my year in books / by rebekah pahl

the winding down of my year has landed in a way i was not expecting. after spending christmas in chicago with family, orion and i returned home to discover we both had caught the cold/flu virus from our little niece. consequently, the past few days i've been bingeing the harry potter movies (yes, I'm one of the rare millennial souls to have survived my childhood without the series) and drinking echinacea tea in bed. catching up on the magic of hogwarts i've missed out on for so long has made this sickness worlds more bearable (and dare i say, an even welcome hiatus from reality for a bit).  

today was the first day in a while i've ventured out of the house (other than a quick kroger trip that left me winded), and i'm capitalizing on this unexpected burst of delicate energy by reflecting on the year. i love reflecting on the past just as much as i love envisioning the future--the work of my life is to remember to carve into the present. in 2015, i started documenting all of the books i consumed over the course of the year, just so i could have a personal record of my interior evolution---what i've been drawn to, what authors i've welcomed into my world. so this time around, i thought i'd share where my headspace has been/what books have marked my 2016, and a few thoughts on each. what ive noticed is that looking through this list evoked memories of where i was at the time of reading each book, much like a song does. they hold the same memory-kindling power for me. 

most of the books have been my own choosing, but some were selections by the gals in my book club. this group space has become one of the most cherished evenings that mark my months, and i've loved watching what happens when a group of strong, opinionated, intelligent, and compassionate minds gather around a singular book and uncover different angles of the prism. it's been rich...i recommend it.

anyways, enjoy. and i hope you have a beautiful new year. 


*Books listed in the order I read them: 

1.  Rising Strong (Brene Brown) 

In a way, starting the year with this book was an epilogue of sorts for the journey I was embarking on personally in launching a Kickstarter for my recording project. Brene's candid courage and vulnerability fueled my own. 

2. My Southern Journey (Rick Bragg)

This one was a book club pick by my friend Lauren. Although I grew up in Texas, I've always felt like an outsider to Southern pride. I've always thought it was a bit silly and arrogant to be a blaring anthem for where you've come from, but these essays read more like an homage to an old friend, and were truly endearing. And if you don't know what nostalgia feels/tastes/sounds like, Bragg does a good job here. The only problem I had with it was that in his efforts to praise the things he loved about the South, he didn't write about its demons enough--which is a part of love, too. 

3. Just Kids (Patti Smith)

I've known that it's cool and grungy and intelligent to idolize Patti Smith, but I didn't understand all the rage about her until reading this book. I fell in deep, hard love with her details and descriptions of living life on scrawny means, and the excitement of New York City in the late sixties. This has quickly become one of my favorite coming-of-age books of friendship, struggle, and dreams. I cried in a few places. 

4. Girl Boss (Sophia Amoruso)

A modern "rags to riches" tale with a twist of spunk, humor, and practical advice for females in the workplace. I've listened to a handful of her podcasts (of the same title) this year as well---I recommend her interview with Emily Weiss (founder of Glossier, my go-to beauty brand). 

5. All The Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr) 

This was a book club pick by my friend Mallory. It's historical fiction set in the rubble, chaos, and fear of World War II. He writes the narration jumping between two main characters, one of them being blind. So much of descriptive writing depends on sight, so I really enjoyed how he stretched his imagination to explore explaining everything---literally everything---in a different way. 

6. The War of Art (Steven Pressfield) 

I loved his concept of "Resistance." I can see why this book is on so many lists of "must-reads for artists." So much of this year for me has been realizing that often the next step is hidden in the work that we alone will ourselves to carve out. 

7. Brave Enough (Cheryl Strayed)

I read this while Orion and I were camping somewhere in the Tennessee woods--which is fitting, as Cheryl Strayed will forever be wearing a heavy-ass backpack and rugged hiking boots in my mind. Fave quote from the book: “This is not the moment to wilt into the underbrush of your insecurities. You’ve earned the right to grow.”

8. The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath)

My favorite memory from reading this one was when a barista came up to me and commented, "I've never seen anyone reading Plath in the sunshine before." 

9. It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War (Lyndsey Adarrio) 

A book club pick by my friend Meredith. I loved reading how Lyndsey asked her parents if she could use her "wedding fund" to buy camera equipment. Her resolve and ambition jumps from the pages and her close-up perspective on war is something I won't forget for a while. 

