Saturday, December 21, 2013

12 Books of Christmas

At the public library where I work, patrons always ask me what I’m reading. Here are six of my favorites from the year, why I enjoyed them so much and six titles I plan to read next year.

  Six of the Best Books I Read in 2013

  • The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak.  OMG.  A new perspective on the Holocaust, told from Death’s point-of-view.  It eloquently describes the horrors of small-town German life during the War.  Breathtaking.  Haunting.  Chilling. Brilliant.  Everyone should read this book.
  • The Crocodile by the Door:  The Story of a House, A Farm and a Family by Selina Guinness.  I couldn’t decide between listing this first or The Book Thief first, but how can you put the Holocaust second?  What I loved about CbtD is that it’s a poignant and elegant memoir and the author, her family and the villagers stayed with me long after I finished the book.  Selina Guinness inherits an old family estate just outside of Dublin and works to restore and renovate it with as much integrity as possible.  Restoration work is tough – physical and spiritual, but this is a redemptive story and the house and its family are doing very well now.
  • Imperfect Harmony:  Finding Joy Singing With Others by Stacy Horn.  I learned so much about music from this book!  I’ve been a musician my entire life, playing guitar and ukulele, but I’ve never been much of a singer.  I can play happily for long periods and never open my mouth.  That said, I love choral music and vocalists like Sinatra, Fitzgerald, etc., so I appreciate and respect how the voice is an instrument.  But I never had any idea how much work goes into choral and group singing!  The intricate grouping and pairing of the vocals mesmerized me and helps me hear music in a whole new way.  The dynamics that take place in a chorus, the family that choruses become … it was all so wonderful to learn.
  • Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod.  Letters. Paris. This won’t be published until February, 2014 and I am not at liberty to write any comments at this time.  More later.  I previewed it through  You can, too.
  • The Wee Mad Road: A Midlife Escape into the Scottish Highlands by Jack and Barbara Maloney.  Who wouldn’t want to have a mid-life crisis and run off to northern Scotland?  This memoir eloquently details village life, the hardships of sheep farming and fishing life.  Too bad they returned to the states after an all too brief stay.  The villagers became friends and I felt like I knew and loved them, too.
  • Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City by Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates.  A love letter to urban gardening.  I learned more about permaculture and tiered plantings than I ever thought I’d want to know.  How quickly we contaminate the soil and how very few of us bother to rectify those mistakes was shocking to learn.  I wish I could have shared this book with my late father – he would have loved it.  This book actually helped me to see why my father planted boxwoods and holly bushes in the manner in which he planted them. 
Books I Want to Read in 2014
  • Thinking Together and All that Jazz:  An Email Exchange and All that Jazz by Howard S. Becker, Robert R. Faulkner and Dianne Hagaman.  Two jazz musicians/sociologists share their long distance creative collaborations via email.  I’ve been lucky enough in my career to have worked with two others at different times when we clicked creatively and it’s an incredible experience to behold.  The output of work you produce and the high quality of such work is a spiritual thrill.  
  • Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch
    This popped up as a recommendation on and I'm glad it did!  I'm so excited to read this book.   Wendy Welch and her husband started a bookstore and created a community in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.  Great reviews.  She also writes a blog about the bookstore and life in VA. 
  • The Humans by Matt Haig.   I follow Matt on Twitter and really enjoy his comments.  This is his latest book and it’s received great reviews.  I can’t wait to read it.
  • Castles in the Air: The Restoration Adventures of Two Young Optimists and a Crumbling Old Mansion by Judy Corbett.  Corbett and her husband renovate an old mansion in Wales. This is my secret desire.  Wales, Scotland, England, Ireland, Indiana — any place will do.
  • To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing by Simon Garfield.  I’ve always been a letter writer and I’m hoping one of my nieces or perhaps my nephew will become a letter writer, too.  The joy of sharing your thoughts on paper with someone who will relish reading them creates a special bond.
  • Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan.  One of my nieces is reading this for a common reading program in college.  Human trafficking is a seldom discussed, but major problem in the U.S. and abroad.


  1. Thank you so much for including my book as one of the best you read in 2013!!

    1. My pleasure! I gave copies of your book to two people for Christmas and will surprise another friend with a copy for her birthday. Thank you for sharing your story.