(for my wife, a huge Paul Newman fan)
One of my jobs as a writer is to read. A lot. I’ve set a goal in the past few years of reading at least one book per week (audio books count) and I’ve succeeded. Today I finished my 65th book of 2014, according to my Goodreads page. I read 57 in 2013. I’m not sure how many in 2012, but I’d say 40-50 since I can’t ever remember not having a book to read almost every day in most of my adult life. As a good Neo-Renaissance practitioner, reading is at the absolute top of my list of intellectual pursuits because it is so easy in our technology age to access the written word. The bonus to me is that reading is an activity which requires immense concentration and a long attention span, which helps counteract our modern-day distractions and short attention span practitioners.
I used to read a lot of non-fiction, but since becoming a serious writer, I’ve stuck more with my genre of mystery/thriller/suspense in the past several years. I still read some non-fiction–mostly about the craft of writing– and in 2014, I also read quite a number of short story compilations courtesy of Glimmer Train, Boulevard, and Crazy Horse.
I don’t gravitate toward new releases, bestsellers, and the like because I have my own agenda about reading. I read what tickles my fancy or fills a need or desire at that moment. For what it’s worth, I’ve decided to share my favorite book of the year, retroactive to 2012 when I think I remember what my favorite book was in that year. Here are the three winners in chronological order, along with my original Goodreads review. Note that I use the Goodreads rating system of 5 stars. 5= It was amazing. 4= Really liked it. 3= Liked it. 2= It was ok. 1= Did not like it. I don’t believe in giving rave reviews to friends or colleagues when they are not deserved and give the highest rating to only those books which I really think are outstanding. More or less a bell curve, because let’s face it folks, only a small handful of us are geniuses. The rest of us might be very good, brilliant at times, but not geniuses. I’d like to look back at my reading history when I’m on my death-bed and know that I recognized true greatness over my life and didn’t merely pay it lip service. So if you got five stars from me, you wowed me, for what that is worth.
Without further ado, my favorite book of 2012 was:
It’s OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids
Most of one’s success in life is based on using plain, simple common sense. Most of one’s success raising children should be based on common sense too. Ms. Shumaker’s book drips with common sense on every page. Her main premise is instead of trying to raise our children to become mini-adults, we should use common sense to understand the why’s of their behaviors, and then raise them to become the best children they can be, with appropriate challenges and success at each stage of their development. She feels this is the most effective method for helping them become successful adults.
What I see as her overarching rule of rules is her Renegade Rule #2: It’s OK if it’s not hurting people or property. My translation: let kids be kids. Allow them to make noise, make messes, wrestle and roughhouse with each other by mutual agreement, have arguments, be selfish and hog a toy for the entire day, say almost anything (with certain limitations), play during 99% of their free time, and make-believe any fantasy they can dream of, even if that fantasy appears to be violent on the surface. AS LONG AS IT’S NOT HURTING PEOPLE OR PROPERTY.
The format is laid out simply, logically, and clearly. Twenty-nine rules, each with its own chapter. Each chapter explains the rule, the reason for the rule, why it works with children, what you might object to initially, case studies or examples of the rule in action, and Renegade Blessings and Children’s Rights, which further help reinforce this new way of thinking for parents.
Each chapter also contains step-by-step procedures and suggestions for implementing a new rule. Ms. Shumaker also deals with the inevitable clash between old and new cultures and how to deal with, for example, parents who believe it’s abhorrent to let young children indulge in any sort of violent or aggressive fantasy or game. She acknowledges there will be friction between parents with different parenting philosophies and provides handy explanations and justifications for the Renegade parent to gently educate another parent in how to accept a Renegade Parent’s style.
Bottom line, I usually conk out reading in bed by eleven o’clock, but “It’s OK NOT to Share” was such a page turner it kept me up reading well past midnight on two occasions. This is the best book I’ve read this year and one of the best nonfiction books I’ve read in many years.
My Favorite Book of 2013 was:
Lehane picks you up by the scruff of your neck and drops you into the middle of working-class Boston where loyalty is the only thing that counts, and those who break the unwritten rules pay the ultimate price.
I can’t praise his dark, gritty prose enough. Lehane takes you deep inside the minds and hearts of his protagonists and shows us that despite all their mistakes, struggles, and bad decisions, they all want what everyone wants: a decent life, free from stress, and to love and be loved.
The plot hums along solidly, with twists and turns, and just enough reveal to keep the reader guessing, and then second-guessing, whodunit. But the bigger question is why. A great read for any mystery fan.
2013 was a great reading year for me, so I’m compelled to list some Honorable Mentions, books I thought were excellent but didn’t quite move me as much as Mystic River.
In no particular order, the Honorable Mentions are:
A Drink Before the War (Kenzie & Gennaro #1)
Tamarack County (Cork O’Connor #13)
The Camel Club (Camel Club #1)
Population: 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time
A candidate for the best book I’ve read in 2014. I’m new to Michael Perry’s writing and a bit annoyed I hadn’t discovered him sooner. This book, a collection of essays and reflections about life in a small northern Wisconsin town as seen through the eyes of writer/volunteer firefighter Perry, has charm, wit, laugh out loud humor, touching moments, insights on life and death and love and friendship.
At times (the right times), Perry’s prose is simple, direct, clear, and understands the tragedy and loss that small town folks share because everyone knows everyone. At other times, he writes elegant, inspired lines that illuminate and clarify complex thoughts and emotions that we all probably have, but are at a loss to put into the “right words.”
I can’t recommend this book highly enough.