New Books for a New Year

What to read right now: 5 books to help you reset, reflect and resolve this year

What to read right now: 5 books to help you reset, reflect and resolve

woman reading reflection train
Five books to help you reflect in the new year. Photo by Ali Rahmati/Flickr

It’s only three weeks into 2015, but there’s a good chance you’ve already given up on your New Year’s resolution. Whatever — we have, too. This year, we’re digging abstract resolutions — you know, the ones about fresh starts, embracing change, being more present in the moment. While there’s nothing wrong with committing to a fresh workout plan, we're taking some time to think about and revise our resolutions into mindful, deliberate changes over time. (Plus, it lets us skip the gym for margaritas and not feel guilty.)

So in that spirit, this month we’re suggesting some reads to invite pause and reflection, make you laugh a little, and help smooth over whatever bumpy transitions 2015 may bring. Below are our picks for those working on a resolution redo — or just needing some help feeling inspired in the new year.

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, Dan Barber
Forget whatever diet fad book you picked up on New Year’s Day, Barber’s book is what everyone should be reading to think differently about the food we eat. Through sections divided by soil, seed, sea and land, Barber argues for a “whole farm” approach for food, complementing his own eloquent thinking by detailing animated encounters with food pioneers. And while the content makes this a must-read for foodies and health conscious folks, Barber’s powerful storytelling and inventiveness will inspire anyone looking for fuller culinary experiences and superior flavors in 2015.

Can't and Won't: Stories, Lydia Davis
There is no writer quite like Lydia Davis. Precise prose, sharp wit and even sharper observation skills make her work an excellent thing to read at the start of a new year. Can’t and Won’t — Davis’ fifth collection of stories — will simultaneously ground and ignite you with stories ranging from literal one-liners to poetry-like pieces. In stories with titles like "Notes during long Conversation with Mother" and "Problem of the Vacuum Cleaner," Davis plays with language in such a masterful, smart way that she elevates the most mundane moments and subjects into something extraordinary and intimate. Her writing weaves its way into your mind and stays there. If you’re looking to see 2015 with thrilling precision, then reading Davis is a step in the right direction.

All the Wrong Places: A Life Lost and Found, Philip Connors
Connors’ memoir isn’t out yet, but his candid revelations, fierce insights and masterful lyricism make for too powerful of a narrative to keep it off this list. Unless you’re a speedy soul-searcher, anyone feeling out of place as they head into the year will feel deep connection with Connors’ messy story of lost and found. A former Wall Street Journal reporter, Connors writes about his years spent struggling with his sense of self after a family tragedy, when he turned inward and continuously found himself in places where he felt like an outsider. Full of beautiful, prose-driven passages and a keen sense of dark humor, Connors nails the subtle, powerful ties that run between grief, connection and sense of self. All the Wrong Places is slated to debut in February.

Failure and I Bury the Body, Sasha West
In poet (and Austinite!) Sasha West’s debut collection, modern anxieties are explored by calling on the tradition of medieval allegory. Through a series of linked poems, the narrator tells the story of a road trip through the Southwestern desert with a companion called Failure. During their journey, an inescapable passenger, Corpse, joins them. As they try to get rid of Corpse, themes of redemption and future ruin, desire and extinction are all beautifully and skillfully explored. Failure and I Bury the Body is not only linguistically exceptional, it’s a visionary and compelling way of exploring our fables of self and civilization. Through its unconventional form, it invites readers to reset and reshape how we see both present and future — a fitting exercise as we head into a new year.

Hall of Small Mammals: Stories, Thomas Pierce
A collection of stories that exist somewhere between the real and surreal, Hall of Small Mammals is full of people connected through family, love or randomness, all struggling to figure it out — and often realizing what a strange and futile task that can be. In one story, a man searches for the imaginary boyfriend who has appeared in his girlfriend's dreams since she was young. In another, a man takes a hot air balloon ride with his green and yellow bird. Masterfully built, bizarre, charming, and often laugh out loud funny, every story in this collection is wholly inventive and deeply moving. Besides being ridiculously entertaining, this collection gets at the heart of how we make choices while trying to understand how we got to the decision at all.