One of my 2019 New Year's resolutions is to read two books per month, 24 for the year. Since setting this goal in early January, I've really hit my stride. Each weekend I find myself choosing to read over watching TV - a major shift for me.
In honor of 10 years of Pop.Bop.Shop., each month I am sharing a top 10 list of my best discoveries over the past decade. Given my recent reading obsession, I thought it would be fun to highlight the best books I've reviewed here on the blog.
Each month when I sit to down to make these lists, I always think, "It will be easy to select my top 10 and start writing," and every time I wind up with 15-20 picks and I agonize over how to possibly cut it down. The same happened here with the book list, so if you'd like to hear the honorable mentions, leave a comment below or message me. Happy to share.
Ok, bookworms - here we go! We're going to do this David Letterman-style and start with #10 and work our way up to #1.
10. The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
I learned about Jasmine Guillory when she was a guest on my favorite podcast, Forever35. After hearing her interview, I ordered The Wedding Date and devoured it in a weekend. Guillory is a gifted romance writer. She makes you swoon and blush as if you're living the tale yourself. Each of her books features a strong female lead, a complicated set of circumstances for the relationship, and a lot of steamy scenes.
In my dream world, each of her novels gets optioned for film. I truly believe she could become the next queen of the rom-com.
9. Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield
Rob Sheffield is a writer for Rolling Stone magazine. Music is his passion. In his first book, Love is a Mix Tape, he tells the story of falling in love with Renée, through the songs on a stack of mix tapes. In my original review back in September 2009, I wrote, "Sheffield has a way of describing how a song can take you back to a certain time unlike anything else. How when you hear those first notes you can remember what you were wearing, what the weather was like, the smells around you and how you felt the first time you heard it. He poignantly puts into words a feeling that is often indescribable."
In June 2011, I read Sheffield's second book, Talking to Girls about Duran Duran. In that review I gushed, "Reading Sheffield's writing is like talking to a friend. A friend who has an encyclopedia-like brain of music and pop culture information. As an added bonus, Sheffield grew up in Milton, MA so he makes many Boston references. On a personal level, my heart melts from his adoration for his sisters: Ann, Tracey and Caroline. As you read about their interactions, you can picture his face turning upward into a smile as he talks about them."
Three years later, I read Sheffield's third book, Turn Around Bright Eyes, about his obsession with karaoke. While I love always love to read his writing, this was my least favorite of the three.
Love is a Mix Tape will always be my favorite for the way it reminds you of the incredible power of music.
8. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
If you've been reading Pop.Bop.Shop. for a while, then you know that every time I visit my family in Miami, FL I make time to go to my favorite independent bookstore, Books & Books in Coral Gables. The owner, Mitchell Kaplan, is a wonderful bookseller, always making himself available for recommendations.
When we popped in over Thanksgiving weekend back in 2012, he happened to be in the store. I asked what books he'd read recently and loved, and he returned to me with a stack of seven books, three of which I wound up purchasing.
My favorite from the lot was Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin. From my original review, "The story is about two men who grow up in the same part of Mississippi, Larry and Silas. Larry is white. Silas is black. Larry is a social outcast. Silas is a baseball star. Larry lives with his happily married parents. Silas lives in poverty with his single mother. Despite all of their differences, the two boys find a common bond and form an unlikely friendship. That is until Larry is accused of murdering a fellow high school student, Cindy."
Franklin writes in a way that has you completely gripped and racing to see what happens next.
I'm grateful to Mitchell for putting this book on my radar. You can enjoy more great book recommendations from him by listening to his podcast, The Literary Life.
7. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Re-reading my original review of this book made me want to read it a second time. Based on the cover alone, it may seem that you've picked up a book about baseball. It's really a coming of age story; a story about finding yourself.
The Art of Fielding is told from the perspectives of four characters on a college campus: Henry and Mike (members of the baseball team), the college president, and his daughter, Pella. Harbach does an incredible job of bringing the reader into the minds of his central characters - what makes them tick, what's missing in their lives, and how they're seeking to fill those voids.
The New York Times' Book Review named The Art of Fielding the Best Book of the Year in 2011, and it deserves that accolade.
6. The Paris Wife by Paula McLean
The Paris Wife is a fictional tale about the life of Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson. Much like Zelda Fitzgerald in Z, A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler, Hadley is swept up in the charisma of her talented writer husband. So much so that she leaves behind her life in St. Louis, MO to follow Ernest to Paris, France.
