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    Books & Reading

    The 2019 Afterthoughts Book Awards

    January 3, 2019 by Brandy Vencel

    This second half of this year of reading felt … strange … to me. For the first time in ten years, I had very little pre-reading to do. This meant that I could choose books. I know it sounds amazing, but I floundered at first. All that choice paralyzed me.

    In addition to this, we had some big life changes, including my husband’s new job, which threw off my schedule. I had to find a new normal, including a new normal for reading. I feel like I’m finally there, but I also feel like this year’s reading list is evidence of the transitions!

    This post contains affiliate links.

    The main rule I have for myself is that I have to finish a book for it to be a contender. Because I love to start books, this is a form of self-discipline that has been very helpful for me. How many books did I finish this year? 31. That really surprised me because it was only one book less than I read this year. Of course, the ones I read were mostly “easier” than last year, but I think I needed to be gentle with myself for a few months.

    If anything, it proves that having a habit (and a habit tracker! — not too late to get yours here!) helps quite a bit.

    Now, on with the awards! (Book of the Year is always given at the end….)

    Best Read Aloud

    My read aloud titles are listed here and aren’t part of my total of 31. I count them separately; I guess I like to know what I’ve done on my own.

    The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking — also known as The Wilderking Trilogy by Jonathan Rogers — were fantastic. We can’t recommend them enough!

    Best Parenting Book

    The Self-Driven Child by William Stixrud is one I highly recommend. In many ways, it is simply Charlotte Mason’s concept of masterly inactivity applied to today’s world.

    Other contenders in this category: Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child was a re-read for me, which is why it didn’t win. With that said, I like it so much I wrote a group study guide on it that will be coming out in 2019!

    Best Government/History/Economics Book

    One of my favorite categories!

    This was the first time I’ve ever read On Liberty, and I certainly loved it!

    Other contenders in this category:  The Vision of the Anointed by Thomas Sowell, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Arguing about Slavery by William Lee Miller (this was definitely second place), and The Great Democracies by Winston Churchill.

    Best Geography/Nature Lore

    The Oregon Trail by Francis Parkman, Jr. was fascinating. I just loved it!

    Other contender in this category: Walden by Henry David Thoreau was interesting, but I found Thoreau himself a little obnoxious.

    Best Theology/Church History

    On the Holy Spirit by St. Basil the Great was, sadly, the only book in this category that I finished this year. I started a number of titles, though, so I have hope there will be an increase in contenders for this category next year!

    Best Education

    I can honestly say that The Graves of Academe by Richard Mitchell won because it made me laugh out loud. It was profound, yes. A worthy read, also yes. But funny, too, and that was important to me this year.

    Other contenders in this category: Beauty in the Word by Stratford Caldecott, How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, How Children Learn by John Holt, and Awakening Wonder by Steve Turley.

    Best Other Nonfiction

    Atomic Habits by James Clear is hands down a new favorite of mine, mainly because it answers the burning question of how to habit train yourself.

    Other contenders in this category: Bandersnatch by Diana Glyer, The Riot and the Dance by Gordon Wilson, Deep Work by Cal Newport, and Finish by Jon Acuff.

    Best Literature/Fiction

    Here it is: everyone’s favorite category! This was my first Louis L’Amour and I regret not reading him before. It was pure delight to read a story that takes place near where I live. I plan to read this aloud to my children sometime soon. It can double as California history!

    Other contenders in this category: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry, Silas Marner by George Eliot (this was even better than I expected), The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Fenollera, and The Rector of Justin by Louis Auchincloss.

    Book of the Year!

    Drumroll, please….

    It might sound a little over the top to say “Fact #1: miracles do happen” at the top of your book, but not if i you are Dr. Nemechek. To say this book is changing lives is an understatement. I keep promising to write about it in detail — and really I will one day. But I’m not quite ready to share. For now, all I can say is: if you are concerned about yourself or one of your children, buy this book and do this protocol. By “concerned” I mean things like memory function, attention problems, etc. By “do this protocol” I mean go all in, even when it asks you to do things that sound radical, like dropping all your supplements.

    What’s your book of the year? Leave the title in the comments!

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  • Reply Beth in TX September 4, 2019 at 4:22 pm

    Nemechek is by far the best and the easiest thing we’ve done.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 10, 2019 at 8:54 am

      Yes! In fact, my initial objection to it was that it was so easy I figured it couldn’t work. So glad I listened to my sister (who initially recommended it). Fifteen months in and one of my daughter’s test scores had risen over 4 grade levels!

  • Reply Catie January 16, 2019 at 4:40 am

    I’m going to purchase the Nemechek book! Thank you!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 16, 2019 at 3:22 pm

      You’re welcome! I can honestly say I’ve tried SO MUCH over the years — including really difficult diets like GAPS. This is SO EASY and has brought about the most progress in the least amount of time; it has blown my socks off!

