Category Archives: Listing

A year in reading

It’s just after 8:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, and I’ve completed my reading goal for the year.

I’m a list maker, and so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I’ve kept track of my reading habits for more than a decade. GoodReads has simplified that process, and also made it easier to identify how my reading correlates to my well being. That’s more intriguing to me than the number of books assigned to each year; when my numbers dip, I’m usually consumed by some hardship. As Anna Quindlen wrote, “Reading has always been my home, my sustenance, my great invisible companion.” When we’re not together, I’m off.

2017 was a year of reconciling Colorado’s beautiful days and abundant outdoor opportunities with my passion for books. I’ve made my peace with the fact that I can’t engage in the physical practice of yoga while reading, but this year I also had to choose between skiing and reading, or riding my bike and reading, or hiking and reading.

Still, I was able to read 75 books.*

And what books they were. I am stingy when assigning stars on GoodReads; if I thoroughly enjoyed a book, it starts out with a three-star rating. If it was good enough but not memorable, the book is likely to snag two stars. Because of that, I was surprised to realize I rated 21 books with four or five stars this year.

These are my standouts of 2017. What were yours?


  1. “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster (I can’t believe it took me 36 years to get to this one! What a delightful book.)
  2. “Looking for Alaska” by John Green (reread)
  3. “When Women Were Birds: 54 Variations on Voice” by Terry Tempest Williams (My favorite author 2017 introduced me to.)
  4. “Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions” by Chimama Ngozi Adichie
  5. “Milk and Honey” by Rupi Kaur
  6. “The Futilitarians: Our Year of Thinking, Drinking, Grieving, and Reading” by Anne Gisleson (I’m still thinking about this one.)
  7. “A Child of Books” by Oliver Jeffers
  8. “My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues” by Pamela Paul
  9. “Noah Webster and His Words” by Jeri Chase Ferris
  10. “White Girl in Yoga Pants: Stories of Yoga, Feminism, & Inner Strength” by Melissa Scott (I helped edit this one, and I’m so proud of my dear friend for sharing her stories and insight!)


  1. “Our Short History” by Lauren Grodstein
  2. “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory” by Caitlin Doughty
  3. “Love Warrior” by Glennon Doyle Melton
  4. “Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs” by Beth Ann Fennelly (Merits a re-read, and may merit another star!)
  5. “On the Teaching of Creative Writing: Responses to a Series of Questions” by Wallace Stegner
  6. “The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying” by Nina Riggs (I may bump this one up to five stars if and when I reread it.)
  7. “Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After” by Heather Harpham (This too was close to a five-star read. I had a great year of reviewing, clearly.)
  8. “The Giver” by Lois Lowry (Reread. I intend to revisit this fantastic book on Sept. 14 of each year, in my sister’s memory.)
  9. “Lassoing the Sun: A Year in America’s National Parks” by Mark Woods
  10. “The BFG” by Roald Dahl
  11. “May Cause Love: An Unexpected Journey of Enlightenment After Abortion” by Kassi Underwood

*Please note, I would never want someone to feel shamed because I read more than he or she does. I prioritize reading because it’s one of the most important things in my life. It is part of what makes me me. I do encourage everyone to read, but I also recognize that we all have different priorities. For example, one of my girl friends aims to spend times on trails each day. I … do not. I admire her drive, and it’s similar to how I feel about books. So, you do you. But if you want reading recommendations, I’ve got ’em!

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Five months, 12 books and the security they provide

A Nissan Altima can only hold so much. And the average 35-year-old American woman probably owns more than that sedan’s capacity.

I know I do. Packing to move to Colorado presented a challenge: I didn’t know how long I’d live with my best friends before I found my own space. I needed to prepare for a change of season–perhaps seasons–and leave room in the car for me, my father and my two orange cats.

I reduced my belongings, selling some and donating others. I boxed up the rooms of my house, sorting them into a storage pile and a move-right-away pile. As I did, I faced one of the most challenging questions of the move:

Which books should I bring with me?

Heather, the aforementioned roommate, said my room had plenty of space. I should bring as many books as I wanted! But that wasn’t the issue, I reminded her. The challenge was not overfilling my car’s 116 cubic feet of space.

