December book report and 2016 reading wrap up

Here’s my final book report for the year: what I read in December and my favourite reads across the whole year…

December reads

The Mothers: A Novel

Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It

Little Town on the Prairie

80,000 Hours: Find a Fulfilling Career that Does Good

Dept. of Speculation

The Little Paris Bookshop

2016 Favourite Reads

Good bye 2016, hello 2017! Amidst the ups and downs of the year that’s been, a major personal highlight was all the reading I managed to squeeze into 2016. I love to read and have always read a lot, but this year I made an extra effort to always have a book on the go and, instead of automatically turning to social media, to use the quiet moments amidst a busy day to read a few pages.

I think I did most of my reading during my daily commute, and another good chunk while travelling. My dream pre-bed ritual involves half an hour or more of leisurely reading, though that actually happened very rarely this year (why is it so hard to get oneself to bed at a reasonable hour?).

The stand out book for me in 2016 was ‘When Breath Becomes Air‘ by Paul Kalanithi, a young neurosurgeon who wrote the memoir as he battled stage 4 lung cancer. I’m not sure how to describe it, except to say that it was powerfully moving and beautifully written, unforgettable in many ways. I sobbed through the final chapter, written by his wife Lucy, and will certainly reread it again in 2017.

My other top non-fiction reads (in no particular order):

Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife by Ruth Tucker: A powerful and shocking story about domestic violence – in the author’s marriage, but also in the wider church. 

The Triple Package: What Really Determines Success by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld: A fascinating read on the three common traits among America’s most successful minority groups: a superiority complex, insecurity and impulse control.

Smarter, Better, Faster: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg: Hugely practical and an absolute pleasure to read – which, let’s admit, cannot be said of all social sciency / self help type books!

A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller: My favourite Christian read in 2016, and most likely the best book I’ve read on prayer.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson: An epic exploration of a fascinating time in American history, told through the eyes of three different people. Wilkerson’s level of research and detail in this book is amazing.

I also read a number of stand-out fiction books this year, again in no particular order:

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes: A rare venture for me into sci-fi territory, but what a great read! Incredibly thought-provoking on how we, as a society, treat those who are different.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd: Another insightful (and at times, horrifying!) peek into American history, this novel is a fictionalised account of two young girls: a young white girl and her young black slave.

We are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler: I thought the premise of this novel was very clever. Don’t google it, just read the book!

The Laura Ingalls Wilder ‘Little House’ series by Laura Ingalls Wilder: There is something incredibly soothing about these classic books, even rereading them now as an adult. My hot tip – dig out some of your childhood favourites in 2017.

If you’re after further holiday reading ideas, you can find the rest of my 2016 reading list here. Now, what should I read in 2017?

October + November book report

Since I’m waaay behind on both months, I decided to combine them for the joint book report. Here’s everything I read in October and November:

Little House in the Big Woods

Farmer Boy

Little House on the Prairie

On the Banks of Plum Creek

By the Shores of Silver Lake

The Long Winter

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

The Happiness Project (reread)


The Warmth of Other Suns

The Gifts of Imperfection

Rising Strong

I did lots of good reading in October and November and could write a lot about each book listed!

Perhaps the overall highlight was discovering that the Laura Ingalls Wilder books were FINALLY available as e-books, after religiously checking online every few months since I very first got my Kindle back in 2012. I first read the Little House Series when I was in Grade 2, a whole 20 years ago, and I have to say that rereading a beloved childhood favourite is truly delightful way to unwind and relax after a stressful day at work. I’m through the first six, with three left to complete.

I also jumped on Brene Brown train for the first time with Rising Strong and The Gifts of Imperfection, and picked up So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed after not one, but two Averill girls recommended it to me.

In October I also discovered the By the Book feature in the New York Times, a discovery which has added countless books to my ‘must read’ list. It was on recommendation from one of the featured authors that I picked up both The Warmth of Other Suns and Commonwealth.

The Warmth of Other Suns is up near the top of my favourite non-fiction reads in 2016, a fascinating, well-researched and engaging story of the mass migration of African Americans from the South to the North during the 1930s onwards.

Commonwealth was equally impressive and would be high on my favourite fiction list!

