Liz Norell

Musings on life, love, and yoga

Category: Writing

Best reads of 2017

When I realized last January that I’ve never blogged my favorite books of the year, I was horrified, and I immediately put together a few recommendations from 2016. Thankfully, this inspired me to keep much better track of what I read in 2017, and I’m happy to share my favorite reads of last year.

Although I now understand I chose colors poorly, the green dots are eBooks, the blue dots are audiobooks, and the purple dots are printed books. Those with hot pink dots encircling are the ones on this list. Each slice represents a month, starting with January in the leftmost piece of Quarter 1 (also quadrant 1) and working clockwise around.

I began the year with an ambitious goal to read 100 books in 2017. I fell far short, clocking in at just 65. These were a mix of Kindle reads (mostly bargain chick lit novels that were unremarkable except that they gave my mind something to decompress with), Audible audiobooks, and traditional printed books, both fiction and nonfiction. I began this best-of-2017 list by reviewing my Excel spreadsheet (#nerdsunite) and creating a nifty visualization of my year in reading (see picture). Clearly, I read in June, July, and December. Not so much the rest of the year. This makes some sense, no?

Without further ado, here are my favorite books I read in 2017 (not, let’s be clear, my favorite books published in 2017). There are twenty of them, so pace yourself.

Best Fiction

  • Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett, was a book club read in June, and it was the best book by Patchett that I’ve read. Others have described this novel as more autobiographical than her other work, and the characters felt so much more real to me. I really enjoyed it, and I found the story and characters lingered with me long after I put the book down.
  • Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty. Before it was made into an HBO miniseries, I purchased this book (on the Kindle, so it’s an eBook best read) because I’ve adored every Liane Moriarty novel I’ve read. When Blake, then Doug, binged on the HBO series and wanted me to watch, I knew I had to make reading the book a priority, which I did in August. Once I’d finished, I exclaimed a bit of surprise to Doug about something that happened somewhat late in the book, and he admonished me for spoiling something we don’t yet know from the TV series. Whoops. I’ve only watched one or two episodes of the TV series, but I can assure you that the book is far, far better.
  • The Fifth Letter, by Nicola Moriarty. To be honest, I probably bought this eBook originally because I thought it was a Liane Moriarty novel, but I gave it a shot even after I realized it was a different Moriarty (side note: Nicola is Liane’s younger sister). The thing I loved about The Fifth Letter was how four friends from school reconnected, with all of their baggage and drifting apart, and found a way to become closer. To be sure, it was a bumpy ride, but I really enjoyed this book and couldn’t put it down. I read it in November, on roughly day one of Thanksgiving break, when I probably should’ve been grading. (Whoops.)

Best Nonfiction, International Affairs sub-category

Many of you know that I’ve become rather immersed in thinking about the most vulnerable in the world over the last two years. Being tasked with teaching World Politics and wanting to do it in a way that keeps my interest did that to me. Here are some of the most moving books I read this year to help me teach this course better.