Some argue the books we buy say as much about us as the books we read. I don’t know if that’s true, but surely the books I packed (and the books I later acquired) reveal something of who I am. I settled on a 12-book limit; if I read them all (because I’m so good at limiting myself to what I already own, right?), I could visit the library or Book Train and replenish.

I read only one of those 12 books.

I slept with “Looking for Alaska” beside me the night I learned my sister died. It’s one of my comfort books, a go-to novel for whatever emotion I experience. But when I was ready to read, I turned instead to Joan Didion. “The Year of Magical Thinking” mirrored my experience, in some way, as Didion worked to understand the new shape of her life.

I bought many more books during the four-and-a-half months my bookcases and I were apart. I visited the library–conveniently located just behind my office–more times than I could count. I developed a habit of visiting my local bookstore when in mourning. And though my reading time now competes with my outside time, I’ve spent many hours with my nose between hundreds of pages.

Now I’m again faced with the 260-plus books I own but haven’t yet read, not just the nine in that cross-country dozen. It’s comforting to be surrounded by these friends, old and new. But I look back over this list and wonder, perhaps there’s something calling me to them, now, after all.

  1. Looking for Alaska by John Green
  2. Page One: Inside the New York Times and the Future of Journalism by David Folkenflick
  3. Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden
  4. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger
  5. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
  6. The Science of Yoga by William J. Broad
  7. My Kind of Place by Susan Orlean
  8. Love Illuminated by Daniel Jones
  9. The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild
  10. Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coates
  11. My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossell
  12. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Yeah, and OK, I also ended up with a couple of books as gifts or books that I didn’t mean to bring just yet, but had to because I forgot to pack them. Best-laid plans and all.

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2017 in concerts


  1. Nina Gabianelli in Thunder River Theatre Company’s inaugural Diva Cabaret, March 20, 2017
  2. Cory Henry, Downstairs at Little Nell, March 31, 2017
  3. Universal Sigh, Steve’s Guitars, May 28, 2017
  4. Ryan Adams with Infinite Stringdusters, Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, Colorado, June 20, 2017
  5. Brothers Keeper with John Popper, Fanny Hill at Snowmass, June 22, 2017
  6. Widespread Panic, Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, Colorado, June 24, 2017
  7. Reckless Kelly, Ute Theater, June 27, 2017
  8. Drive-By Truckers, Fanny Hill at Snowmass, June 30, 2017
  9. Ryan Speedo Green, Paepcke Auditorium, Aspen, July 9, 2017

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Sounds of the season: My five favorite Christmas albums

I’m something of a grinch. I admit it (and appropriately, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is my favorite holiday cartoon). Parades and the hoopla around holidays leave me grouchy.

It’s probably not surprising, then, that I’m not one of those people who flips to the all Christmas music, all the time station as soon as it cranks up for the year. I don’t love most Christmas music. But the Christmas music I love, I really love. Like, move-me-to-tears-and-take-me-back-home love.

Today has a short essay I wrote about one of my favorite Christmas albums, the simply named “Christmas” by the group Alabama. As I prepare to spend the holiday with my dad’s family tomorrow and my mom’s family on Christmas day, my five favorite Christmas albums (listed in no particular order) will accompany me:

  1. Alabama “Christmas”
  2. Amy Grant “A Christmas Album”
  3. Red Mountain Church “Silent Night”
  4. Over the Rhine “Snow Angel”
  5. Vince Guaraldi Trio “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

There isn’t a Sunshine State line in “Christmas in Dixie,” the Alabama track that debuted in 1982 and anchored the band’s 1985 “Christmas album.” Although the album released while we still lived in Alabama, I associate it with gathering around the tree in our suburban Florida home. We would often crank up the air conditioning to balance a blaze in the fireplace, decorating the tree in shorts and T-shirts and running outside to unseasonably warm weather with to play with whatever gifts Santa bestowed. Read more “Alabama’s ‘Christmas’ album has called me home for 30 years” at

