Welcome to my reading lists and occasional commonplace book. On this page I have listed the books I am reading this year, along with notes for those works that warrant more than a title and a date in the log.
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Previous book lists:
completed: 3/16 - I don't usually like books told by more than one narrator - I like to get deep inside one person's perspective - but I really enjoyed Clegg's use of multiple perspectives in this book about the aftermath of a terrible tragedy that leaves one woman alone and grieving in a tiny motel on the edge of the continent. This is a story about surviving and putting pieces back together, but more than that, it's a story about people loving each other, about kindness and connectedness, and small mercies. The narrative alternately rises and falls, shifts and slants, surprises and then satisfies. For a book that begins with such an ache, it ends with a surprising tenderness. One I'll recommend.
completed: 3/16 - S.M. Hulse does a very good job of staying true to her setting. Everything about the prose and the characterization reminds the reader that this is the West, that these are people of grand country and few words. And Hulse is very good with her prose. There are some beautiful sections here and some quite moving parts. But there's a density to the writing that I found hard to get through, a feeling that I was trudging through when I wanted to be carried along. Some spot of brightness or hope in the plot might have helped. Perhaps the thing I disliked most was the strangely evangelistic thread running through. I'm christian, so it's not like I'm opposed to the message itself, but this novel had the feel of the old bait and switch days when my neighbor would invite us to a "halloween party" at her church and we'd find ourselves cross-legged on the carpet impatiently listening to the preacher before we could get to the actual games and candy. Something about the way this was written into the story felt forced to me and distracted from the narrative itself.
completed: 2/16 - Haruf's last book, and an intimate, plain-spoken one at that. Exactly what I hoped for from him. With no quotation marks, the story takes on the feel of memory, as if one of the characters is reliving these tender, unexpected moments at the end of their life. The story is about two elderly neighbors who decide to spend the lonely nights together. Terribly sweet and sad at the same time and always brought home with Haruf's characteristic realism.
completed: 2/16 - I read this in about an hour. Chittister uses the examples of biblical women to highlight different aspects of friendship. The most interesting part to me was her discussion of how the ancient world all the way up to the modern world dismissed women's relationships entirely.
completed: 2/16 - This was an interesting story, but it was best at the beginning and end. The middle was such a drag, and I really didn't enjoy the structure of the book with its switching back and forth between tenses and times and characters (all told by the omniscient narrator who feels the need to remind us periodically that she is not omniscient, even as she reveals intimate details of other people's lives.) But I read all the way through and the end was stronger than the beginning, with some very moving scenes. It's too bad the whole center felt so muddled.
completed: 2/16 - I think I liked this one as much as I liked Patchett's excellent, "Run." Somehow, I didn't know what this story was about and was surprised to find it was about kidnappers and hostages and opera and the way beauty transforms us. I love a narrow setting, the exploration of the depths between people. It seems a lot of people missed the idea that Patchett was creating her own operatic drama, but I found it beautifully done.
Completed: 2/16 - Parts of this book make you feel like you're trying to walk underwater, fluid, emphatic, but also blunted and slowed. It's soft, somehow in this world, even if it's not kind, or easy. I liked the characters, who are presented at a slant view, but I could never quite get ahold of them. Still, this is beautiful writing, a story you hope and hope will rise above the pervasive melancholy. I love Coplin's sense of place and time. I'm keeping it on the shelf because I think I'm going to want to return to this one.
completed: 1/16 - Honest, relatable, well-written. Michelle DeRusha doesn't write so much about the extreme highs and lows of faith as about the kinds of questions and roadblocks that plague many of us. She's so transparent about her feelings and her reactions to her life that she becomes instantly accessible. I especially appreciated the ending of this book. There is no spiritual high, no happy "ending." There's a feeling of hope, and a knowing that the journey towards faith is still continuing. Refreshing.
completed: 1/16 - I wanted to love this book, because Mary Doria Russell. But really, this felt like two different books awkwardly mashed into one. On one hand you have the story of Agnes Shanklin, cross-eyed, buck-toothed, over-looked, forty-year-old schoolteacher who suddenly gets the chance to find herself. On the other you have a historical narrative of the creation of the modern Middle East by the British after WWI. Both are interesting in their own rights, but crammed together, nope. Sad, because MDR has powerful narrative skills and her book "The Sparrow" is unforgettable. Maybe she just had an off-year. I forgive her.
completed: 1/16 - Roots and Sky is first of all a beautiful read. Christie Purifoy has a lyrical, contemplative style that carries you along with her through each season of the year as her family begins making a home at Maplehurst. Purifoy is an intimate observer and her descriptions of home and landscape bring you right to the front door with her. But she is also an intimate observer of the emotional and spiritual landscapes, and her weaving of all three provide a richly compelling backdrop. This is a christian story, so Purifoy also braids a great deal of theology into the text, but this only serves to help us understand her worldview and provide the context for where she's leading us - which is ultimately toward hope. This is a book for slow, thoughtful reading - not because it is difficult to understand, but because we can understand it all too well, and there are depths here, truths, that are balm for the soul.
completed: 1/16 - (audio book) Disturbing. Three stars because it is clearly brilliant. Only three because it is not a very enjoyable read. About halfway through I was dying for it to end. (I only finished out of stubbornness.) I was hoping for a different outcome, but I don't really know why. I should have always known.
completed: 1/16 - Three short essays addressing the culture of fear, the local economy, and a distrust of movements. Excellent as always.
