My Year in Books (52 books in 52 weeks) – 2014 Book List

Usually I'm not in favor of resolving to DO something (i.e. exercise 3x a week) because I know on any given day I already have too much on my plate. Trying to squeeze one more thing in, even if it's beneficial, is going to overwhelm me, and then sadden and frustrate me when I can't make room or don't comply. Knowing this about myself (I always bite off more than I can chew) I try to resolve to NOT do something instead. Less is more, right?

I say without any hesitation that this practice has been profoundly beneficial on my personal and professional life, and with 2015 just around the corner, I kindly suggest you give it a whirl! (Here's an example: I resolved to stop re-reading emails after I sent them. Seems small potatoes, but it had a dramatic effect on my productivity.)

But I'm a complete hypocrite, or at least I was at the end of 2013. I broke all my own rules, ignored all my own advice, and resolved to DO something in 2014. Specifically, I resolved to read one book per week.

(I can't take credit for the idea. Years ago my husband shared an article with me by a guy who'd took on this challenge and I'd wanted to do it too ever since... if only I had more time.)

2013 was a challenging year for me personally, as I battled depression and OCD-related anxiety. (I've openly blogged about my struggles, you can read more here and here). Working less was essential to my recovery, but saying, or even wanting to work less didn't mean I actually would. The C in OCD is compulsive, after all!

I needed to create actual boundaries that forced me to work less. I knew it couldn't just be up to my will or my resolutions. Even if I resolved to NOT do various work things (i.e. resolving not to read blog posts after they're published, or reading the same draft more than once) I knew that didn't meant I would actually work less. I'd just do other things instead of those things, lets be honest about that.

Basically, I'm my own worst enemy (and I know it). Resolving to read one book per week effectively saved me from myself and my compulsions. Reading a book, even a short book, requires dedication and time... time that I couldn't be working. It was my boundary.

Was reading one book per week challenging? Yes and no. There were a few weeks in the beginning where I slipped into my old ways, didn't read regularly (I always had a “good excuse”), and had to spend 4+ hours race-reading on Sunday.

Once I made reading part of my daily routine, it became easy and “natural” – a habit like brushing my teeth. Even on my worst, most tired days, I found a certain joy in reading, even if I loathed having to read when the I first picked up the book. (My mood always improved and I was glad to have read – sometimes even squeezing in a few more minutes to finish a chapter.)

The only other struggle was when I didn't like the book. Quitting meant I'd have to start all over midweek, so I usually just forced myself to finish instead. (They were the yin to my yang... making the books I did like all the more sweet). Plus one time I ended up really liking the book in the end, so I'm glad I stuck with it!

One other worthy note: The weeks I was rereading the manuscript for Holidays or recording the audio reading of the Guide were also trying and I “cheated” with some short books ;)

A few notes on my book list: I've bolded my top recommendations so you can scan quickly. I didn't want to review every book in this post, but I felt some warranted commentary or an explanation ;)

I have, however, reviewed the majority of these on Amazon so you can read my reviews here if you're curious about my thoughts or ratings.

Finally, for book club selections I've included a “BC” next to the star rating. I'm a member of two clubs, one of which reads books that are adapted into movies. For those books, if I saw the movie, I tried to leave a note about my opinion re: the adaption.

BUSINESS, SELF-HELP & MISC.

1. Becoming the 1% (5/5)

LOVED. Made everyone at Happy Herbivore Inc. read it. I'm still using the ABCDE method! It has made a huge difference in my work life and the productivity at HH HQ. Highly recommend.

2. The Birth Order Book (5/5)

Recommended by my sister-in-law. LOVED. Was surprised how accurate it was when it came to my parents, my husband, his sister, me, many of our close friends, etc. It definitely helped me understand our personalities and improve some interpersonal relationships. Highly recommend.

3. Jab Jab Right Hook (2/5)

4. Your Food is Fooling You (5/5)

Although this version is intended for teens, I like that it is short and sweet, direct and straight-forward. A great (must!) introductory book for information about how our “food” has changed over the last several decades.

5. Think Like a Freak (5/5)

My husband turned me on to Freakonomics when it first came out. I was OBSESSED. I didn't care for Super Freakonomics as much, but did find this book fascinating (it's self-help-y).