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2015 concerts

  1. Glen Hansard, Iron City, Feb. 2, 2015
  2. Triumphant Trumpet: Tamberg Trumpet Concerto, Haydn Trumpet Concerto and Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4, Alabama Symphony Orchestra with conductor Carlos Izcaray, Alys Stephens Center, Feb. 13, 2015
  3. Punch Brothers, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Feb. 27, 2015
  4. La Boheme, Wright Center at Samford University, March 13, 2015
  5. Authentic US presents an evening with Josh Vasa and Sanyasi, Desert Island Supply Co., March 21, 2015
  6. Wye Oak with William Brittelle, Alabama Symphony Orchestra Classical EDGE series, Alys Stephens Center, March 26, 2015
  7. The Music of John Williams from the Movies of Steven Spielberg, Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Wright Center, Samford University, May 2, 2015
  8. Garth Brooks with Trisha Yearwood, BJCC Legacy Arena, June 13, 2015
  9. The Watkins Family Hour with Secret Sisters and Buddy Miller, City Winery, Nashville, Aug. 1, 2015
  10. Taylor Swift, Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Oct. 24, 2015
  11. Chris Thile, Alys Stephens Center, Nov. 2, 2015
  12. Damien Rice, Iron City, Nov. 15, 2015
  13. Jeffrey Butzer and T.T. Mahoney perform “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Saturn, Dec. 20, 2015

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Twelve Tips for Pitching a Freelance Story

Picture this: You’re an assigning editor at a magazine, and your inbox regularly overflows with pitches from freelance writers. Because freelancers write the bulk of the magazine, a good story idea is like gold. But when you’ve got 50-plus pitches to sift through, it’s hard for that gem to shine.

That’s the challenge I’ve faced in five years as an assigning editor at a monthly magazine. But here’s the good news: Using these easy tips, your idea will stand out from the rest.

Tip No. 1: Pitch!

It’s fine to ask editors how they prefer to assign, and if they’d rather you pitch or if they prefer to assign. But “let me know if you need anything” comes across as asking for a handout.

I receive so many pitches that I can’t possibly fit them all into the magazine. If someone’s pitching great ideas, they’re way more likely to get an assignment than the person who is waiting around.

Tip No. 2: Follow websites such as “Who Pays Freelance Writers?

It’s a great resource and will also help you identify possible outlets for your work.

Tip No. 3: Every time you’re reading a publication and think, “Man! I’d like to write for them!,” find their writers guidelines online. If you can’t find them, email an editor there and ask. (Associate level or higher will often be your best bet, as they’re more likely to be assigning editors, but editorial assistants may also have that info.)

Tip No. 4: Get your website up already! Make it easy for potential clients to find you. This is also a benefit because you can showcase your best work without jamming their inboxes with unsolicited clips.

Tip No. 5: Never send large, unsolicited files. If you’re attaching clips, fine, but make sure they’re not 5 megabytes plus. Here’s a hint: If the files are too large and you have to resend them attached to several separate emails, you’re clogging the editor’s inbox.

Tip No. 6: Read, read, read, read. Know the publication and its voice before you pitch. But don’t obsess to the point where you don’t actually pitch. I don’t expect my freelancers to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the publication. That’s my job, and I’m not going to look down on them for pitching something we’ve already done unless it’s in the current or immediate past issue. Then they’re just being lazy.

Tip No. 7: Keep it simple. Don’t send a multi-page pitch. If I want more info, I’ll ask for it. Something that detailed is likely to fall by the wayside because I’ll save it for when I have time to properly digest the email—and that may not be for weeks.

Tip No. 8: Unless it’s a time-sensitive piece for a publication that publishes frequently, do not follow up in 24 hours. And never follow up to say, “Hey, did you get my email?” I receive about 75 emails daily. I will respond to yours, but likely not within 24 hours.

Tip No. 9: Do follow up. I try to respond to every sincere pitch (that is, something that came from a person, not a mass email). However, things slip through the cracks. Following up in a week or two is perfectly appropriate.

Tip No. 10: Value your time and your work. You’re a professional writer, and the payment you receive should reflect that. If you work for free or cheap, be sure that it’s worth it to you. For example, I’m working on a low-paying piece for a site where the reader is the target demographic for my books. I’m getting more than money out of that.

Tip No. 11: Establish your boundaries, and respect those of the editor. It irks me to get pitches on my personal email account and text message.

Likewise, know that it’s OK for you to say no to an assignment. If you don’t have time, be honest about that. A good editor isn’t going to avoid using you in the future because you weren’t at his or her beck and call. That’s part of the deal with freelancing. You aren’t on staff. We don’t have the high overhead of having you on staff. And you have the flexibility to work on other projects.