      • Reply Catie January 16, 2019 at 7:17 pm

        I ordered it today and can’t wait to read it. I have a child who has a terrible time remembering things and when I’ve removed certain foods from our diet (namely, sugar and gluten) I’ve noticed a huge improvement. I’m so interested to see what Nemechek has to say!

  • Reply Laura January 8, 2019 at 7:24 pm

    I haven’t read a Louis L’Amour in years! I used to devour them – it was at first a connection with my dad, who was raised in North Dakota and worked as a cowboy in high school – and who loves Louis L’Amour. Then I got into them because they were just so good! My favorite is “Last of the Breed” – so when you need something for Soviet history…

    Thanks for the other suggestions as well – my 7yo is not reading AO books independently yet, so I generally do very little prereading and completely identify with your floundering issues. There is just so much out there (and so much is not particularly worthwhile)! I very much appreciate your booklists – most of my reading begins right here at your blog. Keep it up – and thank you!

  • Reply Erika January 8, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    “Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglas” was a fantastic read. Its a small, thin book, so I kept it in my purse all year and read it whenever I was waiting somewhere without kiddos. He is a brilliant writer. Obviously, the topic is sad and violent and unjust. But I highly recommend it for your purse and a long read. It is very easy to pick up where you left off. Keep a highlighter handy! He has wonderful insights. He is very quotable!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 8, 2019 at 3:46 pm

      That is one of my favorites, Erika! ♥ Good choice!

  • Reply Mystie January 5, 2019 at 8:55 am

    I am really surprised you ranked Atomic Habits about Deep Work. I liked them both, but I got more out of Deep Work. However, that could be because I’ve been reading James Clear’s blog for 2 years. Deep Work is like Leisure the Basis of Culture and The Intellectual Life for today’s average person, I though. 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 6, 2019 at 12:13 pm

      I think really it came down to something similar — I’d been thinking about many of the things in Deep Work for a long time, but Atomic Habits was a like a lifesaver for me, not so much personally, but a book I could recommend when people ask me about habit formation. They want clear practical step and I tend to be neither clear nor practical? I dunno. It could also just be that my reading of AH was more recent and so more on my mind!

      My guess is The Intellectual Life will be my 2019 Book of the Year! ♥

      • Reply Julie Zilkie January 6, 2019 at 1:50 pm

        Well, that’s a tease! Author please? Thanks you!

  • Reply Lisa W. January 4, 2019 at 9:24 am

    I appreciated your throw-in on your review of Nemechek about supplements, but I have a quick question because he doesn’t address this in his book and I know you are knowledgeable about this area.

    Would you say I should also stop homeopathic protocols? We’ve been on Banjeri protocol for a specific condition for about six months with quite good results. We began Nemechek but I was initially hesitant about stopping supplements I felt were crucial and saw wonderful results with, but ended up doing so.

    I want to do Nemechek correctly to give it the best possible chance at correcting issues, but understanding pathways and that homeopathy works differently, if you were in my shoes would you stick with the homeopathic protocol while on strict Nemechek or dump it?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 4, 2019 at 9:41 am

      I have NOT been able to stop all of our homeopathy. At least: not yet. I have still been seeing (neurological, academic, digestive — one child who was severely lactose intolerant can now drink milk!, etc.) progress, but whether we’d see more without it is a definite question. We are treating some joint issues that I feel like I can’t neglect because of their ages.

      We also kept a couple supplements. Dr. Nemechek says to stop supplements *unless* you have medical tests showing that you need them. We have a few genetic issues that make supplements required — most notable that we cannot convert beta carotene to vitamin A. I tried to keep in mind some of the principles Dr. N has taught about the interaction with supplements and so I’ve (1) given less and (2) done it differently. So, for example, I was doing Rosita cod liver oil AND powdered liver pills for vitamin A. Now I just give one ounce worth of powdered liver once a day most days. It’s much less, but I think it’s a good compromise.

      My sister has had to keep her son on his medicines but Nemechek has allowed them to start weaning, so I often think of it this way with the homeopathy. Maybe NP will straighten them out enough that we can go off of it.

      If I were you … well, I’d probably do NP on top of the protocol (since it’s been helping so much) and then start weaning. So if I was doing twice per day doses, maybe go to one. This is a harder one. I think Dr. N is usually dealing with kids who have been to naturopaths who put them on a million supplements that their bodies cannot process, or their mothers are into MLM vitamins.

