Second Quarter Book List: the All-Stars

So, I read a lot this quarter. Like, a lot- 56 books total from April to June. That's a pretty big number but do remember that I don't have a job AND several of these were re-reads (I flew through the O'Malley series by Dee Henderson... those never get old!) Actually, everything on this list is non-fiction because, like I said, a lot of the fiction was either not new or just not really what I'd highly recommend. I really enjoyed some of it, but with 56 books, I had to narrow it down, and the following really were my favorites. 

1. 41: A Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush- This was the first book I read this quarter, and it may be my favorite. I love George H.W. Bush. I think he was a fantastic President and a wonderful person and this book made me love him even more. Not only was he an effective politician (and one free from scandal, ahem), but he was also a WWII vet and just led a really fascinating and impressive life. Visiting his Presidential Library at College Station about a week after I finished this was icing on the cake. 

2. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain- I've probably referenced this book in conversation (or at least in my head) more that any of the others this quarter. I'm not actually an introvert (but I'm not really a true extrovert either- apparently I'm an ambivert and yes, that's a real thing) but the fact is, we live in a society that rewards extroverts and works hard to "reform" introverts into more outgoing people. The chapters on education were particularly interesting to me, but there was even some parenting advice that I found helpful. This is such a good book.

3. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell- I could (and do!) read every book this guy writes. He's just so talented at taking seemingly random topics and tying them together in a way that makes you feel really smart for having read the material. Plus it's interesting and well done. The very first chapter of this book threw me for a loop but I loved it and couldn't put it down. (I won't tell you what it says, but check it out- fascinating!) The way we view negative circumstances- giants, if you will- is very often mistaken, and Gladwell points out how these obstacles to be overcome are actually beneficial in a variety of settings from medicine to education to sports.

4. Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives  by Gretchen Rubin- if you haven't read The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, you really should, but this book might be my favorite of hers. There are tons of tips geared toward just about every aspect of life you can think of, but my favorite parts of the book are the personality quizzes that help determine how you should realistically go about your goals and habits. (I'm an Obliger, and you can find out your own here.) 

5. A Spoonful of Sugar: A Nanny's Story by Brenda Ashford- this memoir by a British nanny who cared for over 100 children in her many decades of service was fascinating. She began working right before World War II broke out and actually spent her first few years in childcare working with children who were evacuated to the country to avoid the bombings in London. It's amazing how much time nannies spent with the children in their care and how little parents saw them. (Sometimes only an hour or two a day with the father was customary. Wow!) Her simple, practical advice and sweet stories were so fun to read and I found myself wanting to take notes- how many women have "raised" so many children successfully? This was a great read.

6. Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life by Eric Metaxas- I was a little skeptical when I started this book, but as the author says, we all buy into the fact that miracles happened in the Bible, but for some reason we completely discount miraculous events today. Why would miracles just stop happening? He presents rather undeniable evidence that they have not stopped and tells many stories to prove that fact. If you haven't read anything by Eric Metaxas, do it. (And follow him on Twitter!) 

7. C.S. Lewis- A Life by Alister McGrath- I've been wanting to get my hands on this particular biography for quite a while, and I'm glad I did. While I found some parts a little tedious- do we need to spend five pages on the exact date of Lewis's conversion?- I enjoyed the different perspectives on Lewis's life and especially that nearly every bit of information was affirmed by his own personal letters. He is still one of my very favorite authors and I loved the closer look at his life (even though this is still my favorite book about him.) 

8. The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck by Ron Clark- I cannot say enough good things about this book! Ron Clark has been my teaching hero since I was about 13, and he never disappoints. There are tons of helpful tips and lots of good information in this book, but the chapter on the parent-teacher relationship alone makes it worth reading. I can't recommend this highly enough! It's so refreshing to see an educator who still has high academic and behavioral standards for his students while maintaining an enthusiasm that can't be beat. Parents, teachers, PEOPLE- read this book! (And I'm anxiously awaiting my turn on the holds list to check out his newest book!) 

9. The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw- this was one of my favorites this quarter. World War II is my favorite era to study and read about, and learning about a different person of that time in each chapter was perfect (I loved that format- not too heavily detailed but not too short either.) Reading Unbroken and Flags of our Fathers last year really made me realize all over again how little my generation (and others) know about dedication, sacrifice, and human suffering, but this generation got it. I shudder to think what would happen if people my age were called upon to serve in the same way. There are so many sweet, inspiring stories here. I'm looking forward to reading the "sequel" sometime.)

10. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande- this was the last book in my stack before the quarter ended and honestly, I didn't have high hopes. I checked it out because several of my trusted book blogs recommended it but the premise- a book about dying- wasn't really very appealing. But after just a couple of pages I was intrigued and ended up reading the whole thing on a Saturday morning. It's a little hard to explain but the author- a surgeon- writes honestly and poignantly about how difficult it is to accept and deal with the inevitable death of patients, from the terminally ill to the elderly. The chapters on nursing homes were most interesting to me but all of it was very good and thought-provoking. 

11. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull- oh, I just loved this book. The author is the president of Pixar so I was hooked immediately by the "insider" look at the geniuses behind some of my very favorite movies, but the leadership and management advice was actually very well done and enjoyable as well. (My favorite piece of advice: "You are not your ideas, and if you identify to closely with your ideas, you will be offended when they are challenged.") I could ramble on about Disney, Pixar, and this book for days, but I won't- just check it out!

12. Flyboys: A True Story of Courage by James Bradley- I'm not going to lie- this book was hard to read. First, the author inserts quite a bit of what feels like anti-America, "we got what was coming to us" rhetoric, which I didn't care for, but comes around to the stories of several naval pilots who crashed in the Pacific and were captured by the Japanese, only to face some of the most horrific circumstances imaginable before their deaths. Like I said, I can't imagine anyone my age (actually several years younger) dealing with events like these so heroically, but these boys did. They were amazing and even though it's tough reading, it's worth it to get even a glimpse of their sacrifice. 

Honorable Mention

-Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink- what we eat has way less to do with actual food than it does our mental state, environment, presentation, packaging, company- you name it. Really interesting!

-Year of No Sugar: A Memoir by Eve Schaub- basically, the author's family cuts all sugar- with very few exceptions- for an entire year. It didn't make me want to give up sugar but it did make me a lot more conscious of where it's hiding (and gave me a lot to think about when it comes to feeding Alice in the future!) My favorite parts were from her young daughter's journal about the whole process. 

-Boy by Roald Dahl- this memoir about Dahl's childhood made me love him even more and reminded me that he really was a master storyteller. I just bought Emily a copy of Matilda last week and I hope to add her little collection with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory soon. (Also, how is my niece old enough to read chapter books??)

-Walt Disney: Conversations compiled by Kathy Merlock Jackson- this is a collection of interviews with Walt from the 1920s to right before his death in 1966. I loved getting more insights into the "man behind the mouse" and it's amazing just how groundbreaking his work was- not just in animation but in marketing, production, and even Disneyland, which was a huge undertaking and different from anything anyone had seen before. I don't think a day passes without Disney music or some reference for me, so this was a winner. 

-Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records by Tim Hollis and Greg Ehrbar- more Disney! This is the history of much of the music of Disney (yay!) and even though I got kind of bogged down with some of the business aspects of it, I loved reading about the voices of some of my favorites characters- many studio favorites recorded multiple characters over the years! This has a lot of fun information for a true Disney buff.

There you have it- wow! Just making it through this post should count as a book, am I right? If you're looking for a fascinating biography, memoir, or other non-fiction work, check out one or more of these- and then tell me so we can have a book club. =) I know this coming quarter will be very heavy on parenting books BUT it will also be the last baby-free quarter so I may be squeezing in some books on my wish list before my time gets taken by Miss Alice. (I'm sure I won't mind. =)


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