Wednesday, January 02, 2019

My Year in Books

The year didn't start out so great. I was dredging the bottom of the barrel of the audiobook section of my library branch, which I had cherry-picked over the 10 years we'd lived in Wisconsin.

The Ninth Hour (Alice McDermott)
Unmemorable, I guess.

Closing Time: A Memoir (Joe Queenan)
Growing up with an alcoholic father that he never really makes his peace with; becomes a writer. Strong sense of place, if you know Philadelphia, but otherwise I wouldn't recommend.

The Third Coast : When Chicago Built the American Dream (Tom Dyja) 
Not the most riveting prose--or maybe it was just my struggle to hang in there with nonfiction--but I enjoyed the content, which traces the history of Chicago architecture, music, theater and authors, especially how architecture shaped the cultural divide between black and white Chicagoans.

The Dovekeepers (Alice Hoffman) 
Didn't love this one. First of all, it ends badly--with the massacre at Masada, if you know any Jewish history.  I don't know a great deal about Jewish sects at that time, but I was uncomfortable with the large amount of witchcraft alongside relatively minimal evidence of Jewish faith in most of the characters.

*Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman) 
Loved this story of self-discovery and learning to trust.

*The War That Saved My Life (Kimberly Brubaker Bradley) 
Delightful tale of a crippled girl who is sent out of London during WW2.

Travels With Charley: In Search of America (John Steinbeck) 
I love John Steinbeck, but did not enjoy this book. Not much plot as he drives around the U.S. with his dog and a camper truck.

Then my life changed when a friend urged me to install the Hoopla app on my phone and gave me a whole list of recommendations! (Thank you, Laura!)

*A Man Called Ove (Fredrik Backman) 
Oh. My. Goodness. The humor in this book is so Scandinavian--dry and awkward and poignant. Think Garrison Keillor and the movie Lars and the Real Girl. (Which you must watch if you liked this book!)

*The Heavenly Man (Brother Yun/Paul Hattaway) 
Incredible testimony of God's work in China in the 1970's-2001. Riveting and super-inspiring.

State of Wonder (Ann Patchett) 
Didn't love this one as much as Bel Canto.

*Prayers for Sale (Sandra Dallas) 
A heart-warming tale that unfolds masterfully, of two women in a Colorado mining town in the 1930's. 

*Call the Midwife
*Shadows of the Workhouse
*Last Days of the East End Midwives (Jennifer Worth) 
Absolutely riveting. If you've enjoyed the shows, the books are--all together now?--even better.

*The Pecan Man (Cassie Dandridge Selleck) 
Can't say it more succinctly than the reviewer who called it "To Kill a Mockingbird meets The Help."

A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khaled Hosseini) 
Excellent novel but such a painful story of war and abuse in Afghanistan.

Tallgrass (Sandra Dallas) 
Also a painful story, of a small Colorado town where the U.S. government sets up a Japanese internment camp.

Lady Macbeth (Susan Fraser King) 
Not Shakespeare's couple...but an enjoyable historical romance set in medieval Scotland.

*The Girls at the Kingfisher Club (Genevieve Valentine) 
I sort of collect retellings of the fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses. This one is set in the Roaring 20's and it really works!

The Lessons of History (Will Durant) 
Since nonfiction isn't my favorite, I was proud of myself for listening to this one. Will and Ariel Durant's 11-volume set The Story of Civilization was one of our first purchases when we were newly married and both working, but this distillation of the essential lessons from history is probably as close as I'll ever come to reading them! 

The Zookeeper's Wife (Diane Ackerman) 
True story of the couple who ran the Warsaw Zoo and how they saved hundreds from the Nazis.

This Could Change Everything (Jill Mansell) 
Lighthearted and enjoyable.

*A Memory of Violets (Hazel Gaynor) 
Excellent historical fiction about London flower sellers, a group I had never imagined before.

The Girl Who Came Home (Hazel Gaynor) 
Fictional account of a Titanic survivor. I'm liking this author so far.

*The Girl With Seven Names:  A North Korean Defector's Story (Hyeonseo Lee) 
Amazing autobiographical story, well-told.

Go Set a Watchman (Harper Lee) 
A coming-of-age story. Grown-up Scout comes to terms with who her father is:  a more complicated man than the hero of her childhood. Not as enjoyable as To Kill a Mockingbird but a thoughtful read.

Winesburg, Ohio (Sherwood Anderson) 
I grew up in Ohio, and I've always heard this was an important collection of short stories, which I always enjoy. But I can't say I loved these. 

*Maisie Dobbs
*Birds of a Feather
*Pardonable Lies
*Messenger of Truth
*An Incomplete Revenge (Jacqueline Winspear) 
I'm loving this detective series, which is also good historical fiction, set in the aftermath of WW1.

Alongside all my listening (mostly while cooking, driving, and during my morning and evening ablutions), I always read a few pages before I go to bed at night. I'm amazed how many books I can get through in 10-15 minutes a day:

Station 11 (Emily St. John Mandel) 
Fascinating and well-written imagining of a future without technology, following a pandemic that wipes out 99% of the world's population. It follows the path of a group of Shakespearean actors who travel the Great Lakes region, while piecing together another story, from the years before the pandemic, puzzle piece by puzzle piece. I'm reading this out loud to my ninth graders and they're hooked!

The Grantchester Mysteries: 
Sidney Chambers and The Shadow of Death
Sidney Chambers and The Perils of the Night
Sidney Chambers and The Problem of Evil
Sidney Chambers and The Forgiveness of Sins
Sidney Chambers and The Dangers of Temptation (James Runcie) 
Had to read these since the star is an Anglican priest, and I enjoyed them very much. We enjoyed the first season of the PBS series as well, but I heard that later seasons takes liberties that do not appear in the books. (He never cheats on his wife!)

Joy in the Morning (Betty Smith, author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Fictional, yet autobiographical account of her marriage at a young age and how she was invited to attend college classes along with her husband which set her on the path of becoming a writer. 

*A Girl Named Zippy (Haven Kimmel) 
One of my favorite memoirs, a re-read. Her account of growing up in small-town Indiana in the 60's and 70's reminds me so much of my childhood! I had the same bike, I swear.

Mara, Daughter of the Nile (Eloise McGraw) 
A homeschool title I never got around to reading with my kids. Good historical fiction.

Turn Homeward, Hannalee (Patricia Beatty) 
Another one, also very good.

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson (Bette Bao Lord) 
Another one. I liked it; not super-memorable.

The Lieutenant's Lady (Bess Streeter Aldrich) 
Based on the diary of an actual army wife who journeyed west with her husband, this is a fictional account of a lady who travels to deliver her cousin's Dear John letter and ends up marrying the Lieutenant herself.

The Emigrants
Unto a Good Land (Vilhelm Moberg) 
The first two of four volumes about Swedish immigrants to America, translated from the Swedish. I'm hooked!

And finally, two books that I've read in the last five years but forgot to record on any previous book lists:

*In Sunlight and in Shadow
*Paris in the Present Tense (Mark Helprin)
I adore this man's writing; it's magical. Literally, his style includes elements of "magical realism" that require you to suspend disbelief; but figuratively, his images are so luminous and beautiful, you almost can't believe that he thought of putting those words together on a page.

Not counting those last two, I read 46 books last year! That makes me happy. 

For more year-end booklists, see the annual round-up here at the blog Semicolon!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I recommend The Undoing of Saint Silvanus by Beth Moore. Thank you for sharing your reading lists!
Marmee March