Well this post is incredibly late, but better late than never. Here are the Top 10 books I read and loved in 2016!
1. Kiss The Joy As It Flies – This book by Sheree Fitch was a pleasure to read. I bought it for $1 from the used book store at the Toronto Reference Library, and to my delight, discovered that it was signed by the author. The title of the book is from the William Blake poem “Eternity” – But he who kisses the joy as it flies, Lives in eternity’s sun rise. It’s about a woman named Mercy who could use a little mercy herself. She is diagnosed with cancer with not long to live, yet finds such joy in life and her journey. In the face of turmoil, Mercy clings to what gives her meaning – she creates a bucket list of things to do before she dies, and tries to repair relationships and uncover secrets of the past. She is charming and humorous, and hates taking advice from others on how to live her life. I read this on the TTC, in bed, and on my way to visit my friend Emily while she was renovating a home in the east end of Toronto.
2. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. I read this as part of my book club. It’s about a woman named Francis who lives in an old town in England and is enamoured with her renter (which they called the ‘paying guests’ at that time because it sounded more dignified). Francis falls in love with Lilian, a beautiful woman who is married to a man named Leonard. Leonard and Lilian seem to be a happy couple but underneath the façade, Lilian isn’t very happy and feels unsettled. She and Francis spend more and more time together and fall in love. But then what to do about Leonard? Well something happens that takes care of him for good. Yes the book is twisted, but also beautifully written. The girls in my book club thought it was just ok, but I absolutely loved it because it drew me in and made me forget about time. I read this book mostly at Starbucks. Sarah Waters is a gifted story-teller who takes you deep into the psyches of the characters and the motivations behind their actions. She knows how to describe love, betrayal, anxiety, and that conflicted feeling where there is a turn in the road, and the decision you make right at that moment determines the rest of your life.
3. The Girls by Lori Lansens – This book is about two conjoined twins who go through life, well, joined together and experience all the highs and lows of life together. I really liked the structure of the book and how it alternates between Ruby’s diary entries and the actual story. The girls are very close to their Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash, and this relationship shapes their characters and journey. Lori Lansens is an amazing writer… I hope to write as well as her one day. Her writing makes you reflect on what it means to share your life with someone in the most intimate way – and to experience some of your most private moments with another person. I finished this book in the summer in Ottawa, and then brought it to England to lend to my aunt. She enjoyed it just as much as I did, and had such wonderful insights to share about it.
4. Broken Open: How Difficult Times Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser – I appreciated this book so much. I read it in England when I was going through a really difficult time, at my aunt’s house, and also in the car ride to North Wales. From the back of the book: Will we be broken down and defeated, or broken open and transformed? Elizabeth shares her own story and those of others that were transformed by their pain. I loved the beginning of the book when she talks about her visit to a psychic and how the psychic tells her that there is a significant man named “Tom” in her life, and it turns out that she had dated three Toms recently! The psychic says that this last Tom was important in her life but she wasn’t meant to be with him – she says that he has his own soul journey to go on. I highly recommend this book, especially if you are going through a difficult period in your life and are looking for some inspiration.
5. Veiled Threat by Sally Armstrong – This is one of those books that my parents don’t think I should be reading. It is written by journalist, feminist, and human rights advocate Sally Armstrong. She takes us into the Taliban regime and the way that women were treated during that time as well as the amazing work that was done by women around the world that reached out to their sisters in Afghanistan at the time. We meet the amazing Dr. Sima Samar among others. This book was written in the 90’s at the time when no one was reporting on women’s rights issues. Sally Armstrong was one of the first to report on women’s rights issues and the amazing thing is that she is still at it. I went to see her speak at an event downtown and she spoke about how she is encouraged by how girls and women are joining forces to stand up for themselves, and how social media is playing an important role in activism and effecting change.
6. The Color of Grace by Bethany Haley – This was one the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. I picked it up at Book Ends, the small used bookstore at the Toronto Reference Library. It called out to me one Saturday afternoon as I sipped my Balzac’s tea and browsed through the store. Initially I was a little turned off by all the God references (and this is even after I have turned towards God myself), but actually I could not think of a person more fully surrendered to love, duty, and God than this young woman. She goes to Africa to help child soldiers and children who are victims of war crimes, and she witnesses the worst suffering known to man. The children are beautifully resilient, and even in the worst of it all, they are able to smile and be joyful. It is truly inspirational. They heal through art, therapy, open communication, play & sport, and gentle loving care. This book will stay with me always.
7. The Self Illusion by Bruce Hood – This is an analytical, research-based book that looks at human behaviour and why we do the things we do (one of my favourite genres). I loved this book for a few reasons. It was fascinating in its analysis of the human mind and our motivations, and also because I read it on a beautiful summer day when I was doing Walk In Her Shoes. I remember lying on the grass underneath a tree at Osgoode Hall and reading for hours. Even though this is far from a spiritual book, it is interesting to see that the data he collects shows that most people identify their sense of self to physically be located between the eyebrows (also known as “the third eye” in yogic lore). His explorations of free will vs. destiny are also quite fascinating. Be careful reading this book – too much self reflection will make you rethink your own existence!
8. The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall – This haunting, intense read was another book club read. I remember reading this so vividly because it was the first time I read an entire book on my phone. I read during the months where I was crashing on my brother’s couch, late at night before going to bed. It was a real page turner for me, simply based on the interesting plot – a family torn apart by the father/husband being accused of rape. I really related to the character of Joan and how she was torn between standing by her man versus protecting herself – not knowing what to believe, enraged by her lack of control, humiliated, and struggling to be a good mother to her children who were clearly suffering just as much as she is. The book has many twists and turn that keep you on your toes, and is also incredibly well written.
9. True to Life by Beth Kaplan – This book was written by Beth Kaplan, who was the instructor of a memoir writing class that I took last year at U of T. Every book about writing has a special place in my heart because I appreciate how hard it is to get words on paper, that imperfect messiness that is the first draft, that you want to delete from existence so that there’s no chance anyone will ever read it. Luckily Beth has lots of good advice on how to overcome those nasty negative voices and to get something down that is honest and authentic. I read this book one chapter at a time, sitting at Aroma in Liberty Village, at Tacos 101 on Dundas after volunteering, and during my trip to England. I would recommend this book to anyone that has a story to tell – and that’s everyone.
10. Falling Up by Dana Liesegang – This amazing autobiography tells the story of a woman’s “wild ride from victim to kick-ass victory.” Dana is a feisty, independent woman who goes through a horrific assault that leaves her paralyzed, and has to pick up the pieces of her life in order to survive. I was so inspired by this book that I would stop and re-read parts over and over. I appreciated the candor with which she wrote, and her imperfect journey in finding the right treatments, people, and path that would lead to her recovery. Along the way, she meets many amazing people, including Tipper Gore and the late Dr. Wayne Dyer, who are blown away by the power of this small person who has overcome so much. I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for a courage-booster and also for an enjoyable read (Dana has a wonderful sense of humour!).
- Buddhist Scriptures – Edward Conze
- The Cavendon Women – Barbara Taylor Bradford
- The Vintage Book of Canadian Memoirs
- The Secrets of Mariko – Elizabeth Bumiller
- Shopaholic Gets Married – Sophie Kinsella
- Count Me In – Emily White