I read 11 books in November, which brings my 2015 total to 122.
I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.
1) Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert
Description: Gilbert digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity, along with insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives.
I’ve read several reviews from people who weren’t impressed with this book, but I liked it a lot. However, similar to what I said last month about The Art of Memoir, if you don’t have a creative goal in mind, you may not get as much out of this. Gilbert says that everyone is creative in their own way, but if you’re a hyper-focused businessperson you may not appreciate her insights on how to open yourself to the creative muse. (Hint: She thinks if you’re not open to receiving an idea, that idea will continue to go from person to person until someone grabs it and makes it their own.) Not the type of reading I normally go for, but in this particular instance, it worked for me.
2) The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert
Description: Spanning much of the 18th and 19th centuries, this novel follows the fortunes of the Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker — a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry’s brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father’s money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma’s research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction — into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical.
I assumed I couldn’t possibly enjoy Gilbert’s fiction as much as her nonfiction, but when she briefly described this book in Big Magic, the premise sounded intriguing. Vivid writing; impeccably researched. I very much enjoyed this one.
3) Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, Elizabeth Gilbert
Description: Gilbert tells how she made the difficult choice to leave behind all the trappings of modern American success (marriage, house in the country, career) and find what she truly wanted from life. Setting out for a year to study three different aspects of her nature amid three different cultures, Gilbert explored the art of pleasure in Italy, the art of devotion in India, and a balance between the two on the Indonesian island of Bali.
Apparently I couldn’t read two Elizabeth Gilbert books without revisiting the book that made her famous. (I read it for the first time shortly after it came out, which was almost 10 years ago.) This time around I listened to the audiobook, which was great because Gilbert does the narration herself.
4) A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life, Brian Grazer
Description: For decades, film and TV producer Brian Grazer has scheduled a weekly “curiosity conversation” with an accomplished stranger. From scientists to spies, adventurers to business leaders, Grazer has met with anyone willing to answer his questions for a few hours. This is a homage to the power of inquisitiveness and the ways in which it deepens and improves us.
Wow. Grazer is such an interesting guy. You have to assume that at least some of his success over the years is a result of his massive amount of curiosity. Kind of makes you want to ask yourself, “Am I interesting enough that Brian Grazer (or any other total stranger) would want to have a Curiosity Conversation with me? If not, why not?”
5) Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster, Jon Krakauer
Description: A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist/mountaineer Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that “suggested a murderous storm was bearing down.” He was wrong. The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more — including Krakauer’s — in guilt-ridden disarray, provided the impetus for this book, Krakauer’s epic account of the May 1996 disaster.
This event may have occurred almost 20 years ago, but I was glued to this story. My only complaint was that it was sometimes hard to keep all the characters straight. There’s an index of names in the beginning, but since I was reading an e-book I couldn’t easily flip back and forth.
6) Wildflower, Drew Barrymore
Description: This a portrait of Drew’s life in stories as she looks back on the adventures, challenges, and incredible experiences of her earlier years. It includes tales of living on her own at 14, getting stuck in a gas station overhang on a cross country road trip, saying goodbye to her father in a way only he could have understood, and many more adventures and lessons that have led her to the successful, happy, and healthy place she is today.
Drew is not a great writer (She uses a lot of exclamation points! Often multiple times in the same paragraph!), but the stories are fun and I enjoyed reading them. She jumps back and forth in time to choose random stories from her life she wants to tell.
7) This Life is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone, Melissa Coleman
Description: Coleman delivers a luminous childhood memoir exploring the hope and struggle behind her family’s search for a sustainable lifestyle. She tells the true story of her upbringing on communes and sustainable farms along the rugged Maine coastline in the 1970’s, embedded within a moving, personal quest for truth that her experiences produced.
In the 70’s, a young couple moves to rural Maine and builds their own cabin in a quest for a simple life. Their life expands and gets much crazier, disaster strikes, things fall apart. Very interesting story.
8) Becoming Odyssa: Adventures on the Appalachian Trail, Jennifer Pharr Davis
Description: After graduating from college, Jennifer is drawn to the Appalachian Trail, a 2175-mile footpath that stretches from Georgia to Maine. Though her friends and family think she’s crazy, she sets out alone to hike the trail, hoping it will give her time to think about what she wants to do next. The next four months are the most physically and emotionally challenging of her life. With every step, Jennifer transitions from an over-confident college graduate to a student of the trail, braving situations she never imagined before her thru-hike.
I’ve thought for years that I’d like to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. How cool would that be? It’s one of the things I wish I’d done when I was younger, but I wouldn’t discount doing it when I’m older either. It would be difficult, yes, but isn’t that the point?
Description: Tammy and her husband used to live a normal middle-class lifestyle: driving two cars, commuting long distances, and living well beyond their means. Now they are living the voluntary downsizing — or smart-sizing — dream. Strobel combines research on well-being with numerous real-world examples to offer practical inspiration. Her fresh take on our things, our work, and our relationships spells out micro-actions that anyone can take to step into a life that’s more conscious and connected, sustainable and sustaining, heartfelt, and happy.
I’ve read so much about minimalism and simple living over the past few years that I didn’t really discover any new information in this book, but I enjoyed reading it, and I’d recommend it to others who are interested in learning more. Even though I’ve sold and donated so much of my stuff already, books like this always make me re-think the possessions I still own and I start to mentally plan what I can get rid of next.
10) 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, Jen Hatmaker
Description: This is the true story of how Jen took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence. Food. Clothes. Spending. Media. Possessions. Waste. Stress. She would spend thirty days on each topic, boiling it down to the number seven. Only eat seven foods, wear seven articles of clothing, and spend money in seven places. Eliminate use of seven media types, give away seven things each day for one month, adopt seven green habits, and observe “seven sacred pauses.”
I love books about personal challenges and I really enjoy reading about people who choose to live with less. Jen’s was an interesting concept and I enjoyed her story. The only downside is that, as a preacher’s wife and public speaker in the Christian women’s ministry, she talks about Jesus a LOT. Nothing against her religion, but there are a ton of Bible verses and “striving to live like Jesus” references in this book, which is way more than I prefer in my reading material (and my everyday life in general).
I did like how she inspired others to follow along with her (and even join in her efforts), and most especially how she declared a “mutiny against excess.”
11) All Over the Map, Laura Fraser
Description: On a trip to Oaxaca to celebrate her fortieth birthday, Laura confronts the unique trajectory of her life. Divorced and childless in her thirties, she has always found solace in the wanderlust that directed her heart, but now she wonders if her passion for travel (and short-lived romantic rendezvous) has deprived her of what she secretly wants most from life: a husband, a family, and a home.
I liked Laura Fraser, but her travel tales — which took place over a number of a years — felt a bit disjointed. I was never fully invested in her story. I prefer to read memoirs by people who choose a location and spend time immersing themselves in that place.