  • Reply Leanne January 4, 2019 at 1:08 am

    Oh I ordered your no. 1 book of the year earlier this year and it arrived in Hindu. Wasn’t going to pay for it again but maybe will have to since you recommend it so highly. Can you tell me if you recommend on the Holy spirit as you don’t really say. Thanks Leanne

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 4, 2019 at 9:05 am

      In Hindu! Oh no! I’m so sorry. 🙁

      I *do* recommend On the Holy Spirit, with the caveat that it is more arguing for the Trinity — and the inclusion of the Holy Spirit — than it is a deep discussion of the nature of the Holy Spirit. I was hoping for more of the latter so, while it was excellent, it turned out to not be exactly what I was looking for, if that makes sense.

  • Reply Melissa Greene January 3, 2019 at 5:24 pm

    I love seeing everyone’s reading list! I read Walden many years ago, way before kids. I have been considering re-reading it now that I’m more of an adult….ahem!! 😉

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Julie Zilkie January 3, 2019 at 2:22 pm

    Thank you for posting about your book of the year. I just had a friend who has a three year old that may be getting an Autism diagnosis, and I was able to share with her. So grateful for you and your WIDE reading!!

  • Reply Heather January 3, 2019 at 2:01 pm

    We are reading Lonesome Gods right now and We are in love! I never read Louis Lamor because I thought he was just a western “bonanza” type writer… pleasantly surprised! Thanks for the hint! California History ✔️

  • Reply Axon Parker January 3, 2019 at 12:13 pm

    I have a 5yo daughter recently diagnosed with childhood absence seizures. Thankfully she will more than likely grow out of it, but in the meantime we have reluctantly started her on medication and are not happy with the side effects. We have heard much talk about the Keto Diet, but should we check out your book of the year as well? She is probably our brightest child, but the seizures are clear evidence that her brain is experiencing some sort of trial. Always love your book recommendations (and all of your work!)

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 4, 2019 at 9:08 am

      Axon! Yes! I would totally try it. We have a gal whose child, after only a few weeks doing strict Nemechek, went from mutiple seizures a day to less than 10 in a month! We know other children who are now able to start weaning off of their meds as well.

      I don’t know what side effects your daughter is experiencing, but you have my sympathies! My husband had to spend a year on phenobarbital after having multiple grand mals as complications from a sickness and the side effects! It was seriously the worst year of my life; he was a completely different person.

  • Reply Brenda January 3, 2019 at 10:10 am

    I’ve heard you and Mystie Winckler talk about Atomic Habits, and I just listened to James Clear talking about the concepts in the book on the most recent Art of Manliness podcast. I am very intrigued, and I think my husband would be interested too…and I suspect there are some things my teens could gain from it. Having read the book, do you think it could work as a family read aloud?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 3, 2019 at 11:47 am

      I think it could totally work for teens. If I didn’t think I’d totally lose my 10yo, I’d do it in a heartbeat. 🙂

  • Reply Kelly January 3, 2019 at 5:23 am

    I love Richard Mitchell! When I was in junior high one of my English teachers suggested we read his newspaper column, The Underground Grammarian, and I was hooked. I credit him with a lot of my ability to think well and to use English well. Plus he probably laid some of the groundwork for my decision to home school my own kids.

    My favorite this year was True Grit, for reasons similar to your love of Louis L’Amour. I have lots of family connections to many of the places and people mentioned in the book, but also it was just a good story. I love Mattie Ross. I loved her little preachy digressions — so sincere and unselfconscious, and funny without meaning to be.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 3, 2019 at 12:02 pm

      I definitely want to read more Mitchell in the future. Do you recommend The Underground Grammarian next?

      • Reply Kelly January 3, 2019 at 1:55 pm

        The Underground Grammarian is now a series of archived newsletters at a website that’s being maintained in his honor. It has the text all of his books but The Leaning Tower of Babel available for free too. You can find it here:

        I think Less than Words Can Say is my favorite because of its vivid description of how the way you write affects the way you think, and vice versa.


        • Reply Brandy Vencel January 4, 2019 at 9:09 am

          Thank you! I just put Less Than Words Can Say on my wishlist. 🙂

    • Reply Danielle Hardy January 3, 2019 at 12:14 pm

      I had a great year reading. I read through the whole Bible 4 times, by following the Bible in 90 Days back to back. What a joy!! It is amazing to see different things each time through. I am going to do this again this year.

      I am going to cheat because I had a few 5 star books that were my favorite and they fall into different categories. Fiction: The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton-Porter. YA: Dear Martin by Nic Stone. I have 2 superb contenders for my Christian category: Awe by Paul David Tripp and Letters to the Church by Francis Chan. And a phenomenal Chrisitan Classic: The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith.

      Sorry, my post is so long. I just really enjoyed my reading this year and wanted to share.

      • Reply Brandy Vencel January 3, 2019 at 12:16 pm

        You never have to apologize for sharing a booklist. 😉 I was thrilled to read yours because I haven’t read ANY of those books. I’m going to check them out and add some to my wishlist! ♥

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