10. Everything Belongs (Richard Rohr) 

Let's be real--Richard Rohr is the grandfather we all wish we had. I literally want to read everything this man writes. He possesses wisdom and a whisper that calms my heart and feels so necessary in the midst of the overpowering hustle. 

11. The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls)

Non-fiction memoir writing at its finest. I love how she wrote about her parents with such generosity and grace while not holding anything back. If I ever write a book about my life, I'm coming back to this as a guidebook. Also, this is at the top of my list of most-anticipated movies for next year. I can't waaait. 

12. The Invention of Wings (Sue Monk Kidd)

This was a book club pick by my friend Mikaela. Most of the historical fiction I've read ends up feeling slightly corny, obviously fabricated, or embellished too much. But the characters here felt so real (as some of them were), the symbolic and spiritual imagery so seamless. And I didn't realize how integral the Grimke sisters were to both the Abolitionist and Feminist Movements until reading this. So thanks, Sue!  

13. M Train (Patti Smith)

Patti, again. This was my pick for book club! She writes about loss, memory, and place in such an original way. Proof that the most beautiful gift you can give anyone is the lifelong effort of simply being who you are. 

14. Experiencing the Enneagram (Richard Rohr/Andreas Ebert) 

I'm a 4w3 (aka so moody, so many dreams). Take the test and get back to me. This is my favorite way to talk about/make sense of personhood and our deepest motives/desires/etc.   

15. Love Warrior (Glennon Dayle Melton)

My sister got a copy from a friend in publishing and I "borrowed" it for 24 hours :) Felt like inhaling a deep breath of crisp, ocean air. 

16. Searching For Sunday (Rachel Held Evans)

This was my first time reading any of Rachel's books, and I really enjoyed it. A good word about how careful questioning and honest doubting is often the most devout thing you can do... Cause you're still in it. (Also, Chelsea, if you're reading this, I can't wait to discuss it with you!) 

17. The Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion)

Confession: I didn't realize this was non-fiction until I was about 1/3 of the way through it (don't judge me!!) I saw one of Joan's books on my friend Jed's coffee table once and asked him which book I should start with of hers. While this wasn't the one he recommended I read first, it was the first one the library had available! Slouching Towards Bethlehem is on my 2017 List, though. This book is a truly beautiful and intimate account of dealing with death and time. She made me feel things. 

18. My Life on the Road (Gloria Steinem) 

This is the bookend to my year. Like, I'm literally sitting here finishing it now. I think there were a couple reasons I was drawn to read Gloria: 1) It's on Emma Watson's recommending reading list, and 2) This thought that's been gathering in my head over the past few weeks, but isn't fully developed yet. But, here's the general idea: So much of childhood is about being given something that you had no say in (for better or for worse), and then maybe adulthood is about seeking out what you still have left to find. For some, that might be healing from a painful upbringing, and for others that might look like chasing some voices that weren't included in your earlier, "given" world. I've grown more liberal as I've worn into my twenties---but as I keep heading further down my path, I don't feel reactive. I feel grateful, but I also know I have a lot of work to do. I hope that's a sign that I'm settling more into my own--treasuring the pieces I've been given that are good and grounding, and shedding the parts that feel unhelpful to living the fullest way I can with what I'm holding. Reading about Gloria's fervor for travel and social justice has been empowering, and I think we're all going to need more of that in 2017--the courage to stand where we are and realize that while self-doubt can be helpful in some ways, eventually, we just need to start moving and creating and living. To be here now. 

Ok, so these ones I listened to via Audible (my conscience wouldn't let me get away with you thinking I had technically read them) ...

19. Hillbilly Elegy (J.D. Vance) 

Trump's win left me (and so many others) with no words. Like getting the wind knocked out of you, but with way more dire consequences. This was a timely book club pick by my friend Cadence--partly a response to trying to figure out what the hell had just happened. We haven't discussed this one yet, but I'm really looking forward to it. If you're grappling to learn more about this "silent majority" the news keeps talking about, this book is a good start. 

20. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (J.K. Rowling) 


21. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J.K. Rowling) 


22. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (J.K. Rowling) 



i've found and collected pieces of myself in so many pages this year. looking forward to meeting more minds in 2017.