  • The Lonely War (Iran), by Nazila Fathi.  I loved this book so much because it gave me a new perspective on the more moderate (or even progressive) voices in Iran today, as well as how the Iranian diaspora continues to hope for political change in their home country that would allow them to remain in closer touch with the people they love still in Iran. I think this book is necessary reading for anyone who wants to understand Iran, and I assigned it to my World Politics (honors) students in the fall semester. I read it originally in early February. (See also books by Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work.)
  • A Hope More Powerful than the Sea: The Journey of Doaa Al Zamel (Syria), by Melissa Fleming. Every single person should read this book. If I could send everyone I know a copy, I would. It traces the story of a young woman terrified of the sea (she never learned to swim) as she makes her way from Syria, to Egypt, across the Mediterranean, trying to find a stable life with her husband. This story will break your heart and help you understand the very real challenges faced by those in Syria. Do you stay in a country where you have zero quality of life and risk death with every outing for food (which is scarce), or do you flee and be treated as a sub-human by a world unsympathetic to your plight? There is no good option. If you don’t want to read the book, please watch Melissa Fleming’s TED Talk about Doaa’s story.
  • A Very Expensive Poison (Russia), by Luke Harding. You may not realize you’re reading nonfiction and not a spy novel if you pick up this book by Luke Harding. It reads with the pace and intrigue of a thriller, but it’s unfortunately all true. This book tells the story of the poisoning of Russian whistleblower-turned-British informant Alexander Litvinenko in London by two unlikely assassins. I hear it’s being made into a movie, so get the real scoop now before Hollywood finds a way to distort it. (Read my blog about this book.)
  • No Good Men Among the Living (Afghanistan), by Anand Gopal. Had I read this book earlier in the year, and not in July, I would’ve made it the first narrative nonfiction book for my honors World Politics students to read. It was profound; it was infuriating; it was heartbreaking. Gopal writes with compassion, fearlessness, and gravity. I didn’t know how much I didn’t know about our involvement in Afghanistan until I read this book. This is another I think everyone — everyone — should read. I’ve spent hours and hours trying to figure out how to get Gopal to my campus to share his insights.
  • The Girl with Seven Names (North Korea), by Hyeonseo Lee. My fascinating with North Korea continues unabated, and the accounts of those who have escaped and found refuge elsewhere are both heartbreaking and hopeful. This one particularly attracted my attention when I saw it has 1,882 (and counting) Amazon reviews and fully 5 stars. That rarely happens, and the book deserves it. Lee’s courage and tenacity are the stuff of legends. As you read this book, you won’t believe what she endured. You’ll feel humbled by the so-called “challenges” of your life … but that’s really not the point. No, the point of her book is how resilient the human spirit is, how strong we can be when our lives are on the line. Ultimately, this is a profile in courage, and I loved it when I read it at the beginning of my December holiday break. (You can also watch her TED talk here… but there is a LOT more detail in the book, and I wouldn’t watch the TED talk in lieu of reading it. Just whet your appetite, then go read it.)

Best Nonfiction, American politics sub-category

I don’t tend to read a lot of polemic political work, but I do enjoy memoir-y books and things that make me imagine a world where people can disagree without hating one another. I long for that.

  • The Snowden Files, by Luke Harding. I read this only because I realized it was the basis for the Oliver Stone movie, Snowden, and I figured Harding’s perspective would be interesting. I was right; this book reads quickly and keeps your interest. I’ve become rather fond of Harding’s writing style. This is a reasonably fair account of Edward Snowden’s actions and the results of them. It’s less of an advocacy piece than Glenn Greenwald’s account (which I enjoyed, particularly the first couple of chapters). Regardless of whether you think Snowden did the right thing, understanding his actions, his stated motivations, and their impacts is critical if you want to have a reasoned debate on the virtues and pitfalls of privacy in a digital age.
  • Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work at the White House, by Alyssa Mastromonaco. I listened to this as an audiobook, and I would recommend doing the same. Mastromonaco narrates, and her voice conveys so much more than just the words. This tale of her work as an advance team / logistics planner for President Obama is hilarious, insightful, and just plain fun. I thoroughly enjoyed it. (Far more so, I have to say, than Reggie Love’s Power Forward in the same vein.)
  • Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein, by John Nixon. Okay, this book was just plain fascinating. I loved it. Loved isn’t strong enough. I found it to be thought-provoking, utterly compelling, and well-written. Nixon is a former CIA senior analyst who was the lead on questioning Saddam Hussein after his capture by American forces. For someone (Hussein) who we thought we understood so well, Nixon reveals how two-dimensional our portrayal of the leader was. I will probably read this book several more times over the rest of my life. It was just a wonderful little reminder of how people are almost always more complex than our soundbite-infused media world typically can convey (says the recovering journalist). (Read my blog about this book.)
  • Three Languages of Politics, by Arnold Kling. You can buy this book, but you can also read it for free as an eBook from The short book sets out a theory of the three dominant themes in political discourse and how they prevent us from ever really having a useful conversation. Kling argues that conservatives emphasize Western values and moral virtues/traditions over those who are indifferent to these things; liberals/progressives emphasize the protection of the oppressed and the under-privileged; libertarians speak in terms of individual rights over government intrusion on personal choice. When we take an issue and approach it with these different ‘languages,’ we talk right past one another. It’s a great, resonant, and timely read, and one I encourage picking up.

Best Nonfiction, everything else sub-category

There was a time not that long ago when 90% of what I read was fiction, but as you can see … times have changed! Here are a few other nonfiction books I read and loved this year.

