Friday, December 30, 2011

Books Read in 2011--Annotated

Abraham Lincoln's World (Genevieve Foster)
Bought this book for our homeschooling endeavors and decided to read it myself, for fun. It’s a fascinating overview of the major events and people, across the globe, of the time period in which Lincoln lived. Easy enough for kids to understand, rich enough for adults to enjoy.

True Grit (Charles Portis)
We’ve had this book on our shelves for a long time, but because of the ugly book jacket, nobody ever read it. It was sitting in a stack to donate to St. Vincent’s when the movie came out, so I pulled it out and read it. Glad I did! Not only did I enjoy this fast-paced story with the compelling narrative voice of a truly gritty young girl, but our edition--a garage sale find—turns out to be an early one that is actually worth something. (I may just have to learn something about online selling in order to reap that reward.)

Yes, I saw the movie, and thought it was very true to the book. I really liked both.

The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen (Jacques Pépin)
Jacques Pepin is an internationally-known French chef and television cooking show host. His story began in France, as a boy sent to the country during WWII, who then learned to cook in his mother’s restaurants and later became a chef in Paris. He served in the French military as the personal chef of Charles de Gaulle, then emigrated to America where he's had all sorts of culinary adventures. I really enjoyed this as an autobiography and as a tantalizing excursion through many different cuisines and ways of thinking about food and cooking. I especially enjoyed the audiobook version, read with authentic French accents and pronunciations.

Sisterchicks Say Oo La La (Robin Jones Gunn)
Another little taste of Paris. Part of a series about Christian women who vacation together in exotic locations and become closer to God and each other in the experience. Lighthearted beach reading.

Gideon's Gift (Karen Kingsbury)
Even though Karen Kingsbury’s books can feel a bit formulaic, I really do like how her stories inspire and encourage. This one is about a homeless man with a story that you don’t learn until the end. Gideon is a little girl with cancer who meets him while serving with her family at a homeless shelter, and gives him a gift that unlocks his story, brings about healing and ultimately…oh, I won't give it away.

Between Sundays (Karen Kingsbury)
This is a story about a spoiled NFL quarterback and a woman whose foster son believes that he’s the son of the star quarterback. Another football player on the team is a family man and a Christian who works with foster kids, which brings boy and quarterback together, and ultimately….ah, shouldn't give this one away either. You can tell this story has an agenda, to raise awareness about foster kids, just as Gideon’s Gift was about homelessness, but I like the way these positive, feel-good stories compel you to care. Blondechick loves this author.

Something Rising (Light and Swift) (Haven Kimmel)
I didn’t care for this novel as much as I liked her first two autobiographical books. It’s well-written and deep in the way that it digs into the human psyche, in a way that reminded me of plays like The Glass Menagerie or A Streetcar Named Desire. But in this novel, the characters merely seemed sad to me, rather than powerfully drawn.

One Thousand Gifts (Ann Voskamp)
Is there anyone out there who hasn’t read this yet? It’s a compelling, deep and joyful encouragement to give thanks for everything, at all times, in all places, with the promise—theologically true and research-based—that it will change your life to do so. Ann is the blogger in the quiet corner called A Holy Experience, which I’ve been recommending for years; I am delighted that her name and her message are becoming so well-known! I feel like I am still such a beginner at viewing life through this lens, but Ann's writing continues to shape my mind and heart.

Poke the Box (Seth Godin)
Seth Godin is a creative, entrepreneurial type who has a well-known blog and several books. This one is basically saying, “Just start something.” It would be a great read if you know there is something God wants you to do, but you need some oomph to just do it. It might also get your juices flowing if you’ve never really asked yourself the question, “Is there something I want/should/need to do?” Very quick; very thought-provoking.

The War of Art (Steven Pressfield)
This is another book Papa Rooster recommended to me, and it has a similar theme to Poke the Box. This one addresses the concept of “resistance” to “doing the work” that you are called to do. Pressfield is a writer, so his words are especially apropos for wordsmiths, but his concepts apply to all artists and entrepreneurs.

Both these books raised questions for me about calling, as it relates to writing, mothering, teaching, drama, and service in the church. I have more questions than answers, still, but it’s been helpful to explore the questions!

The Rest of God (Mark Buchanan)
I liked this book a lot. He talks about Sabbath, liturgy, rest and the ways they intersect with real life and work. I read it too fast because I was lovin’ it, and now I want to review and work it further in.

Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl (N. D. Wilson)
At A Hen’s Pace review here.

Ellis Island and Other Stories (Mark Helprin)
I love a good short story, and Mark Helprin’s are the best. Beautiful, memorable, haunting, ironic, unexpected.

Soldier of the Great War (Mark Helprin)
Like his short stories, but much longer. An epic life story in the vein of Island of the World (At A Hen’s Pace ’08 review here). See above adjectives for Helprin.

