Hey all! Welcome to my refreshed website. In January, I’ll be launching an exciting new project that I’m in the midst of getting up and running. So between now and then, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite things from 2016. Today, I’m starting with books!
When I first started working for myself after moving to Cincinnati, I remember thinking that if I don’t start reading for pleasure now, there won’t be another season as easy as this one to do so.
In 2015, I took some time to figure out what genres and subjects I enjoy reading. I didn’t force myself to finish books, and instead simply returned them to the library when I was through. I learned I like memoirs, non-fiction about complex issues, self-help books and “beach vacation” fiction. And all of that research about my “reading personality” paid off and set me up for a successful reading life in 2016.
At the start of this year, I set out to read 48 books. In true Abby Murrish form, I stopped tracking my reading and I can’t report whether I met my goal. But, I can report that 2016 was a terrific reading year. here are my six favorites (in no particular order).
Hillbilly Elegy: There’s a reason this book is popping up on all sorts of “Best Of” lists as 2016 comes to a close. With crisp writing and constructive commentary, J.D. Vance tells his story of growing up in a Rust Belt town in a family from Appalachia. He offers a compassionate and critical critique of the culture he grew up in, while explaining what prompted him to take a different path than his peers and join the Marines, graduate from Ohio State University and earn a law degree from Yale.
Personally, this book helped me make sense of my family and my own story. “Americans call them hillbillies, rednecks, or white trash. I call them neighbors, friends, and family,” Vance writes, and that’s the same of my life. I walked away humbled by Vance’s account, realizing that my life could look far different had my great-grandparents, grandparents and parents responded differently to their lot in life. My excessive weeping at the end of this book spurred me to sit down with my own mamaw and papaw and record their stories. At the end of his book, Vance writes about his dream of one day having a family of his own and his hope this his children will be hillbillies. After talking with my family and learning more about this piece of my history through this book, my hope for my (future) children is the same as Vance’s.
The Shepherd’s Life: I should note that I’ve about 20 pages to go in this book, but I can’t write a list of my favorite books without mentioning this stunning memoir. James Rebanks shepherds Herdwick sheep in the Lake District of England, work that his family has been doing in that region for more than 600 years.
As Rebanks walks the reader through each season on the farm and recounts his story along the way, he captures the struggles and joys of working in agriculture, the cultural clashes among rural/urban and working class/”elite”, the glory of laying down deep roots in a place, and the dignity of hard work. If you enjoyed “Hillbilly Elegy” you’ll likely enjoy this book too as Rebanks touches on some of the same themes as Vance does.
The Supper of the Lamb: Occasionally, I’ll read a book and finish it thinking, “I wish I had written this.” That was my sentiment as I finished Capon’s “The Supper of the Lamb.” Beautiful, quirky and evocative, Capon describes four different meals involving lamb, focusing on various aspects of cooking and theology with each meal. He imagines how food, cooking and our meals are a foretaste of the world yet to come, and calls his reader the best sort of materialism, for “the road to Heaven does not run from the world but through it.”
If you love food, not as one who posts photos of food on Instagram but as a subject of theology, humor, hobby and culture, this book is for you. And if you have weak tear ducts, have tissues ready for the last two chapters.
The Nightingale: Although the characters are a bit archetypal and the plot a bit predictable, Hannah masterfully describes the lives of two sisters in WWII France, offering a glimpses into life on the home front and on the front line. “If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: in love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are,” says the narrator, and for weeks after I finished the book, I kept wondering who I’d find myself to be if up against the same challenges faced by the characters of this book.
The Madame Chic Series: I make it my business to stay away from books, online websites and magazine and social media accounts that subtly imply I must have and do more to live fully. Thus, I was hesitant to read Jennifer Scott’s Madame Chic series, fearing I would walk away with a list of things to do and buy for a happier, more content, and simpler life.
To my surprise, her books did the exact opposite. I didn’t finish her books with the restlessness I usually encounter after imbibing of the lifestyle self-help genre. Scott gives practical advice about how to become a connoisseur of one’s own real life with its beauties and imperfections. I walked away ready to take a break from buying clothing, embrace my slightly outdated home instead of pining away over Pinterest photos and establish sweet rituals like setting the table and enjoying music in the afternoons.
The Lunar Chronicles: Had you told me that a YA series based on fairytales with a dystopian, sci-fi setting would be among my favorite reads in 2016, I would never have believed you. I picked up Cinder (the first book of the series) on whim at the library before going away for a weekend this summer, and I couldn’t put it down. The characters are rich and the plot intriguing. I particularly loved the re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood in Scarlet.
Although those books round-out my favorite reads, I must share an honorable mention that I couldn’t bear not noting on the blog.
Throughout the year, I listened to the entire Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James mystery series by Deborah Crombie and adored every single one. Kincaid and James are London detectives, and each book deals with a different murder investigation. The characters are fabulous, and I loved how Crombie focused on a unique piece of British history, geography or culture in each book. While each book is about an individual case, reading them in order is important because of the character development. Highly recommended!
I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shoutout to Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy for her fabulous book recommendations and podcast. My reading life is so rich partly due to her work! And I’m so excited about her 2017 reading challenge!
Reading has been one of my more rewarding pursuits in 2016. The books above have shaped me and brought me joy. Maybe they’ll do the same for you too!