Previous book reports here.


September book report

Here’s a very quick run down of what I read in September.

Mountains Beyond Mountains

All the Light We Cannot See

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Little Women

I really enjoyed all four books, but reading Little Women once again was a highlight. There is something so calming about curling up in bed at the end of a long day and stepping back in time a little to catch up with Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy!

August book report

Question: What makes you want to read a particular book? Why is it that some books grab us, and others, even with a glowing review from a friend, don’t interest us in the slightest?

Author Gretchen Rubin shares monthly book recommendations on her blog, but believe the more someone tries to explain a book to her, the less likely she is to want to read it, so she never writes much about the books she recommends herself.

Will and I joke about the fact that as soon as one of us says ‘Oh you’ve got to read this book’ or ‘I think you’d really like it’, somehow it makes it completely uninteresting to the other person.

Anyhow, here’s what I read in August, and why I chose it in the first place:

The Happy Marriage

This book was mentioned in a list of upcoming African authors, and since I live on the continent, I havee tried to read more from local writers. However I struggled getting into this one and it’s only half finished. Perhaps I shouldn’t include it on the list?

Cutting for Stone

The author of Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese, wrote the forward for When Breath Becomes Air, a hauntingly beautiful true story I read earlier this year . I poked around to find out what Verghese had written himself and found multiple rave reviews about Cutting For Stone. However it wasn’t available on Kindle, so I forgot about it. Then, I was ordering another book on Amazon and needed to spend a little more to qualify for cheaper shipping, so I added this to the order. Hilariously enough, about a week after it finally arrived, I was walking through our local supermarket, which has a very large collection of books, and saw it sitting there in front of me. I could have purchased it in Nairobi for about half the price of getting it shipped!

Anyhow, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the setting in Ethiopia and the beautiful story it tells.

Present Over Perfect

I chose this as I’ve read the rest of Shauna Neiquiest’s work and had caught snippets of Present Over Perfect on her blog and social media accounts. I enjoyed it, though I think I need to read it again at a later date. I’m very much in a season of actively choosing to take on more, juggle the hustle, dig deeper and go, go, go – which isn’t the season for the rest of my life but it is for right now – and it’s a very different season to the one Shauna writes about so well in Present Over Perfect. In saying that, I still soaked up a number of great gems.

A Praying Life

I’ve been reading this slowly over the last few months as I work through it in a Bible Study with some dear friends. We were going chapter by chapter until we realised just how many chapters there are (they are quite short though!). A fantastic, very honest read on prayer, probably the best and most practical book I’ve read on the subject.

Smarter Better Faster

This book had been referenced in a few others I’ve read recently. I can’t remember exactly, but I probably purchased it on Kindle after falling down the ‘Here’s-what-others-bought’-or-‘Recommended-for-you’-rabbit-hole. A great read on productivity in that social-sciencey style that I really appreciate – a good story, some interesting research, a nice general concept to pull it all together. I underlined a gazillion things and then even wrote down some quotes in a notebook for application to real life.

The Power of Habit

I enjoyed Smarter Better Faster so much I went on to read another book by the same author, Charles Duhigg. Once again, great writing style, interesting material (I’m such a habit nerd!) and some practical ideas to apply to my own life.

How to Become a Straight A student

After ‘returning’ to school late last year, I’ve found myself not only a Public Health student, but a student of distance learning and studying. I somehow stumbled across Cal Newport’s blog and a number of his ideas really clicked (and helped tremendously when I was revising for my exams in June), so I order this off Amazon with Cutting for Stone in preparation for school starting again in October. It covers a lot of the same things I had read on the blog, but I also gleaned some new ideas to study smarter. Now I am wondering if there is anything more nerdy than studying how to study? 😉

Previous book reports here.

august ramblings

Two posts in one day, this must be some kind of record for me. I just posted my July book report but wanted to capture a few things online. This blog has served as a journal of sorts and I so appreciate reading back over old entries on what I was thinking, reading, doing in years gone by.

I spent the evening conducting a ‘mid-year review’, with a candle lit and a big black puppy dog curled up at my feet. I was inspired (again!) by Sarah’s post, aptly titled ‘How to conduct a great mid-year review (on yourself!)’, and it had been in my diary for weeks and weeks – August 14 isn’t exactly mid year, is it! But I finally found an hour to pull out a notepad and jot down some thoughts.

