I have long wanted to do a post about books + reading, maybe even do one semi-regularly. HA! What am I talking about. I don't even blog about anything semi-regularly.
However, I LOVE to read, and I (like the giant nerd that I am) keep a list of all the books I read, and have done so for nearly 10 years. This list used to live in the back of my journal, but I recently moved the list from 2010 onwards to a Google doc, which makes it so much easier to track.
Someday maybe I'll post every book I've read since 2010, but for today, I'll just post the highlights from 2017, and the list in entirety at the end of the post. Overall themes were children's lit, and... yep. A lot of children's lit. Which means this list represents many more books than I normally read in a year (by 10-15 or so). Oh, and France! A lot of France this year. I just started The Brothers Karamazov, and I have a feeling that I will still be reading it by December. Though my goal is to finish by the end of March! Ambitious, but aim high, right? So 2018 may have many fewer books, too. Thanks, Dostoyevsky.
Anyhow, here are a few highlights of this year.
The Far Pavilions (M. M. Kaye) // My FAVORITE book of 2017. Definitely earned a spot in my top five favorite books of all time. In my book club in Seattle, someone once mentioned that this was their favorite book, but it wasn't chosen for our list that year. In February this year, I saw it in our neighborhood's little library and snatched it up. It's historical fiction set in India (and what is now Pakistan), following the life and adventures of Ash and Juli. I cannot tell you more than that about the story, other than it is the best love story I've ever read. Even though it is close to 900 pages, I devoured it. The storyline is so gripping and the main characters so nuanced that I was honestly sad (devastated?) when the book ended. Though, in all transparency, the last quarter of the story drags, and in my opinion, she could have cut it a little earlier, leaving out all of Afghanistan (sorry, Afghanistan). I loved it anyway. I loaned it to my Granny a couple of weeks ago and hopes she loves it as much as I did. Because I loved this one so much, I ordered a couple other Kaye books (Shadow of the Moon and The Sun in the Morning), but Shadow of the Moon, though compelling, doesn't TOUCH Far Pavilions. Heart eyes.
Wild Things: the Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult (Bruce Handy) // One of the best non-fiction books I've ever read, especially because I love children's lit so much. I gave my mom a copy for Christmas and she's enjoying it as well. Handy starts with baby/preschool books (like Goodnight Moon) and moves forward developmentally, covering many of my childhood favorites, with some backstory about the authors and their process in writing the books we grew up on. I was fascinated to learn that many "children's authors" didn't actually enjoy kids that much or have any of their own. Handy makes the case that that actually helped them enter children's psyche better than parents or teachers can, in the sense that they can see the world better from a child's point of view. Margaret Wise Brown (author of Goodnight Moon) I found particularly fascinating. I'm sad he didn't cover Richard Scarry or Robert McCloskey, but there are plenty of other wonderful insights into Narnia, Maurice Sendak, Louisa May Alcott, etc.
The Skeletons in God’s Closet (Joshua Ryan Butler) // On recommendation from Dave (who is the reigning king of theology books/podcasts/etc), I listened to this on audiobook, and then we bought five (!!) copies for Christmas gifts. Even after walking with Jesus my whole life, there are things (lots of things!) about the Bible, Jesus, and Christianity that I find puzzling, troubling, and straight up offensive. Butler, a pastor in Portland, does a FANTASTIC (and orthodox) job of addressing difficult questions in a straightforward way, and enabled me to see far more grace in subjects like hell, judgement, and holy war than I had ever imagined. As a non-ancient Hebrew (hello), so much of the Bible feels entirely foreign to me, and it is so helpful when Bible scholars who have immersed themselves in the study of this culture and language unpack Old Testament stories that appear so violent and "unfair" to 21st century Western minds. I found this book so helpful, and am looking forward to re-reading it this year. In this vein, we've also been listening to a lot of Tim Mackie lately, who is also a Portland pastor/Hebrew scholar. His podcast Exploring My Strange Bible has been helpful to me in the same way that Skeletons has.
Books that taught me something and made me think: I re-read Brain Rules for Baby (Medina) this year, after reading it when I was pregnant with Esther (and mentioned it in this post). She was (and still is) hitting her stride with big toddler emotions, and I was hoping to get some insight into how to help her. This book is possibly my favorite parenting book to date, because it has none of the preachy, self-satisfied overtones that so many other books have. Aka, "do it this way, or your kid will turn into a psychopath" or "you are not a real Christian unless you do it this way." Let's keep it real... anyone else ever feel this!? Rabbit trail, sorry. This book is just helpful, and encouraging. If you are present to your kids, they're probably going to be great. Just Mercy (Stevenson) was a GREAT read (and gift from my bestie, thank you Jessa!) about the deep biases and racism in the justice system, particularly for death row inmates. Thought-provoking, uncomfortable, and super informative. We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled (Pearlman) was also uncomfortable and heartbreaking, and was a really excellent look into the lives of average Syrians in the midst of their current civil war. It's so easy for me to read news stories about people living in conflict and sigh and say "that's sad," without equating their lives to mine. This book put life behind the headlines for me.
