Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Books Danielle Read in 2013

I know, we're almost in February 2014 and I'm just now getting around to telling you all about the books I read in 2013. I did this for 2011 and 2012, so I'd like to continue the tradition.

2013 was the year of health food books. I can't believe how many I read. I'm actually kind of burnt out on the topic. In fact, I read so many that I'm going to put the books I read into two lists: fiction and non-fiction. Again, they'll be in order of how much I liked them. 

I face a sort of dilemma when choosing books to read: I'm cheap and I love the free books available on Amazon.com for the Kindle, but I'm also a stickler for grammar rules and almost all of these free books are not edited, so they're full of typos and grammatical mistakes. What's a girl to do?


The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz
Excellent writing. I just...I can't even.  Diaz is the most creative writer I've encountered in recent memory. I love the way his brain works. But a warning: if your brain is not also a mix of languages, a mish-mosh of formal words and offensive slang, then this is not the book for you.

Anywhere but Here - Mona Simspon
I loved this, but I'm biased. Also, I watched the movie after, and think the movie is totally different and I don't recommend it. (If you've already seen the movie, read the book, because the mother-daughter relationship is a completely different dynamic.)

Sula - Toni Morrison
This has always been one of my favorite books. I reread it for the first time in a few years. I liked it less, but I also liked different things about it this time.

Beloved - Toni Morrison
I hadn't read this since high school, and I appreciated it much more now that I'm older and smarter.

This is How You Lose Her - Junot Diaz 
Also excellent Diaz. Here's a quote that I identified with:

"They're young, sent to the States by their parents. The same age I was when I arrived; they see me now, twenty-eight, five years here, as a veteran, a rock, but back then, in those first days, I was so alone that every day was like eating my own heart."

I will say, though, that the narrator's conclusion (i.e., his answer to his self-exploration about why he cheats on women) wasn't great.

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
I got through this the month of my arm surgery, when I couldn't drive or type or cook or go to the gym. It was just lovely. It's one of those books that are truly timeless; like, even though it was written almost 150 years ago, the characters still feel so universal and relate-able.

Less than Zero - Bret Easton Ellis
Hard to read sometimes (shocking), but a really well-written account of late 1980s Los Angeles youth culture. It gave me nightmares, but it was an important book that needed to be written and read.

Teaching a Stone to Talk - Anne Dillard
Her writing is exact and beautiful. She attacks Big Ideas. But I'm not sure if this should be on the fiction list. The book is more of a series of essays. I was curious about this book because a writer I like, Jennifer Pastiloff, recommended her, and because a singer I like, Mariee Sioux, uses that title in one of her songs.  There's not much plot to the essays (they're more nature- or philosophy-based musings), but if you just want to see a writer flex her rhetorical muscle, then this book is a good choice.

Life of Pi - Yann Martel
This became a movie soon after I read it. The book is sweet and beautiful. It was enjoyable, even though I got disappointed as I got further along and realized it was fiction. A Brazilian author says the American author stole his idea.

The Art of Racing in the Rain - Garth Stein
The family dog is the narrator of the family's problems. The book is creative for that reason, but the problems are a little Lifetime-Movie-ish.

Winter of the World - Ken Follett
Yes, we love Jen Follett. While none of his other books compare to "Pillars of the Earth," this one about WWII was still enjoyable. The amount of research he must do astounds me.

The Daughters of Caleb Bender (3 Books) - Dale Cramer
The first of this series was free on Amazon, but I got hooked on it. It's an unexpectedly good series about an Amish family that goes to live in Mexico. I learned a lot about Amish people, and I was pleased that the author didn't assume that all of his readers would be very religious.

Waiting for Summer's Return - Kim Vogel Sawyer
Another lucky find in the free Amazon books. It's religious fiction, but the story is historically interesting and believable. I learned a lot about Mennonites and early German immigrants in the US.

Flight Behavior - Barbara Kingsolver
I don't know if I'm just getting older or if Barbara Kingsolver is getting worse, but I like each book of hers less and less. This book was also sooo preachy about global warming. Yawn.

Maya's Notebook - Isabel Allende
Yes, OK, Isabel Allende produces quality writing and stories. I enjoyed this one, but one thing annoyed me: the book is supposed to be the main character's diary, but the style/format is not like a diary at all. No one writes that much detail and dialogue in their diaries. If she'd just taken that part out and made it a first-person narrative, the book would have been much better.

