The other day, I had to pop by the store to pick up some bits and bobs for the house. When I walked in the door, my senses were overwhelmed as I was greeted by aisles of stocking stuffers, red, green, silver, and gold Christmas crackers, and racks of festive, glittering party outfits.
My friends, take a deep breath, the holiday season is officially upon us,
Besides the standard, “holy smokes, where did the time go” refrain (seriously, time seems to be getting faster and faster the older I get), it also got me thinking about all of the things I need to tick off the ol’ to-do list before the year’s end.
The first thing that came to mind was my annual reading challenge. Each year I endeavor to read 52 books, a book a week if I stay diligent and on task, which inevitably, I don’t. Somewhere around the halfway mark I get lax, take a few weeks off, and find myself needing to binge a few beach-reads to catch up (by December this can escalate to the library’s children’s section if I’m really desperate).
This year, I’ve pushed myself to explore more non-fiction, which has served as a nice balance to the historical fiction, sci-fi, and YA that I tend to gravitate towards, and also a reminder that all genres tell stories that help us learn about and engage with the world. Even the driest subject can come to life when it’s transformed by masterful storytelling.
So far, there have been a few standouts, which I thought I’d share in case you find yourself with a bit of free time over the holidays looking to get lost in a good book.
1. The Library Book – Susan Orlean
An ode to libraries if there ever was one, Susan Orlean is masterful at transforming the true historical events of the 1986 L.A. Library fire into a story that reads like fiction. In some ways, it reads like a classic who-done-it, as we seek to uncover the hazy events leading up to and in the aftermath of the fire, which burnt around 400,000 volumes, about 20% of the library’s collection. Woven throughout the book, we also see the library as a community hub and information exchange. It proves, without a doubt, that libraries have a place in our society’s future (and in many of our hearts), even with the rapid oncoming of a digital age. It wasn’t a book that I thought would make me cry, but I’ll admit, there was a tear or two as I read this unexpected page-turner.
2. How Democracies Die – Steven Levitsky
You may remember that I mentioned this book in one of my recent posts. In my opinion, a sure sign of a good book is when you find yourself referencing it long after you’ve turned the final page. Steven Livetsky’s book has come up again and again since I read it several months ago. The book does a fantastic job systematically breaking down what’s not working with the status quo of U.S. Democracy and what we need to do to fix it before the point of no return. It’s incredibly timely, with the crowded democratic debate stages, partisanship reaching a fevered state, and Trump’s impeachment underway. The book’s message serves as a reminder that America is a young country and no governmental system is infallible. We must all play our part in preserving democracy if we want it to be around for the generations that will come after us, and sometimes that means moving past party lines for the sake of the common good.
3. Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think – Hans Rosling
If How Democracies Die serves as a warning, that Factfulness offers you a hug and a gentle reminder that things are not as bad as they might seem. Through a series of framing tools, we are reminded that the world is actually a much safer, healthier, happier place than even a century ago. Perspective is everything, and though we seem to be in a particularly volatile moment in history, it’s all going to be ok. One of my favorite takeaways was Hans’ point about the dangers of seeing the world through an “us” vs “them” lens. No one wins from this dichotomy but everyone benefits from seeing the world as it truly is, complex, intertwined, and generally getting better.
4. Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff
Released in 2015, this novel has already made appearances on several reading recommendation lists, perhaps most notably by Barak Obama. Fates and Furies explores a complex marriage through the POV of the respective participants. Split into two parts, I found myself enjoying the second half more, when the narrative shifts and you realize that you may not have had the whole picture for the first couple hundred pages. It’s a book about the secrets we keep from those closest to us and learning why someone does something can sometimes be more important than what someone does.
5. Stardust – Neil Gaiman
A mix of fantasy, science fiction, and satire, this story has all the elements of a classic fairy tale but with enough twists and unexpected turns to keep your attention until the end. I’ll admit, I first came across Stardust as a film, and it’s still one of my favorite rainy day movies. Neil Gaiman is a master storyteller and it shows as he present’s his version of the classic “boy goes on an adventure and becomes a man” trope. This may not be the book he’s best known for, but it is a tale of adventure, self-actualization, and a reminder that life’s unexpected journey’s can lead to endings better than you could have even imagined. It’s not a long book, making it ideal for travel reading or if you need a break from heavier texts.
- The Weight of Ink – Rachel Kadish
- The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
- The Bully Pulpit – Doris Kearns Goodwin
Thanks, as always for stopping by Adventures with Pete. If you do end up reading any of these books, I’d love to know what you thought in the comments below. In the meantime its back to the reading chair for me. I’m currently working my way through Nudge, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, a really interesting take on behavioral economics and how through a good nudge, I might have avoided falling so behind on my challenge. Until next time!