  • Shrill by Lindy West and Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls by Jes Baker. Every single woman needs to read these two books, no matter your political or personal perspective, your size, your inclination, your experiences. These books speak hard, brave truths about the lived experiences of women in the 2010s. I love Lindy and I love Jes and I think they are brilliant, hilarious, and brave. I want to be more like them.  (Read my blog about Jes’s book.)
  • In the same vein, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, by Roxane Gay is a brave telling of what it’s like to live through sexual assault and do everything in your power to make yourself as unattractive as possible to prevent future harmful male attention. It’s very difficult to hear Gay grapple with her life’s experiences, and I don’t always appreciate her pathologizing of her weight. But I was honored to read (well, listen to) her story and connect with the raw and powerful emotions she expresses. This book is hard. So, too, is being a woman in a larger body in 2017.
  • How We Learn by Benedict Carey and Teaching with Your Mouth Shut by Don Finkel. I read a number of teaching-and-learning books this year, but these were the best. Carey’s book summarizes a whole lot of the research on how people think, learn, and remember. It’s a wonderful, readable synthesis of a LOT of great information. Finkel’s book fundamentally made me reexamine the assumptions I make in teaching my classes. At several points, I had to put the book down and stare off into space to think. I put several of his suggestions into action this fall, and in the spring semester, I’ll be leading a book club of my colleagues at Chattanooga State in discussing his ideas. This book will be with me for a long, long time. Educators — read it. Seriously. (But skip all the Iliad stuff if you, like me, yawn at Homer. You won’t miss anything critical.)
  • The Magnolia Story, by Chip and Joanna Gaines. I’m not quite the huge fangirl of the Gaines family as I know many others are, but I listened to this as an audiobook and LOVED hearing Chip and Joanna banter, rather than just reading it on paper. If you can listen to this, and you have any love at all for their work on Fixer Upper (HGTV), you will love this audiobook. I’m not sure I’d recommend it in print, though.
  • The Rules Do Not Apply, by Ariel Levy. I also listened to this one as an audiobook (read by Levy), and ohmygoodness itwasSOgood. It’s an incredible story. An unbelievable story. An incredibly strong and tenacious woman. And her voice just brings the whole thing to life in a visceral way. I would recommend this as an audiobook, but if you don’t listen to things, read it anyway. This one is worth the time regardless of the medium.

Honorable Mention (not on graph): Best Chick-Lit Series

There were many great contenders, but I give this to the Willoughby Close series by Kate Hewitt. There were five books in this series, and I devoured each of them over the summer at breakneck speed. Highly recommended for those who like breezy and heartwarming “women’s fiction.”

Just Add Magic Lessons

I’m a huge fangirl of Liz Gilbert. You probably know her best from her book Eat Pray Love, which was later made into a movie with Julia Roberts playing the Liz Gilbert role. Liz has an incredible gift for seeing through the complexity of an issue to get to its root — and she does so with tremendous empathy, grace, and humor.

Her podcast, Magic Lessons, continues the work she began exploring in her utterly fantastic bookBig Magic (if you haven’t read this book, you simply must: Amazon.)

The first season of Magic Lessons was remarkable, but her second season (now a year old) appears to raise the stakes quite a bit higher. Last week, I finally listened to the first episode; I have to tell you, there were many moments during the one-hour conversation that necessitated a rewind and re-listen. It’s titled, “You have a screaming, not a calling.” How many of us can relate to this — that something inside of us is screaming to be heard. It’s not just a calling… that’s far too week. It’s a screaming.

This is powerful stuff, y’all.

Such as:

  • This reflection: We often feel like pursuing the work we love is selfish. However, if you think about the people who truly inspire you with their work, you’ll find that they could be accused of that selfishness, too … except, look at what they’ve done for you. When we meet someone whose work has moved us, or inspired us, the first thing we say is an emphatic THANK YOU! Yet, you know, they didn’t do that work for YOU. They did it for themselves. Liz Gilbert gives the example of meeting Toni Morrison, about whom Liz says: “She was doing the work that illuminated her to life, and by doing so, she becomes a torch to the world that lights me. … The ones who follow the most selfish path are the ones who get thanked the most. … It’s a community service!” How powerful is that?!  (find this conversation around the 21 min mark)
  • This homework: Write a list of 10 creative people who followed their dreams and light you up. Then, choose one person and write them a thank-you note, in your own voice, and explain why their work has been so meaningful to you. And send it. Keep a copy of it, and when the voice in your head tells you that you’re a failure, you can remind yourself: People who are doing the work in this world that they’re supposed to do are in service to the world, and you know that, because the work of this person (or persons) has served you. (find this conversation around the 24 min mark)
  • This lesson: The work you do in your life before you find the work that truly illuminates you? It’s not wasted. “Nothing we ever study or care about is wasted, or doesn’t get used.” This helped me reflect on the many things I’ve done in my life that don’t seem to apply directly to my life today… the journalism, the library science degree, the work in web development/writing, the Kaplan Test Prep teaching/tutoring. Those things don’t directly apply to my current life, but that work gets integrated into my life daily. It all gets used, and it’s never wasted. (find this conversation around the 49 min mark)

Liz Gilbert is deep, soulful, must-listen podcasting at its finest. I find I have to pause several times and marinate in what she’s said, then restart when I feel ready. So an hour-long conversation can become a MUCH longer listening experience!

Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly recommend this podcast, and I’d love to hear your thoughts if and when you dive into her work.

My new favorite people

As part of my summer job, I’ve been writing profiles of people who come to stay at the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly for our weekly newsletter, Mountain Voices. Today, I got to meet two people who charmed me beyond words. Here’s what I wrote about them. Just google Walter Sedelow and Sally Sedelow. They are freaking AMAZING. (And, as you can see in the photo below, adorable to boot.)

Meet Your Neighbors: The Eclectic Academics Next Door

“Before we married,” Sally Sedelow says, “we had one rule: We would never be restricted intellectually or geographically.” To say that Sally and her husband, Walter, have achieved that rule for living is an exercise in gross understatement. Sitting on their screened-in porch to have an afternoon chat with the Sedelows is likely to result in time disappearing as you become absorbed in conversation; these two have led fascinating, important, curious lives that are still every bit as fascinating, important, and curious today as they were when the couple were first married.

Walter and Sally Sedelow sitting on the porch of their favorite MSSA cottage, with fresh-cut roses given by a neighbor.

The Sedelows first came to the Assembly four years ago when they decided to give the Sewanee Summer Music Festival a try. They had previously been going to a music festival in Boston, but that was a three-day drive from their retirement home in Eden Isle, Arkansas. On their first trip to the Mountain, they lodged at the Edgeworth Inn—while they are not ardent sports fans, they recount that they stayed in Bear Bryant’s favorite room. Through an unexpected issue with lodging their second year, they came to the Assembly office one day to ask if there was a cottage available… right then, for nearly the entirety of the season. (Scott Parrish, general manager, says, “We don’t normally get walk-ins!”) The staff was able to accommodate them within a week or so. After a short stay at the Sewanee Inn, then, the Sedelows settled into summer life at the Assembly.

What was the draw to the Assembly? “The people are so wonderful, so welcoming,” they say. In 2016, they extended their stay to seven weeks; this summer, they are here for the entire season.

As seasoned veterans of the New York Chautauqua, they appreciate the variety and manageable nature in the MSSA platform; about New York, they say, “it can almost undo you” trying to balance how much is on the program. Along with the platform lectures and the Sewanee Summer Music Festival musical offerings, the Sedelows are now also taking advantage of the Sewanee Seminar and hope to attend some of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference readings, too. They find the collection of intellectual, musical, and cultural offerings here on the Mountain to be just the right mix.

Perhaps the most charming part of conversations with this dynamic duo is the sheer breadth of knowledge and experience they have collected. It’s not an exaggeration to say that each of them was critically involved in pioneering technologies we take for granted today. Sally—whose academic background is in English—was part of a group of people who made key advances in early attempts at natural language processing and artificial intelligence. Walter, meanwhile, has an academic background in history, but has worked in academic departments of computer science, library and information science, medical studies, and more. After he left the Air Force following the conclusion of the Korean War (he worked in areas related to electronic warfare), he worked with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara regarding what computing technology would mean in 20-30 years to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and national security more broadly. Walter and Sally were there from the beginning, orbiting within an era of academia where your intellectual interests could lead you to teach courses well outside the field you studied in graduate school. They took advantage, and then some.

Yet despite the impressive resumes and accomplishments of this power couple, they remain among the most down-to-Earth, unassuming, delightful people you’ll meet at the Assembly… or anywhere, frankly. They have a thirst for knowledge impossible to measure. “We love learning,” they say, “and that’s one of the pleasures of being here.” Sally, for example, decided to learn the cello in her mid-80s. And why not?

Scattered in the living room of their rented cottage, Peace & Plenty (#81), are books on topics ranging from black holes and the periodic table to genetics and physics. You know… just a little pleasure reading for their summer months. Honestly, it’s enough to make you wonder, rather sheepishly, what you’re doing with your summer.

If you have the chance to share a meal or an afternoon porch conversation with the Sedelows, don’t pass it up. They are a rare treat.

I love blogging

Before a college friend hooked me into Facebook, my blog was one of my most cherished outlets of expression was my blog. But then Facebook entered, and I found that keeping up with my friends and updating them on my life sort of scratched the same itch. I’ve tried many times to reignite the regular blogging, and I continue to struggle with finding a regular writing schedule… but I love it, and I really appreciate the positive feedback I get.

Last night, we were at a small dinner party with friends I see lamentably rarely, and one of them mentioned my blog and how much he enjoys reading it. (His terrific blog, by the way, is here: This jogged my memory about my long-abandoned blog of yore, which I thought I’d share with you in case you are bored one day and want to peruse the archival experiences. There are nearly 1,000 published posts on this one, though, so just know you’re not going to get through it all … and if you do, my goodness, I weep for you!

Beware the sock gap! (a reference to Coupling, a wonderful British TV show):

Daring Greatly

Brene’ Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, takes its name from a speech given by Teddy Roosevelt in April 1910. He said:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,

because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worth cause;

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Does this speech leave you as breathless as it does me?

LionAs I read this, and imagine the great TR speaking at the Sorbonne in Paris in his uniquely passionate and animated fashion, I imagine a great lion staring down battle, prepared to fight as long and as hard as he must.

TR is the man who, in 1912, was shot in the chest … and went on to give a rather lengthy speech (you can read the full text — and it is FULL! — here), because, as he said, “there are just a few more things that I want to say to you.”

TR fought in many arenas in his lifetime; his battles had unmistakable national and international import (to take one minor example, he traveled a river never before fully explored in Brazil, nearly dying in the process; it now bears his name).

To be sure, Teddy Roosevelt remains my most favorite president of all time (I’m hardly alone in this), and stories of his bravery and leadership abound. His willingness to put himself in the arena, as it were, was unmatched in his time (and rarely matched since). When I think of daring greatlyI think of TR.

I won’t ever face nearly certain death at the hands of rainforest; I won’t maneuver international politics to make way for a vital canal to join two great oceans; I won’t have a timeless child’s toy named after me. But I do take my inspiration to step outside the lines of the comfortable from TR.

As I think back over the last nine years, I recognize the evolution of my willingness to dare greatly. Nine years ago, daring greatly meant spending the better part of eleven months trying to extricate myself from a poisonous relationship. In TR’s words, that effort was replete with error and shortcoming; ultimately, though, I was successful in extricating myself with minimal collateral damage. I dared to imagine a different life for myself. The intervening years have been filled with their ups and downs, but the through-line has been a steady increase in both my capacity for and willingness to engage in daring greatly.

And yet, there’s still so much more I want to do; more daring ahead, more risk-taking, more coloring outside the lines. For someone who, fundamentally, fears change and worries incessantly, embracing TR’s challenge of daring greatly does not come naturally.

I believe that our life has many seasons; I believe that we are ever-evolving and changing to meet our current season, with its unique challenges and opportunities. I have never been very good at sitting still in life and just letting the present be what it is; I’m always looking for a new growth opportunity or cool way to stretch myself. As my dear TMP so often says, “You tend to overcommit.” And yet, as he also recognizes, it is that tendency to overcommit that makes me uniquely Liz. Who would I be if I weren’t constantly going out of my way to help others? What would my life even look like? Perhaps it would be calmer, but it would almost certainly also be less fulfilling and far less interesting.

These are the twin impulses: All change is bad, but stagnation is unacceptable. The yin and yang that comprise the soundtrack of my inner voice.

