Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Five books worth reading

I've been a voracious reader since I was a kid. When I was in elementary school, I used to sneak books and a flashlight to bed with me. I'd wait to be tucked in by my parents, then pull the covers over my head, make a tent with my knees up, prop my flashlight on my shoulder, and read before falling asleep. I felt like such a rebel!

Now I generally read a couple books a month. I'm no longer in a book club, but I've found that just having been in one -- and wanting to read books for it that incited thoughtful discussion -- has helped to change my taste in books a bit. I'm not getting as much enjoyment out of the simple, light novels I used to read. But that's okay!

I'm always looking for my next great read. One of the best ways to find that next book is to ask a friend -- so I want to share some recommendations with you, in case you're looking for your next page-turner! I've included a lot of variety in this list.


In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan: Claiming that a book changed your life is a big statement to make, but I feel like if I'm going to attribute that sentiment to a book, this would be one for me. From his website: "Pollan proposes a new (and very old) answer to the question of what we should eat that comes down to seven simple but liberating words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. By urging us to once again eat food, he challenges the prevailing nutrient-by-nutrient approach and proposes an alternative way of eating that is informed by the traditions and ecology of real, well-grown, unprocessed food. Our personal health, he argues, cannot be divorced from the health of the food chains of which we are part."

This isn't a diet book. It's not an extreme, faddish meal plan. As I read this book, I felt like something clicked in my mind -- everything he suggests about how and what we should eat makes so much sense to me. His style is matter-of-fact, well researched, but easy to read. Reading this book encouraged me to analyze my own eating habits. I think everyone -- and I mean everyone -- should read it.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson: Larson has written a fascinating account of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, especially as it related to two important men: the lead architect, and a serial killer who preyed on the city's visitors. It reads like a detailed novel. As much as I enjoyed reading about the fair itself, what I didn't realize was how much this fair really changed the status of Chicago, both physically and in the minds of the country and the world. I also found it fascinating to learn what advancements were made and what products were invented for the purpose of this fair.


The Valley of Horses, by Jean M. Auel: This is the second book in Auel's "Earth's Children" series. I read the first in the series, The Clan of the Cave Bear, a few years ago and finally got around to book two. The story revolves around one woman during the Ice Age, roughly 35,000 years ago, who is separated from her family and raised by a clan of Neanderthals. Auel's research for this series is highly regarded, and she explores the sociological and physical separation of these two branches of human ancestry. Ayla, the main character, struggles to fight or embrace her instincts in order to fit into the Clan or become a more independent woman. These are both great books that really make you think about our ancient history.

One Day, by David Nicholls: This is the lightest book on this list so far, and it's going to be released as a movie this summer (and you know the book is usually better). It's a story of a twenty-year friendship between two friends, as told on one day in July each year. You meet them as they're graduating from college, with very different ideas and goals for themselves, then you see how their lives evolve over the next two decades. One thing I liked about this book was its emotional depth, which it doesn't appear to have if you judge it by its cover. I enjoyed it and am looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation.

In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez: Here's a quick summary from the Amazon listing: "[This is a] tale of courage and sisterhood set in the Dominican Republic during the rise of the Trujillo dictatorship. In the Time of the Butterflies is inspired by the true story of the three Mirabal sisters who, in 1960, were murdered for their part in an underground plot to overthrow the government." I've always had a love for historical fiction, but I tend to gravitate toward stories based in Europe, or England, in particular. This is the first book I can remember reading that is set in the Dominican Republic, and I enjoyed reading about this small piece of history in that part of the world. I've been reading more and more books set in the 1960s, a time I find fascinating for two reasons in particular: 1) the social landscape was so turbulent, and so different, than today's, and 2) it all took place within my parents' lifetimes. It's not ancient history, which is often difficult to relate to. Fifty years is nothing in the bucket of time.

Summer is usually seen as a time to catch up on your reading, so I highly recommend that you give one -- or all -- of these a try! And please let me know if you do!

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