Monday, January 28, 2013

Best of 2012: Favorite Books


Nolan’s 2012 Favorites (or Obsessions)

Ox-Cart Man by  Donald Hall (a 4th birthday gift, which he’s reading above)

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault

Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? by Nancy White Carlstrom

Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes (I confess, there were some nights I just couldn’t read it again & hid it under his bed so he’d pick something else.)

Charlie and Lola: Snow is My Favorite and My Best and all the Lola & Charlie books by Lauren Child (I also confess, I’m equally obsessed with Lauren Child’s books.)

Once upon a time (in 2008) I participated in Anne’s Book Week and did a post on our favorite children’s books. Happy to see a lot of those favorite showing up as Nolie’s favorites now. Also pictured above, The Incredible Book-Eating Boy, Dumpy the Dump Truck (another that sometimes disappears out of self-preservation but Nolan LOVES), and Farmer Will.


Don’t let these photos fool you. Our flat surfaces have piles and my office is chaotic, but books bring out the order-loving librarian in me.

Aidan’s Favorites:

The Accidental Hero series by Matt Myklusch, the NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society series by Micahel Buckley; Deltora Quest (books 1-8) by Emily Rodda; The Great Brain series by John Fitzgerald; Big Nate series by Lincoln Peirce; Dragonbreath series by Ursula Vernon; lots of The Far Side collections by Gary Larson and every comic collection he could find (even For Better or Worse); the entire Bone series by Jeff Smith, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (and two follow-ups: Darth Paper Strikes Again and The Secret of the Fortune Wookie) by Tom Angleberger. Aidan spent as much time re-reading old favorites. I believe he reread the enter Adventures of Tintin by Herge, The Mysterious Benedict Society books, and the Harry Potter series.

I’m hoping Aidan will write a guest-post on some of these series, like he did when he was Greek-mythology obsessed.

Sean’s Favorites:

Sean and I read the fifth Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, as well as abridged versions of Robinson Crusoe, The Canterville Ghost, Treasure Island and Around the World in 80 Days. We read The Phantom Tollbooth together, which he liked much more than I did. He read Frog and Toad Are Friends to me, which made my heart swoon. Sean and his dad have been reading the entire Peter and the Starcatchers series by Dave Barry and are closing in on the final book. He’s been reading NERDS on his own, which has us all excited. Up until now, Sean’s interest in books was tied to being snuggled up with someone else. Very exciting to see him become more of an independent reader, though we still want lots of snuggle reading too!

Special mention: Lori recommended Anthology of Children’s Literature (I can’t remember in what post---or was it in an interview?) but it was one of our best purchases last year. It’s out of print, but we found a used copy easily. Amazing mix of poems and stories, unlike any other collection I’ve found.


Deirdre’s Favorites

Images link to, titles link to


The Art of Possibility by Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander

When I’ve tried to share with others what I learned or loved from this book, it all ends up sounding like clich├ęs. Maybe the ideas aren’t new, but for me the way they’re expressed here made them new and  revolutionary. And, as with most favorites, it was the right book at the right time.

“In the measurement world, you set a goal and strive for it. In the universe of possibility, you set the context and let life unfold.”

Project Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners by Lori McWilliam Pickert

I like to think that some day this book will be the first in a series on living life fully because even this volume is about so much more than homeschooling. I adore Lori and as well as her blog, and love that there is now a tangible book with her ideas that I can hand friends.

“Allowing children to learn about what interests them is good, but helping them do it in a meaningful, rigorous way is better. Freedom and choice are good, but a life steeped in thinking, learning, and doing is better. It’s not enough to say, “Go, do whatever you like.” To help children become skilled thinkers and learners, to help them become people who make and do, we need a life centered around those experiences. We need to show them how to accomplish the things they want to do. We need to prepare them to make the life they want.”

Any Day a Beautiful Change by Katherine Willis Pershey

I stumbled on Pershey’s blog years ago, via her sister Elizabeth’s. Her essay collection focuses on her early years as a wife, mother, and pastor---and beyond all those roles, as a stumbling child of God herself. I loved her description of her young mothers’ discussion group  as a “community marked by authenticity, respect and grace, where the message is always you’re a great mother even as we’re inhaling wisdom from one another on how to become better mothers.” I’m grateful for her generosity in sharing a bit of her journey with such humor and honesty.

