write meg!’s 2012 reading honors

reading honors

Happy day-after-Christmas, everyone! Hard to believe we’re here again, glancing over our shoulders at another year of living, loving, eating — and reading. Though 2012 proved to be a slower reading year for me, completing 71 books to last year’s 82, I found myself really enjoying what I was reading — and focused on branching out.

That meant I discovered some narrative non-fiction for the first time in my adult reading life, and I challenged myself to step out of my chick lit box. That’s not to say I don’t still love women’s fic — trust me, I do — but I also enjoyed the change of pace that biographies offered me.

Audio books were my good buddies this year, too. Since discovering the joys of being read to (you know, elementary-school style), I’m rarely without an audio book on my drives around town. Since my music is all stale and boring and blah, it’s great having something to keep my attention when I’m running errands. And now I feel less annoyed about having to go get diet soda from the grocery store again.

Last year’s reading honors celebrated literary fiction, young adult and more — and at the end of my post, I hoped 2012 would find me continuing “all the things I hold dear: excellent literature; prose that stops me dead in my well-worn tracks; journeys to new places, continents and cultures. I hope to read more non-fiction in the coming months, especially about American history, and to get excited about women’s fiction again. On the personal writing front, I hope to finish another novel by the spring and to continue making creative writing a priority in my own life.”

With the exception of that last bit (I’m severely slacking on the novel-writing front), I’m going to stamp a big ol’ mission accomplished. Feels good.

In the coming year, I’m going to be realistic: as Spencer and I get rolling on our wedding plans and my sister prepares for her nuptials, too, much of my free time will be consumed with bridal-related excitement. And that’s okay. Reading (and blogging!) are meant to be fun; I just can’t stress over my reading pace. I’m never without a book, so that won’t change — but I have to figure I won’t get through as many novels as before. I’ll likely have to be choosier with what I pick up and review, so that should be an interesting challenge.

But on to the best of the year! What makes a book end-of-the-year-recap worthy? How do I whittle 71 books down to the cream of the bookish crop? I ask myself a few important questions: months after finishing, am I still thinking about it? Can I recall details, characters, settings? Did it spoil me for other books? Am I grateful — maybe changed — for having read it?

If the answer is yes, you’ll find it below. And what a fun reflection it’s been.

Meg’s Top Five Reads of 2012

1. Girl Unmoored by Jennifer Gooch Hummer

My foray into young adult literature was limited this year, but I’m so incredibly glad I didn’t miss out in this one. You’re probably sick of me talking about it, but hopefully my constant chatter has convinced you to pick it up. I’m serious: it’s moving and funny and unforgettable. Hummer is a true talent, and this book was a life-changer for me. If I’ve talked you into picking up one book from write meg!, I hope it’s this one. You won’t regret it — and that’s why it’s in my No. 1 spot.

2. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Read in the summer, Beautiful Ruins is just the sort of book that lodges in your brain and refuses to leave. Though I always picture a scene while reading, this book inspired full-blown movies in my mind — which works well, considering it’s partially about movies. It’s gorgeous, lush, vivid — and filled with incredibly memorable, endearing characters. Plus, it’s set in Italy — and Elizabeth Taylor is a quasi-character. I described it as “spellbinding” back in June, and you know what? I’m a smart lady. Spellbinding only begins to cover it.

3. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Surprising, heart-wrenching and utterly lovely, I didn’t go into Harold expecting to come out a tearful, washed-up mess — but Joyce’s unforgettable language rendered me speechless. The tale of a middle-aged man who traverses the whole of England on foot in his own way of reconciling the past “took me by surprise,” if I may quote myself, and it was literary without being dull. For a book with a simple premise, it was incredible.

4. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

February and March were spent with Isaacson’s epic tome on the life and death of Steve Jobs, an iconic American visionary. Though I went into the book with little knowledge of Jobs’ life, I now consider myself well-versed in Jobs-ology. Accessible, detailed and compelling, Steve Jobs packs a mighty punch. And if I got a little mired down in the details at points, I’d expect nothing less from a book on such an influential, exacting man.

5. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Never have I loved and hated a character so completely and simultaneously. Young heroine Victoria’s story was engrossing, though difficult at many points — but I was completely addicted to this book. As we teetered toward the story’s conclusion, I didn’t want it to end. Plus? I feel quite comfortable with the Victorian language of flowers now. Sometimes a rose isn’t just a rose.

Most Delicious

Paris, My Sweet by Amy Thomas

Macarons, pies, cupcakes — and more! Thomas’ sweet, frothy recollections of her year in Paris working for Louis Vuitton is a treat for armchair travelers and foodies alike. Though the narrative itself could have used a little more meat, Thomas’ memoir was a fun and delicious read — and one that has me desperate to book a flight to France tomorrow.

Most Inspiring

Heaven Is Here by Stephanie Nielson

To know Stephanie Nielson is to love her. After surviving a small plane crash that left she and her beloved husband badly burned and broken, Stephanie works tirelessly to keep her family together — and to find a way to be happy again. Told with endless faith, her memoir is raw and realistic. Though Stephanie herself seems perennially upbeat, she doesn’t hesitate to discuss the depression, fear and emptiness that threatened to overtake her after waking from a coma. I’ve followed her blog for a while, and her story is incredible.

Packing the Sultriest Punch

History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason

Um . . . is it hot in here, or is it just History of a Pleasure Seeker? Mason’s tale of a social-climber in belle époque Amsterdam is sexy, literary, lovely. The author’s language captured me from page one and refused to let go. In January, I wrote the novel is “lush, sensuous and finely-wrought story of how, through charisma and seduction, one man is able to change an entire family and free them from their stuffy, well-made cages.” And it’s definitely one that stays on the brain.

Most Inspiring of Hepburn Nostalgia

Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. by Sam Wasson

Wasson’s ode to the power of “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” made me want to don pearls and parade through New York City. Not that, you know, I wouldn’t do that on a normal day. But choosing to read Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. on my way back from a sisters trip to the big city in May elevated the story to magical status. It was informational, entertaining and fun.

Other books I loved in 2012: FaithBridge of Scarlet LeavesWife 22We’ll Always Have SummerI Never Promised You a Goodie Bag

See past reading honors: 2011201020092008

Book review: ‘Steve Jobs’ by Walter Isaacson

My first iPod was a gift from a boyfriend enamored with technology. As Christmas approached, I started daydreaming about the fabulous present he was sure to buy me. It was our first holiday together; my expectations were high. Would it be a ruby necklace? A sparkly ring? Some awesomely unique gift tailored to my exact desires?

No. It was some little pink machine in a box.

“It’s an iPod,” explained the ex-boyfriend, a web guru and Apple devotee. I’d never even heard of one. “You can store all your music on here. It’s like a Discman, but with your entire music library. I figured you could use it while walking around campus.”

Then a college sophomore, it’s true that my daily walks were excruciating — and long. Round trip from my car to classes at the University of Maryland could take an hour or more. I’d noticed the slim white earbuds beginning to adorn classmates but hadn’t paid much attention to them. I liked technology as much as the next person, sure, but Apple wasn’t really on my radar. And neither was the iPod.

To tell you the truth, I was disappointed. I’d expected some elaborate show of affection, I guess, and this so-called “iPod” — even in pink — wasn’t really cutting it. Though my ex had even had it engraved, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. It stayed in its box until he came over to help me begin loading my CDs on something called “iTunes,” and now I’m feeling quite old — I mean, think back, friends, to when these things were new. And crazy. Sort of whacky.

I don’t have to tell you the rest of the story, of course. I became obsessed with that iPod mini. Four iPods and an iPhone later, I’m surrounded by Apple products and can clearly see the revolution Steve Jobs helped to create. We’re truly a tech-obsessed world, and many of the products we now take for granted were space-age concepts just a decade ago.

