I Read 121 Books This Year and These are the Ones I Recommend

Every year I set New Year’s resolutions. And every year I usually only stick to one. This year I actually completed two of my resolutions: I ran the Chicago Marathon and I read 115 books. Not to brag, but I actually read 121 books.

Every time I tell people how many books I read they always say to me, “I could never read that much!” And every time I roll my eyes and say, “Yes, you can.” I did a blog post last year recapping the books I read in 2014 that I liked so I won’t repeat my advice on finding time to read, but you can read it yourself if you’re in the mood for unsolicited advice.

But I do think people should read more. I don’t really give a crap what you read (God knows I read enough trash), but you should read more. Here are ways to find some good books to read:

  • Join Goodreads. The site will recommend books for you based on ratings you give to books you already read. Or you can just browse genre sections and see what’s new or popular. Plus, it has a very active community, so there are always a bunch of reviews and ratings.
  • Follow a book blog. Find a genre you like and research the blogs. It’s crazy how many extremely active book blogs there are.
  • The NPR book concierge is a fantastic interactive tool to help you narrow down to a book that’s just right for you.
  • What Should I Read Next? It’s a pretty simple website where you can just type in an author’s name or a book title and a whole list will populate.
  • Go to an actual brick and mortar bookstore. I’m completely guilty of not doing this enough. I order almost all my books online or get them on my Nook. Even if you don’t want to ask the staff what they would recommend, I say just browse the shelves, take a peek at something that looks good, judge a book by its cover. I once had a date at a bookstore, and it was a blast, so there’s that option if you are dating a reader.

Now onto the list, shall we?

Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash by Edward Humes

Anyone close to me had to deal with me ranting and raving after I read this book. I don’t how many times my Dad had to hear me say, “Do you not understand how much trash an American makes? It’s insane!”

I didn’t really recycle before reading this book, now I try and recycle as much as I can. I use to pack my lunch in a plastic bag that I would throw away, but I bought reusable bento boxes and a lunch bag. I now use my tote bags to carry my groceries. When Chicago instituted a ban on plastic grocery bags I was genuinely excited. Just this morning I admonished my boyfriend for using paper plates.

You don’t have to be an eco-nut or tree hugger to enjoy this book. It’s packed full of entertaining stories and anecdotes about the history of garbage in America.

Favorite quote:

“Americans make more trash than anyone else on the planet, throwing away about 7.1 pounds per person per day, 365 days a year. Across a lifetime that rate means, on average, we are each on track to generate 102 tons of trash. Each of our bodies may occupy only one cemetery plot when we’re done with this world, but a single person’s 102-ton trash legacy will require the equivalent of 1,100 graves. Much of that refuse will outlast any grave marker, pharaoh’s pyramid or modern skyscraper: One of the few relics of our civilization guaranteed to be recognizable twenty thousand years from now is the potato chip bag.”

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath

This is one of two Heath brothers books on my list. If you are in any sort of career that requires you to sell ideas or concepts (marketing, teaching, advertising, communications, fundraising, really anything), this is a must read. The Heath brothers are great at offering real tips and advice. I found myself multiple times highlighting a sentence and getting excited to try a new tactic at work.

Favorite quotes:

“The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern.”

“When you say three things, you say nothing.”

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

If you stay in touch with the book world, this book was probably on your radar. Marketed as this year’s Gone Girl, I would say it’s even better than it.

An unreliable narrator, a girl with psychological issues, and an ex-husband play the central figures in this suspenseful page-turner. I call this book an “I’ve got to take lunch” book because it’s so good I don’t want to wait until work is over to continue reading it.

I’m very excited for the movie, which will be coming out in October, but I doubt it will be engaging as the book.

Favorite quotes:

“I have never understood how people can blithely disregard the damage they do by following their hearts.”

“There’s something comforting about the sight of strangers safe at home.”

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Silvers versus Reds should be the tagline for this book. The premise goes that humans, with their red blood, are ruled over by Silvers, a powerful elite class with superpower abilities. Mare, a poor Red from the slums gets a job in the Silver palace and in a fight displays Silver-like capabilities. Ba, ba, baaaaa!

Mare reminds me a lot of Katniss, she’s headstrong and stubborn, with the ability to kick ass. That’s a heroine after my own heart. There’s a bit of a love triangle, but the main crux of the book is a Red uprising against the Silvers.

It’s a trilogy (because all young adult sci-fi books have to be trilogies—I think it’s a law), so I have my calendar marked for when the second book comes out.

And, come on, that cover is awesome.

Favorite quote:

“In the fairy tales, the poor girl smiles when she becomes a princess. Right now, I don’t know if I’ll ever smile again.”

Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger

This book spawned a type of obsession in me. As I was reading the book, I found myself researching a lot of the players (Odell Beckham Sr. is a minor character) and looking into old records for the Odessa Permian Panthers.

Bottom line: Odessa is obsessed with high school football, and wants to win no matter what. Rally girls are happy to do whatever is needed of them to support the football players and teachers were happy to look the other way on assignments for the players. The town is also oddly racist, which is strange seeing as how much good African American athletes have done for the Odessa football team.

After reading the book I started watching the TV show and I couldn’t stop. The TV show is amazing and really riveting, just like the book. You don’t even have to like football to like the book, and I would say the same for the TV show as well.

Favorite quote:

“I’m gonna party, see how intoxicated I can get and how many rules I can flaunt. That’s my motto.” (But really, who doesn’t have this as their motto?)

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

Change is hard. We all know that, people say it anytime something major shifts in their life. But what people rarely talk about is how to make change less difficult. Chip and Dan Heath seek to answer this dilemma and I think they do a pretty good job of it.

They use real-life examples that are simple and are easily replicable in a business setting, but this book is not just useful for companies. It’s for anyone who ever has to make difficult changes in their life, or adjust to changes thrust upon them…so everyone.

Favorite quotes:

“A good change leader never thinks, “Why are these people acting so badly? They must be bad people.” A change leader thinks, “How can I set up a situation that brings out the good in these people?”

“Failing is often the best way to learn, and because of that, early failure is a kind of necessary investment.”

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

This is another book that was big in the literary world this year. I read this for my book club and I flew through it. There were times when I was reading it on the bus and had to put it down because I was too close to crying. The plot centers around two sisters in France right before World War II, one of them is fiery and read to fight, while the other is a wife and mother and is too afraid to fight because she is worried about her family. The books switches between both narrators and the horrors they are both going through as their country is torn apart by war.

The ending is a little cheesy, but it’s still worthwhile and very gripping. Highly emotional and well written, if you’re into historical fiction it’s a must read.

Favorite quote:

“Love. It was the beginning and end of everything, the foundation and the ceiling and the air in between.”

Truly by Ruthie Knox

Give me a book about a good ol’ Wisconsin character anytime. Plus throw in Packer talk and I’m all in.

May, the lead heroine, is given the worst marriage proposal by a former Packer and she stabs him with a shrimp fork. She runs away and ends up at a Packer bar in Manhattan where she runs into Ben, who is a beekeeper and former chef. Together, they take her mind off her hideous proposal. And wouldn’t you know it? They fall in love! Who would have thought, right?

It’s a romantic book, of course, but there are some funny bits. Plus, like I said, I really appreciate the Wisconsin-ness of it all.

Favorite quote:

“It was easy to love your idea of someone – to fall hard for their very best self. The question was whether, once you had to spend some time living with their worst self, you could bear to be with them anymore.”

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

So this book involves faeries, a huntress, and a palace. This is not a book that would usually appeal to me, but it had such good reviews on Goodreads I felt I had to take a look at it. And I’m glad I did because I was sucked in.

A young woman named Feyre goes out hunting and shoots a wolf, who actually who turns out to be a faerie. Tamlin, another faerie, comes and captures her in retribution for killing his friend. Feyre is such a badass, it’s a blast to see her kick butt and have the guy just sit back. I’m always a fan of a fierce, independent female protagonist.

I would describe this as chick-lit version of Game of Thrones. It’s definitely worth a read.

Favorite quotes:

“Don’t feel bad for one moment about doing what brings you joy.”

“Pity those who don’t feel anything at all.”

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

Talk about a book that pissed me off. I had to put the book down sometimes and take a break from it because I got so worked up reading about it.

Krakauer studies Missoula, where 350 sexual assaults were reported to the police from January 2008 to May 2012. A lot of the cases were not properly handled by the authorities and prompted the Department of Justice to investigate Missoula.

The books showcases how a lot of the police are undertrained and ask the wrong questions when investigating rapes. Reading about the experiences the women went through was heart wrenching and frankly very angering. I wanted to shake a lot of people in the book and open their eyes to the impact sexual assault has on a woman and everyone who cares about her.

Favorite quote (I shouldn’t really say favorite, but it’s certainly eye opening):

“When an individual is raped in this country, more than 90 percent of the time the rapist gets away with the crime.”

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevi

I’m usually not fan of books about books. I find them pompous and self-absorbed most of the time, but this was picked for book club so I thought I would give it a shot. I also had it sitting on my bookshelf for ages so it was finally an excuse to pull it out and give it a read. I was totally hooked by this novel. It didn’t hurt that it was set in Cape Cod, which I’ve visited multiple times and really adore.