In my original review, I wrote, "The author effortlessly transports you onto the streets of Paris. You can hear the dance hall music, smell the cigarettes and taste the whiskey. You marvel at Hadley and Ernest's real life friends: Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald. You rejoice when Ernest's work is first published and beam with pride at the birth of their son, affectionately called Bumby. You inhale every second of the Hadley, Ernest and Bumby's adventures in Paris, Pamplona and Schruns. Paula McLain is a fantastically descriptive writer. She allows you to relish in beauty and commiserate in pain."
Well, now I want a crepe.
5. Sex and the City and Us by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
If I had to pick one television show that has impacted my life the most, it would Sex and the City on HBO. When I first started watching in high school, I watched the women in awe - their amazing style, the fabulous restaurants they dined at, their wild dating stories, and the support network they'd built for each other. I rewatched the series countless times in my post-college years, and now, at 34, I am actually the age the characters are in the show (which is nuts!). I still find myself quoting advice from the show on a daily basis.
So, when Jennifer Keishin Armstrong came out with a book about the history of the show and it's impact on popular culture, there was no question that I'd be reading it. I ordered it just in time for my trip to Palm Springs, CA last June.
The book is peppered with fun facts. As I was reading, I kept turning to the other girls on the trip and shouting, "Wait! Did you know . . ." and sharing the incredible thing I'd just read. Revisit my original review for my list of shockers.
If you enjoy books that go behind the scenes of popular shows, on that same trip I also read Bachelor Nation by Amy Kaufman, which was like being a fly on the wall during every casting session and taping of The Bachelor on ABC.
4. A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
A Place for Us is the first book to come out of SJP for Hogarth, Sarah Jessica Parker's imprint.
In my original review, I wrote, "A Place for Us is a book about so many things. It's about adjusting to life in America, the challenge of being first-generation American when your parents still want to hold to the religious and cultural beliefs of their native country, the deep love between siblings, and the haunting of an unexpected loss."
Mirza's prose was some of the most beautiful I have ever read. Normally, when I'm reading and I come across a passage I find particularly inspiring, I dog ear the page. With this book, I felt the urge to do that on all 385 pages. A Place for Us is a master class in raw, emotional writing.
3. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Junot Diaz is one of my literary idols. I was first introduced to him in my 10th grade English class, when our teacher had us read a chapter from Drown. I read The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in August 2011. It's a brave and honest account of the immigrant experience in America, focused on families who have moved here from the Dominican Republic.
Diaz flows from English to Spanish and back again, the way one does when your brain is occupied by two dueling languages.
This book was the first time I had seen an author utilize footnotes so intentionally, rather than put additional information in parentheses. Pausing and scrolling your eyes down (then back up) felt like when Zack Morris used to shout "time out!" on Saved by the Bell, speak directly to the camera, then the action would resume.
I've also read Diaz's book This is How You Lose Her, but Oscar remains my favorite.
Embarrassing confession: I had the opportunity to hear Diaz speak at The New Yorker Festival in NYC, and I was so starstruck, that though he was greeting fans after the talk, I was too tongue-tied to shake his hand.
2. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
I was profoundly changed by Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes' memoir about facing her fears and pushing herself out of her comfort zone. As you read, you come along on the journey as Rhimes conquers the things that make her anxious, learns to accept praise, and eventually arrives at a place of empowerment.
I recommend this book constantly, especially to women in my life who are taking on new challenges or starting their own businesses.
As a fun bonus, if you're a Grey's Anatomy fan, you also learn a ton about the show.
1. Becoming by Michelle Obama
What can I say about Michelle Obama? I love her. I admire her. I hope to be more like her.
I read Becoming on my parents' balcony in Miami, FL in the days before Thanksgiving. I was in town for the full week, and any free moment I had, I grabbed Michelle and brought her out to my favorite reading spot, directly in the sun, overlooking Biscayne Bay.
In this memoir I learned so much about her childhood, her drive to succeed from a very young age, her work ethic, her passions, her approach to motherhood, and of course, the moment when she met Barack.
When I finished reading, I felt so inspired. I want to continue following her famous mantra, "When they go low, we go high." I want to treat people with respect, fight for inclusivity, lift up other women, and lead by example with every decision I make. Becoming is the bible for living each day as your best self.
And there you have it! My 10 favorites books from the past 10 years.
In case you missed any of the previous Top 10 lists, you can catch up here:
*The Wedding Date photo courtesy of Jasmine Guillory on Twitter, The Art of Fielding photo courtesy of GQ, The Paris Wife photo courtesy of The Heal Hand Laundry, A Place for Us photo courtesy of Book Club Chat, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao photo courtesy of Medium, Shonda Rhimes photo courtesy of Glamour, Becoming photo courtesy of Essence.