Ten years. What a difference it makes.

I approached Walter Isaacson’s epic Steve Jobs, a biography of the late innovator and mastermind, with some trepidation. For starters, it’s huge. More than 600 pages. And though I was fascinated by Jobs the man and Jobs the husband and father, I was less fascinated with the complete history of a company that has changed our world — even if I completely acknowledge that revolution.

Like first receiving that iPod mini, though, I soon saw the error of my ways . . . and realized I was holding something compelling. Listening to the audio version over the course of a month, I experienced a range of emotions while learning about Jobs’ life, trials, inventions, suffering, genius and, ultimately, death. By the close of the book, I was emotionally spent.

You may already have an opinion on Jobs, whose tireless pursuit of perfection and “prickly” personality once made him few friends at work or home. Born in 1955, Jobs grew up at a very unique time in American history. Once physically filthy and prone to bouts of introspection, Jobs was definitely an odd duck — and someone who didn’t take kindly to things like bathing and footwear, apparently. But his genius was evident from the time he was a teen, and he built Apple from the ground up through sheer determination and the ability to bend others to his will.

Make no mistake: Jobs wasn’t the sweetest guy around. He could be sour, angry, off-putting and vile. He didn’t suffer fools kindly, took no prisoners and was disdainful of anyone who came across as “stupid.” His standards were exacting, his moods mercurial; as quickly as he could shift from unhappiness to pleasure, friends and colleagues would be left sorting out the demands he’d make of their time and talents.

After conducting more than 40 interviews with Jobs over the course of two years, Isaacson has created an epic masterpiece that neither downplays Jobs’ incredible accomplishments nor places him on a pedestal. After finishing Steve Jobs, I felt I was provided a very balanced perspective on what made Jobs great and what also made him undeniably, completely human. His edges were jagged. Exploring, at points, his wasted relationships with his own children, his eating disorders and illnesses and his own cold, calculating treatment of others, Isaacson has created a picture of Jobs that feels authentic.

And at the end of the day? Even after hearing about his “reality distortion field” and ability to manipulate anyone into doing his bidding, even (and especially) his own parents? I still liked the guy. I felt for him. And perhaps it’s because I’ve recently lost an uncle to cancer, but I felt physically sick as news of his cancer spread — and both angry and sad to learn how little Jobs initially fought the illness, believing he could lessen its severity through some of his whimiscal fad “diets” and other strange treatments.

Though I found myself weighed down by the sheer volume of material, occasionally skipping through an audio disc or two after Jobs left Apple and went on to head up Pixar, the story kept my attention throughout. Jobs’ adoption, relationships and family were of the most interest to me, and Isaacson did a great job balancing the more “personal” information with Jobs’ professional accomplishments. It never read like a tawdry gossip piece, and Jobs himself commented on the foolish decisions he made when young — and the regrets he had about certain aspects of life, especially how he treated his parents and abandoned his first daughter, Lisa.

Regardless of how we may perceive him, Jobs was certainly an innovator whose absence has left a tremendous void. At the end of Isaacson’s biography, which Jobs never read nor controlled, I felt a gnawing sense of anxiety that the dreams Jobs had yet to realize — the goals he’d set; the products he wanted to launch and explore — have vanished into the ether, vanished with his death. Who will next pick up the gauntlet? I wonder. Who can press on in his stead, bringing us the next concept to completely shake up our world?

Someone will, I know, but not someone like Jobs. He was certainly one of a kind.

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1451648537 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonPublisher Website
Personal audio copy won from Devourer Of Books

About the narration: Actor Dylan Baker did a wonderful job reading this monumental project — and I appreciated the subtle shifts between Baker as narrator and Baker quoting Jobs. His voice was both soothing and commanding of attention, and I would definitely listen to another book narrated by him.