Friday, December 21, 2012

Life-changing books I read this year

My Best Books of 2012

1. Addiction and Grace by Gerald May
This book was truly life changing for me. I read it at the beginning of the year, and finished it by the end of January. At the time I read it, I was working in a rehab facility for teen boys, and wanted to better understand the spiritual nature of drug and alcohol addiction, since I have never personally experienced that issue. But Addiction and Grace is about so much more than "addictions." Addiction is anything that we are attached to that takes the place of God. This book helped me see that I use many objects of attachment, whether it is work, achievements, relationships, or approval to numb my need for God. I shared some of this book in class devotions, and also in group therapy sessions with my clients. One client and I even wrote letters to our "addictions" in session, him to drugs and myself to approval and achievement, shared them with each other, and then tore up our letters to symbolize detaching ourselves from these life-controlling attachments. It was a powerful moment in therapy for me and for him, but the lessons of Addiction and Grace continue to impact my life every day, in how I view addiction and how spirituality can heal.

2. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
My dad first introduced me to Brene Brown through her amazing TEDTalks. She's a professor and researcher at UT Houston with a PhD in social work, but as she'll tell you, she's really more of a storyteller. I first read this book, then her new one Daring Greatly, and was most impressed with The Gifts of Imperfection. In it, Dr. Brown's research on vulnerability, authenticity, courage, shame, and living what she calls a "wholehearted life" come alive through stories from her own life and the participants in her research. As a grad student, I appreciated her qualitative research, but also found her book very practical, readable, and applicable to a broad audience. Each chapter focuses on a key to wholehearted living, all with the goal of "letting go of who you think you're supposed to be and embracing who you are." Not a day goes by where I don't think of what I learned in Brene's book, and try to live it out in my life.

3. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
This is a little bit older book (2003), having been an Oprah's book club selection back in 2005, and then surrounded by controversy when it came out that this "memoir" was part fiction. Oprah withdrew her book club endorsement and publicly flogged James Frey for the embellishments in his story. Nevertheless, I wanted to read it to, again, help me understand the mind of an addict and life in drug rehab. Frey was candid, gritty, and his stream of consciousness style really portrayed the confabulated mind of a hard-core drug addict. I also shared pieces of this book with a teen client (see #1) and even gifted him with a copy of the book when I left my job at the rehab. There's a lot of explicit language and gory details, but in the end it's a story of hope and the power of the human will to overcome.
4. Hunger Games 1-2 by Suzanne Collins
I'm not usually a fan of young adult fiction. I refused to read the Twilight series or Harry Potter. I also don't like fantasy fiction. So why is the Hunger Games on my list of the best books? After seeing the movie, I borrowed the books from my little sister and read books 1, 2, and 3 all in one week during school break. It's engaged, attention-grabbing and the blend of romance, suspense, and action speak to the violent nature of the world we live in now. The second book was probably my favorite, while the third doesn't make my list. Now I am eagerly awaiting the release of Catching Fire in theaters November 2013.

5. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
This was the best fiction book I read this year, beating out one of my favorite author's Emily Giffin's Where We Belong. In The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh flawlessly blends together the stories of Victoria's childhood growing up in foster care, her present life trying to escape her reality, and her gift of communicating through flowers. A heartfelt story with beautiful, deep character development.

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