The Profiler's Daughter - P.M. Steffen 
Free Amazon book, what whaaaat? It's like an episode of Law and Order or Criminal Minds in book form. The author is a good storyteller and the characters are well thought-out. There are just soooo mannyyy typos and grammar mistakes!! There's a sequel coming out and I'm curious so I'll read it, but I hope she pays an editor for the second book.

The Third Twin - Ken Follett
Good quality because it's Ken Follett, but not as good as the other ones. I figured out the mystery halfway through, and I'm not good at that at all. 

Rain and Revelation - Therese Pautz
Decent, and it had a good ending, but kind of a forgettable book.

The Woman Upstairs - Claire Messud
I liked some things about this book, but I'm currently annoyed with modern American writers in general, and this book as a metonymy. First, every upper-middle-class American thinks they have written the Next Great Novel. The annoyance of this first fact is compounded by the fact that all of these novels are so whiny about first-world problems. My friend Jen put it best when she referred to these novels as "insular."

Bundle of Joy? - Ariella Papa
Cute read; creative, well written (but some you're/your typos!). I have been reading it with my ESL students and they really enjoy it.

Wedding Girl - Madeline Wickham (aka Sophie Kinsella)
A little cheesy and predictable but impossible to put down, just like all of Sophia Kinsella's other novels.

Are You Lonesome Tonight? - Bobby Hutchinson
One of those free books on Amazon, but it was a little different and worth the read. It's about a woman who works as a sex hotline attendant.

Pastoralia - George Saunders 
Overrated. Also, too much surrealism for my tastes.

Small as an Elephant - Jennifer Richard Jacobson
I feel like the author could've done a lot with this story, and she just kind of let it fall flat.

I Could Pee on This - Francesco Marciuliano
Poems "written by cats." Kind of silly, and not in a smart way.


50 Ways to Soothe Yourself without Food - Susan Albers
OK so I read about this book in the Oprah Magazine. I thought it'd help me avoid eating so much chocolate in the afternoon, but it was actually so much better and more useful than I thought it would be. It's basically 50 tips about refocusing your attention and anxious energy, and about combating boredom and loneliness. I recommend it for pretty much anyone who feels stress or anxiety, not just people who overeat. 

Grief Magic - Emily Rapp 
This was actually an essay, not a book, but one of the best things I read this year. The author lost her son to a rare genetic disease, and this essay is about the aftermath of his death. Lucky for you, you can read it here!

The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society - Frans de Waal
Do you think the idea of "every man for himself" comes from Darwin, or from the idea that humans evolved from selfish, non-empathetic animals? Read this. It's scientifically-proven optimism.

Sugar Salt Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us - Michael Moss
Depressing but enlightening. I learned a lot about food in the US.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself - Harriet Ann Jacobs
Thanks to Karina for recommending this. It was happy and sad and lovely and heartbreaking. 

Uncharted Path: The Autobiography of Lee Myung-Bak
The former Korean president's autobiography. It's like a case study of Korean culture. He's so sweet and optimistic.

The Witness Wore Red - Rebecca Musser
This is the book about the woman who was raised in an extremist Mormon sect. It's so sad, but also hopeful. She has a lot of experiences that you wouldn't even imagine or think about.
Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions - Gloria Steinem
Feminism! I want more men to read this so they question Playboy and traditional pornography.

Intuitive Eating - Evelyn Tribole
A helpful book if you eat too much or for the wrong reasons.

Adopting the Minimalist Mindset - Ben Night
Another lucky find from the free Amazon book list. It's about being a minimalist, and in true minimalist fashion, it's utilitarian and to the point. It has a lot of nice tips about organizing your house and stuff.

Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease - Robert H. Lustig
This book is similar to the Sugar Salt Fat book. If you only read one, read the Sugar Salt Fat one.

Stuff White People Like
Northern California culture in a nutshell. This book was oddly comforting.