Tip No. 12: Negotiate. The terms of most stories are negotiable, and as long as you’re professional, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Rates, deadlines, word count, even rights and sometimes payment terms (upon acceptance or upon publication) can be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

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2012 concerts

  1. Birmingham Mountain Radio anniversary party, Workplay, Jan. 6, 2012
  2. Punch Brothers with Loudon Wainwright III, Alys Stephens Center, Jan. 28, 2012
  3. Mike Doughty concert, reading and q&a, WorkPlay, Feb. 10, 2012
  4. Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires, Bama Theater, Tuscaloosa, March 23, 2012
  5. Great Book of John and Lauren-Michael Sellers, Relax by the Tracks at Railroad Park, April 12, 2012
  6. Sharon Van Etten with Flock of Dimes, Bottletree, April 22, 2012
  7. Punch Brothers, Cannery Ballroom, Nashville, April 30, 2012
  8. The Head and the Heart, Birmingham Mountain Radio in-studio session, May 5, 2012
  9. Todd Simpson and Mojo Child and Gip Gibson, Relax by the Tracks at Railroad Park, May 10, 2012
  10. Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, Alys Stephens Center, June 16, 2012
  11. Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band, Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, July 3, 2012
  12. Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band, WorkPlay, July 29, 2012
  13. War Jacket, WorkPlay, Aug. 4, 2012
  14. The Great Book of John, Preston Lovinggood and The Grenadines, Communicating Vessels, Aug. 10, 2012
  15. Robert Plant and the Sensational Shape Shifters with Hayes Carll, Alabama Theatre, Aug. 12, 2012
  16. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, WorkPlay, Aug. 17, 2012
  17. Azure Ray with SoKo, Bottletree, Sept. 4, 2012
  18. The Secret Sisters with Dillion Hodges, Vulcan AfterTunes, Sept. 22, 2012
  19. Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, Alys Stephens Center, Oct. 6, 2012
  20. Jason Isbell with Andrew Combs, Vulcan AfterTunes, Oct. 21, 2012
  21. Neil Young with Alabama Shakes, Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, Oct. 25, 2012
  22. A Charlie Brown Christmas performed by Jeffrey Butzer and T.T. Mahony, with Jeffrey Butzer & the Bicycle Eaters and Chad Shivers & The Silent Knights performing “The Ventures’ Christmas Album,” Bottletree, Dec. 21, 2012

