Monday, December 31, 2012

Top Ten Books of 2012

It’s a holiday tradition to review the books I’ve read over the past year. Here are my favourites for 2012. (It was a tough choice; when in doubt, I chose books that were less well known.)

I love to travel – both physically and mentally. The following books taught me a great deal about life in other countries.

Dancing in the Fountain: How to enjoy living abroad, Karen McCann
Oh, if only I could move to Sevilla, Spain, and really learn to speak the language and experience the culture like Karen McCann!

Home is a Roof Over a Pig, Aminta Arrington
This book provides an exceptional overview of education (kindergarten and university) in China and the inherent contradictions between what people believe and what they say.

Running Away to Home: Our family’s journey to Croatia in search of who we are, where we came from, and what really matters, Jennifer Wilson
A family lives in a small village in Croatia for a year.


Chasing Chiles: Hot spots along the pepper trail, Kurt Michael Friese, Kraig Kraft, Gary Paul Nabhan
A fascinating account of chile peppers – where they are grown, where they came from and how climate change is affecting chile farming. This book is of particular interest to Slow Food members.

My Berlin Kitchen: A love story (with recipes), Luisa Weiss
A book for everyone who is unsure of where they want to live or who they are meant to be – plus lots of recipes.

Food and the City: Urban agriculture and the new food revolution, Jennifer Cockrall-King
A number of books have been published recently about urban farming; this one is particularly good. Based in Canada, Jennifer takes us on a tour of urban farms around the world. (Jennifer is a Slow Food member.)


The View from Lazy Point: A natural year in an unnatural world, Carl Safina
Safina travels north, south, east and west from his home on Long Island to determine the state of the world’s oceans and lands. There’s hope as well as concern, and his poetic writing does a wonderful job of describing places and people.

Chasing Wildflowers: A mad search for wild gardens, Scott Calhoun
Calhoun hits the road in search of wildflowers in bloom – from Mexico to California. The photographs and text do an excellent job of encouraging readers to share his passion.

Business & Communications

Winning the Story Wars: Why those who tell (and live) the best stories will rule the future, Jonah Sachs
This book has inspired me to change the way I communicate in order to effectively share values as well as information – a must-read for communications professionals and non-profits.

Bright Lights, No City: An African adventure on bad roads with a brother and a very weird business plan, Max Alexander
Max Alexander’s brother believed that Africa needed successful businesses, not charity – and he set out to prove it. Read this book if you are an entrepreneur or social activist or interested in Africa.

Christmas Bonus 
I’ve been reading these books over the holidays. They are still so fresh that I’m not sure if they fit within my top 10, but they are certainly worth reading.

Owls and Other Fantasies and Blue Iris, Mary Oliver
Oliver’s nature poetry paints pictures in words and always delights me. For example, she describes a heron as “an old Chinese poet, hunched in the white gown of his wings.” These short books are compilations of some of her best poems about birds and plants.

The Old Ways: A journey on foot, Robert Macfarlane
Macfarlane brings to readers’ attention the web of paths that cover the globe. “As I walk paths I often wonder about their origins, the impulses that have led to their creation, the records they yield of customary journey, and the secrets they keep of adventures, meetings and departures,” he says. The book is a meditative, philosophical account of some of his walks.

See also: Outstanding Books of 2011

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