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I read 55 books in 2016, and these are my top 5 favorites

At long last, I crushed enough books this year to warrant making a list about it.

I’ve always been into reading, but I haven’t always made time for it as an adult. Sometimes it seems like too much effort in comparison to easy internet browsing (my generation’s version of flipping TV channels).

On Reddit, I can read about reading. Or I can read short, easy-to-digest articles that pass through my mind without leaving a trace. I can look at pictures on Pinterest or Foodgawker, and I can even think it’s useful. I’m planning recipes, see. Or my mind is tired and I just need a break, see.

But it’s all brain junk food. Maybe there are kernels of thought-provoking writing in the echoes of the internet, but it’s mostly noise that blocks me from hearing my own thoughts.

So if I’m going to absorb other thoughts in lieu of my own, it might as well be from literature. I might as well absorb style, and depth, and live an alternate reality, instead of just doing shallow dives of itty bitty articles and images.

Like treats and chocolate, I’ve been dieting from these websites. Some of the books I’ve read this year wouldn’t classify as true health foods – Tolstoy was my broccoli but King was my pasta – overall, though, I’d like to think that my brain has been better-fed.

Anyway, my tirade is complete. What follows is a list of the 55 books I read this year, and what my top 5 picks are – books that I truly think will improve your life in some way.

Books on diet and health

My reads:
The Healthiest Diet on the Planet: 4/5
The Blue Zones: 5/5
Food for Life: 4/5
Super Immunity: 4/5
The Beauty Detox Solution: 3/5
Whole: 4/5
How Not to Die: 5/5

Winner: How Not to Die by Michael Greger
Runners-up: The Blue Zones and Whole

I read a lot of specifically nutrition-related books, so they warrant their own category. This year, the clear winner was “How Not to Die”, which I’ve probably read three times this year and bought for people (read: forced on people). I recommend it all the time and reference the information within. It’s a great read for anyone looking to – you guessed it – not die (of the most common diseases).

The runner up would be a toss-up between The Blue Zones and Whole. I like that The Blue Zones was written like a story – it’s great for people who struggle with non-fiction, or find it too dry. I love reading about cultures with high rates of Centenarians (people who live past 100), and there’s some good insights on what contributes to longevity.

Whole is more dense and informational, but it’s extremely interesting and an important read. The premise is that whole foods are always greater than the sum of their parts (an orange is better than taking a vitamin C supplement). It goes into lots of depth and spends quite a bit of time discussing industry as well. There were parts of this book that blew my mind and made me stop in my tracks, and I know I’ll be rereading it in the near future.


My reads:
The Drawing of the Three (The Dark Tower #2): 5/5
The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower #1): 4/5
The Alchemist: 4/5
The Stand: 5/5
The Time-Traveler’s Wife: 3/5
Harry Potter 1-7: 5/5
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: 3/5
The Rosie Project: 4/5
The Martian: 4/5
Neverwhere: 3/5
Hunger Games 1-3: 3/5
The Signature of All Things: 4/5

Winner: The Stand by Stephen King
Special mention: Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

This list looks shorter than it actually is, since I put all of the Harry Potters and Hunger Games in one column.

I’m not going to rank the Dark Tower series yet, simply because that’ll come in next year’s review once I finish all seven books. I’m also not going to include Harry Potter in my picks, simply because I’ve read them before and it feels like cheating. But if you’ve never read Harry Potter before, what are you waiting for?

If you take those two series out, my #1 choice this year is The Stand. The full unabridged version is epic – well over a thousand pages – and the audiobook, which I listened to 2/3rds of, is also epic at around 40 hours long. It was just such a great ride. It wasn’t without flaws, but I loved the adventure of it, I loved the characters, and I loved that I couldn’t predict it. If you’re into apocalyptic scenario novels, this is a great one.


My reads:
Pride and Prejudice: 4/5
Rebecca: 5/5
Murder on the Orient Express: 4/5
Anna Karenina: 5/5
Animal Farm: 5/5
The Death of Ivan Ilych: 5/5
Tao Te Ching: 5/5

Winners: Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and The Death of Ivan Ilych

My Classics list is a little small compared to the other categories, but I hope you’ll cut me some slack since these ones generally take longer to read.