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris…I haven’t finished it. I kept picking it up and reading slowly in between other reads. I’m still including it because what I have finished is some of the best story-telling I read last year. More to come on next year’s list.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

A volunteer at the Natural History museum was showing my boys the jaw of a shark when she decided to tell them some of Louis Zamperini’s story. My boys were hooked, and begged me to get the book she had recommended. We started out listening to it as an audio-book on drives and they loved the childhood stories of Louis and his Olympic feats, but I put the brakes on it when I realized it was going to be sharing horrifying stories of Louis’ treatment as a POW in Japan.

Brian gave me the hardcover, and I still worry a bit that the boys will seek out the rest of the story before they are ready. Some day, however, they will be more than ready and I hope they gain as much inspiration from reading it as I did.

“Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man's soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it.”

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

I think it needs a different title---it is NOT a self-help book but a delightful investigation into how we make decisions based on our very flawed ability to predict what we'll want in the future. I remember reading parts of it aloud because I was so blown away by some of its insights (specifically the way we talk about time---as if it were a shape). Sometimes his definition of happiness is rather narrow (thus his conclusions on parenting and dismissive attitude toward anticipating/recollecting happiness), but what an engaging and fun read!

The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir on Writing and Life by Ann Patchett

"I never learned how to take the beautiful thing in my imagination and put it on paper without feeling I killed it along the way. I did however learn to weather the death, and I learned how to forgive myself for it."

That line made me think of my mom, who had so many stories to tell, but couldn’t take how murdered they seemed to her when she put them on the page. She shrugged it off with the conclusion that she just wasn’t a writer. I wish she could have read this. Patchett’s Truth and Beauty is one of my favorite memoirs and I love how this book provided more insights to the same period of Patchett’s life..

Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

It’s a fun and fast read (or listen as in my case). I loved her take on one-night-stands, romantic comedies, and her parents. A list-girl after my list-loving heart (love that she listed the episode when Michael hit Meredith with his car---our favorite).

“I simply regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world created therein has different rules than my regular human world. Then I just lap it up.”

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

I had a love/hate relationship with this read. My frustration came from the lightness with which Strayed presented some of the choices of her youth. Still, it has stayed with me over time, and much of it was engaging. My favorite line:

"Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked.”

The First Christmas by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan

I borrowed this from Gayle at the beginning of the season and still need to return it. Dave described it as a dry, research-oriented read but it reminded me of Fr. Talkin’s midrash interpretations, more interested in truth than in facts. I skimmed through some of it, and relished other parts. Looking forward to checking out their other collaboration, The Last Week.


Favorite Fiction

I would trade 5 great nonfiction reads for one good novel, but I’m less patient with fiction and my children are less patient with my disappearing into it as well.

Gilead by Marianne Robinson

Just rereading the lines I wrote down after finishing the book made me want to pick it up again. I’m grateful to have a copy to reread often. John Ames, his voice and compassion and faults, are so real to me that I consider Marianne Robinson to have channeled him somehow. My favorite of the year, but I decided not to pick it for book club as I knew the pace would frustrate some. It’s a love letter, a poem, a Shakespeare play all inside a novel.

Two of my many favorite lines:

"There is a reality in blessing, which I take baptism to be primarily. It doesn't enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it, and there is a power in that...the sensation of really knowing a creature, I mean really feeling its mysterious life and your own mysterious life at the same time..."

“It is an amazing thing to watch people laugh, the way it sort of takes them over. Sometimes they really do struggle with it . . . so I wonder what it is and where it comes from, and I wonder what it expends out of your system, so that you have to do it till you're done, like crying in a way, I suppose, except that laughter is much more easily spent.”

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Two five star novels in one year, I feel blessed with riches! I loved this, and I’m reading it right now for book club next month, and trying to steel myself for the different opinions. I started out listening to the audio book read by Hope Davis, which I also highly recommend. Patchett is a master with plot, but it is her characters in this novel that sucked me and converted me completely. Marina, Karen whom I adore, Milton even, and of course Dr. Swanson. It played in my imagination like a movie, but no matter whom they cast I will be disappointed because they are all so specific in my mind already.

“The part when they are together for a while, the two of them, before things go wrong. The way things ended always obliterated the genuine happiness that had come before and that shouldn't be the case.”

“In this life we love who we love. There were some stories in which facts were very nearly irrelevant.”

The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

Tyler was my mother’s favorite author, and Accidental Tourist is one of my all-time favorites. The similarities between the two are a bit bizarre---I almost wonder if Tyler forgot she had written a novel about a man coping with loss while his house falls apart and his control-oriented sister takes over and a quirky woman wakes him up. And yet, the tone---and the loss itself---were completely different. I read it in June, the first novel I could even attempt after our difficult spring, and it felt consoling.

