What a lovely month for getting back into my reading groove! January was full of excellent stories and up-all-night page-turning, and my reading choices covered a variety of genres. One of my new year's reading resolutions was to read more diversely, and by thoughtfully planning out my book queue for the month, I believe I accomplished that. Here's what was on my nightstand in January:
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This historical fiction novel -- a finalist for the National Book Award -- earned much-deserved praise at the end of 2014, but I delayed my own reading of the novel. It seemed like the kind of book you'd need to get lost in, and I was right. For the first two weeks of last month, I was completely mesmerized by Anthony Doerr's poetic, character-driven novel set in 1940s France. I couldn't put the book down, and yet each night, I made myself set it aside. This was a book meant to be read slowly; I chewed instead of devoured, and I'm so glad I did. I haven't read a lot of historical fiction since high school -- it's not a genre I'm often drawn to -- but this one really captured the intensity and sadness of a time in our world's history, while also telling a beautiful, bittersweet story. It's a book less about war and more about the people affected by it, and it needs to be on your nightstand, immediately.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. The publisher's description of this new novel reads a bit like a suspense-filled thriller, but instead it's a sad, thought-provoking look at how one mixed-race family deals with immense tragedy: the loss of their child and sibling. Author Celeste Ng will have you hooked from the first sentence, and if you're like me, you'll follow along, mesmerized by her depiction of grief and overwhelmed by its consequences. Everything I Never Told You was a local book club pick last month, and their discussion was proof of the novel's power; if you're looking for your own book club selection, add this one to your list.
Scary Close by Donald Miller. I have been a Donald Miller fan for years; I read Blue Like Jazz in college, and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years gave me the push I needed to quit my corporate job and eventually own The Bookshelf. His new book, Scary Close, released this week (happy birthday to me!), and I can't recommend it enough, particularly for readers of Brene Brown's Daring Greatly or Henry Cloud's Boundaries. The book -- told in his characteristically conversational style -- covers Miller's own struggles with vulnerability and insecurity; I found myself frequently highlighting and underlining passages before reading segments aloud to Jordan. In fact, Scary Close would be a good book for spouses to read together (co-reading is good for you; haven't you heard?), and it's got great discussion potential for church small groups or business leadership workshops.
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. All the Bright Places was my young adult book of the month; its realistic prose is popular right now -- thank you, John Green, for saving us from the vampires -- but novelist Jennifer Niven takes things even deeper by tackling some tough issues with her new novel. All the Bright Places addresses bipolar disorder and manic depression, suicide and grief, but Niven handles the content deftly, and I never found myself bogged down by sadness. Instead, I read with my eyes opened to the challenges facing those with depression; my own dear friend in high school struggled with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and Niven's book -- more than any other I've read, I think -- brought his struggles to life for me. Because of its content, I would recommend this one for older high school students, but don't be alarmed: Niven weaves in some truly beautiful, funny moments, too. (After all, life -- especially life in high school -- is a mix of every emotion under the sun. All the Bright Places covers all of these well.)
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. While I'd recommend All the Bright Places to a primarily YA audience, Brown Girl Dreaming -- a middle reader book and National Book Award winner -- should be required reading for all of us, old and young alike. In Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of her childhood entirely in free verse; the story is made even more powerful through this unique telling, and in the book's pages, children and adults are introduced to worlds familiar and unfamiliar. Here's what I mean: I'm younger -- and whiter -- than Woodson, so many of her stories I needed to hear, but they weren't stories we necessarily shared. But her descriptions of life in the South, of sweltering heat and overwhelming religion and close-knit family? I found myself in those. You will find yourself in these pages, too; I'm sure of it.
See How Small by Scott Blackwood. I'm not even sure how to describe Scott Blackwood's newly released novel, set in the heart of Texas and -- like a lot of books I read this month -- in the middle of tragedy. The book is loosely based on a real, unsolved murder of three girls in Austin, Texas, but its focus is never on the crime itself. Instead, like Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You, the novel covers the reactions of the girls' community, the impact of grief on a family and a town. It's a beautifully-written work; the three girls hover like specters throughout the novel, speaking in one unified voice when they appear at all, and the chapters read more like poetry than prose. See How Small is reminiscent of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, but it's also entirely its own.
The Localist by Carrie Rollwagen. This book came across my Instagram feed last month -- thanks, Birmingham friends! -- and I'm so glad it did. Writer and blogger Carrie Rollwagen spent a year shopping locally, but this isn't another book tracking the 365 days of her adventure; instead, it's a thoughtful, engaging look at the economics and consequences of shopping small. Rollwagen is never preachy, but she is convicting, and her book inspired me to take a look at my own purchasing habits. Full disclosure: Rollwagen also spent three years as an independent bookstore owner, and her stories were often similar to my own, which validated some of the thoughts and struggles I have as a new entrepreneur. At the very least, The Localist will encourage you to second guess your purchases, to shop responsibly, and -- perhaps most importantly -- to engage with your community more kindly.