This is probably the most challenging category to assess. Because really, it comes down to two books, and they’re both by Tolstoy.

One is a novella, The Death of Ivan Ilych, which was my gateway into other Classics and has haunted me ever since I read it. The other is a lengthy, full-blown novel – Anna Karenina. Anna Karenina is a relevant and human tale (well, the Russian politics and land discussions aren’t current, and those parts felt a little long), detailing with precision and insight the mental decline of the heroine.

Anna just felt so true, and so ordinary. It’s not a story with crazy plot twists and bizarre events – it’s daily life. It’s all the little ways in which a person can slowly unravel. Because usually it’s not just one big event that makes or breaks us; it’s a chain of seemingly insignificant events that are our undoing.

Ivan Ilych is about a middle-aged man who is confronted with disease. Having never contemplated death, the novella is his experience of going through denial, avoiding it, descending into poor health, and finally accepting his eventual demise.

I love the start, when Ivan is already dead, and his lawyer “friends” are at his funeral. The funeral makes them uncomfortable, since death is unpleasant to contemplate. Ivan wasn’t well-loved, and his death was untragic and ordinary. He wasn’t even an interesting character. But because of that, the story was fascinating. Tolstoy just gets people.

I thought that reflecting on these two stories would allow a clear winner to emerge, but I think we’re going to have to resort to a good ol’ tie.


My reads:
Better than Before: 4/5
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: 4/5
Master Your Workday Now: 5/5
Talking to Heaven: 3/5
After This: 4/5
The Artist’s Way: 4/5
Why Not Me? 4/5
Modern Romance: 4/5
Tiny Beautiful Things: 4/5
Committed: 3/5
On Writing: 5/5
The Art of Mindful Living: 5/5
Outliers: The Story of Success: 5/5
Yoga Sequencing: 5/5
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus: 4/5
Big Magic: 5/5
Daring Greatly: 3/5
Lean in: 4/5
Spark Joy: 4/5

Winner: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Runners-up: Master Your Workday Now and On Writing

Finally we’re left with non-fiction. I always read whatever seems interesting at the time with no regard for a “type” of book, so the topics here are all over the place. Some are historical, some spiritual, and others are about creativity and personal development. I read comedy books and autobiographies, weird books and standard business books.

Master Your Workday Now and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up are the two books that had the biggest impact on me this year. Master Your Workday is not a popular book, but it’s really useful and completely changed how I organize my work and to-do list. There are some solid ideas in there that I’ve been using for months.

The Life-Changing Magic is a book I felt was a little silly, since the author loves tidying so much she personifies her home and belongings. That being said, it’s a book I think about often, and it has really started to transform my perspective on belongings. The whole idea is that if you spend the time to tidy your house once, you never really have to do it again. All you have to do is put things where they belong, and clean surface dirt. It’s an oversimplification, but the book is really quite profound.

On Writing by Stephen King deserves a shout-out, because, if it weren’t for that book, I wouldn’t have read any of the other Stephen King books this year. It re-introduced me to his style, and reminded me that his novels aren’t strictly for teenagers.

But since I can only pick just one, it’s going to be The Life-Changing Magic. Interestingly, even though I gave this one a lower rating (4/5 instead of 5/5 like some others), it has stuck with me more than books I considered much more interesting at the time.


So my top 5 picks are as follows:

1. How Not to Die by Michael Greger (health/nutrition)
2. The Stand by Stephen King (fiction)
3. The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy (classics)
4. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (classics)
5. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (non-fiction)

And five honorable mentions go to:

6. The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner (health/nutrition)
7. Whole by T. Colin Campbell (health/nutrition)
8. Master Your Workday Now by Michael Linenberger (non-fiction)
9. On Writing by Stephen King (non-fiction)
10. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (fiction)

It was with great pleasure that I was able to create this list. I’m very proud of my January 2016 self who decided to read more books, and I am eager to tackle new books in the New Year.

Come and join me on Goodreads if you haven’t already, and let’s read some books together!

Happy reading, friends!

books and reviews

How Not To Die: Thoughts on Diet and Health

During my 30-day trial with eating healthy for the sake of my skin, I thought it might be a good idea to pick up a book on diet and health. I’m not a big fan of pseudo-science, and wanted something I could really sink my teeth into – something with lots of scientific backing.

