Thursday, January 01, 2015

Annotated List of Books I Read in 2014

With routine blown to bits with our move, my book list is shorter than usual. Still a respectable list, considering--thank God for audiobooks!--but I have to point out that a lot of these are...pretty short. :)

Let's start with the children's books, shall we? 

Paddle to the Sea (Holling C. Holling)
Ah, padding my list already, I see. This was one from 2013 that I forgot about till after I published last year's list. If you live near one of the Great Lakes, you MUST find this beautifully illustrated book about a little carved wooden Indian boy in a canoe who travels from Lake Superior through each of the Great Lakes and finally out to the Atlantic Ocean. It takes a year or more, so you travel through the seasons as well as the geography of the region.

The Queen's Smuggler; The Bandit of Ashley Downs (Dave and Neta Jackson)
The Trailblazer series is a fictional series describing the feats of famous Christians as they might have interacted with children of their time period. For example, The Bandit of Ashley Downs is about George Muller, told from the perspective of one of the orphans who came to live in his orphanage, who saw firsthand how God provided meals and furnaces for the orphan houses, (based on actual accounts). The Queen's Smuggler tells how a young girl smuggled a copy of William Tyndale's New Testament into the hands of Anne Boleyn, hoping it will enable her to persuade King Henry VIII to release Tyndale from prison. My kids really enjoy these, especially since each chapter ends with a cliffhanger!

Little Town on the Prairie; These Happy Golden Years (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
Still slowly making our way through this series. So wonderful. If you never read these as a child, treat yourself and read them now!

Pollyanna (Eleanor H. Porter)
This is one of those books I might never have read, but at a garage sale, I couldn't pass up a beautiful edition of it with a purple fabric cover and gilt lettering, because it was so lovely and practically free. Chicklet wanted to read it, but with its 1913 prose, it was beyond her, so it became our book to read when B9 was too tired to read another chapter of Little House. This book is due for a comeback, I think, or at least another movie remake, because it's so in step with the gratitude movement. Pollyanna continually plays "The Glad Game," in which the challenge is for one to find something to be glad about, even in difficult circumstances, and when she invites others to play the game with her, their lives are transformed! I have mostly heard of "Pollyanna" as a pejorative; the actual book paints a positive and helpful picture.

Miracle's Boys; Hush (Jacqueline Woodson)
These are YA books by a black author about black families, sensitively told and well written. I am definitely going to look for more books by this author. Miracle's Boys is about three sons, after the death of their mother, and how they handle the grief and their relationships with each other after one angry brother is released from a juvenile detention center. Hush is about a the family of a black policeman who enters the witness protection program, uprooted from family and friends, given new identities, trying to fit in in a new community. I was listening to this audiobook when everything blew up in Ferguson--apt timing. 

The Silver Chair; The Last Battle (C.S. Lewis)
Listened to these with the younger kids and B23 on road trips this year. We own the Focus on the Family Radio Drama versions, which are wonderful! The Chronicles of Narnia is another series that adults should treat themselves to. Even if you didn't miss out as a child, re-read them as an adult!

On to the grown-up books....

Of Mice and Men; East of Eden; The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
I thought I didn't like Steinbeck. Based on what? --One reading, when I was way too young--4th grade, I think?--of "The Red Pony" (which was horrible, if you were expecting a nice horse story). Oh, and I think I was made to watch a black-and-white movie version of Of Mice and Men at some point. Also very disturbing. 

But now, I am in love with Steinbeck. Wow. What a writer! It probably helps that I have listened to these as audiobooks; the readers doing the dialects accurately adds so much. (Gary Sinise reading Of Mice and Men is an incredible performance.) Although the plots are not feel-good stories, they are so deeply satisfying as life, life with all its messiness and mistakes, but still with a vibrancy that cannot be quenched while there is life. It's hard to say which is my favorite, but East of Eden was the most theologically and spiritually provoking. All these stories were so engaging, I'd make up reasons to stay in the kitchen to keep listening.

Saint Joan (George Bernard Shaw)
My library had a nice edition of this play performed as an audiobook. Theologically thought-provoking, as various characters of the institutional church represent different modes of thought, and Shaw does such a masterful job of making each character full of personality--and entertaining!