The Master Butchers Singing Club (Louise Erdrich)
I wasn’t sure about this one for a while, because early on, there is a disturbing incident of homosexuality--to explain why one character isn’t interested in women, I guess, since it turns out it's tangential to the rest of the book. But I ended up really enjoying this for its strong sense of place and character. It’s about a German immigrant, a butcher, who ends up in North Dakota, gets married and starts a family. Meanwhile, a hometown girl returns to the town to deal with her father, the town drunk, and nurses the butcher’s wife through a losing bout with cancer. She stands in as mother to the butcher’s sons until… Oh, lots of subplots are uncovered by the end of this sober story.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows)
Wow, this one is probably my favorite book of the year. It reminded me of 84 Charing Cross Road (another favorite)--all letters. The central figure is a female author in London. She corresponds with her editor, a college friend, and a gentleman from the island of Guernsey, who begins to share the experience of the islanders during the occupation by the Germans during the recent WWII. Interested in book material, she begins to interview, through letters, other members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and eventually goes to meet them all. I listened to the audiobook, and I’d say that’s the way to go, with different voices for all the different letter authors. Absolutely delightful.

Postern of Fate (A Tommy and Tuppence Mystery) (Agatha Christie)
Typical Agatha Christie, but Tommy and Tuppence were new to me. Apparently they were spies in their heyday, but they are elderly retired folks in this story, moving into a new house in which to settle down quietly. But there is a mystery to its history!

The Last Wife of Henry VIII (Carolly Erickson)
I enjoyed the audiobook version of this story—read by a woman with a gorgeous British accent--which covered all of Henry VIII’s marriages, from the perspective of his last wife. It was written by a history professor, but in a quick survey of reviews, it seems the history buffs think she left out a lot.

The Ragamuffin Gospel (Brennan Manning)
I never read this back when it was all the rage—in the 90’s?--but I’m glad I finally got around to it this year. It hit the grace note hard, which I needed to hear. (Further thoughts here.)

Grace for the Good Girl (Emily Freeman)
I thought from the title that this would be a good follow-up to The Ragamuffin Gospel. It was, and I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t as memorable or as hard-hitting.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (Laura Hillenbrand)
What an amazing story. A world-class runner and Olympian serves as a gunner on American fighter planes in WWII. He’s shot down and survives on a raft for months in the Pacific before he is picked up by the Japanese and imprisoned in terrible conditions in POW camps, where he barely survives. On his return home, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and begins to drink heavily to drown the nightmares and hallucinations. He nearly strangles his wife, dreaming that she is one of his captors. She drags him to a Billy Graham crusade, and there he is saved and released from the grip of his torturous memories. It is a remarkable, meticulously researched biograhy of one man and many others who were part of his story. (By the author of Seabiscuit.)

A Crooked Kind of Perfect (Linda Urban)
I loved this kids' book. A 10-year-old girl longs to be a concert pianist, but is given an organ instead, complete with lessons and the chance to compete at the organ company’s Perform-O-Rama. It’s not what she had in mind, but she makes the best of it. Her dad seems to be agoraphobic and can’t leave his house without anxiety. She discovers at a girls’ birthday party that she must be a nerd. Her new best friend is a boy, who comes over to her house all the time to bake and do homework with her dad, since he is basically parentless. It’s not a perfect family or a perfect life, but like her friend’s smile, it’s cute in a crooked way. I like the way this story deals with social trials and imperfect circumstances in a light way.

Understood Betsy (Dorothy Canfield Fisher)
Read this aloud to the two youngest and we loved it. I promptly passed it on to a psychologist friend who deals with a lot of over-protective, "helicoptor" parents. Betsy is an orphan being raised by two hovering and overly-sympathetic aunts; circumstances force her to go and live with relatives on a New England farm who expect independence and responsibility from the young girl, who rises to their expectations.

For more year-end book lists and reviews, see Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books.

And just for fun, you might also like my annotated list of Movies Watched in 2011.


Carol in Oregon said...

Jeanne, I'm amazed at how much our reading dovetailed this year!

In previous year's I've read through all of Genevieve Foster's books. And you are so right: rich enough for adults to enjoy.

I loved The Apprentice in audio version, particularly for the French accents. I saw that Di at Circle of Quiet was reading/listening to it, and found it on Amazon for $0.01. Score!

I ditto your thoughts on One Thousand Gifts (I heard her speak at Wheaton College this fall) and Buchanan's Rest of God. Ann's thoughts from her blog and Buchanan's book helped me formulate a series of talks I gave at a women's retreat on The Sacred Everyday.

If you haven't seen it yet, I *highly* recommend Nate Wilson's DVD bookumentary of Tilt-A-Whirl. It is highly excellent.

I discovered Helprin two or three years ago, with his short stories and Soldier of the Great War. I have five or six more of his books to read.

I picked up the Master Butchers Singing Club at a book sale. The cover was so compelling. But I set it aside after that disturbing incident.

Guernsey: yep!

I read Ragamuffin this year, too. It didn't resonate with me. A dear friend urged me to read it back in the 90s. I committed to reading it, but didn't get it done until this year, 8 years after my friend died. I didn't review it because I had a hard time putting a finger on what exactly bothered me about it. I don't like to think of myself as "graceless", but perhaps I am?

And Unbroken was my favorite read of the year.

Thanks for this post, and for the smiles and grins it provoked in me!

At A Hen's Pace said...

Carol, thanks so much for your comment! So fun to hear what someone else thought of some of the same books. Will post a more detailed response on your book list post.