6. Tartine Bread (2/5)

7. Slim By Design (5/5)

Mindless Eating changed my life (I talk a lot about it in HH Light & Lean) and I was overjoyed to hear the author came out with a new book. While there are definitely some interesting studies and takeaways in this book (including how your kitchen's layout can make you gain weight), I found it overall not too helpful for the “average” person. Half the book is for restaurants or schools or cafeterias, and he DOES suggest you take it to your favorite place so they do these things but...

8. Buddhism Plain and Simple (2/5)

This came highly recommended to me when I asked Twitter for a good beginners Buddhism book (I wanted to read about Buddhism before touring several Buddhist temples in Asia). I guess it wasn't plain or simple enough for me. It was too philosophical/abstract for me. I kept saying “WHAT AM I READING?” The few parts where I got anything from it (why it's getting a 2 not a 1/5) was when he gave examples. Any reccomendations for Buddhism books would be most appreciated!!!

9. How to Win Friends and Influence People (5/5)

I listened to this via audiobook and loved it. It had been recommended to me several times by several “business” people. I highly recommend doing the audio format. Listening while walking your dog or commuting to work.

10. A Place of Yes: 10 Rules for Getting Everything You Want Out of Life (5/5)

This was my second reading of this book (I blogged about the first time I read it here) and I loved it again. Even if Bethenny Frankel isn't your BFF I think you'll enjoy this book—just glaze over the first few pages. It's the most authentic, direct, and practical “self-help” book I've read in a long time.

11. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (4/5)

12. What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World (5/5)

13. Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (4/5)

14. The Campbell Plan (5/5)

It's not out yet (I was lucky to get an early review copy) but it's easily one of my favorite books about the plant-based diet.

15. Histories a Lire le Soir (4/5)

I read children's books in French for practice

MEMOIRS & BIOGRAPHIES

I love memoirs and often pick dark ones (as you'll soon see) because I am fascinated by the strength of the human spirit. (There is something in their survival that I'm attracted to). Yes, I'm horrified by the awful things humans can do to other humans, but dark memoirs give you a different perspective for appreciating life. Perhaps it's just cathartic... I also like self-deprecating memoirs, apparently.

16. Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened (5/5)

Her comic on depression is unbelievably accurate.

17. I Can Barley Take Care of Myself: Tales from a Happy Life Without Kids (4/5)

18. My Story: Elizabeth Smart (4/5)

19. Uganda Be Kidding Me (3/5)

20. Fish (5/5)

Brave. Brutal. Shocking. This is a riveting and stomach-squeezing memoir about a boy (yes a teenage boy) in a man's prison. Prison/prisoner's rights is one of my strange interests. My curiosity started after a school field trip to a jail. The tour-guard made a comment that stuck with me. If she treated the female prisoners with respect, they respected her and were cooperative. “It's about dignity and humanity,” she explained.

Many more years later I would find myself six degrees from two people in prison. (Each prisoner being a parent to a friend of mine from childhood. One involves drugs. The other involves money. I'm still baffled.) Then took “Prisoners Rights” in law school and concluded how we treat our prisoners says a lot about us as a society. (I also read Orange is the New Black). This is also a powerful LBGT memoir.

21. Some Girls (4/5)

22. Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls (4/5)

I read this book with my assistant, Carly. She'd suggested it to me before a long trip. We both loved it. If you've ever tried to learn another language, or have used Michele Thomas which I LOOOOVE, you will almost pee your pants laughing so hard in one chapter of this book.

There were also some chapters about Asia, or well, China, which made me nervous about my trip to Asia, but then after my trip became exceedingly funnier. (I laughed to the point of tears reading about all his French and France life... I suppose because of my direct relatable experiences).

23. Unbroken (5/5)

“Unbelievable” doesn't quite capture it. A must read! It's also more than a memoir – the author gives a deep overview of WWII as well and truly flushes out the story and the reality of that era. Some of the statistics are mind-blowing.

24. Lucky (4/5)

It's a very dark but real account/memoir of a rape victim, written by a celebrated fiction author

25. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (4/5)

NOVELS (NON-SERIES)

26. Influx (4/5)

Daniel Suarez wrote two of my favorite novels—the kind where you slow down because you just don't want it to end (Freedom and Daemon). I had never read “tech” novels before and frankly, never intended to, but since my husband liked them so much (and he never reads novels) I read them too—outstanding! Thus, when Scott and I were looking for an audio book for a long drive, we opted for Suarez.