Green Dolphin Street (Elizabeth Goudge)
I thought I had read this before, back when Papa Rooster and I were collecting books by this author and reading them all avidly, but I think I must only have seen the old movie. The book, of course, is better! This is one of this fine writer's best books, about two very different sisters who love the same man. He is banished to Australia, and writes for his love to join him--but accidentally asks for the wrong sister! This is the story of a difficult marriage and of a love lost and found in God (the real love becomes a nun), which spans a lifetime, as the two sisters are reunited again in their last decade of life. It takes place partly in a harborside town on a windswept, sunny island, and partly in Australia, where the white culture encroaches on the Maori way of life, with resulting unrest and violence.

They Do It With Mirrors; At Bertram's Hotel; Black Coffee (Agatha Christie)
I love Agatha Christie. Consistently good writing and intriguing plots, and the audiobooks are always read by British readers, which is always a delight to the ear. Chicklet12 has started listening to Hercule Poirot audiobooks, because she thinks he's so funny! If you're interested in getting kids started on the Dame, Black Coffee is uniquely accessible, I think. It was originally written as a stage play, so the action is quite direct and it's shorter than most of her books. It's also your archetypal poison plot. :)

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon (Alexander McCall Smith)
Another in the series that began with The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency. I love visiting Botswana occasionally through these gentle, lighthearted mysteries.

The Alto Wore Tweed, The Baritone Wore Chiffon, The Soprano Wore Falsettos, The Bass Wore Scales, The Treble Wore Trouble (Mark Schweizer)
These were my find of the year! Okay, my friend's find of the year. These "liturgical mysteries" are about the choir director and organist of an Episcopal church, who is also the chief detective of the 3-person police force of this small Carolina town. He also writes really bad noir mysteries in Sam Spade style, with metaphors and similes as convoluted as an octopus's arms wrapped around a squid's tentacles, just as slimy and twice as twisted, qualified with qualifiers as endless as the sea they both reside in. (Ha! Not bad for my first-ever attempt to imitate.) He writes the bad mysteries in installments, which he inserts in the choir's folders so they'll have reading material during the sermon; they are sprinkled throughout each novel for the reader's entertainment as well.

The actual mysteries aren't as intriguing as the antics of a series of priests who serve at the church, which has always been quite traditional until the rector who wants a clown mass, the one who brings in a Feng Shui consultant to rearrange the altar and other furniture and pronounce that the traditional liturgical colors are all wrong, and the one who brings with him a Hungarian dwarf to serve as verger. The request for a clown mass causes the Episcopal church in a neighboring town to request a pirate mass, which is far more successful--and humorous! ("An' on the night 'e was handed over to sufferin' and Davy Jones' locker, 'e took bread, and when 'e had beat the weevils out 'o it...") The cast of colorful characters includes Benny Dawkins, who is a world-class thurifer, with thurible-swinging signature moves like the Tallulah Bankhead, the Big Ben, the Cross Your Heart, and the very difficult Walk the Dog. You don't want to sit on the aisle if you get on his bad side, or you might find yourself knocked out cold with a Double-Inverted Reverse Swan.

In case you're from a non-censing (non-smoking) church, here's a visual:

You can see how seriously thurifers take their job!

Finally, the few, the proud, the non-fiction....

The Grace and Truth Paradox: Responding With Christlike Balance (Randy Alcorn)
Another book I actually read in 2013, I think. I rarely finish non-fiction, it seems, but this one was short and so engaging. My experience with Christianity has been heavy on delivering truth to people, but how to also extend grace? This book was fabulous on how to reach out with both, and why one without the other is deadly to unbelievers and believers alike. Lots of great anecdotes probably helped me get through it.

Lives on the Boundary:  A Moving Account of the Struggles and Achievements of America's Educationally Underprepared (Mike Rose)
Why? Why out of all the great non-fiction books I have started, would I actually finish a book with a title like this? Well, it helps that I brought it along on the plane to CA, but I did have other reading material. Simply put, I couldn't put it down. The author is now an expert in education, but he came from quite the impoverished background, and barely made it into college, let alone through it. He knows about being educationally underprepared, and he works with college freshman and adult remedial learners, so he had tons of stories woven throughout this account of his own educational experience and what he's learned since. He especially critiqued how we often teach and judge writing, emphasizing grammar, punctuation and sentence structure over expression at the remedial level. He gave varied and poignant evidence that standardized tests don't really assess what students know, especially disadvantaged students. He also examined the huge leap that students have to make between high school and college, and it was interesting to hear how he tutors incoming freshman to think and write, especially students that had little opportunity in high school, forced into remedial classrooms because of language and other barriers. As a parent with 4 kids yet to begin college, I was so intrigued and inspired.

And that concludes this year's list! If you'd like to see other year-end lists, visit Semicolon's round-up of reviews!

No comments: