I have always been an insatiable reader. I don’t even remember learning to read. I’ve always read everything that crossed my path, cereal boxes, books, newspapers, ingredient lists, every sign in every museum I’ve gone to… you get the idea. So imagine the horror of waking up after my second stroke and realizing I couldn’t read. Black squiggles appeared where I knew words should be. It took six months to start making sense of those squiggles, a year to read at a high school level, and eight years later I still struggle to make sense of what I read in graduate school. I may not remember learning to read as a child, but I remember every difficult step in learning to read post-stroke. Reading is something I value and will never again take for granted.

In 2010 I read that Stephen King reads over 75 books per year. A short time later, I was perusing Dean Koontz’s site and noted that he reads 150 books per year. Wow! And that’s in addition to the large volume of writing they publish. I started to wonder how many books I actually read in a year.

In 2011 I discovered the Goodreads.com reading challenge. Readers set their own goal and track their reading habits. A book a week seemed a reasonable challenge, so I plugged “52” into the tracker. I have attempted this challenge every year since. In 2013 I got very close. Last year I only read 33 books. Goodreads allows you to rate the books you read, and uses those rankings to recommend other books you might like. It also allows you to compare books and reviews with your friends. I have discovered many wonderful books this way.

I’ve also discovered that there were many books I absolutely loved while reading, but now I can’t remember what they were about. I find other books that were not my favorites while reading are still provoking new thoughts and have changed the way I think about things. That to me is the point of reading–opening one’s mind to new insights and perspectives. If a book doesn’t allow me to understand or feel something outside of my own reality, if it doesn’t change me, was it truly a great book? That being said, I also appreciate the value of books for entertainment and escape value, but my top five that I’m about to list are more than that. Note that the following books were read by me in 2014, not necessarily written or published in 2014. I’m also linking each book to its Goodreads page so you can read other reviews, and purchase it online if you wish.

  1. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas: This book is over 600 pages long, and was a lot to digest. It was a biography that included cultural, social, and political history of the 1930s and 1940s. I finished it almost a year ago, and it still haunts me. I find myself looking at my spiritual life, our culture, and world events very differently. I can no longer take any of it for granted. This was a hard read for me, but I’m so glad I pushed through.
  2. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is historical fiction that traces the life of a southern belle who becomes a force in the abolition and suffragette movements, and the very different life of the slave who was given to her on her eleventh birthday. I’ve read a lot of novels and history books about these issues, but none made me feel the horror, frustration, anger, and fear the way this book did.
  3. The Weight of Night by C.L. Stegall is the first book in the Progeny series. This book is very different from what I usually read, but after meeting the author at a regional writer’s event I was impressed with him and decided to give the book a try. I am so glad I did. Remember all those Greek gods and goddesses we studied in school? Ever wonder what these immortals would be up to today? Here’s your answer. This novel is fun, creative, brilliant, and deals with universal human issues and truths in a new way. I can’t wait for book two to be released in 2015.
  4. The Maze by Catherine Coulter is the second book in the FBI series. This book affected me more as a writer than as a reader, but it was still an excellent read. I was intrigued by the way Ms. Coulter developed a minor character from the first book into the main character in the second. I loved the character development, the rich descriptions of scenery, the fast moving plot, and the fact that I was still guessing whodunit until the end. I enjoyed this book as a reader, but even more important to me, I learned a lot from it as a budding mystery writer.
  5. Two books for writers tie for this last spot: You Are A Writer by Jeff Goins and The 21-Day Publishing Plan by Michelle Stimpson. Both of these books are fast and easy reads, and should be on every writer’s bookshelf. Goins provides a much needed kick in the pants for those of us wondering if we are really writers, inspiration from his professional journey, and directions on networking with other creatives, promoting our work, and branding ourselves. Stimpson’s book is a practical step-by-step guide to getting your final manuscript self-published in a short amount of time. Even if you aren’t interested in speed, the thorough instructions provide a great check-list to make sure you present your most professional work to the world. I encourage you to get both of these as e-books, as both authors provide a lot of links to resources.

Those are my gems from a year of reading. Now I’m off to see if I can conquer my goal of a book a week, and find some more thought-provoking and life changing masterpieces. What books changed your life this past year? I’d love some more recommendations. Happy reading!