Militant Citizenship: Rhetorical Strategies of the National Woman’s Party, 1913-1920 – Belinda A. Stillion Southard : This was marginally interesting when it wasn’t being horribly repetitive but I had to read it for class so I put it on this list.
Twenty Years at Hull House – Jane Addams : Addams had impressive goals for a woman in her time and an particular perspective on the poor she served, both of which are outlined in her memoir of life at Hull House, a story interesting both in terms of content and writing style.
The Feminine Mystique – Betty Friedan : Friedan’s book made a splash 50 years ago, and many of its challenges and fears are still realized today, which makes it an important text for modern women to read and ponder, whether they agree with Friedan’s assertions or not.
**Jayber Crow – Wendell Berry : A fabulously beautiful and simple yet profound tale of a man who is seeking a purpose and finds it in serving the community of a small town that he watches change and fade, as he changes and fades.
The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger : I read this over a decade ago, and I was a bit too young for it then, and now I’m too old for it, but I can read it as a reminder of what it was like to be figuring life out and an expression of what my future students believe they are experiencing.
Moranthology – Caitlin Moran : Moran is funny (and crude, and also funny) as all get out, and I find an emotional connection to her in her fangirling over the BBC’s Sherlock and in her treatise about why she writes and what she hopes for with her writing.
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union – Michael Chabon : This novel is not my typical fare, but it was wonderfully written with many layers, as Chabon creates an parallel post-WWII history and from it, a community that lives and breathes and speaks as if it is real, all while telling a detective story in the traditional style.
The 19th Wife – David Ebershoff : A novel about current and early Mormon polygamists, its parallel tales left much to be desired, with the present-day “murder mystery” seeming lackluster compared to the historical tale and the historical account being told in too many voices and too many different ways.
**Children of God – Mary Doria Russell : Russell’s follow-up to The Sparrow doesn’t have quite the same shocking beauty of the original nor the character development, and yet it fills in so many gaps about the first mission to Rakhat and provides a sense of completion (even while opening up new mysteries and issues) that it is necessary reading for anyone who loved the first book.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – James Thurber : Okay, I know it’s like ten pages long, but I still had to include it on the list because it’s one of the best short stories I’ve read, with so much imagination and color paired with a dull and normal life (and I’m SUPER excited about the movie, coming out this Christmas).
Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Wells : There’s nothing like an audiobook to make a roadtrip seem less painful, and listening to this book gave it a different dimension, especially the scenes of battles and maneuvers, though revisiting the book made me nervous about the upcoming movie as I realized how tricky it will be to get it right (but: Harrison Ford, so we’re probably fine).
**The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell : It’s harder to read the second time, because you know what’s going to happen and how it’s going to happen to these people that you love, love more than you thought you could love fictional people, and yet it’s still worth reading again, especially if you have a community to talk about it with afterwards.
The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln – Stephen L. Carter : A novel hypothesizing about what would have happened if Lincoln hadn’t been assassinated and instead had been impeached by his own political party, against a background of conspiracy and race relations.
**Half the Sky – Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn : An affecting and challenging look into how women and girls are treated the world over, and how changing the lives of women will change the cycle of poverty and discrimination in every country.
Looking for Alaska – John Green : Precocious teenagers (including one obsessed with peoples’ last words) live at a boarding school and learn about life, love, and loss.
**An Abundance of Katherines – John Green : My favorite Green book so far, this one revolves around a super smart young man, his best friend, and the ramifications of being dumped by 19 Katherines (also included: graphs that I did not understand).
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society – Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows : I enjoyed this book as the format of this book (fictional letters) and the history of the island of Guernsey during World War II were both interesting, but the characters never really grabbed me, nor did the story surprise me.
Redshirts – John Scalzi : A must-read for science fiction lovers or Trekkies, this book took one of the silliest tropes of the Star Trek world–the guy in the red shirt always dies–and turns it on its head in a funny and intriguing way, though I felt the book should have ended sooner than it did.
This is a Book by Demetri Martin – Demetri Martin : Composed of little humorous and clever stories and jokes, it didn’t seem complete or cohesive enough for my liking.
How to Be a Woman – Caitlin Moran : Often crude, often profound, often wickedly funny (all at the same time), British journalist Moran charts her journey to becoming a woman, touching on the difficult, controversial, and necessary discussions surrounding femininity and feminism, and while I don’t always agree with her perspective nor could I recommend it to my more conservative friends, I love that she’s saying it.
**My Name is Asher Lev – Chaim Potok : What a book, what a heart-wrenching beautiful terrible treatise on the nature of faith, community, tradition, and art, and one’s responsibility to himself and those around him.
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald : Yes, I re-read this because of the movie, but the book remains a stunning tribute to the loss of innocence, the tearing apart of dreams, and the foolish (but often beautiful) nature of hope.
**To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee : I recently watched the movie and thought, “One case in which the movie is better than the book,” but then I re-read the book (or listened to it) and that is NOT the case, since the book is exquisite, quiet, strong, and a reminder of a bygone era.
