Last year I read 60+ books (not counting the ones I read with Forest) and I keep tabs of it over on Goodreads. Feel free to friend me over there if you’d like! By far the heavy lifting of my reading last year was audiobooks and I have significantly replaced podcast listening with audiobooks over the last two years. If you keep your audiobooks to 10 hours and under and listen at 1.5-2x speeds then you can easily read an audiobook every few days or so. I listen while I work most often but I have tasks that don’t allow me to focus on two things at once so I don’t listen straight through.
Anyway, I thought I would highlight a few of my favorites from last year:
The Puma Years by Laura Coleman is my number one for the year. In 2008 Chris and I went to Bolivia with our friends Marc and Eliana to visit the country but also to visit a wildlife refuge/rehabilitation park that Eliana had found the year previously and had been taking veterinary equipment to them. Inti Wara Yassi exists to take care of wild animals in Bolivia that have been abused or sold in the markets there as pets—and as you can imagine, pumas and ocelots and monkeys aren’t good pets and therefore once people tire of them or they are confiscated by the government they aren’t usually able to be released again. Inti Wara Yassi is a non-profit and often operates on a bare bones budget and the kindness of traveling volunteers who live at one of the (once there were three) parks. We visited Parque Machía in Villa Tunari but this book takes place at Ambue Ari in a similar time frame as our visit. Laura had been traveling in the mid-2000s when she found herself at the park only intending to stay for a few weeks. She was given charge of Wayra, a puma (panther/mountain lion) who was on the friendlier side of what pumas can be but also also still a wild animal. Eventually Laura extends her stay for longer and the book details her relationship with Wayra, other volunteers, the life of living in the Bolivian jungle, as well as what is like to attempt to feed and care for animals, and live in this situation long term, including dealing with wildfires that destroyed rainforest habitat and often came close to endangering the animals themselves. Our stay was less than a week and I wasn’t even a volunteer but I could feel the sights and sounds and the feelings in this book very deeply because the park had left a deep impression on me for months after I came back. I wanted to go back and volunteer, too.
Coyote America by Dan Flores was a book that I wasn’t expecting to love so much but I came to really enjoy it and I learned so much about coyotes and their historical and expanding range and how humans over millennia have lived alongside these animals. I was disturbed at the historical and on-going coyote hate and how extensive the coyote poisoning and trapping programs were and how they were often tied to the extermination of the buffalo and in turn with the extermination of Native Americans. Dan has a couple of other natural history books that I plan to read in the next year or two.
Open Book by Jessica Simpson. I am not usually one to read celebrity memoirs but I had heard a lot of good things about this one. I listened as an audiobook and so I got to hear Jessica read the words herself which I think brought character to the audio. As someone who used be somewhat invested in the celebrity gossip of her and her first husband back in the early 2000s, I found it interesting to hear about some of the trauma that was going on behind the scenes in her life and how that was manifesting itself in the public eye.
Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook by Celia Rees was one of the few fiction books I read this year. I tend to enjoy my fiction on paper or Kindle but am trying to open myself up to some fiction on audiobook. I had actually read (listened) a YA fiction by the same author called Witch Child and enjoyed that so I downloaded this on our drive across I-10 at Thanksgiving. Taking place directly after WWII, we get the stories of several women enlisted to work as spies in post-war Germany. The Nazi’s were scattered and the Allied forces were trying to track down the ones who were in hiding and Edith Graham has a history with one of the people of interest, though she didn’t know in the mid 1930s what his actually connecions to the Nazi party were. There’s intrigue, a lot of interesting history that I didn’t know about (Nazi’s being traded to the Americans or Brits instead of being tried because of what they could offer knowledge-wise to the countries) and of course some twists and turns along the way. If you like typical WWII historical fiction, try this early Cold War historical fiction!
Amazon Woman by Darcy Gaechter caught my eye while flipping through books to listen to while doing some walking this summer. Darcy is an expedition kayaker and has had an extensive career guiding all over North and South America with her partner. Then cue a client who wanted to kayak the Amazon from Source to Sea and this sets Darcy and her partner on quite the adventure! The book highlights the logistics of planning a Source to Sea paddle of the Amazon, a feat that only a tiny handful have even done or even attempted. This isn’t a Mississippi River Source to Sea adventure—this is multiple countries, disputed theories on the actual source location, crossing through tribal and guerilla territories, dangerous waterways, and well, I mean, it’s the Amazon! Darcy does not sugar coat anything—we hear about arguments between her and her partner, how frustrating their client is (who is not an expedition kayaker), and thoughts and feelings that arise while tackling this endeavor. Darcy is still the only woman on record to kayak the Amazon from Source to Sea. If you like adventure books, this is one to read!
That’s it, my top 5! I could have snuck a couple more in but let’s keep it tidy. The only one in this list I didn’t listen to on audio was The Puma Years and that was a paper book I checked out from the library!
Tell me what I should add to my reading list—what was your favorite book last year?