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2011 concerts

    1. 30A Songwriters Festival, including Katie Rogers, Roy Schneider, Mike Whitty, Jon Black, Dannica Lowery, Melanie Hammet, Carmel Mikol, Erick Baker, Keegan Dewitt, Lauren Lucas, Rachel Loy, Jeremy Lister, Callaghan, Dar Williams, Angel Snow and Shawn Mullins, Scenic Highway 30A, Fla., Jan. 14-16
    2. Sanders Bohlke, Gum Creek Killers and the Great Book of John, Bottletree Cafe, Feb. 4
    3. Josh Ritter, Terminal Five, New York City, Feb. 12
    4. Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles, Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center, March 2
    5. Colin Hay, WorkPlay, March 5
    6. The Civil Wars with the Gum Creek Killers, Standard Deluxe, Waverly, March 25
    7. The Avett Brothers with Band of Horses, Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, Tuscaloosa, April 1
    8. The Great Book of John and K. Taylor and the Twerps, Bottletree, April 2
    9. Guster, WorkPlay, April 4
    10. Jason Isbell with Doc Dailey, Shoals Theater, Florence, April 8
    11. Jason Isbell with Maria Taylor, Zydeco, April 9
    12. Jonny Lang, Alys Stephens Center, April 23
    13. New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival: The Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, Jon Cleary, George Porter Jr. and Runnin’ Pardners, New Orleans Fairgrounds, April 29
    14. Dead Confederate plays Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night, with Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires, Bottletree, May 7
    15. Secret Stages: The Sunshine Factory, Howlies, The Bear, Model Citizen, 13ghosts, Noot d’Noot, Vulture Whale, Dylan LeBlanc, Kovacs & The Polar Bear, The Great Book of John and The Green Seed, downtown Birmingham, May 14
    16. Hangout Music Festival: Umphrey’s McGee, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, My Morning Jacket, Widespread Panic (one song), Dead Confederate, Foo Fighters cover set, Primus, Avett Brothers, Flaming Lips (a few songs), Motorhead, Foo Fighters (three songs), Old Crow Medicine Show, Drive-By Truckers, Girl Talk, The Black Keys (a few songs), Justin Townes Earle (a few songs), Paul Simon, Gulf Shores, May 20-22
    17. Pine Hill Haints, Bottletree, May 27
    18. Black Jacket Symphony and Alabama Symphony Orchestra present Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Alabama Theatre, June 3
    19. Joe Purdy with the Milk Carton Kids, WorkPlay, June 9
    20. Mumford & Sons with Matthew and the Atlas and the Low Anthem, Fox Theatre, Atlanta, June 12
    21. Bama Rising, including Alabama, Blind Boys of Alabama, Rodney Atkins, Luke Bryan, Sheryl Crow, Bo Bice, Taylor Hicks, Kellie Pickler, Dierks Bentley, Sara Evans, Little Big Town, Montgomery Gentry, Martina McBride, David Nail, Jake Owen, Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker and Ashton Shepherd, BJCC, June 14
    22. David Mayfield Parade with Joel Madison Blount, WorkPlay, June 22
    23. David Gray with Lisa O’Neill, Fox Theatre, Atlanta, June 28
    24. U2, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn., July 2
    25. O.A.R., Soja and Kelley James, Sloss Furnaces, July 17
    26. Josh Ritter, Mountain Session at Boutwell Studio, July 24
    27. Josh Ritter with Yellowbirds, Alys Stephens Center, July 24
    28. Beth Wood, Jesse Terry, James Casto and Matt Blanchard, Eddie’s Attic, Atlanta, Aug. 5
    29. Justin Townes Earle, Alys Stephens Center, Aug. 11
    30. Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, WorkPlay, Aug. 12
    31. Tonal Vision, Birmingham Arts and Music Festival, Stillwater Pub, Aug. 13
    32. Ben Folds, Alys Stephens Center, Aug. 20
    33. Patty Griffin, Alys Stephens Center, Oct. 7
    34. Stranded: A Day of Desert Island Music, Bottletree, Nov. 17
    35. Maria Taylor with Dead Fingers, Bottletree, Nov. 24
    36. Cedric Burnside, Gip’s Place, Dec. 17
    37. Dead Fingers, Monarchs, The Great Book of John and The Magic Math, Avondale Villa, Dec. 23
    38. Black Jacket Symphony presents U2’s The Joshua Tree, WorkPlay, Dec. 30

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The sails of memory rip open in silence

Songbook, Nick Hornby’s collection of essays about music, is one of my favorite books. But I disagree with him on one thing: I don’t think associating favorite songs with a specific memory weakens the song’s power. “Life is Beautiful” takes me to fall 2008 (even though, yes, it came out years earlier) and the months I spent listening to little besides Ryan Adams’ Cold Roses. It still elicits a certain emotional response that’s difficult to describe, or explain, because I think it’s far from Ryan’s best work but it still gets me every time. “Raining at Sunset” reminds me most strongly of the day I decided not to go on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ, but it is also a song I turn to when I need to calm down. “The End” now takes me back to seeing Paul McCartney play in Nashville earlier this year, but it’s also my favorite song from my favorite album, and it captures my attention to the point that I can’t accomplish much when it’s playing. It demands my everything.

Maybe age is a factor; Hornby mentions songs that carry you through different stages of life, and he’s experienced more of those than I have. (As I near 30, I think I can look back and reflect on all I’ve learned during my adulthood. But I’m not so naive that I don’t realize there’s so much left to experience.)

For now, at least, songs take me back to the time when I initially heard them, and the events for which they served as soundtrack. Because my work allows me to spend so much time acquiring and listening to new music, each year develops a soundtrack of its own. Check back with me in 10 years and we’ll see if these songs have endured. My guess is that even as these songs become associated with different events, they’ll still bring me back to 2010.