While this book was pretty science-heavy (some went right over my head), I was still able to follow the story. I didn't like it as much as his previous works, but I was always begging Scott to sit in the car for five more minutes to finish a chapter. He liked it too.

27. Kill Decision (3/5)

28. The Giver (5/5) – BC

I read this book in High School (it was my best girlfriend's favorite book) and I loved it then. I loved it even more on my second helping a decade later. I re-read it before the movie came out and while the movie is a far stretch from the book, I liked the movie as its own thing.

29. Gathering Blue (2/5)

A not-so-sequel but kind-of-sequel to The Giver (you somewhat learn what happens to Jonas in a passing line at the very end). I didn't care for this book and found it hard to read and easy to put down.

30. The Lovely Bones (4/5) (I haven't watched the movie yet).

31. Gone Girl (2/5) – BC

32. Dark Places (4/5)

Although I didn't care for Gone Girl, I wanted to give the author another chance since her books came so highly recommended. While this book kept my attention (a real “whodunit”) I've decided the author has penchant for writing dark stories full of highly unlikeable characters. Dark and twisty is just not my thing, I guess.

33. The Fault in Our Stars (4/5) – BC (The movie was a fair adaption.)

34. Little Mercies (5/5)

I COULD NOT PUT THIS DOWN.

35. Little Lies (4/5)

36. These Hidden Things (4/5)

37. Crazy Rich Asians (2/5) – BC

Although I did not like it, it was timely to have read this before I went to Asia. I think it enhanced my trip, even though it was a struggle to finish the book.

38. Walk Among the Tombstones (4/5) – BC

The movie ending was wrong (::frustrated::)

TRIOLOGIES & SERIES

I found I gravitated towards trilogies and series for ease. It saved me the hassle of having to find a new book to read each week, it was already decided for me. If I do this challenge again, I'll compile a long list of “to read” suggestions before starting.

39. Maze Runner (4/5) – BC (Movie was loosely based on the book, at best)

I thought it was interesting to have a young boy's point of view in a YA dystopian series. Although I found the story initially fascinating, and it kept my attention, later books made me wish I hadn't started with the series. I forced my way through because I wanted to know what happened. If you like YA, give it a try. (The movie is very different from the book. I was displeased, but my husband, who didn't read the books, loved the movie.)

40. Scorch Trials (3/5)

41. The Death Cure (3/5)

42. Something Borrowed (3/5) (Movie was pretty accurate! Love that Kate Hudson!)

43. Something Blue (5/5)

44. The Selection (4/5)

This is the only series where I liked it more as I read subsequent books. (It's usually the reverse). While this series didn't capture and ravage me like The Hunger Games (I love it, I admit!) I did enjoy it and recommend it to my mom! I've also pre-ordered book 4. If you like watching the Bachelor or Bachelorette, you'll love this series.

45. The Elite (4/5)

46. The One (4/5)

47. Fifty Shades of Grey (2/5)

I'm judging me. It got to the point where everyone I knew read this series, and they all said the same thing “It's poop on paper!” and yet they continued on reading it! “Well, it's a nice love story,” some would later justify. Others would claim as bad as it was, it was also weirdly addictive – like reality TV.

I started calling it the spoiled milk phenomena. You know: when you smell spoiled milk you say “Ew! This reeks!” and then shove it into the person's face next to you saying “Smell this!” and then they smell it too!

I ultimately read it because doing so made someone happy. I struggled to finish books 2 and 3. I'm impatient. The “plot” was slow moving and the story is a bit teenager-girl “But it's true lurve! True loves kiss! You're mine! Body and soul! Yes! And me yours! Forever and forever!” By the way, you can absolutely skip over all the sex stuff if lit-erotica isn't your thing.

48. Fifty Shades Darker (3/5)

49. Fifty Shades Freed (3/5)

50. If I Stay (4/5)

51. Where She Went (5/5)

52. The Outlander Series (4/5)

I started this series after it came highly recommended to me from the Herbies on Facebook. There are several books in the series and I've only read the first one, but I'm going to keep with it. It's also a new TV show on Starz.