So I decided to download How Not To Die by Michael Greger on my Kindle over the spring break, and read it voraciously. And now that I’ve had time to read and digest it, I thought I’d share my thoughts of the book with you, and how it’s changed my perspective on health.

Check it out on Amazon here!

How Not To Die: A Review

First of all, it’s huge – over 500 pages. Second of all, it’s an extremely comprehensive review of the latest scientific studies on food and health. The footnotes section alone is gigantic.

The way the book is laid out is in two parts. The first part has a chapter for each of the 12 leading causes of death, and how diet plays a role for each (including suicide and depression, seriously). The second part includes a really useful and logical food guide that is simple to follow, with science to back it up.

I want to give this book to everyone I know – that’s the kind of impact it had on me. I’ve read tons of health-related books before, but I loved how thorough and readable How Not To Die is, without dumbing it down much. I appreciate that this book treated me like an intelligent human being, not someone that needed to be shielded from harsh truths and big words.

This book explained to me why it’s so important to add spices to food (antioxidants!) and why turmeric is the bomb. It explained the risk of animal product consumption and how much I should really be exercising (90 minutes of moderate or 45 minutes intense exercise daily). It talked about how broccoli is an amazing anti-cancer drug.

Really, just read it. It’s great.

How I’m changing my diet based on this book

I eat a relatively healthy diet, but this book has swayed me to change a few things. First of all, it convinced me to eat more fruit (4 servings a day, which includes 1 serving – 1/2 cup – of berries). I love fruit, so it really didn’t take much convincing. Fruit is, in general, the best source of vitamins and antioxidants.

As a personal side note, Michael sometimes needs a little push to eat fruit. He’d much rather eat a plate of veggies than fruit. But eating fruit seems to be one of the biggest things that keeps his immune system running properly – it seems once he falls off the smoothie bandwagon, he’s way more likely to get the sniffles. This isn’t a scientific fact or anything, just something we’ve both noticed.

How Not To Die also convinced me to use oil (even olive oil) sparingly, especially when it’s been heated. Oil basically just adds calories minus the nutrients – it’s much more valuable to eat a handful of nuts instead.

I’ve been working nuts and seeds into each meal as well, including some ground flax with my morning oatmeal. Again, I love nuts and seeds so I needed little convincing there.

I tend to be a big fan of grains, but I’m trying to even out my grain-to-bean ratio. So instead of having a cup of rice and a 1/2 cup beans, I might flip it around, or do 3/4 cup of each. Beans are so freaking nutritious. They aren’t really glamorous, but they’re tasty and about as cheap as cheap gets when you buy dry beans.


There were so many nuggets and takeaways in How Not To Die, but I don’t want to bog you down with a giant essay, so definitely take a look if you’re into health reads. 🙂

Thanks for hanging out!



Why I Quit Coffee for 30 Days

I am passionate about coffee. Coffee is beautiful. Fresh-ground + French press = eternal happiness.

Spoken like a true addict. That is one of the main reasons I decided to quit coffee for 30 days – to see if I could release coffee’s death grip on my life.

I don’t know if I’m going to quit coffee forever and ever, but I’m quitting it for 30 days to see if it makes a difference in my skin, my energy, my stress levels, and my hormones. More on my 30-day trial here!

Take note that I am not wildly addicted to coffee. I have 1 – 2 cups a day, and seldom if ever do I drink it later than 4pm or so.

I’m also replacing those 1 – 2 cups of coffee with green tea (which I’ll talk more about tomorrow), so it’s not like I’ve gone completely caffeine-free.

So why quit coffee? Let’s talk about some of the reasons that compelled me to jump off the bandwagon!

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planning and organization

Cleaning is an Act of Love

On Sunday afternoon, as I was sweeping the floor of my living room at the end of a busy Christmas break, idly contemplating work and chores, this thought occurred to me: Cleaning is an act of love.

If you don’t love your home, or your bedroom, or your yard, it’s very difficult to find the will to clean. Why spend time and energy cleaning something you don’t love? Cleaning is intimate, it’s sacrifice. Even beyond loving the space you inhabit, cleaning is an act of self-love, since we all know how great a clean space makes us feel.

