Tag Archives: Bill Bryson

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2013

Just like The 10 Best Books I Read in 2012, and The 10 Best Books I Read in 2011, I’m kicking off the new year by sharing the best 10 books that I read in 2013.

In 2013 my book count was on the lower side. (I blame you Netflix.) However, I still managed to get through 33 new ones.

1. What Are You Looking At? by Will Gompertz

Banish that boring textbook. If you enjoy art (me!), the history of art (me!) and an entertaining read (me!), this book is for you (and me, apparently). Or if you get dragged through the modern art section of museums and can’t figure out why some of that weird stuff is famous, well, this book is for you too. What Are You Looking At? is an easy read combined with (historically based) fiction to make art history come to life. It walks you through the progression of art movements and the philosophies behind them, helping you to understand those painted splashes and scribbles that are worth millions.

2. Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs

Do not read A.J. Jacobs if you are uncomfortable snort-laughing. Alone. In public places. I’ve read all of Jacobs’ books and I think he is hilarious, yet informative. For this adventure in Drop Dead Healthy, he decided to spend two years exploring his physical health and learning about the human body. And we’re not just talking about the basics: going Paleo, treadmill desks, switching to non-toxic household products. Jacobs, per usual, takes things to the next level with adventures like exploring the benefits of barefoot running, watching baseball, and yes, even purchases a squatting toilet.

3. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubins

I actually wrote all about this book here – but it’s making a re-appearance in my Top 10 Books of 2013. I’m an eternal optimist and I was excited to read The Happiness Project when it first came out, despite having to wait about eight months before it was available in the library. Once I finally got it I couldn’t put it down – and it was worth the wait! I love this book because it was not only inspiring, but logical. Many writers can encourage you to pursue your passions and other “feel good” topics, but only Rubins make you aware of the concrete scientific reasoning of why it’s a good idea.

4. Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson

This book was enthralling. Learning the basic dangers of deep-sea scuba diving was interesting enough, then this group of passionate adventurers found a mysterious German U-Boat that was sunk during World War II of the coast of New Jersey. Their dangerous detective work, as well as all the diving background stories, were so fascinating I had a difficult time putting Shadow Divers down. And, not that it was ever a dream of mine, but it’s solidified that I’m never going deep-sea diving.

5. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

It’s no secret that I enjoy fantastical children’s novels (ahem, Harry Potter), and the Inkheart series fits right into that shelf. I’ve only read two of the three books, but am eager to wrap up the trilogy. Inkheart features a father and daughter who both love to read, only this particular father can read characters out of books. It may sound whimsical when it’s Pinocchio or a butterfly, not so fun when it’s a band of angry villains. Even LESS fun when he accidentally reads real people INTO books, like his wife.

6. Snowflower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

As with most things in life, I tend to get into themes until I’ve completely overdone it and move on to the next. Last year I read a handful of stories that took place in China and Japan in the 19th and 20th century. Snowflower and the Secret Fan is a residual read from that period (ahem, obsession) of my life. This book follows the friendship of two girls throughout their lives. It will make you grateful for your good friends, and that foot binding is a thing of the past.

7. Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough

In an attempt to get my better-half to read some of my favorite books, I made a deal with him that I would read any book of his choosing if he did the same. Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough was his choice. While I love biographies, I tend to read them on people with highly unusual life situations (ex: Amish Runaways) or for because I’m already invested in the person (ex: Princess Diana). Not Presidents. While this book wasn’t exactly a quick read, it was quite interesting and no one can argue that Theodore Roosevelt was other than wildly unique and fascinating. This biography follows Teddy’s life from birth up to his decision to run for President of the United States.

8. The Fixer Upper by Mary Kay Andrews

Anything by Mary Kay Andrew’s will readily find its way into my beach bag, so picking up The Fixer Upper was a no-brainer for this DIY nut! With a predictable Rom-Com plot – strong power woman attempts to escape her problems by jumping into project (renovating an old fixer-upper) she has no expertise in and happens to meet a handsome single man along the way. Though wildly unrealistic from a real life DIYer perspective it was delightfully entertaining, akin to watching HGTV and eating oreos.

9. The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani

I have a running joke with a friend that she only recommends me tragic books that make me want to cry. (Is it still a joke if it’s true?) Shame on me for expecting The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigliani to be any different. An enjoyable love story, this book follows two Italian-American immigrants throughout their lifetime facing the trials of loss, war, poverty, and disaster, and the fruits of love, family, hope, and success. It will break your heart. Consider yourself warned.

10. Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson

I’ve read nearly all of Bill Bryson’s books, but over the years I fortuitously happened to skip this one. Fortuitous, because this year I stepped foot on the continent of Europe for the first time, and this book is Bryson’s reflection of a number of European cities and travel destinations while he makes his way through Europe for a number of weeks. Always providing a wry sense of humor, a brutal honesty, and a penchant for sarcasm, you’ll laugh out loud reading Neither Here Nor There.

There you have it, my favorite reads for 2013. I’m already a few books into 2014 – which is a lovely feeling. I hope you all had a great holiday season!

If you were to recommend me one book that you think I should read in 2014, what would it be? I’m always looking for recommendations!

Book Review: At Home by Bill Bryson

Preface: I, Kat, solemnly swear I will not bombard you with reviews of every book that I read. However, I will post about books that I think are deserving enough to spread the word about. As previously mentioned, I am a voracious reader and if I reviewed them all you would never come back.

Bill Bryson is a GREAT author. I have thoroughly enjoyed every book of his that I have read. Bryson is a best-selling American author of witty books on culture, travel and language. He current now resides in England with his family in a Victorian parsonage, the house that launches his idea of his most recent book.

Amazon.com summarizes the book well:
“Bill Bryson and his family live in a Victorian parsonage in a part of England where nothing of any great significance has happened since the Romans decamped. Yet one day, he began to consider how very little he knew about the ordinary things of life as he found it in that comfortable home. To remedy this, he formed the idea of journeying about his house from room to room to “write a history of the world without leaving home.” The bathroom provides the occasion for a history of hygiene; the bedroom, sex, death, and sleep; the kitchen, nutrition and the spice trade; and so on, as Bryson shows how each has fig­ured in the evolution of private life.”

Basically, Bryson walks through the house chapter by chapter. He will start a chapter talking about his kitchen sink and end the chapter analyzing how ice and transportation revolutionized the way we eat.

In fact, I learned that a small lake, only 10 minutes from my house, was instrumental in that plight. The lake was famous for it’s crystal clear ice and was shipped all over the world. Food was displayed on this ice in the windows of London shops in the 1840s. Eventually people realized they could ship food all over the world via ice.

Somehow Bryson manages to forcefeed you historic trivia and you love it. Why do we use salt and pepper as our main two spices? Why does a fork have 4 tines? Whatever happened to the drawing room? How did we evolve from mud huts to rolling estates?

I first heard about this book because it kept appearing in the ad section on other home decor blogs that I follow. I knew I had to read it. It’s amazing to discover why our homes are constructed or decorated the way they are and the people who (unintentionally) changed home life forever.

“Houses aren’t refuges from history. They are where history ends up.” – Bryson

The subtitle is “A Short History of Private Life“, but I will warn you; it’s not exactly a short history. It was a whopping 550 pages. I admit, I started to lose interest 400 pages in, I’m only one for trivia for so long and with no culminating plotline to carry you through to the end one can lose focus.

I do, however, give it a 4/5.