Five from 10: Carla Jean Whitley (from Birmingham Box Set, the Birmingham magazine music blog)

And when I thought about why this should be so, why so few of the songs that are important to me come burdened with associative feelings or sensations, it occurred to me that the answer was obvious: If you love a song, love it enough for it to accompany you throughout the different stages of your life, then any specific memory is rubbed away by use. … One can only presume that the people who say that their very favorite record of all time reminds them of their honeymoon in Corsica, or of their family Chihuahua, don’t actually like music very much. –Nick Hornby, Songbook, “Your Love is the Place Where I Come From”

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I closed my eyes, I kept on swimming

My reading habits are a reflection of my interior life. An average year sees 80-plus books pass through it. But the past few years have been busier, more exhausting than usual. Where I normally begin reading as soon as I get home, and spend an hour or so with a book before sleep, I’ve found myself returning home later and too often so exhausted that I need someone to tell me a story rather than engaging it myself. (Thank God for This American Life and The Moth.)

And so, recent years have been down years for reading. In 2009, I read 62 books. With seven days to go, I’m only at 50 books for this year.

As we enter the last week of 2010, I’m reflecting on the 12 months that are drawing to an end and dreaming about what I hope to accomplish in the 12 ahead. Invariably, that look back includes a variety of lists: the concerts I attended, the funniest things people said, the books I’ve read, my favorite albums of the year. And though earlier this week I spent two hours on a blog entry about those albums (to be posted Dec. 31 on Birmingham Box Set), I’ve never made a list of the books I most enjoyed.

I read fewer books this year, but I revisited some great ones. Songbook by Nick Hornby, Here is New York by E.B. White, Looking for Alaska by John Green, When Harry Met Sally by Nora Ephron and See You in a Hundred Years by Logan Ward kept me company this fall. (I can’t tell you why–because I don’t know–but I particularly craved the company of familiar pages during the autumn.)

Three of the best books I read for the first time in 2010 came with similarly strong recommendations, at the hands of friends and family. I deliberated over which Billy Collins collection to purchase when he read at Hoover Library’s Southern Voices conference in February. I’d just finished Ballistics and The Trouble with Poetry, both of which I’d borrowed from the library, but felt I needed to own one of his books as a memento of the reading. (If you don’t think a poetry reading can bring you near to tears and make you laugh, you haven’t heard Collins.) My friend and book columnist Susan Swagler recommended Sailing Alone Around the Room. Collins’ carefully worded observations on everyday life kept me company for the better part of the year. Several of my favorite poems filled the final pages, which made this especially satisfying to complete.

The problem with slim books is sometimes they’re finished all too quickly, and that was the case with How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen. I read this essay collection during the day after my birthday party, where I received it as a gift from the Donlon family. It immediately found a place on the shelf among my favorite, most-trusted books. It will be a book I turn to time and again, and I loved it so much that I gave my mother a copy for Christmas.

My sister gave me a copy of The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose, because she wanted to know what I thought of it. Roose left Brown University for a semester to attend Liberty University, one of America’s most conservative Christian colleges. Though my college experience was in many ways different from what Roose experienced at Liberty–I attended Florida State, after all–some of his encounters reminded me of my own campus ministry experiences. Roose’s conclusions weren’t revolutionary. He learned that Liberty kids struggle with many of the same challenges as his friends back at Brown, and Roose found himself enjoying prayer so much that he continued the ritual when he returned to Brown. But those lessons were revolutionary to him. I’ve often wished I could tell my college-age self to take a more complete view of herself (primarily) and those around her. It seems that’s exactly what Roose’s experiment taught him.

William Zinsser’s account of his writing life was a simple pleasure. But it affected me so strongly that as soon as I completed Writing Places: The Life Journey of a Writer and Teacher, I took out pen and paper and wrote him a thank-you note. (Perhaps because I hope to have so many stories to tell after a long career doing the same?) I was delighted, though not surprised, when a reply arrived in my mailbox weeks later.

I am surprised, however, to realize only one novel found its way to the books I most enjoyed in 2010. An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin is a compelling depiction of New York’s art world, as seen through the experiences of a young art dealer and her art writer friend. Martin writes beautifully of the paintings and art objects that populate the story, and the plot itself was so engrossing that it made me late to work the morning I finished. I only had 20 pages to go, and I just had to complete them. It had been a long time since a book made me tardy.

Although the powers-that-be may prefer that I arrive at the office promptly at 8 a.m., I hope 2011 brings many more books that make me struggle to leave the house. I hope 2011 brings many more books, period. My to-read list grows and grows.

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