Don’t lie: in the back of your mind, you’re already thinking about new year’s resolutions. Most of us decide to Get Healthy or Read More or Learn An Instrument, then promptly forget all about it by the mid-January.
Some people, though, go the whole hog and decide to overhaul their lives completely for twelve months. A select few go even further and write a book about what they’ve done, why they’ve done it, and what they’ve learned.
Here are eleven “year of” books, these uniquely committed individuals’ memoirs about actually living their lives differently for one whole year.
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
There are a lot of theories about how to Be Happy. Make your bed, dance with your kids, eat your vegetables… surely if any one person tried to do every single one of them, they’d end up too exhausted to be happy. That’s why Gretchen Rubin tackled them one at a time, and she wrote about in The Happiness Project. She spent a year taking on a different get-happy project every month. Over the course of a year, she cleaned out her closets, read Aristotle, and learned how to better manage conflicts. The piece of wisdom that has really stuck with me from Rubin’s account is that “the days are long, but the years are short”. It’s too easy to get stuck in the hum-drum of the same-old-same-old of the day-to-day; novelty and challenge are the key to finding happiness, and it’s a project without an end date.
Julie And Julia by Julie Powell
Sometimes, a ridiculous idea comes to you, and despite all the reasons not to do it, you just can’t let it go. Julie Powell had a draining job with a hellish commute, a tiny apartment kitchen, and an aversion to eggs – but once she’d had the idea to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering The Art Of French Cooking Volume I, she knew she had to do it. She began a blog chronicle of her cooking adventures, which became her memoir Julie And Julia (which, in turn, became a fabulous Nora Ephron movie starring Meryl Streep). Powell’s blue language and dark humour isn’t for everyone, but the butter-heavy rich French dishes will make anyone’s mouth water. Read my full review of Julie And Julia here.
My Year Without Matches by Claire Dunn
It’s a rare city slicker that hasn’t, at least once, dreamed of leaving the rat race behind and going totally off-grid. Claire Dunn actually did it, though, and she didn’t do it halfway. She didn’t just leave her phone behind, she left electricity, modern plumbing, and all the other basic necessities that would make country life comfortable. In My Year Without Matches, she describes the twelve months she spent in the wilderness, with only her own strength and wits to keep her safe. She builds her own shelter, builds fires without matches (as the title suggests), forages for food and faces off with the scariest foe of all: herself.
Year Of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
Shonda Rhimes might be a universally renowned and adored show-runner, but she’s also a big-time introvert. Despite bringing some of television’s most beloved characters to our screens night after night every single year, she’d much rather stay out of the spotlight herself. One Thanksgiving, her sister called her out: “you never say yes to anything”. You can’t lay down a gauntlet like that in front of a woman like Rhimes. Thus began her Year Of Yes, twelve whole months of saying “yes” when she would much rather say “no”. “Yes” to making speeches, accepting awards, meeting new people, and playing with her kids (even when she’s running horribly late). The thing is, the more often she says “yes”, the easier – and better – it gets. Read my full review of Year Of Yes here.
Tolstoy And The Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch
In this house,
we believe we know that literature can change lives. Tolstoy And The Purple Chair is Nina Sankovitch’s account of her “year of magical reading”. Racked with grief, exhausted by life, Sankovitch commits to immersing herself in a great book every day for one whole year. She samples the complex classics (Edith Wharton), the contemporary prize-winners (Ian McEwan), the funny and fun (Nora Ephron), and – of course – Leo Tolstoy. Committing herself to these books, she uncovers deeper truths about quality and quantity, and her literary year turns out to be the best kind of therapy.
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Eat, Pray, Love has become the butt of far too many jokes, mostly made by people who know it by reputation but have never actually read it. Elizabeth Gilbert found herself heartbroken, twice over, and rudderless in her mid-30s. She wanted to reconnect with what made her feel alive, so with a generous advance from a major publisher in her pocket, she spent a year doing just that. She travelled to Italy, where she learned to eat and indulge, then to India, where she learned to pray and devote, and then to Indonesia, where she learned balance and found love. Even though Gilbert had the incredible privilege to undertake this journey, the kind that most of us could only dream about, I think she was also incredibly generous in sharing it with us.
Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want To Come by Jessica Pan
Whom among us hasn’t shown up at a party and wished for the gumption to say these very words? Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want To Come is Jessica Pan’s memoir about trying to live like a gregarious extrovert for a year. She’s remarkably strategic in her approach: she finds extroverted mentors to guide her, she sets herself challenges (like performing stand-up comedy, and hosting a dinner party) that make her break out in a cold sweat, and she goes for it – no matter what. Not every adventure works out for the best, but that’s the beauty of this book. It’s billed as a book about being more outgoing, but actually it’s a book about being brave.
The Year Of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
The Year Of Living Biblically is one of those books that makes me think “damn, I wish I’d thought of that!”. In an increasingly secular world, we still encounter people every day who quote this or that passage of the Bible as justification for how we should live. A.J. Jacobs decided to take them up on it – literally. He vows to live by the Good Book’s every word, big (Ten Commandments) and small (don’t wear clothes made of mixed fibers). He uses this year to learn more about the communities that do try to live biblically, not as a bit for a book but as a way of living well. You’ll probably go into this book a cynic, as I did, and there are plenty of laughs to be had, but there’s also a few revelations that will really make you think.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Barbara Kingsolver is best known for her fiction but, like any good writer, she can turn anything into content. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is about her family’s year-long quest to realign the way they eat, and the way they live, with the natural rhythms of the land. She blends memoir with investigative journalism to interrogate the environmental, social, and economic costs of the “average” American diet, using her own brood as a case study. Over the course of twelve months on a remote Appalachian farm, the Kingsolvers recover our society’s lost appreciation for the provenance of sustenance, and formulate their own blueprint for a new way to eat and live.
138 Dates by Rebekah Campbell
We might all have a “one that got away” buried in our romantic past, but some of us cling to them more tightly than others. Rebekah Campbell found remarkable business success as an entrepreneur with a popular app, but her personal life remained a shambles. All the space in her heart was taken up by her first love who sadly died, and she was staring down the barrel of middle- and old-age spent alone. In 138 Dates, she commits to applying all of her business strategies to her new goal: finding love, and starting a family. She goes on dates, lots of dates, 138 of them – some promising, some laughably bad, but all valuable in her quest to learn more about what it means to “have it all”. Read my full review of 138 Dates here.
My Year Of Living Vulnerably by Rick Morton
In early 2019, Rick Morton was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder – or, as he put it, he was officially told that one of the people who was supposed to love him most during childhood, didn’t. Complex PTSD is a difficult diagnosis, to live with and to treat, but Morton saw within it an opportunity. He undertook My Year Of Living Vulnerably, twelve months of seeking a better life and mindset. He didn’t look to cure himself, but to live authentically and rediscover how to love and be loved even in light of the challenges he faces. This is a book that will both wrench and heal your heart.