2016 was a year of homebuilding, homeschooling, and hosting, but reading a good book is always time well spent. Here are my favorite reads from this past year:
Since writing The Happiness Project, her nonfiction study on human happiness, Rubin has developed some fascinating theories about human habits and motivation. Rubin intersperses her habit and happiness tips with lots of personal stories, so Better than Before may be a long read if you prefer nonfiction without lengthy anecdotes. But reading this book helped me understand myself and my family better, and that's awesome. For example, I learned that I tend to fall into the "obliger" category, so providing external accountability (through making commitments to others) is often the best way for me to accomplish a personal goal--so Rubin deserves some credit (or blame?) for prompting me to sign up for the Paris Marathon this coming April, and for making sure I tell you about it.
2. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in A Distracting World by Paul E. Miller:
This is the first of Paul Miller's books that I have read, and I was blown away by his honesty and insight--much of which has come through his discipleship experience and through living with his autistic daughter. His practical wisdom about prayer has strengthened my relationship with God and with others, so I'm grateful to have gleaned his insight and perspective in A Praying Life. Communication with God doesn't have to be a one-sided conversation, nor is Christianity just wishful thinking. Miller's knowledge of both human nature and the divine relationship is encouraging.
3. Flirting with French: How A Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me, & Nearly Broke My Heart by William Alexander:
You may not have read this humorous book yet, but if you're a Francophile, you may have already seen The LA Times' publication of Alexander's terrifically funny chart on how to use tu/vous correctly in French. (You can find a PDF version on his blog here.) Alexander is a middle-aged American who spent 13 months and a great deal of time and money trying to become fluent in French. I won't tell you the outcome, of course, but Alexander's self-depreciating wit and ample doses of linguistic wisdom make devouring this story as enjoyable as an authentic pain au chocolat. Through Flirting with French, I learned some fantastic tips for memorizing new vocabulary, and I was reminded of all the delights and damnations of learning a new language. Merci bien, Alexander!
In addition to being a writer lauded by the New York Times, Alexander is a fantastic baker and gardener, making him someone I'd love to befriend. You can find more of Alexander's writing at TheFrenchBlog.com.
4. Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris by Sarah Turnbull and All Good Things: From Paris to Tahiti, Life and Longing (also by Sarah Turnbull):
Reading Almost French this year gave me a strong sense of deja vu--I had in fact read it years ago, but I couldn't recall the ending. This time I delighted in Turnbull's autobiographical story about moving to Paris for a Frenchman she hardly knew. The late 90s/early 2000s timeframe is the same setting as Adam Gopnik's autobiographical novel Paris to the Moon (which I wrote about here), so it was interesting to read a distinctly Australian perspective on living in Paris at that time. But my real reason for reading Almost French was as background before reading All Good Things, because this past year I developed a keen interest in Tahiti. Turnbull describes Tahiti beautifully--you can really envision it--and yet as a mama I am equally interested in her story of infertility and fledgling parenthood. If you have an island travel itch or are longing to swim in clear blue waters this winter, definitely add All Good Things to your reading list.
5. Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from A Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D.L. Mayfield:
I can relate to this autobiographical tale in so many ways: as a fellow Oregonian, as someone who married into an immigrant family, as a former ESL assistant, and foremost as a Christian who is willing to share about my faith. D.L. Mayfield's story of being assigned to a Somali Bantu family as an ESL volunteer and a hopeful missionary is a story of how experience can transform ignorance into knowledge and relationship. I hope I get to meet D.L. Mayfield here in Portland someday soon, because I think we'd be fast friends.
The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross - Written by the former Senior Advisor for Innovation to the Secretary of the State, this book gave me a stronger sense of where our society and economy is headed, and helped me grasp the importance of learning code (and helping my children do so as well).
Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple - This is a highly entertaining and light read about a mother who disappears just before her daughter's much anticipated trip to Antartica. I loved the Seattle/Eastside setting, and I gleaned some interesting tidbits about parenting, as well as a stronger knowledge of the geography of the South Pole. What's not to like about that?
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi - You may have read an excerpt from Kalanithi's reflections on time and the meaning of life shortly before he passed away of cancer less than two years ago. This young surgeon's memoir is a meaningful, heartbreaking look at life's significance and the importance of keeping our perspective on what matters most.
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Related post: Fascinating non-fiction reads of 2014