The Book Thief – Markus Zusak : Besides the personal connection I had given my family were in Germany during WWII, this novel, narrated by Death and starring a young girl, has unbelievably sharp and affecting prose and characters that are simply memorable.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) – Mindy Kaling : This book isn’t for those who want a treatise about women in Hollywood, but it is for those who want a treatise about the different types of women in chick flicks, the confusion of the term “hooking up,” and ways guys can be great (there’s also a lovely story about photo shoots, easily one of my favorite parts of Tina Fey’s book also).
Born Standing Up – Steve Martin : This memoir is written in a plain and straightforward style, with the sense of intellect and purpose that I often attribute to Martin, and his analysis of his own stand-up comedy is a fascinating study.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir – Jenny Lawson : This woman had an insane childhood, but this book is mostly about what happens when that child grows up and tries to navigate the real world of relationships, blogging, and Texas country living.
Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It – ed. Lynn Thomas & Tara O’Shea : I’m obviously a Doctor Who nerd, and I enjoyed this book, not because it was a collection of “rah-rah-rah, we love DW” essays, but because it’s delves into analysis and why women in particular are so drawn to the television show.
The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt : The prose of this book is so interesting, straightforward, simple, and yet poetic, as you follow the Sisters brothers down the West coast to kill a man, meeting unconventional characters along the way.
I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections – Nora Ephron : Ephron’s book about growing older resonated with me about how to approach the quieter years of life, how to reminisce even when you say you’ve forgotten it all, and how to be tenacious and go your own way (preferably while laughing).
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan : There were some things I didn’t understand in this book (technology speak, code speak, typography speak), but I enjoyed the colorful cast of characters, the mystery within the bookshop, and the idea of an unsolvable puzzle.
Lincoln’s Battle with God – Stephen Mansfield : All history has a bias, and Mansfield certainly has his, but I appreciated his candid acknowledgement of that, as well as the acknowledgement that Lincoln was a complex character and to ignore his complexity would do a great injustice to a great man.
The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein : This book, told from the perspective of a dog, was crisp and clean, predictable yet still enjoyable, metaphoric as well as straightforward, as Enzo narrates the joys and struggles of his family: births, deaths, trials, and race cars.
Neither Here Nor There: Travels In Europe – Bill Bryson : This humorous account of travel writer Bryson’s recreation of a youthful trip to Europe reminds me that a) travel has changed significantly since this book was published in 1992, b) stereotypes have to be built on something, and c) travel gives a great amount of joy if done correctly.
**Never Have Your Dog Stuffed – Alan Alda : Alda can do no wrong, but to leaving it at that would do his memoir–written with humor, intelligence, and honesty about his childhood on the burlesque circuit with a schizophrenic mother–a major disservice, as it’s one of the best “celebrity memoirs” I’ve read.
The Fault in Our Stars – John Green : This book is about children with cancer, falling in love, and watching people die, but it’s more about how two very articulate and thoughtful teenagers live with death, mature through pain and disappointment, and deal with the realities of life that we “normal folk” ignore until it hits us in the face.
**A Year of Biblical Womanhood – Rachel Held Evans : I love A.J. Jacobs’ version of this challenge, but his book is more sarcastic and intellectually intriguing, while Evans’ book is about my very self, the being of who I am as a woman and a Christ-follower, and how it can, at times, be soul-crushingly difficult to be both.
Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself – Alan Alda : This is a compilation of different speeches that Alda has given over the years with some commentary, and some of those commencement addresses are incredibly well-written and inspiring (even to those of us past commencing).
Open Heart – Elie Wiesel : A quick read (like an hour) written in Wiesel’s stark style about the 82-year-old writer’s open heart surgery and his subsequent ruminations on death, meaning, and the purpose of life.
Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All of the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions – Rachel Held Evans : Continuing my crush on RHE, her first book spoke to me as a doubter, someone who learned that faith was black and white, and the pain when you can no longer ignore the shades of grey.
**The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien : Some things I hadn’t remembered about the first offering in the LOTR trilogy: 1) the hobbits do a lot of partying and walking before anything exciting happens, 2) there are A LOT of songs sung by a lot of different characters, and 3) there are two women in the first book, and they’re both confusing and somewhat mystical (tells you a lot about Tolkien). (ed. note: only choosing this book as favorite of the month because of sentimentality)
One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd – Jim Fergus : Some people in my book group loved this historical fiction concerning “defective” white women traded to Native Americans for horses and goodwill, but while I found some of the tribal interactions interesting, I thought the characters flat and predictable, even outlandish at times, and the story not engaging.
**Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain : A scientific and systematic glimpse into the biological differences between introverts and extroverts, and a plea for our Culture of Personality to find a balance where all voices are respected and heard, no matter how quiet they are.
The Weird Sisters – Eleanor Brown : Shakespeare’s words are an integral part of this text, which is a story of three sisters–Bianca, Cordelia, and Rosalind–who all appear to come home due to a family emergency but in truth are avoiding their own personal disasters.
The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern : This novel is highly imaginative and evocative, and while it took me a while to get into and lost me a bit at the end, the middle is exquisite, as it tells many winding storylines relating to a magical traveling black and white circus that only appears at night.
Dirt and the Good Life: Stories from Fern Creek – Lisa Graham McMinn & Mark R. McMinn : This gentle and softly musing series of essays about the land, a marriage, and living wholly is a beautiful glimpse into a couple’s lifestyle balanced between love of the dirt and love of the divine (often the same thing).