Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Kuppercott Awards -- or the 15 Books to Read in 2014

What do books have to do with breastfeeding? For me, quite a bit. Since 2011, I've been keeping track of what books I read in an Air Force notepad. And I've noticed a trend: I read a heck of a lot more on the years that I'm nursing a baby -- usually twice as much.

I guess there is a positive to being forced to sit down so much after all. (On a side note: the Boppy
might be one of the most genius inventions known to man. Or women, whatever.)

I can't keep up this trend forever (breastfeeding, not reading!). So thank you, Avinly, for the privilege of 33 books read this past year. Hence, it's time for the Kuppercott Awards! (Based on the literary Caldecott medal).

Now, imagine me in a sparkling red gown (because that's my best color) handing out something akin to the Dancing with the Stars trophy -- only make it a little cooler than the cheesy Hollywood sequins. Like, cover it in dark chocolate.

Best Commentary/Analysis on Current Events: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

I discovered this intelligent Canadian journalist a few years back, and no, I'm not talking about L.M. Montgomery. Malcolm Gladwell is a staff writer for The New Yorker, and his to-the-point, journalistic approach to his books hooked me from the first chapter. The Tipping Point is another fascinating, witty analysis of a seemingly insignificant query: how does a trend start? How does something go from totally uncool to gotta-have-it? (I'm looking at you, Hush Puppies!).

Deepest: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
Okay, I have to admit: I hate reading trendy books. And, to be honest, Voskamp's writing style sort of drives me crazy. So how did this runaway best-seller from a Canadian farm wife end up on my Kuppercott list? And more importantly, am I developing a thing for Canadian writers?

The answer (to the first question, anyways): Voskamp gives shape to thoughts and wordless feelings I've had about God and life for years, and she does it in a way that sticks with you.

I gave it the "Deepest" award because this is NOT a book you can cruise through. Each chapter requires self-reflection and deep thought. I came away cleansed, refreshed and more aware of my place in the universe, despite the fact that her run-on sentences irk me. But that's probably just a personal quirk. Trust me: this book is worth the energy.

Best Use of Plot and Motif: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Thanks to my love of Victorian-era novels, I was already familiar with the idea that each flower and plant has a meaning. In fact, whole love letters -- or breakups -- used to be communicated through bouquets.

Obviously, this slow-form communication isn't hot today. Diffenbaugh, however, marries the past and present with this story of an aged-out teenage foster girl who only speaks through flowers. Heart-breaking, eye-opening, raw and a call to action to help American foster kids who leave the system unadopted with no family or skills.

Best Intelligent-yet-Escapist Beach Read: Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James
Anyone who knows me well knows my love of not only Jane Austen, but specifically of Pride & Prejudice.  Apparently I'm not the only one, as over the last decade a sub-genre of Austen prequels and sequels has popped up.

P.D. James, a British crime writer, outdoes them all. If you can't get enough of the Darcy household, snatch this murder mystery up! See how Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam deal with hysterical Lydia again (but you're not surprised, are you?) as she wildly announces one night that her husband -- the dastardly, hated Wickham -- has been murdered.

Can't-Put-It-Down Award: Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies & Why by Laurence Gonzales
You ever wonder why certain people survive a crash, accident or natural disaster when others don't? Or is that just me? Gonzales, an adventure writer, tackles this weird, yet intensely fascinating topic. Ninety percent of people panic in a crisis, while the remaining ten stay cool. Guess which group lives and dies when their plane crashes into a Peruvian mountain.

Full of gripping, real-life stories, this book took up a major portion of three days for me last January. The first book I read of 2013 turned out to be a keeper. Seriously, I talked about this book to anyone who would listen for almost a month. As in, go to your library (Salem has it!) and get it now.

Best Modern-Day Social Justice Novels: Scared and Priceless by Tom Davis
Upon a Compassion friend's recommendation, I picked up this two-book set, and I'm glad I did. Written by the president of Children's Hope Chest, a child advocacy organization in Africa, Eastern Europe and India, Priceless and Scared explore the issues of modern-day human trafficking and orphan exploitation.

Though not the best for their literary merit, both books do a great job of drawing you into the lives of two young girls, first in Africa and then in Eastern Europe. The issue isn't just a money-maker or entertainment for Davis, either; he and his wife have adopted two of their seven kids from Russia.

I dig that passion. I applaud those efforts to make a dent in what is arguably the worst atrocity against the human race in our time.
And I encourage you to let Davis' words ignite a passion in your soul.