For the last week, I’ve been listening to these two voices battle it out over a choice I’m weighing. I’ve been given a tremendous opportunity to explore a completely new skill set, one that has no obvious fit with my life as currently constructed and that would require significant sacrifice of time, emotional energy, and cost. A big part of me thinks that now — having JUST FINALLY gotten a tenure-track teaching job, ha! — is probably the exact wrong time to take on a new, consuming  project with no clearly obvious benefit to my life at present. Can I not just be content with a new, awesome job with completely amazing colleagues and students?

Can I even type that sentence without a snort of recognition?

Because I am Liz.

I summoned a dear friend to breakfast yesterday to talk this out. I did a brain dump with TMP at dinner last night. Ultimately, they both said similar things: There is no ‘right’ answer, and whatever choice I make will be the right one. They’re both right.

As I’ve sat with this today, though, I keep coming back to one thing, over and over … this challenge, daring greatly, ultimately comes down to taking the leap and entering the arena, even when you’re not sure how successful you’ll be in the fight.

I haven’t totally decided to move forward, but I’m definitely leaning that way. And once I get it all sorted out, I promise, I’ll tell you all about it.


Rags writes his first and only email

Rags at the river

Rags at the river

In 2004, I had a first date. It went okay, but the guy’s intensity freaked me out and we never went out again. However, intense people rarely go quitely, and in trying to convince me we should go out again, his dog, Erwin, wrote my dog, Rags, an email.

Why am I telling you this story? To be honest, I hadn’t thought of this in years… but then yesterday he wrote me to inquire: “So, what ever became of your life?”

Rather than respond, I went back and read the email of which I may still be most proud of writing. Here it is:

—–Original Message—–
From: Norell, Elizabeth
Sent: Friday, March 12, 2004 4:03 PM
To: ‘Erwin’
Subject: RE: For Rags

Dear Erwin,

When my male two-legger provided me with your e-mail, which my foodslave and personal assistant Liz apparently forwarded to him earlier today, I was a bit taken aback. I have always made it clear to my two-leggers that they are to handle all administrative matters for me — that is, after all, why I have assistants. However, they insisted I reply myself — apparently, their attempts to stymie this situation have failed, and only my heavy-pawed correspondence will suffice. Very well then. I must keep this short as my paws are too delicate for typing.

I don’t know who these people are that you call “mommy” and “daddy” — my canine parents, while noble in descent, are hardly known to me. If you mean to imply that I, Rags O’ Muffin, am in some way indebted to or owned by these imbecilic two-leggers, I suggest you consult the Daily Drool for affirmation that I, in fact, am in charge here. A hound of my stature demands a certain respect and humility from those surrounding him and would never refer to his staff in such a familial manner.

Frankly, I don’t give a damn what your foodsla… er, “daddy” wants with my personal assistant. The only thing I care about is her uninterrupted, undistracted attention to my every wish. I’ll admit she did slip up on her duties a week ago, which I was quick to punish with a certain “surprise” on the floor she’s responsible for cleaning. I’m sure you understand her neglectful behavior had to be nipped in the bud forcefully and immediately.

As for your suggestion of a future rendezvous, I have always believed that a dog’s home should be his castle, and my staff operates under strict guidelines to let no beast — man, child, or dog — into my castle without my prior approval. As I am a very cantankerous ruler, this approval is rarely given. I don’t wish to sound inhospitable, but we have all accepted that I require much more sleep, playtime and attention than I get, and as a result I am rarely in a welcoming mood. Furthermore, a hound as noble as I hardly sees it necessary to make travel a habit, as my assistants cater to my every whim here in the comfort of my own home. When my entourage does travel, the two-leggers tend to get distracted, which you will understand is hardly acceptable behavior.

In the future, please direct correspondence through my assistants, as I do not believe in attending to these matters myself. Now you must excuse me, as it is time for my 4 p.m. nap.

Rags O’Muffin

Books I read and loved in 2016

I was listening to Anna Guest-Jelley‘s podcast, Love, Curvy Yoga, this morning, and I heard her talk about her favorite books of 2016. And I thought — why haven’t I ever written such a list? It’s appalling, really. For someone whose first or second favorite hobby is buying books by the dozens (if you think that’s hyperbole, check in with my postal delivery professional), why haven’t I been doing best-of roundups for DECADES?!

