By Andrea Vandiver, contributing writer
I’ve always considered myself to be an avid reader. My dad was my math teacher in 5th through 8th grade and I remember him catching me reading with a novel hidden behind the textbook, pretending to be doing math work during class.
And then something happened. High school. College. Motherhood. Too many textbooks to count (and you should know there’s an alternative to that, if it works for your family.) Too many responsibilities. Too much to do. I spent several years only reading one book every few months, if that. I didn’t have time to read for pleasure.
But I’m done with formal education for now. Our only child is almost three and doesn’t need as much of my attention. One day I woke up and realized on paper, I had time to read. But I still wasn’t. Why? Two reasons.
First, I spent too much time browsing social media or surfing the internet. So I created a second Facebook account to manage business stuff. And got off of everything else.
Second, I felt guilty when I spent 30 minutes reading instead of doing something else “more productive.” So I told myself (and asked my husband to remind me) that a healthy and peaceful me is the best gift I can give to my family.
After all this time, I’ve started reading again. Really reading. Just for the fun of it. And I can’t stop.
You should try it. Give it a go. Refocus. Visit other times and cultures. View things from a different perspective.
Discover your favorite reading spot, then grab a hot beverage and one of these must-reads.
10 Books I’ve Read and Loved in 2016
1. Still Alice by Lisa Genova
“Alice Howland is proud of the life she worked so hard to build. At fifty years old, she’s a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics with a successful husband and three grown children. When she becomes increasingly disoriented and forgetful, a tragic diagnosis changes her life—and her relationship with her family and the world—forever. As she struggles to cope with Alzheimer’s, she learns that her worth is comprised of far more than her ability to remember.”
My grandmother (whose children affectionately referred to her as Mother, *happy sigh*) developed Alzheimer’s late in her life and spent some of that time living with us when I was a teenager. If you’ve been party to the devastation of Alzheimer’s, you know that it’s tragic and very misunderstood. The way this book is written makes you feel like you ARE Alice. You feel the decline. And you can’t stop it.
P.S. The movie is pretty good too. But as usual, always read before you watch, especially with a book so centered on the mind. 🙂
2. Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
“Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.”
I confess, this is a romance novel. But not the kind you think of when you hear the term romance novel. It’s complex. It’s charming. It’s funny. It’s heartbreaking.
P.S.S. The movie is – – – – awesome. It’s a chick-flick your husband will like (though he may not admit it, the glisten in his eyes will give it away).
P.S.S.S. I really don’t recommend the sequel, After You. I wanted to love it, but I absolutely struggled through it. Pretend it doesn’t exist.
3. My Story by Elizabeth Smart
“On June 5, 2002, fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart, the daughter of a close-knit Mormon family, was taken from her home in the middle of the night by religious fanatic, Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. She was kept chained, dressed in disguise, repeatedly raped, and told she and her family would be killed if she tried to escape. After her rescue on March 12, 2003, she rejoined her family and worked to pick up the pieces of her life.”
I actually listened to this one as an audiobook. I was 15 years old when Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped. I remember hearing about it for months but I never really knew the whole story until now. I am completely amazed and inspired by Elizabeth’s bravery and unwavering faith in God. You’ll cry. You’ll gasp. You’ll lock your doors and hold your babies tighter than ever before.
4. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
“Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History where he works. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris, and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. They carry with them perhaps the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a German mining town, an orphan named Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. He becomes expert at fixing these new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the Resistance. Increasingly aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.”
I enjoy World War II literature because of two main reasons: I think we’ve forgotten about how bad things have been and could be. And how the human spirit refuses to be crushed. All the Light We Cannot See also grants a unique insight into the plight of World War II era German youth.
5. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
“Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them-in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul-they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation.”
What we see in the news about Afghanistan doesn’t always convey the absolute decimation of culture, religion and way of life. A Thousand Splendid Suns tells an incredible story of two Afghan women who find themselves in an impossible situation. I grieved with these women. For their friends, for their country and for their hopes and dreams.
6. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
“In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France … but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.
Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can … completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.”
Sorry for including the long description, but although I’m concerned with boring you to tears, I couldn’t choose one sister’s story over the other.
Best. Book. Ever. I mean it. This book is absolutely phenomenal. I cried. A lot. I’m a book lover but I’m also a minimalist, which means I’m very choosy about the books I keep. This one will stay on my shelves forever. I’ve read countless books about World War II but I’ve never read one from this perspective. Drop everything you’re doing and read this.
7. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
“First published in 1911, this is the poignant tale of a lonely little girl, orphaned and sent to a Yorkshire mansion at the edge of a vast lonely moor. At first, she is frightened by this gloomy place, but with the help of the local boy Dickon, who earns the trust of the moor’s wild animals with his honesty and love, the invalid Colin, a spoiled, unhappy boy terrified of life, and a mysterious, abandoned garden, Mary is eventually overcome by the mystery of life itself—its birth and renewal, its love and joy.”
Can I tell you a secret? I have a really hard time reading classics. I’ve tried a few and loved them (Moby Dick, Peter Pan and I’m currently reading Treasure Island) but for the most part, I don’t enjoy them. I know, I know, that’s pretty lame of me. It’s just the truth though. But when I read The Secret Garden I felt magic in life again. It made me want to be a better parent. It reignited my love for the outdoors and my passion to share that with my son. The way it’s written will sweep you off your feet.
(By the way, if you have a favorite classic that you LOVE, suggest one in the comments!)
8. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
“A tiny girl is abandoned on a ship headed for Australia in 1913. She arrives completely alone with nothing but a small suitcase containing a few clothes and a single book—a beautiful volume of fairy tales. She is taken in by the dockmaster and his wife and raised as their own. On her twenty-first birthday, they tell her the truth, and with her sense of self shattered and very little to go on, “Nell” sets out to trace her real identity. Her quest leads her to Blackhurst Manor on the Cornish coast and the secrets of the doomed Mountrachet family. But it is not until her granddaughter, Cassandra, takes up the search after Nell’s death that all the pieces of the puzzle are assembled.”
Mysteries aren’t typically something I’d pick up because I’m a scaredy cat. And when I say I’m a scaredy cat I mean that literally anything that could possibly be construed as creepy or scary terrifies me for weeks and causes a significant loss of sleep. So this mystery novel probably doesn’t even fit in the category I’m putting it in. But there were clues. And there was lots of searching for clues. And surprises around every corner. And fairy tales. Which automatically qualifies it as a winner.
9. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
“Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel.”
I stopped reading East of Eden approximately 94 times because of one of the characters troubled me so much. But I had to finish it. And I’m so glad I did. This story is a tale of good and evil and choosing between the two. Battling our bad side. The families are dynamic and their relationships are complicated. You’ll hate some of them. You’ll adore some of them. And the last line of the book took my breath away.
10. The Borrowers by Mary Norton
“The Borrowers—the Clock family: Homily, Pod, and their fourteen-year-old daughter, Arrietty, to be precise—are tiny people who live underneath the kitchen floor of an old English country manor. All their minuscule home furnishings, from postage stamp paintings to champagne cork chairs, are “borrowed” from the “human beans” who tromp around loudly above them.”
This is the first book in the Borrowers series. I have a very, very old copy of the series that was handed down by my great aunt. It’s spine is literally taped together. (My sister thinks it was handed down to her but I disagree. And besides, finder’s keeper.) Although it’s teccccchhhhhhhhnnnnniiiicalllllllly a children’s book, I simply believe it’s for anyone who is young at heart.
Andrea Vandiver is a work-at-home mom and freelance writer in Oklahoma. She spends her days imitating animals and blowing bubbles. Her favorite things are those that taste, smell, feel, sound and look wonderful: the stuff that romance is made of.