“That was one of the worst things about losing your wife, I found: your wife is the very person you want to discuss it all with.”  I know one of the things that was hardest for my dad in the weeks immediately after my mom’s death was that he couldn’t discuss with her how beautiful her wake and funeral had been---couldn’t go over all the little details that he loved, and because he hadn’t had that cup of tea and great chat about them with her, they still weren’t quite finished.

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

CeCe’s pick for book club, and a delight---if you can imagine a cross between The Help and As I Lay Dying. Set in 1940s Mississippi and told from several points of view, Mudbound is fast-paced and deeply felt---a rare combination.

“How I wished sometimes that I could join him in his stark, right-angled world, where everything was either right or wrong and there was no doubt which was which. What unimaginable luxury, never to wrestle with whether or why, never to lie awake nights wondering what if.”


Favorite Dog Books:

2012 may have been the Chinese year of the dragon, but in our house it was the year of the dog. These days, when my only complaint about Duke would be his constant shedding---and even complaining about that seems unjust, it is hard to remember just how challenging those early months were.

But I do…getting up every two hours at night during those first weeks, the constant vigilance to make sure he didn’t hurt Nolan and that Nolan didn’t hurt him, the nipping, the jumping, the pulling (and biting) on the leash, the frightening of any kids who came over to play, coupled with my complete lack of emotional reserves having picked up Duke just a week after we returned from burying my mother. I know the timing helped Aidan in his grief, and he had already waited so long for a dog, but I was in a fog of post-puppy depression those first five months. And, as in all the foggy times in my life, I looked to books to be a light-house through the storm. These were the ones that offered me the brightest lights:

Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Free-Thinking Dog by Ted Kerasote

We owned several dog books for years before we got Duke. My sister gave us Caesar Milan’s while we adored the Monks of New Skete's training philosophy. None of them, in my opinion, are very honest about what we are asking a dog to give up in order to live with us as a family pet. This book is, even though Merle isn’t asked to give very much up at all. “Free range” dogs are common in Moab, but I can’t imagine that being the case in many other communities.

Animals in Translation  and  Animals Make Us Human, both by Temple Grandin. I saw a short youtube interview with Temple Grandin talking about little things that owners unknowingly do that annoy their dogs, and then sought out everything she wrote pertaining to dogs. You might know her story that was the basis of an HBO movie a few year ago. She has autism, as well as a PhD, and works with animals. I loved the history she shared about dogs and humanity’s role in each other’s evolution, and her discussion of what animals really need. Our similarities with animals can blind us to our differences, and vice versa, and she never seems to falter that way. However, she made me feel doubtful that the relationship between humans and dogs can survive unless we change some modern trends.

How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With by Clarice Rutherford

It probably helps that Rutherford’s experience is specifically with labs. This is the straight-forward basic book I wish I had from the beginning. Less philosophy and more “what to expect during week ten.”



Good Owners, Great Dogs by Brian Kilcommons

By the time I read this, months into Duke’s arrival, I was no long blind to seeing how every training book was really about either using rewards or deterrents. Kilcommons is more about the later, but his early chapters on puppies were so true to our experience. How I wish I had read this earlier!


Before and After Getting Your Puppy by Ian Dunbar

This was my favorite during the actual fog-storm, and I trusted Dunbar more than other authors because he is more interested in spreading his ideas than making money (ie: most of this book can be downloaded for free at In retrospect, this book may have served as an anxiety fog-machine; he is more gentle and forgiving of the dogs than he is the owners and his techniques often demand perfectionism (no-accidents house-training). No wonder I felt stressed! Read the goodreads’ reviews to gain more perspective than I was capable of at the time, and you’ll still learn a lot from this generous author. Thanks to Dunbar, Duke did house-train rather quickly, but training not to mouth humans required a different approach all together. Considering the sweet, social dog that Duke is today, I’m sure we owe some of that to the Dunbar.

Are you really still here? Did you read all this or did you scroll down just to see just how long I went on about books? Either way, you deserve a prize---and can add my post of Best Books of 2012 to what you read in 2013.

I’ll be taking most of this week off from posting but check back next week as we begin a month-long series of giveaways and contests in celebration of DOK Photography’s first anniversary!


  1. wow, SO much good stuff in this post, i will be referring to it for ages.

    thank you so much about your kind words about PBH. <3 <3 <3 it means so much to me. :)

    sooooo glad you found and loved the Anthology of Children’s Literature!!! that book is an absolute treasure.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Lori! Yes, the Anthology is the greatest and I never would have heard of it without you. The boys love the gruesome Irish bull story.

      I can't wait to hear what you're writing NOW!


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