It’s hard to believe that it’s already time for my first reading roundup of the year, but here we are.
Each quarter, I post a list of the best books I read that past season. (Check out my book page for all of my previous lists). It’s a fun way for me to look back and reflect on a little snippet of time and what I learned during it.
This January, I decided to take a break from fiction. I was doing a little “January reset” and decided to apply some discipline to my reading life too, if only because I had a huge stack of nonfiction taunting me on the bottom shelf of my nightstand.
If you’re a newsletter subscriber, you already know that I totally regret doing this, lol. While it was nice to power through a bunch of “helpful” reads, it kind of made reading feel like a chore. My number one rule of reading, after all, is to NEVER let it feel like a chore.
By the time February rolled around, I was absolutely ravenous for a story, for characters to captivate me. I burned through a bunch of great books, the best of which are listed below.
Here is a list of the best books I read this winter.
“As they carried along and met more people Furlong did and did not know, he found himself asking was there any point in being alive without helping one another? Was it possible to carry on along through all the years, the decades, through an entire life, without once being brave enough to go against what was there and yet call yourself a Christian, and face yourself in the mirror?”
This book is set in Ireland just before Christmas. (It’s a little Christmas-y but not in a way that felt disorienting in February). Bill Furlong, a coal merchant with a wife and four daughters at home, makes a shocking discovery while delivering a load at a convent near the town he lives. The discovery sends Bill back to his childhood, and he struggles with the decision of how to handle what he’s seen. This novel is short–just a little over 100 pages–and staggeringly beautiful. This reminded me a lot of Elizabeth Strout’s work, actually, so it’s easy to see why I loved it. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for something profound but not too dense to move through quickly.
“He was a pile of American garbage and she feared she would love him forever.”
This is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. I spotted the on the “staff recommends” shelf at Book Catapult this past weekend (featured on my San Diego bookstore blog post from last month!). This is a dark (but not depressing, I promise!) satire that had me absolutely snickering from start to finish. Frances Price, an unstable Upper East Side widow, and her son Malcolm flee to Paris on an Atlantic cruise liner after squandering their fortune and burning every bridge possible in the process. Frances and Malcom set up shop at a friend’s vacant apartment on the Île Saint-Louis, and hijinks ensue. This story and its colorful cast of characters are utterly ridiculous. But I found it refreshingly clever and well worth a read.
“Love makes us beautiful. Do you know a single person who loves and is loved, who is loved unconditionally and who, at the same time, is ugly? There’s no need to ponder the question. There is no such person.”
This was a beautiful story and unlike anything I’ve ever read. A successful New York lawyer disappears without a trace, leaving his wife and family behind. Four years into his absence, his daughter Julia finds a letter written by her father to a Burmese woman who her family has never heard of. Julia decides to follow the trail and ends up in a tiny village in Burma where she meets a man who seems to know her father’s whole story. Even though I found a few aspects of the story not necessarily believable, I was completely spellbound. I recommend this if you want to read a love story but aren’t necessarily in the mood for a steamy romance novel.
“Our outer world will always be a reflection of our inner world. Our level of success is always going to parallel our level of personal development. Until we dedicate time each day to developing ourselves into the person we need to be to create the life we want, success is always going to be a struggle to attain.”
My main goal for this year is to become a morning person. The type of disciplined parent who wakes up before her kids do. The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod was precisely what I expected it to be: salesy, gimmicky, and exactly the thing I needed to kickstart the new lifestyle. The author makes a very compelling case for waking up early; he calls it “personal development time” which, now that I’m doing it, is exactly what it feels like. I recommend the book if you want some guidance for the early morning lifestyle. But don’t say I didn’t warn you about the excessive use of acronyms and egregious catch phrases.
“Building resilience is about developing the capacity to tolerate distress, to stay in and with a tough, challenging moment, to find our footing and our goodness even when we don’t have confirmation of achievement or pending success.”
This is one of the best parenting books I’ve read. Dr. Becky is known for her empathetic, intentional approach to parenting. And she lays everything out in a very practical way in her book. She talks a lot about cultivating resilience and understanding and regulating emotions (mostly in our kids but I felt a lot of this applied to adults as well, lol!). I found this book so helpful that I actually wrote an entire blog post about it. Check it out here.
“Courage is honest commitment to noble ideals. The opposite of courage is not, as some argue, being afraid. It’s apathy. It’s disenchantment. It’s despair. It’s throwing up your hands and saying, “What’s the point anyway?”
I love Ryan Holiday’s books because they are well-researched, concise, and full of tangible takeaways. They make excellent one-chapter-per-day books. Courage is Calling is the first in his “stoic virtues” series. Each chapter contains a snippet about a historical figure and what we can learn from their bravery. My favorite chapters were the ones about Florence Nightingale and Charles de Gaulle, two historical figures that I honestly didn’t know a ton about before reading this.
“You notice every little thing. This can be whatever is especially nice, such as the sweet smell of an infant’s skin, the sound of your child’s soft breathing at night, or the way the sun strikes your teenage daughter’s hair. You are also bothered by things others may hardly notice, such as the sound of children chewing with their mouth open, jangling keys in your partner’s pocket, or a bit of a whine added to a request.”
You might recall when I read The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron last year. It was eye-opening, to say the least. After taking a couple of months to digest what I had learned, I decided to take on the author’s book about parenting as a highly sensitive person: The Highly Sensitive Parent (note: this book is about highly sensitive parents, not highly sensitive kids–worth mentioning because it’s kind of confusing and she has another book about the latter).
Ever since I became a mom, I have always felt like something was just a little off with me. Like, I just couldn’t quite handle what other moms could. I get easily overstimulated and overwhelmed by situations that other moms make look totally normal/effortless. This book has made me feel very much seen in this. And more than that, it’s helped me recognize and embrace the strengths that are a result of my sensitivities. (Like, sure, I get overwhelmed by unloading the kids from the car and getting them into the house. But I have amazing intuition about what they need at any given moment? LOL.)
I highly, highly recommend this book to other HSP moms/parents. And if you’re not totally sure whether or not you have the trait, maybe take a spin through this self-test? It’s the same one she has at the beginning of each of her books. The author provides a gentle roadmap for navigating all of the aspects of the trait. As well as the science behind it which I found enormously helpful. Both books are amazing, but if you’re a parent, I think you can skip straight to this one because she does a pretty good overview of the trait at the beginning.
Check out my book page for more recommendations. And sign up for my Friday morning newsletter if you’re interested in getting these updates in real time.
And please, please let me know if you’ve read anything that I need to add to my list for the spring!