I managed to accomplish the only resolution that I made last January—to read more books in 2005 than I did in 2004. Given my love of reading and how much of it that I do, the number wasn’t as high as I expected it to be: I read a grand total of 45 books. In 2003 the total was 41, and in 2004 it was 42.
I could easily have read double that number if it weren’t for other factors: a busy semester at college, moving, and then job-searching for the past four months (I would feel like a slacker if I read during the day when there were more important things to tend to). To tell the truth, I wouldn’t have reached my reading goal if it weren’t for all the books I read in December, which had the largest total all year—10! (Thanks to the fact that the job-hunt is done for now, and I subsequently spend less time online. Reading for at least an hour every morning and evening during the commute to/from work is also playing a big part.)
The number is also deceptive because I read newspapers, magazines, and tons of online articles—not to mention portions of multiple books and journals while doing research this past spring semester. Whenever I come across an interesting book (on TV, in a magazine, on the internet, or through another person’s recommendation), I always make a note of it right away because I know I’m likely to forget about it otherwise. Since I like reading nonfiction, most of the time it’s easy for me to tell that I’ll like something just by reading the title.
I worked hard on the following list—like last year, I decided to arrange the books by category rather than the order in which they were read. The ones that I liked best either have a short description, or I starred (**) them. This means that they come highly recommended; please feel free to follow the book’s link for more information.
1) My Year of Meats, by Ruth Ozeki
With the distinction of being the only fiction book I read this year, this one was great. An Asian-American filmmaker is hired by a U.S. meat conglomerate to make a series of TV shows that will air on Japanese television; the company’s goal is to show how people in the U.S. eat and cook their favorite meat dishes, in order to increase meat consumption among the Japanese people. The story gets even better when the filmmaker begins to have second thoughts about the safety of the meat that she has a hand in promoting.
NONFICTION: PERSONAL NARRATIVES
2) Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China, by Rachel DeWoskin
Fresh out of college, the author gets a job with an ad agency in Beijing and ends up co-starring in a Chinese soap opera. Very entertaining.
3) Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, by Julie Powell
I finished this book in just a few days; it was written by a woman who cooked every recipe in Julia Child’s How to Master the Art of French Cooking, in a single year. She wrote about the trials and tribulations, as well as all the changes that came about—including her outlook on life. She originally documented everything on a blog, and then she got a book deal—I thoroughly enjoyed it.
4) The Weight-Loss Diaries, by Courtney Rubin
Thought-provoking: I loved this book; I finished it in just a few days. This author wrote a monthly column for Shape magazine over the space of a few years; this is her extremely honest and real personal story about her struggle with being overweight.
5) The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, by A.J. Jacobs
This was the first book I read in 2005. The author decided to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica (he admits that this feat was accomplished by a lot of skimming and speed-reading); he intersperses personal anecdotes along with interesting passages and facts that he came across while reading.
7) Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris **
8. Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood, by Koren Zailckas **
9) The Glass Castle: A Memoir, by Jeannette Walls **
10) Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith, by Martha Beck **
11) Fat Girl: A True Story, by Judith Moore **
12) Ciao, America!: An Italian Discovers the U.S., by Beppe Severgnini **
13) Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer, by Lynne Cox
14) Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner, by Dean Karnazes
15) Don’t Kiss Them Good-bye, by Allison DuBois
16) Fashion Victim: Our Love-Hate Relationship with Dressing, Shopping, and the Cost of Style, by Michelle Lee
Written by a former fashion magazine editor, Lee scrutinizes multiple aspects of the fashion and clothing industry. Among other things: we pay less now for clothes than people did in the past (as well as having more of them), but this has resulted in a rapidly-changing industry that must come up with “trends” in order to convince us to buy more and more; although the clothes are cheap, people consider them to be more disposable and don’t feel bad about throwing/giving them away to make room for more.
17) Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities, by Alexandra Robbins
As Janet noted, this book wouldn’t be considered shocking for people who have gone to college and/or known sorority girls (or, in my case, read about it elsewhere), but it’s still very good. What I found most interesting was Robbins’ discussion of the differences between predominantly white and predominantly black sororities.
18) Teenage Waistland: A Former Fat Kid Weighs In on Living Large, Losing Weight, and How Parents Can (and Can’t) Help, by Abby Ellin
Interestingly, last year I read a book with a slightly different spelling—called Teenage Wasteland—which was completely different. Here, Ellin investigates various methods that are used to help kids lose weight—both good and bad—and her personal experience.
19) Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Journey into the Heart of Fan Mania, by Warren St. John
I wouldn’t think I’d enjoy a book about fanatic people who love their favorite football teams so much that they camp outside the stadium in RV’s, going to multiple games every year; however, this is an interesting glimpse into a group of people that I don’t understand.
20) Ms. Moffett’s First Year, by Abby Goodnough
The author followed a woman in NYC who gave up her long-term job as a secretary to take up the challenge of teaching in NYC’s first Teaching Fellows program—where career professionals were challenged to take the place of much-needed teachers in low-income and minority schools that didn’t have enough teachers.
21) Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions, by Ben Mezrich **
22) Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point, by David Lipsky **
23) Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America, by Steve Almond **
NONFICTION: WOMEN, GIRLS, EMPOWERMENT
25) The Meaning of Wife: A Provocative Look at Women and Marriage in the 21st Century, by Anne Kingston **
26) Raising Our Athletic Daughters: How Sports Can Build Self-Esteem and Save Girls’ Lives, by Jean Zimmerman **
27) Strong, Smart, and Bold: Empowering Girls for Life, by Carla Fine
28) Whatever It Takes: Women on Women’s Sport, edited by Joli Sandoz and Joby Winans
29) Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, by Gloria Steinem
30) The Good Body, by Eve Ensler
31) Beauty Fades, Dumb Is Forever: The Making of a Happy Woman, by Judy Sheindlin
32) Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, by Ruth Reichl
All of Ruth Reichl’s books are good (this one, as well as the next two listed). She was a restaurant critic for the L.A. Times and then the New York Times for many years, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet magazine. A very detailed and entertaining writer who has led an interesting life.
33) Comfort Me With Apples, by Ruth Reichl **
34) Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, by Ruth Reichl **
35) The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute, by Michael Ruhlman
Ruhlman enrolled at the well-renowned Culinary Institute of America; this is investigative as well as being a personal narrative, showing us what life is like in an elite cooking school.
36) The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection, by Michael Ruhlman **
37) Fork It Over: The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater, by Alan Richman
38) Take Big Bites: Adventures Around the World and Across the Table, by Linda Ellerbee
39) Don’t Eat This Book: Fast Food and the Supersizing of America, by Morgan Spurlock **
40) French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating For Pleasure, by Mireille Guiliano
41) Critical Condition: How Health Care in America Became Big Business–and Bad Medicine, by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele
42) Queen of the Turtle Derby (and Other Southern Phenomena), by Julia Reed **
43) Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell
44) Area Code 212: New York Days, New York Nights, by Tama Janowitz
45) Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynne Truss