Best Anti-Barbie Book: Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein
I can guarantee my mother will roll her eyes at this one, but this NYT bestseller by a feminist writer left me saying, "Yes!" after nearly every page. I've long had issues with the "princess" culture of the last decade -- why in the world does the girl need a prince to rescue her? Why can't she take action herself? Why are we teaching our girls that marriage to a "perfect" guy is a sure-fire way to happiness when, in reality, it's a recipe for divorce?  This book gave me empirical evidence and plenty of reasons to be even pickier about Avinly's media intake.

Best Biography: C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath
Oh, so good! Yes, there are dozens of biographies out on Lewis, arguably the most well-known theologian and apologetics genius of the 20th century. They are worth reading. This one, however, beats them all. A fresh, honest, real look at a flawed man who changed the face of modern Christianity forever. P.S. And whom we named Jack after!

Best Memoir: The Midwife by Jennifer Worth
Ever since my own birth experiences, I've been a midwife groupie. Yes, I may have invented the weirdest fan club ever.

This is the novel that launched the PBS show "Call the Midwife." More than a recollection of waters breaking, labor, delivery and Cockney accents, The Midwife is a hauntingly beautiful look back at a time and place previously unfamiliar to me: London's hard-off East End in the 1950s. Worth introduces characters ranging from humorous to heart-breaking, all the while keeping a tone of utmost respect for life in all stages. My hat's off to these midwives and the families they served!

Required Reading for All Married Couples: Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
Nick and I read this for a class at our church in Salem, and our marriage thanked us. Thomas has long been one of my favorite marriage experts; this book didn't disappoint. Yet the main idea was a little radical to me: what if the purpose of marriage isn't to make us happy? What if it's for a higher making us better people?

Perhaps that's a little obvious to you, but it was a game-changer for me. Using historical marriages like Abe & Sally Todd Lincoln and John & Nelly Wooden, Thomas explores how your spouse's faults aren't there to drive you batty -- they exist to shape you into someone with more patience, grace, generosity and love. Even and ESPECIALLY when the other person is totally at fault.

Plus, Thomas is a runner and comes up with all of his brilliant ideas for his books during his long runs. Kindred spirit right there.

Best Series: The Isabel Dalhouse Novels by Alexander McCall Smith
Oh, how I love this Scottish author. Smith is a world-traveler who wrote the wildly-popular "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" set. I dig Precious Ramotswe, the main character there, but I also loved the switch to Isabel Dalhouse, a Scottish philosopher and magazine editor. Her rambling thoughts are by turn both funny and fascinating, and Smith's gentle, classy prose never fails to make me smile. If you're in the market for intelligent, easy reading, go with this series.

Most Convicting: Just a Minute by Wess Stafford
As the former president of the world's largest child sponsorship organization, Dr. Stafford knows a thing or two about what makes children tick. I'll give you a hint: it isn't the best education, strict rules, top-of-the-line healthcare or even high self-esteem. Instead, it's encouragement from adults.

With quick, easy chapters, Just a Minute
interviews both well-known figures and everyday, ordinary people on adults who impacted lives -- both positively and negatively -- through just a one-minute interaction. Eye-opening and convicting to the core for anyone who's around children even casually or infrequently.

Most Gripping: Captive in Iran by Maryam Rostampour & Marziyeh Amirizadeh
Iran isn't exactly known for their hospitable prison system. (The ongoing Saeed Abedini case has really brought this to light). Nor are they famous for supporting women's rights. Two Iranian natives take readers on a terrifying, inspiring journey through their eight months of confinement in Evin, one of the world's most brutal prisons.

Rostampour's and Amirizadeh's faith and calm belief in the midst of evil blew my mind. Their words stuck with me long after I returned the book to the library. The best and scariest part? It's all true

Best American History Book: The Men Who United the States by Simon Winchester
I was drawn to this British author simply for the fact that, after visiting America several decades ago, he fell in love with it so much that he eventually became a citizen. Okay, and maybe the fact that I was fresh off the plane from the States and was really missing my homeland.

If you like history, you'll dig these little-known stories of the men and women who quietly built my beloved country.

And finally....drumroll, please...

The BEST Book of the Year: When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert

You may have noticed that I'm into social justice. It's a lifelong love affair. This book, however, totally changed the way I think about every issue related to helping people. As in, THIS BOOK CHANGED MY LIFE!

The premise is simple: First-World people see the massive need of the Third World around them and want to help. So they try -- and appear -- to help through avenues like missions trips, construction projects and financial giving.

But guess what: well-meaning people often do more damage than good. Say what?!?

When Helping Hurts reads more like a social science book than spiritual self-help, and that's because it is. Using solid research and years of combined experience through The Chalmers Center, Corbett and Fikkert demonstrate what actually works for equipping the poor and disenfranchised in the long run instead of just a quick, feel-good fix.

Even if all you do is put a quarter into the red kettle at Christmas, read this book.

So what about you? What's the best book you've read lately? What book do you want to read this year?