Sunday, January 20, 2013

10 Books to Read in 2013

I love reading like Simon Cowell loves v-necks. Everyone just knows it's true. Exhibit A: when I heard Pauline Phillips, AKA Dear Abby, had died this weekend, I mentioned to Nick that I've been reading her column every day for years. "How many?" he asked. I thought about it. "Um, since....kindergarten."

Yes, folks, I may have been the only 6-year-old in the world to need a fresh copy of Dear Abby with her after-school snack.

To that end, I set a goal of reading 25 books in 2012. Any guesses as to if I reached it?

24. Of course, I finished with 24.

And here, in no particular order, are the top 10:

1. "Where Children Sleep" by James Mollison.
My fellow Compassion International advocates suggested this photo-rich book, and I'm glad they did. Mollison, a professional photographer, travels all over the world to capture images of children's bedrooms. Sounds weird at first, but take a second look. What you'll find is a fascinating account of what each culture values for its youngest, smallest members -- or doesn't. I am so pulling this baby out if/when my kids ever complain about not having enough technology in their rooms.

 2. "Strengths Finder 2.0" by Tom Rath.
One reason why I love volunteering with Compassion is that they don't simply suck you of your time and talents. They invest in you. As part of my training with this awesome non-profit, I had to read this book, take the assessment and finish the follow-up. And it was worth it.

I've taken a lot of personality tests before. But this one was better. I never realized, for example, how important the theme of maximization is in my life. Yes, I love to accomplish; I've always known that. But before this book, I thought it was merely a psychological feeling of satisfaction. As it turns out, it's not. Thanks to Strengths Finder, I now know how I can serve Compassion in a more efficient manner. Read it for yourself to figure out what makes you tick and how you can harness those talents for good.   

3. "Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality" by Gail Dines.
This pick might shock some of you. Because, let's face it, pornography isn't exactly a book-club topic, and usually not for a church-going, etiquette-course passing, only-kissed-2-boys sort of a girl like me. But this might have been the most important book I read in all of 2012.

This book, written by a scientist and social researcher, is not Christian. It is not pleasant. It is raw, disturbing and contained so many obscenities that I switched bookmarks (I didn't want the pictures of my beautiful sponsored kids' faces that I usually use next to some of the scenes!). And when I convinced my best friend Rochelle to sample it -- she of the "has seen it all" genre -- she called me back. "Um....whoa," she said. "That was seriously intense."

Before, I would have said, "Porn doesn't affect my life. I don't use it, my husband doesn't use it, and I wish more people didn't use it. But we're safe." Maybe you feel the same way. Or perhaps you think porn is no big deal, and even healthy and/or fun. Seriously, READ THIS BOOK. This is not a religious, thou-shalt-not-have-fun-or-sex issue (though I have to remind you about studies proving that people who attend church regularly have lots more and way better sex than those who don't). This is a brain issue, pure and simple, one that our society's future depends on.

4. "Redemption: a Rebellious Spirit, a Praying Mother, and the Unlikely Path to Olympic Gold" by Bryan Clay.
I don't make a lot of money, but my freelance writing gig has some serious perks. Like free autographed books and phone time with famous athletes. Bryan Clay, the "World's Greatest Athlete" and two-time Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon from 2004 and 2008, was one of them.

True, he failed in his quest to become the first-ever three-peater gold medalist decathlete. (This year's crown went to Oregon's own Ashton Eaton -- Go Ducks!). But Clay has an amazing story and my total respect. One of the nicest guys I've ever interviewed.

5. "No Biking in the House Without a Helmet" by Melissa Fay Greene.
Melissa Fay Green is a woman after my own heart. She makes big bucks as a freelance magazine writer and newspaper columnist. She's a straight-shooter who is always good for a literary laugh. And she has a total heart for adoption. This memoir of growing her family from 4 kids to 9 isn't a cotton-candy read; she doesn't hide the crappy parts of adoption. Instead, she delivers an honest tome on adopting internationally. And boy, is it funny!

6. "Bella" by Lisa Samson. I still haven't seen the movie. But the book definitely makes me want to. I immediately got hooked by the story of Nina, a struggling NYC waitress in a crisis pregnancy, and Jose, a handsome former soccer star with a dark secret. I think you will, too. (Anyone seen the film?)

7. "My Seasons: a Literary Celebration of Sports & Life" by Bob Welch.
I've been reading Bob Welch's Register-Guard columns since...well, since I've been reading Dear Abby. Unlike Abigail Van Buren, however, Welch's world is my world: Oregon. The Ducks & Beavers. Family and faith. Loving sports but not being nearly good enough to make varsity, so turning to sports-writing instead. Discovering you're way better at writing than you ever were at sports. Darn.

Bob Welch is the Forrest Gump of Oregon sports. As in, he hasn't missed any important athletic event, accomplishment, scandal or milestone involving Oregon sports in the last 50 years, and in fact has had a direct connection to many of them. Since he's around my dad's age, almost every essay left me saying, "Hey, I remember Dad talking about that!" If you love Oregon and you love sports, you'll likewise love this easy read.

8. "Choosing to SEE" by Mary Beth Chapman.
Steven Curtis Chapman, one of Christian music's most successful artists, lost his adopted daughter Maria in 2008 to a tragic car accident. But what happened in the aftermath was even more heart-breaking, tear-jerking...and beautiful. Written by his wife, "Choosing to SEE" is a must-read for any parent and a should-read for any human. Break out the Kleenex and prepare your soul for some serious searching. 

9. "Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected" by Kelle Hampton.
If you're an American woman who's spent any amount of time in the blogging world, you've probably come across photographer Kelle Hampton's blog. Over the past 3 years, she's become, quite literally, an internet celebrity because of just one blog entry -- her amazing account of giving birth to Nella, a daughter with the unexpected diagnosis of Down Syndrome. "Bloom" is a continuation of that blog of Nella's first year. Full of STUNNING photography and a gripping, poignant narrative.

10. "The Chair" by James L. Rubart.
Another autographed book and a lovely chat with the author....but this time I had to pay for it and quickly scooch away from the bookstore table so the next person in line could get their own copy signed. Ah well.

I first learned of Jim Rubart when he was a keynote speaker at my writers' conference last summer.
As a lifelong Bible geek and fan of Lloyd C Douglas' "The Robe," the premise of "The Chair" instantly intrigued me. Whatever did happen to all the carpentry stuff Jesus made before he started his ministry? Was it popular? Were his chairs and tables and utensils brimming with special powers? (Most importantly, did his family carpentry shop have a clearance section?).

Grab a copy of this book to find out what might happen if one of Jesus' pieces survived to modern day. Great fiction with suspense and food for thought.

And now it's your turn. What's on YOUR list of must-reads in 2013?