The books centers on a bookstore owner, A.J. Fikry, who has lost his wife to a car accident. One day he comes into this bookstore to find that a baby has been abandoned in his store, and the story progresses from there. Books don’t often make me tear up, but this one almost got me. If it hadn’t been for being on a pretty public bus I would have let a couple roll down my cheeks.

Favorite quotes:

“Sometimes books don’t find us until the right time.”

“You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, What is your favorite book?

“We are not quite novels.
We are not quite short stories.
In the end, we are collected works.”

“They had only ever discussed books but what, in this life, is more personal than books?”

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

I still think back to this book from time to time and ask myself, “I wonder whatever happened to the Skrimmer.”

I should never have liked this novel. It was a long piece of literary fiction that was critically praised (I often find highly touted fiction incredibly mundane) about baseball (not my least favorite sport, but still didn’t relish the idea of reading about it). But the book had a major hook for me: it was set in my home state of Wisconsin. Yes, I’m a sucker for anything Wisconsin.

The book centers around a character named Henry, with the nickname Skrimmer, who is an amazing shortstop. He’s recruited to a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin to play baseball. The team’s captain, the dean, Henry’s roommate, and the dean’s daughter all play major roles. I found myself tweeting the author multiple time basically asking the same thing: “Will you please tell me that the Skrimmer is OK?!”

It’s an engaging book about much more than baseball, it’s about all types of relationships and growing up and recovering from self-doubt. I read one other baseball book this year, The Boys of Summer, and this one was so much better. I highly recommend it.

Favorite quotes:

“What would he say to her, if he was going to speak truly? He didn’t know. Talking was like throwing a baseball. You couldn’t plan it out beforehand. You just had to let go and see what happened. You had to throw out words without knowing whether anyone would catch them — you had to throw out words you knew no one would catch. You had to send your words out where they weren’t yours anymore. It felt better to talk with a ball in your hand, it felt better to let the ball do the talking. But the world, the nonbaseball world, the world of love and sex and jobs and friends, was made of words.”

“You told me once that a soul isn’t something a person is born with but something that must be built, by effort and error, study and love.”

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sarra Manning

I first put this book on my to-read list ages ago, but every time I considered it I took a look at how long it was: it’s 592 pages. That is incredibly long for a chick lit novel. So I kept putting it off until one day I was way ahead in the number of books I wanted to read for the year and decided to give it a try. I read through this puppy like it was a freaking novella.

Neve is a formerly obese girl who loses a lot of weight while her “one true love,” William, is away and she awaits his return to show off to her new svelte figure to him. It’s that classic story of a girl who changes her appearance for a guy, but has to meet another guy who appreciates her for who she is for her to realize how great she is. That premise can be frustrating for me at times, but this one didn’t make it as trite as some of those stories can be. At times it was touching and funny and heartfelt. If you’re in the mood for more of a substantial love story, this is a good pick.

Favorite quotes:

“The thing about love was that it caught you unawares, turned up in the most unexpected places, even when you weren’t looking for it.”

“I guess they’re called moments because they don’t last very long.”

“Happiness really isn’t that hard to find.”

The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence

This book follows Alex, an eccentric boy who was struck by a meteorite when he was young, who is forced to help his curmudgeonly widowed neighbor, Mr. Peterson. The book starts off with a bang with Alex stopped at customs with over 100 grams of marijuana and an urn full of ashes, and repeating to himself he did the right thing.

The book was equal parts heartfelt and funny, and I found myself finding any moment I could to get a couple more pages in. It’s one of those young adult books that is incredibly enjoyable for adults and teenagers.

Favorite quotes:

“If you had to relive your life exactly as it was – same successes and failures, same happiness, same miseries, same mixture of comedy and tragedy – would you want to? Was it worth it?”

“In life, there are no true beginnings or endings.”

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

This was a book that had been sitting on my to-read list for quite some time. I finally decided to give this a go when I was in the mood for some historical fiction. It centers on an author who travels to Scotland to research her next novel. As she studies the history of her surroundings and explores the Slains Castle, she starts to experience these flashes of memories that aren’t hers, but feel very familiar. She learns more about her past and submerses herself into her novel, which may be more biographical than fiction.

I’ve never read Outlander, but my boss is really into it, and I thought this book might be up her alley. I gave her a copy and she loved it, and she moved onto the second book in the series right away.

Favorite quote:

“But life, if nothing else, had taught her promises weren’t always to be counted on, and what appeared at first a shining chance might end in bitter disappointment.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.