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but I do pick a word for the year and always have a birthday list on the go. This year’s ‘word’ is actually two words: dig deep. It was good to take a few minutes and reflect on how that has unfolded in my life these past six seven and a half months. I found a scribbled line from earlier in my journal ‘dig deep – a year for roots, not for blossoms‘, and while this year has brought forth some beautiful blossoms, there has been something powerful about focusing on the roots. I’ve muttered ‘dig deep’ to myself a hundred times this year already, after hard days at work, late nights of study, pushing through endless lists of errands. They’ve been a good fit, those two words of mine!

Following Sarah’s advice, I reviewed the past year according to some example questions – how have I grown? What have I learnt? Do the rhythms of my life feel more or less balanced? At the end of each year I usually do a run down of ‘What has gone well this year? What has not gone well this year? What do I want the next year to look like in terms of work, family, friends, spirituality, health, travel etc?’, so I included that in my mid-year review as well.

I am in a season of life that I recognise is busy, and know it should be busy, and I am grateful it is busy! But the review also reminded me of a sermon from Tim Keller on the Sabbath that I listened to earlier this year and have since listened again twice and taken two pages of notes. It’s called Work and Rest and I highly recommend it (it’s on iTunes). He talks about practicing Sabbath as an act of liberation (if you don’t rest, if you can’t say no, if you are too busy – you are a slave!) and as an act of trust (I am not the one who keeps the world running, He is!), and throws in a handful of very practical disciplines to practice Sabbath in our modern world. It’s one thing I want to embrace further for the rest of the year.

Subject change. Speaking of putting things in my diary, I’m a full blown convert to the Planner Pad system. A former colleague got me intrigued (she said she’d used the same type of planner for something like 10 years) and after using it myself for 10 months, I’m hooked. It’s not the prettiest planner but it’s so functional and it’s nothing washi tape and some highlighters can’t fix.

There’s a little notes section on each weekly spread in the planner and I’ve been using it to track expenses or file ideas or, more recently, capture favourite quotes. Two quotes that have inspired and challenged me of late:

“Have some fire. Be unstoppable. Be a force of nature. Be better than anyone here. Don’t give a damn what anyone things.” – Cristina Yang (yes, I get my inspiration from prime time television…)

It gave me a good kick to go hard on a few things at work, to not shy back or hold myself down.

And second quote:

“The quest for a contemplative life can actually be self absorbed, focused on my quiet and me. If we love people and have the power to help, then we are going to be busy. Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life, it offers us a less busy heart.” – Paul Miller, A Praying Life

I’m working through A Praying Life with a couple of girlfriends, we do dinner and discussion and prayer each Tuesday night. This quote jumped off the page at me – a reminder to look beyond myself, a reminder that it’s okay to be busy, a reminder that even in the busy, prayer will bring peace to my heart.

August ramblings, over and out.

July book report

I read another four books in July, though I have to say A Little Life was by no means a little book! It’s always a little difficult to get a sense of a book’s length when reading on a Kindle, but Google tells me the print version is a solid 720 pages, probably the longest book I’ve read this year. I’m still lost on how to adequately describe A Little Life – heartbreakingly tender, harrowing, beautifully written, sickening. At times, I couldn’t put it down. At other times, I had to put it down. It is a heavy book and the story touches on some dark subjects, so be warned if you’re after a light hearted holiday read!

However if you are after a light hearted holiday read, I’d recommend Eligible, which I also read in June. It’s fluffy and fun, a modern day adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that’s only a little bit cheesy 🙂

My third June read was We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. It has popped up in my ‘recommended for you’ list on Amazon for ages, but I had no real idea what it was about until I got started (which, if you do want to read this, is the way to go – any pre-reading googling will give a key part of the story away) I thought it was a clever, thought-provoking story, with an interesting premise and great characters.

And on the non-fiction front, I finally read Outliers: The Story of Success. My first Malcolm Gladwell, I think? Fascinating stories and observations, just the kind of social-sciencey type of writing I love most.

Previous book reviews here.