Totally fun beach reads: File this under "the Twizzlers of 'literature'"... super fun, super fluff, nothing that is going to make you think too hard or nourish you in any way. Just completely entertaining. Peter Mayle is GREAT for this, and Anything Considered was hilarious and fun. Set in Monaco, it is about the mafia, truffles, rich snobby people with helicopters, a spy, and a lovable British dude who really doesn't know what's going on. I also loved The Royal We (Cocks & Morgan), written by two celebrity bloggers and very OBVIOUSLY based on William & Kate. I felt the same way about reading this as I did about reading The Pioneer Woman's love story — it was delightful and super fast, and, again, I was sad when it ended. The Assistants (Perri) was a recommendation from Jessie, who heard about it from Man Repeller. I loved the girl power, stick-it-to-the-man chutzpah, and like the other titles already mentioned, it was fun. Sorry, "fun." I'm starting to wear you out.
Narnia: I mean, what is there to be said here that hasn't already been said? I was reminded that I should read the entire series at least every other year. It is so thoroughly enjoyable, and truly builds my faith at each reading. I think my confirmed favorite is Voyage of the Dawn Treader, though this time around, I enjoyed others in the series that I have sort of overlooked before. The Last Battle is so very strange, but was really thought-provoking in it's description of the end of the world/end of time. I later learned that it contains one of the most controversial passages Lewis ever wrote. Also, though it didn't detract from my love of Narnia, I was disappointed to pick up on the racism in a couple of the books that I missed as a kid (Calormenes). One quote that I loved this time around from Prince Caspian:
"You have listened to fears, child," said Aslan. "Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?"
Other children's lit I loved: Ramona the Pest (Cleary) is a masterpiece. I listened to it after I read Wild Things, and Stockard Channing does such an EXCELLENT job with the voices that I actually listened to it again with Esther as we rode around doing errands. She loved it too. It is hilarious, and gives a kindergarten perspective with such perfection. Wonder (Palacio) was absolutely beautiful, with fantastic writing, and deep empathy. 10/10 would read it again and also make my kids read it someday. I don't think I want to see the film adaptation because it will ruin it (like most movies from books).
Subpar/meh, because I only write the TRUTH here (jk): A Prayer for Owen Meany (Irving). Um. So boring. I am not sure why it is on lots of lists like "100 Books to Read in a Lifetime." It's kind of like when the Oscars roll around and I don't know why I'm always surprised that the most violent/disturbing/sad movies win, but they DO. Owen Meany was kind of like that. Like I am supposed to be getting some deep, literary vibes from it, but I am getting nothing. Nothing. Flatline. Boo. DNR ("do not read", not, "do not resuscitate" lol). Not violent or disturbing, just VERY. SLOW. North & South (Gaskell) was a book club pick that Jane Austen peeps probably love. I found it to be kind of a drag, but it's just not my thing. Full confession: I didn't read the last third or so of the book, and so watched the mini series the afternoon before bookclub. #whoops Swallows & Amazons (Ransome) and The Penderwicks (Birdsall) were two kid books that I just couldn't get into, but forced myself to finish (S&A because it was a book club read that was MY PICK for this year, haha. It looked so promising!!). Sometimes I wonder if I had read certain children's books as a child, if I would have connected with them differently, and if the reason I love books like Ramona now is because I loved them as an 8-year old.
Books I hope to read in 2018 (or later - let's be real, #kids):
Brothers Karamazov (Dostoyevsky) - currently 61 pages in! onward!
The Goldfinch (Tartt)
One Man's Meat (White)
Angle of Repose (Stegner)
Midnight's Children (Rushdie)
To the Lighthouse (Wolfe)
Remains of the Day (Ishiguro)
And There Was Light (Lusseyran)
.... any suggestions for me?!
—> all quite ambitious, but be sure that I will be reading plenty of what falls into the fluff category (Twizzlers, if you will), and children's lit. Can we also count the 23,748 books I will read to Esther and Wes this year? Jk. I actually love (most of) the books we read with them. Probably enough to do another post about best children's books of this year.
ALL THE BOOKS I READ IN 2017:
The Penderwicks (Birdsall)
The High Mountains of Portugal (Martel)
The Life-Giving Home (Clarkson)
Hillbilly Elegy (Vance)
Little Women (Alcott)
The Royal We (Cocks & Morgan)
Oh Crap! Potty Training (Glowacki)
North & South (Gaskell)
Walk in My Shoes (Young & Sehgal)
Dead Wake (Larsen)
Bonjour Kale (Beddard)
The Almost Nearly Perfect People (Booth)
America’s First Daughter (Kamoie & Dray)
Healing Maddie Brees (Stevenson)
The Far Pavilions (Kaye)
A Circle of Quiet (L’Engle)
Just Mercy (Stevenson)
Anything Considered (Mayle)
We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled - Voices From Syria (Pearlman)
A Prayer for Owen Meany (Irving)
To a God Unknown (Steinbeck)
Lunch at the Piccadilly (Edgerton)
The Assistants (Perri)
Living on the Devil’s Doorstep (McClung)
Provence, 1970 (Barr)
Murder on the Orient Express (Christie)
The Boxcar Children (Warner)
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (Lewis)
Prince Caspian (Lewis)
The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” (Lewis)
The Sweet Life in Paris (Leibowitz)
Brain Rules for Baby (Medina)
The Silver Chair (Lewis)
The Horse and His Boy (Lewis)
There You’ll Find Me (Jones)
The Magnolia Story (Gaines)
The Magician’s Nephew (Lewis)
The Last Battle (Lewis)
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (Rowling)
Wild Things: the Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult (Handy)
Ramona the Pest (Cleary)
The Skeletons in God’s Closet (Butler)
Shadow of the Moon (Kaye)
Swallows & Amazons (Ransome)