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books and reviews

My Reading List for 2016

As soon as the New Year’s approaches, I get really pumped up. Christmas is obviously a good time; you get to see friends and family and eat great food. New Year’s parties are fun, too. But what I also look forward to is the clean slate of a new year. I like to plan and think about what I’m going to accomplish. These range from large, sweeping goals to things like this reading list for 2016.

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easy meditation for beginners

Easy Meditation for Beginners: My First and Favorite Technique

Happy Monday!

Most of us have at least dabbled in meditation at some point – some of us even like it once we get into it. Yes, I think meditation is great and can elevate you beyond the ordinary, but it can also be hard work and take practice.

That being said, I don’t like to struggle too much with meditating, or else it won’t be fun and I won’t do it. And I figure, it’s better to do fun but not-quite-so-serious meditation, than to try too hard and not do it at all.

Not that this isn’t a serious meditation – this easy meditation for beginners that I’m going to share today is my favorite not only because it’s fun, it’s actually really effective. And it’s not fun in a hunky-dory goofy way, it’s fun in more of a “hey I’m not just sitting here listening to the sound of my breathing” way. That kind of meditation has it’s place, but it’s not what we’re going to talk about today.

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A 12-year Old Girl Watches Titanic

Let me start this blog post by mentioning that I’m not a hoarder. I’ve moved a dozen times in adulthood, each time learning how to pare down to the bare essentials.

That said, my parents haven’t moved much, so until recently I kept a big (and I mean big) box of old notebooks in their storage room. Now that I have a house of my own and intend to stay put at least for a little while, I hauled back the giant box and rifled through old notebooks and diaries like a treasure hunt.

(A cringe-inducing treasure hunt.)

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The Best Albums of All Time

The Best Albums of All Time, According To Me

So I’m not Rolling Stone magazine, and I don’t have any authority to make sweeping claims about the best albums of all time. I tend to vote more with my heart than my head in these situations, and I am nowhere in the realm of being a music critic.

That being said, as a rock musician, piano teacher, and overall music enthusiast, I was inspired to compile this list of my five favourite albums for you here, the five that I consider the best albums of all time, whether or not anyone else agrees. In fact, I invite you to disagree – or, at least, to share your own favourites in the comments below, and what makes them your favourite. Let’s get to know each other a little bit better, and share around some truly amazing music to kick off a great week!

So here we go. These are the albums that I’ve sat in a room listening to, nothing else but me and my headphones or stereo. The ones that have followed me on countless walks and drives. Albums that have defined me, shaped me, and moved me.

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Your Body is a Temple (Or, my makeup story)

Like many girls, I’ve been wearing makeup since I was a pre-teen. It started with nail polish, evolved into mascara, and soon, it was a full face – foundation, gloss, eyeshadow, the works.

And, like many girls, I made a lot of mistakes. I remember borrowing my mom’s foundation – my mom is several shades darker than me – and looking like what I can only imagine must’ve been an oompa loompa. I remember getting glittery green eyeshadow and loading it on, to which my male friend replied as we sat in our desks, “That’s a lot of eyeshadow”. I remember (lightly) filling in my brows, a decade before that really became a big thing, because my very beautiful friend did.

So why wear my mom’s makeup, why load up on eyeshadow? Was I trying to impress boys, was I self-conscious? Was I trying to get attention, or trying to blend in?

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If I were a millionaire

If I were a millionaire, and money was absolutely no object for the rest of my life, what would I do?

I would totally live in this house.

Why I ask this question

I love this question, it keeps me real. If what I’m doing now is completely different from what I’d do if I had financial freedom, then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate my life. Having financial freedom means not working just to get by, just to pay the bills. It means having the space to pursue passions in life.

You don’t have to be a millionaire to pursue your passions – that’s the point. But sometimes we get into the mindset of, “If I had X amount of money, I can do this,” or “maybe one day”.

And yes, from a practical standpoint, many of us need that job we don’t love, but if you don’t love what you do, maybe it’s time to start transitioning to that which you do. Maybe that means picking up a hobby or taking night classes or starting a blog. Maybe it means baby steps in the direction of your most exciting life.

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