So, without further fanfare, here are my favorite books that I read in 2016 (not necessarily ones that were published in 2016, it’s important to note). There is no rhyme or reason to the order — it’s too hard to choose just a few, much less rank them!

Incidentally, the links below go to with my affiliate ID. If you would like to support my writing and/or yoga teaching, much of which I do without much or any compensation, please use these links to show your support. Thanks!

While much of the fiction I read is pretty terrible (I tend towards the 99-cent Kindle “women’s fiction” genre), a couple of the novels I read this year really stood out. Specifically:

  • Dietland, by Sarai Walker
    This book fictionalizes the growing movement of backlash against the diet culture. Plum finds herself on a bizarre mission to earn money for weight loss surgery, only … well. You’ll have to read this gem of a novel to see where she ends up.
  • In Twenty Years, by Allison Winn Scotch
    I absolutely love this woman’s novels, and this book was no exception. The characters and their adventures have stayed with me FAR longer than does the typical novel. It tells the story of a group of college friends who reunite somewhat unexpectedly twenty years after graduation. I strongly recommend this book.
  • Me After You, by Jojo Moyes
    I absolutely love this woman’s novels, too. They are always well-written and heartfelt, but in a way that lingers with you long after you finish reading. This sequel to her runaway bestseller Me Before You had me ugly-crying quickly and repeatedly. Nevertheless, it was WONDERFUL.
  • All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
    Alternating between the perspectives of a young French girl and a young German soldier during World War II, this book is eloquent and capitivating. I wish I could re-read it for the first time. It just captured my imagination in a way few novels do.

World Politics
This year, in an effort to become a competent instructor of world politics, I significantly expanded my knowledge of hot spots around the world… largely through reading narrative nonfiction accounts of these places. Here are my absolute favorites, books I think everyone should read:

Social Science
Y’know … the day job. I read a few books in 2016 that generally sharpened my thinking about politics and American government:

Yoga, Intuitive Eating, Being You, & Body Image/Acceptance
The biggest passion of my year has been this inward quest to understand, accept, and be present in my body. These books have resonated with me at a deep level:

  • Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting & Got a Life, by Kelsey Miller
    Holy moly, this book seriously changed my life! It was my first exposure to this thing called “intuitive eating,” and while it’s memoir (not manual), Kelsey’s refreshingly honest voice captivated me from the moment I began reading. And yet, I forced myself to spread this book out, because I found my mind so thoroughly exploded as I read that I needed breaks to process. I will never be the same person I was before I read this amazing book.
  • Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, by Linda Bacon
    This book also changed my life in extreme ways. It was so powerful and paradigm-altering that I bought nearly a dozen copies to give to women I knew would find its message similarly empowering. If you’ve ever struggled with thinking your body was the enemy, you simply MUST read this book.
  • Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, by Glennon Doyle Melton
    Every woman should read this book. It’s an incredibly honest accounting of what it’s like to be a woman in today’s world, beautiful and brutal (or brutiful) as it is. Glennon Doyle Melton is a force to be reckoned with, and I loved this book so much I went to see her speak live… my only life author event of the year.
  • The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, by Brene Brown
    Everything Brene Brown writes, speaks, or does deserves our attention, but this is the book of hers I fully read in 2016. Her message of self-acceptance and the need to be vulnerable is one we can all benefit from hearing. I will reread this book many times before I fully appreciate its nuances and wisdom.
  • Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life, by Judith Hanson Lasater
    This book was the first required reading for my yoga teacher training program, but its lessons have far broader resonance. The message of Lasater’s book really grounds our yoga practice in the simple acts of everyday that keep us present in our lives. I think everyone can get something humbling and profound out of this little gem.

Making a fresh start


If we’ve not met before, allow me to share a bit of information that those in the loop have known for a long time: I’m a writer. Words float in my head, animate my dreams, and populate my spaces. I collect words, fine-tune words, allow words to flow out of me whenever I have an excuse to jot off an email or commit the fleeting ideas to something more permanent.

I haven’t always had a clear place to store those words, but this space is meant to be a safe one — a container into which I can let flow the thoughts I have on all sorts of things. Of late, those things are clustered around yoga, body image, finding your passion, teaching, and living a full and rewarding life. That’s where I’m going to begin. I’ll let the waves of life take me where they will.

Thank you for joining me. I hope we’ll meet again soon, virtually or otherwise.


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