How to Live on 24 Hours a Day - Arnold Bennett
Free on Amazon/Guttenberg. This is a quaint book written like, 100 years ago with tips for rich British businessmen (not women) on how to better manage their time and be happier. It's mostly entertaining to see the advice that people received before TV and computers were around. But the author does give some timeless pieces of advice, like this little gem:

"We do not reflect. I mean that we do not reflect upon genuinely important things; upon the problem of our happiness, upon the main direction in which we are going, upon what life is giving to us, upon the share which reason has (or has not) in determining our actions, and upon the relation between our principles and our conduct. And yet you are in search of happiness, are you not? Have you discovered it?" 
It Starts with Food: Discover the Whole30 - Melissa and Dallas Hartwig
I was really curious about this Paleo Diet fad, but everything I read about it annoys me, and this book was no different. The authors say their book is based on science and reviews, but they just list a bunch of sources and don't match anything up with their claims throughout the book. That makes me very doubtful that this list of sources is not just a list of random articles. It makes me suspicious that they make it so hard for readers to confirm the "data" that they offer. The book does have some good philosophies about eating, though, like that you should put things in your body that provide you with nourishment, not just because they're delicious.

Surviving Residency: A Medical spouse's guide to embracing the training years - Kristen M. Math
Well-intentioned, but unfortunately not very helpful, especially because I live abroad. Her advice was the obvious stuff; I think there's a lot more deep-seated psychological issues that need to be discussed. Also, she focuses way too much on residents with kids, which is actually the exception.

Sugar Detox - Dottie Copps
Free on Amazon. For a reason. 

Books I forgot I read and couldn't remember having read (which is telling):

Dead End Gene Pool - Wendy Burden

Daisy Miller and Other Stories - Henry James
On my Amazon review, I wrote: Nice; older, French-influenced English; descriptions of people with psychological disorders before we knew what they were.

Even reading my own review didn't help me.

Books I did not Finish (for different reasons):

The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
To be honest, I only read about 70% of this because I got the idea and it was so hostile. I liked the Amish and the Mennonite books better.

You Are Not Your Brain: The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of your Life  - Jeffrey M. Schwartz
OK. I was annoyed by the way the title was capitalized in this book, but I decided to give it a chance. The first part, which explains logic and emotion and how we use it against ourselves, was very helpful for squirrely, overthinker me. But their solutions on how to be less squirrely and overthoughtful  were less helpful. The word "mindfulness" always sets off a red flag for me, because it's so abstract. Barf.

Crazy Sexy Diet: Eat Your Veggies, Ignite your Spark, and Life Like You Mean it! - Kriss Carr
More incorrect post-colon capitalization. I'm sorry, but this bitch is not crazy sexy, she's just plain crazy. I tried giving this book a chance because a good friend recommended it, but I swear, this woman just writes nonsense but thinks she's some kind of prophet, even though none of her ideas or arguments about food and health are based on research that respects the scientific method (since she's not a doctor or a scientist). I spent the first couple of days reading preposterous stuff out loud to Dr. Alexandre before I just got way too annoyed by the book and moved it to my "not going to finish" folder on my Kindle.

I don't want to end on that note. So go back up to the top of the post and read about the good books again. :)

What did you read this year? Did you read any of these? What did you think about them?


  1. Hey Danielle, just wanted to tell you i love your choice of books for 2013. i have been so uninspired since i moved here. i live in RJ (zona sul area) - where do you live? Any chance we could meet up some day? Abs, Krista

  2. I am curious about "How to Live on 24 Hours a Day", so I just downloaded it :). Thanks for the tip. I didn't like Anna Karenina, maybe it is because I was 16 when I read it. I remember skipping 200 pages because it was so slow and boring... I am not a big fan of Tolstoi, but I absolutely LOVE Dostoyevsky and I really like Chekhov. The thing about Russian books is that you have to be sure that the translation is a good one, it can make a huge difference.

  3. Hello! I just found your blog, I have one too. I'm a brazilian that lives in Canada. I love reading about cultural exchanges and FOOD :)

  4. Hello! It seems I am another new-comer to your blog. Found your blog while searching the net for book recommendations and I have to admit that yours are great. I am sure I am going to visit your blog again.

    I am also a blogger and I write about science and history books, beeing more interested in strange curiosities. Although I write in Romanian language, some of the books that I read are in English. So, if you are looking for ideas about books to read for this year feel free to visit my blog also.

  5. Grrrl - you do some serious reading. Serious in volume and content. Good for you. You are an inspiration. Over time I have morphed into a mp3 player podcast listener and an online TV and movie watcher. (Not a good thing...)

    THANKS for your good suggestions.

    I never tire of reading Morrison's "Beloved." I have given up on Kingsolver. I, too, will submit to anything Ken Follett or Isabel Allede.

    I will be returning to your list again and again.


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