The final count is in: I read 20 books in 2012. This is a very pleasing number to my OCD, as it is so easily divisible by 2, 5, and 10. I’m listing all 20 books and brief summaries of each for you below. I pretty much recommend all of them, as these are only the books that I finished, and I don’t finish books that aren’t good. Feel free to contact me if you’d like a more specific recommendation. And please let me know if you have any recommendations for me. Happy reading!

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Without a Map by Meredith Hall

Beautiful, haunting, tragic, memoir by a woman who was outcasted by her church, family, and community for getting pregnant as a teenager. I was shocked and moved by her ability to tell such a difficult story so well, as well as her maturity in being able to say she is grateful for her life experiences despite the extreme unfairness of her suffering.

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Bossypants by Tina Fey

I always have to follow a sad book with a funny one. This was hilarious. It’s Tina Fey’s memoir. I think that speaks for itself.







My Year with Eleanor by Noelle Hancock

Noelle was 29 when she lost her job and was forced to examine her life choices. She realized that, despite a successful career, she’d been paralyzed by fear and had been avoiding her actual life for a long time. So she decided to turn her unemployment into  year-long quest to follow Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous advice to “Do one thing every day that scares you.” The things she ended up accomplishing through this were truly amazing and inspirational. I think about this book now whenever there is something I’m afraid to do, so it has encouraged me to take some very worthwhile risks. I highly recommend this to anyone who has fallen into a funk or just wishes to shake things up in their life.

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MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche

This book came out at a perfect time for me. Rachel is a twenty-something who moved to Chicago from the east coast to be with her husband. After years of not making any close friends there (especially none that came close to her best friendships from childhood), she embarked upon a year-long quest to find a new BFF, going on one friend-date per week. I love how this book has started a long-overdue discussion on just how hard it is to make new friends as an adult. So relatable and hopeful. Also gives some very practical ideas on how to actually go about making new friends. She keeps a blog on the same thing, so check that out too!







Why I’m Like This: True Stories by Cynthia Kaplan

I was really drawn in by the opener of this book, but it ended up being one of the least-memorable books I read in 2012. But it’s a fun, quick read by a quirky writer who is both humorous and endearing.

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Five Men Who Broke my Heart by Susan Shapiro

This was a beautiful, honest reflection of the writer’s five failed relationships leading up to her marriage. Not only does she thoroughly reflect on all these relationships, she also contacts all the men and talks with them about what exactly went wrong. I think it was so bold of her to both undertake a project like this, as well as to publish it. Very validating for anyone who spends a lot of time reflecting on past relationships.

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The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

This book is pretty well-known right now. It’s definitely worth the read, or at least a skim of the sections that are most relevant to you. Very practical research and advice for how to become a happier person, some steps being as easy as clearing the old clothes out of your closet.

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The Fates will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard

One of only two fiction books I read this year, which I picked up after seeing the writer give a wonderful reading of the book at my local bookstore. This is quick, enchanting read of a girl who goes missing in high school and how that single event goes on to affect her circle of childhood friends throughout the rest of their lives.

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My Boyfriend Wrote a Book About Me by Hilary Winston

Definitely one of the best reads of 2012. She literally wrote this in response to her boyfriend writing a book about her. (Don’t read her boyfriend’s book. I started to read it but it was so awful I had to put it down after three pages. He’s gross and his book is gross. Hilary definitely wins this one). Such a real and hilarious exploration of life and relationships. My only quip is that it is evident Hilary is still in love with her ex (and does not realize how much his book sucks), which is really disappointing because she is so awesome and he is such a skeez. I think this could be a very different book if she wrote it once she was truly over him. But this fact does not get in the way of her book being awesome and hilarious and worth the read x 1000. I think she writes for Community and My Name is Earl.






How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed: A Memoir of Starting Over by Theo Pauline Nestor

Why do I love divorce memoirs so much? I don’t know. But I do. This was a good one- a very vulnerable look at all the small tragedies of divorce. I wish it had a happier ending, but that’s life.

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Click: The Forces Behind How We Fully Engage with People, Work, and Everything We Do by Ron and Ori Brafman

This is a quick read and is filled with easy-to-understand research about what makes us feel the most engaged with “people, work, and everything we do.” What draws us to certain friends over others, what conditions make us most successful at work, etc. What makes us just more likely just to CLICK with certain situations. It’s amazing how much depends on the quality of our relationships, and how such simple factors can set us up for the highest quality relationships.  This book will help you make more sense of yourself and your environment.

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By the Iowa Sea by Joe Blair

A memoir by an Iowa City writer about his struggle to accept the reality of his life vs. the youthful dreams of his past. The backdrop to this story is the Iowa flood of 2008, which he skillfully uses as a very powerful metaphor. He is brutally honest about some very difficult subjects such as infidelity, and raising a mentally handicapped child, but comes off as very likable. I got to see him do a reading and it was amazing. Check out his blog, too.

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A Field Guide for Immersion Writing: Memoir, Journalism, and Travel by Robin Hemley

I also saw this author do a reading–he’s the director of the non-fiction writing program I want to apply to. The title of this book pretty much sums it up, and has allowed me to think outside the box about types of writing projects I would like to undertake in the future.

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Undress me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman

Sooooooo good. I spent most of a vacation reading this despite having very limited time in a very beautiful place. So hard to put down. A memoir about a girl and her friend who decided to go backpacking through China in 1986, right after graduating college. If I say too much, I risk giving it away. Just know that this gets off to a bit of a slow start, but has a VERY FASCINATING twist. You will not be disappointed.

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Half a Life by Darin Strauss

Possibly the only book I have ever read in one day. There just was no putting it down. In this memoir, Darin shares his experience of killing his classmate in a car/bike accident when he was a teenager. (First line: “Half my life ago, I killed a girl). Such a tragic premise, and such a fascinating exploration of guilt, suffering, and self-forgiveness (even though the accident was determined to not be his fault).

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Committed: A Love Story by Elizabeth Gilbert

Interesting research and anecdotes presented by Elizabeth Gilbert pertaining to the significance, history, culture, and personal meaning attached to the institution of marriage. A bit slow at times, but I learned a lot.

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The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch

The writing in this memoir was so lyrical and amazing, as well as profoundly sad. I had to put this book down many times so that I wouldn’t become too depressed. But studying her writing style was so useful to me as a writer- I pretty much had to read all of her lines two or three times to make sure I wasn’t missing any of the meaning packed so tightly into every magical phrase.

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Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

This was another case of having to follow a really sad book with a really funny one. This was the perfect choice. Memoir by Mindy Kaling, writer and actress from The Office. Many laugh-out-loud moments, and definitely one of my favorite reads from this year.

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Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed was once the anonymous advice columnist for an advice column called Dear Sugar on The Rumpus. She has since revealed her identity and published some of her letters and responses in this book. Her advice will change you. I want her to be my therapist. I want to be her. She has such a compassionate and nuanced look on life. This book will be a comfort to you no matter what you are going through.

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All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost by Lan Samantha Chang

My second and last fiction piece this year, written by the director of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. It was a bit slow at times, but overall it told a powerful story that allowed me to reflect upon the struggles of a life devoted to art, as well as how profoundly we can be transformed by friendships and relationships that only lasted a very short time.

Have any of you read any of these books? Do you plan to? Do you have any recommendations for me in 2013? I love to talk about books- let me know!