarrassed that I’d read so many “fun” books. But I also realized that I was taking grad school and working, and my mind was fried. Reading had to be a joyful and easy place for me this year.

And that’s one of the things I love most about books. They can be anything — a friend, a shoulder to cry on, a visit to a familiar, home-like place. Without further ado, here are my top reads of this year!

  1. Running Home by Katie Arnold (memoir). I read this one while marathon training. It was a beautiful memoir about the conflagration of loss, spirituality, and running. Running is a deeply spiritual practice for me, and I resonated deeply with Arnold’s sentiments about sport and its’ power both mentally and physically. I listened to an interview with Arnold while I was doing my 18 miler in my training block, and it was incredibly motivating. Arnold is a stellar writer.
  2. The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen (YA fiction). I was obsessed with Dessen’s YA novels in high school, and her newest book did not disappoint. Now that I live in North Carolina I noticed nods to her home state and enjoyed them even more. Dessen portrays the complexity of adolescence beautifully.
  3. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (poetic verse/novel). This was a grad school assigned book, but I read it in one sitting. It’s written in verse, and tells the story of identical twin boys on a jr. high basketball team. It is a fantastic book, and I highly recommend it.
  4. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (novel.) This book dropped on my Kindle after I’d had it on hold at the library and completely forgot about it, and I devoured it. I read it because it was recommended for Fleetwood Mac fans (of which I am, to say the least). This book was so good. It’s the fast-paced tale of a rock band in the 70s and their rapid rise to fame. Fantastic.
  5. North by Scott Jurek. (memoir). I wrote about it in this post so I will link to it for a lack of redundancy.
  6. The Library Book by Susan Orlean (memoir/true crime.) Again, wrote about it in this post. But so so so good.
  7. The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock (YA fiction). This book was set in Alaska and tells the stories of several teenagers as they navigate adolescence and the wilderness of Alaska. Absolutely lovely, and I loved reading about Fairbanks.
  8. Placemaker by Christie Purifoy (Christian nonfiction/memoir.) This book was elegantly written and full of literary complexity. Purifoy’s PhD in English is quite obvious from her writing. This book was so very good and encouraging to me, as she talked about place and how that affects us in our spirituality.
  9. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn (novel.) As with any overhyped novel I was nervous to read, but this one was just as good as everyone has said. I read it on a camping trip and couldn’t put it down.

And…my favorite book of this year was…The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo (novel.) This book was set in Chicago and its’ suburbs, and the setting was almost like an additional character in this fantastically written story. Lombardo writes about the complexity of family relationships, change, and grief in a book that I literally could not put down. It’s a multigenerational novel about one family, and the narrators switch from each of the daughters and parents in the family and takes place in different decades. It was so enjoyable to read, especially since I was familiar with the setting. I can’t wait to read other books Lombardo will write.

What did you read that you loved this year? Please share!

 

 

To Say Goodbye

Leaving Alaska was harder than I thought it would be.

There were moments, admittedly, when I would have jumped on the first plane out of Fairbanks I could have found. Moments like my car not starting when it was -30 F, not seeing the sun much for a few months, and feeling far from what was familiar and known.

But there were also moments that Alaska gave me that feel like they jumped out of a poem and into my life. Moments like seeing the peaks of Denali rising and falling as I drove along the Parks Highway, no clouds surrounding the mountain as they normally do. Watching moose eat frozen berries outside my house. Running a 10k in direct sunlight at 11 pm on the summer solstice. Fishing with my colleague and eating the trout I’d caught for dinner that night, beaming with pride as my tiny fish sizzled in a cast iron skillet.

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This stained glass piece of Alaska was in the Fairbanks library. I always thought it was so beautiful.

These moments caught me and gripped me the days before we left on our voyage. Through tears I found myself saying, “I don’t want to leave.” But I also had this feeling deep in my gut that it was time. It was a season and the season was ending. I think there’s some level of grief involved in letting go of seasons, even if they’ve been hard and challenging.

Alaska gave me more than I think I’ll ever know. Hindsight is, of course, much clearer than the present, but I am so thankful for the courage and strength that it lended to me. The word tough is synonymous with Alaska in my mind, and I can’t help but think that it made me a little bit tougher. I was able to teach and be with students and people I’d not have known otherwise, and I loved the experiences it gave to me. Not every day was pretty and perfect, and most were pretty mundane, but together they changed me.

I think that a challenge about leaving a place is being willing to start over somewhere new. It’s recognizing the part in your heart that a place occupied, thanking it for what it gave you, and knowing that it will always be there. But it’s also opening yourself up again and being willing to start over. It’s not an easy task by any means, but it’s important. When I miss Alaska (which I do, often, despite what I said when pounding ice pack off my steps in negative temperatures last winter) I’m reminded that Alaska will always be part of me in some way, and just because I’m opening myself to life in a new place doesn’t mean that time wasn’t important or valuable.

So maybe, the biggest part of saying goodbye is being willing to say hello, too. And I’ve gotten to say hello to some pretty wonderful people and things in this new season.

“There are far, far better things ahead than any that lie behind.” –C.S. Lewis

What I’ve Read Lately

Lately is a broad term here, dear readers, as I haven’t been faithful to update this little corner of the internet as much as I’d like. But as I wrote in my last post on bookstores, I have found a lot of peace in transition through books and reading.

As life has slowed and settled into a rhythm here in North Carolina I’ve found yet again that books have a grounding and staying power that is very important to me. I thought I’d share a few reads from the last few months that I’ve enjoyed, and in turn I simply ask that you share with me! The only thing I love more than giving book recommendations is receiving them.

 

  1. The Library Book by Susan Orlean. My aunt gave me this book for my birthday, and I absolutely loved it. I love the library in the same way my dog loves peanut butter, although with less salivating. I feel joy even looking at its presence. Being there makes me feel peace. This book was about the Los Angeles library specifically, and also recounted an arson fire there that took place in 1986 and one of the major suspects. It taught me so much about what libraries offer to communities. One of the biggest takeaways was this: the library is the only place that you can go and nothing is expected of you. You don’t have to ascribe to a certain belief system, belong to a club, turn in homework, or buy something. You can just be there. I love that.
  2. If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name by Heather Lende. I picked up this book at the wonderful little indie bookstore in Haines, Alaska, hours before we boarded a ferry and left the state. I read this book on the ferry and I loved it very much. I don’t know if my love of it was clouded by instant nostalgia for this place we called home for so long, but if you are curious about what life in Alaska is really like, this is a great start.
  3. Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs, also by Heather Lende. This book is a continuation of If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name. I love Lende’s writing style, and she was a columnist at the Anchorage Daily News and also on NPR. She’s clever and thoughtful. I loved both her books.
  4. North by Scott Jurek. In the running community Scott Jurek is a familiar name as he is a famous ultramarathoner. A colleague in Alaska gave me this book in our secret Santa gift exchange, and it was really fascinating. He recounts his story of trying to break the fastest known time for completing the Appalachian Trail and how his wife Jenny crewed for him. It was really well-written and enjoyable.
  5. Aimless Love by Billy Collins. One of my intentions for 2019 is to read more poetry. Billy Collins is one of my favorites. He was the poet laureate of the U.S. a few years ago, and his poetry is a gift. This book is delightful.
  6. The Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen. Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest who lived and ministered to adults with developmental disabilities, and this book chronicles his musings on the spiritual life of those beloved by God. It was a beautiful book about God’s unfailing love and I really enjoyed it.

So as spring slowly unfurls, wherever you are, pick up that book you’ve been thinking of reading. I promise you won’t regret it. Read on, dear ones.