Welcome to the first Food for Thought episode of 2023 — the 17th year of this podcast! Let’s kick this new year off with recommendations of the best films and books enjoyed this past year. You can refer to the blog post for the list of movies. Grab some popcorn, sit back, and enjoy!
As always, I aspired to read more than I did, but War and Peace took a bit of time (though not as long as you’d think). It was one of those books that I couldn’t put down but also wanted to take my time reading because I soaked in every single word. But more on that below.
Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar — Historical fiction at its finest. Was hard to find a good translation in print, but it’s worth the search.
SPQR by Mary Beard — No one brings ancient history close to home like Professor Beard. I could read, watch, listen to her all day long.
Semicolon by Cecelia Watson — I love me my word books, so I was compelled to read this. Obviously, it’s punctuation — not etymology or grammar — but still a fascinating history about such a seemingly innocent mark.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (trans. Anthony Briggs) — The most defining book of the year for me was War and Peace. David read it 10 years ago and has never stopped talking about it, and so finally after seeing him watch the BBC miniseries starring Anthony Hopkins, I decided it was time, and now I haven’t stopped talking about it. And like him, I started a journey of learning everything I never knew about The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Age. I don’t just feel smarter for having read War and Peace; I feel like I’m a better person for having read it. The characters were the most human characters I’ve ever spent literary time with, and Pierre has a permanent place in my heart and soul.
Face by Justine Bateman — Just thank youfor writing this, Justine Bateman, and for inspiring me to reframe my thoughts (and judgements) about my aging face.
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr — I loved his novel All the Light We Cannot See so much and was so excited when I heard about his new novel, especially the fact that it centered around people’s relationship to a single text across the ages. I preferred some of the narratives more than others, but it was a really unique narrative structure that I appreciated even if I didn’t fall in love with it.
The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy — Nothing worse than hating a character from start to finish. Still, I couldn’t put it down, because I didn’t want Sebastian Dangerfield to have victory over me, too. The most narcissistic, selfish, despicable character in fiction. Worth a read. ? 🙂
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte — I can’t believe it took me this long to read Anne, even after studying the Victorians in grad school (20 years ago). Anne was left out of my Bronte class, and what a shame. Perhaps it’s because I’m an adult and less inclined toward the soul-crushing sordid passion of Wuthering Heights, but Anne’s story is just more relatable and contemporary than that of her sisters’ most famous novels. I’m on a personal mission now to make sure to read everything I can of hers — and to make sure others do the same. 🙂
The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard — Thoroughly researched, inspiring, and overwhelming. Depressing at times, Leonard constantly pivots the reader back to what’s possible rather than what’s hopeless.
2020 was clearly a year in which my reading was dominated by history and biography. While I read only 14 books this year, in my defense…some of them were loooong! Churchill’s, Grant’s, and Washington’s biographies are each about 1,000 pages long; and Herodotus’ and Thucydides’ histories are about 700 pages each. The Idiot and The Overstory are 700 and 600 pages, respectively, but they seem short in comparison. Here I share a recap of what I read, and what I learned.
The Books I Read This Year
The book that had the most impact on me this year was Chernow’s biography of Ulysses S. Grant. I came away with deep admiration and empathy for a man whose greatness was undermined by the subsequent lies told by the losing South in their “lost cause” narrative. While still a product of his day, Grant was compassionate, thoughtful, and progressive with more integrity than most leaders we read about. I cannot recommend this biography more highly.
It was good to finally read Herodotus and Thucydides, both of which have been so valuable in giving me a much broader perspective of the world we currently live in — a world shaped by battles and politics over 2,400 years ago.
Gates of Fire was the perfect fictional accompaniment to The Peloponnesian War, Man’s Search for Meaning was unforgettable, The Overstory was beautifully written but darker than I needed this year, and Little Women…just a light, fun read to see what all the fuss was about.
I love books. My love of reading goes back to my childhood, I have fond memories of the annual Scholastic Book Fair at my grammar school, I worked in bookstores (where I met my husband!), studied English Literature in undergraduate and graduate school, and became an author myself. I don’t love books for their own sake but for how they deepen my understanding of the world around me as well as my commitment to living a meaningful life. I’m not a particularly FAST reader, but I am a PICKY reader and have developed a very strong relationship with certain books that have shaped the way I think, work, and live. In today’s episode, I share WHAT those books are and WHY they are life-changing.
I can’t believe it’s been 8 years since I sold a book to a publisher, and just having done so again just means so much. I’m currently writing In Defense of Compassion: The Joyful Vegan’s Guide to Life in a Non-VeganWorld, which will be released sometime in 2019 or 2020 (TBD) by BenBella Books, publisher of such bestselling books as The China Study.
It’s been a long and painful road to get back here, and though I never stopped writing (podcast episodes, self-published works, talks, radio editorials, opinion pieces, blog posts, letters to the editor, articles), somehow being contracted to write a book feels more real. It’s not. But it feels that way.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. More than that, I’ve always wanted to be an author. And even if I never wrote another book, I’d still be that. For sure. And I’m proud of each and every one of my babies.
But having something to say, organizing those thoughts into a proposal, and selling your idea to editors who think the world would want it…it feeds me so much.
The process of wordsmithing my ideas so that they’re succinct and understandable and absorbable and inspirational and actionable (while remaining unattached to the outcome! Ha!) is both maddening and exhilarating! Working toward to goal of birthing these ideas into the world just nourishes my very cells.
Symbolically, I feel like “I’m back,” even though I never went anywhere. But I did go somewhere. And better than being “back,” I’m on the other side. And I’m pregnant with so many books I can’t wait to follow this one with.
And yet, that is just one form of the content that lives in so many other ways: in my podcast, my articles, blog posts, letters to the editor, opinion pieces, and radio editorials. I strive to remain unattached to form, but I guess I’m just not there yet.
I’m just a practicing human. With another book to write!