In an essay on the origin of civilization in traditional cultures, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy wrote that "the principle of justice is the same throughout....[it is] that each member of the community should perform the task for which he is fitted by nature..." The two ideas, justice and vocation, are inseparable. That is why Coomaraswamy spoke of industrialism as "the mammon of injustice," incompatible with civilization. It is by way of the principle and practice of vocation that sanctity and reverence enter into the human economy. It was thus possible for traditional cultures to conceive that "to work is to pray."
completed: 1/16 - Waste of time.
completed: 1/16 - Though this is the story of Arseny, a medieval holy healer and his journeys, time is really the central character here. Vodolazkin continually plays with the boundaries between the natural and supernatural, the future, the past, and the present. Language twists and changes, scenes shift, visions arise, memories take flesh. An Orthodox friend said this was "the most Orthodox novel" she'd ever read, and I suspect she's right (particularly the ending.) Even though the story and its cultural viewpoint is unusual (for me, at least), the writing is easy to read and the narrative compelling enough to keep you engaged. One I won't forget quickly.
completed: 1/16 - I saved this collection of children's stories for reading during the twelve days of Christmas. They are just what stories should be: magical, odd, beautiful, old-fashioned; full of secret creatures and decorating mice, angels and fairies, Jack Frost and Santa Claus, blue satin-sailed ships, fir trees longing for beauty, mysterious visitors in the night, and Christmas wonders. Some stories rise above the others, but all are infused with awe and stir up the right kind of inspiration for making Christmas special.
******** 2015 ********
completed: 12/15 - Got me again. Another book I couldn't put down from Tana French.
completed 12/15 - I reread this yearly, I think. Tasha's life in her own words. With beautiful photos.
completed: 11/15 - (audiobook) One of my all-time favorites, about a Welsh coal-mining family, their loves and losses, and the slow destruction of their way of life. Gorgeous descriptions of home, food, relationships, small town life. A strong father, gentle but fierce mother and a house full of charming, independent, sometimes crazy, sometimes dangerous, sons. Wonderful. (Worth listening to so that you can hear the wonderful Welsh pronunciations!
completed: 11/15 - Faulkner does a masterful job here at characterization and building tension. I couldn't put the book down. But this is not a feel-good story in any way. The story follows the tragedy that befalls Temple Drake, an 18 year old judge's daughter who goes out for some fun and falls in with a madman. The plot is truly disturbing and so are some of the characters. (Will I ever get Popeye out of my mind?) By then end I was shaking my head at Faulkner's genius and also trying to rid myself of some really awful images.
completed: 11/15 - I've been puzzling over what to say about this book. The premise is so interesting: short stories told by the souls of departed animals, each of whom had a front row seat to historical events and/or famous authors. I wanted to love it. But with the exception of one or two, these stories just felt flat. (Is this because the writer is trying to limit herself to the perspective of an animal?) I can't actually decide what is lacking - Dovey is a fine writer and she seems to know what she's writing about - but there is a detached feeling that left me, sadly, often uninterested and uninspired. That said, the stories that work, work well and they will stay with me.
completed: 11/15 - I love Tana French's novels and this is no exception. The beginning was a little slow, and the dysfunctional family was kind of much in the beginning, but it ended up being one of my favorites so far.
completed 10/15 - I have used Tom and Alissa's work for about 8 years now. Through their blog and cookbooks, they taught me how to reorient my cooking and eating around gluten free whole foods. This is a wonderful addition to their offerings. A whole book dedicated to step by step elimination of trigger foods so you can get to the bottom of nagging health problems. Detailed explanations of how food works in the body, why certain foods can be causing you pain/illness and a thorough plan on how to change your diet and find out what your particular body requires. Wonderful.
completed: 10/15 - This is a memoir about coming clean from alcoholism, but it's also a book about our addictions to self-medicating the fear, doubt, pain and grief that make up every day life. Beautifully written and unflinchingly honest, this is a book that we can all relate to. What mattered most to me is that Haines doesn't accept pat answers. He keeps digging deeper, keeps asking, keeps seeking. So often memoirs about faith and doubt stop blithely at the first bible verse that speaks and expect that somehow it is all-sufficient for the raging questions true doubters face. Not Haines. He takes the questions, sifts them, hunts for better answers, and in the end, learns to make peace with with both reality and mystery. That's a faith memoir I can read.
completed: 10/15 - Brandon Stanton has just gotten better over time. His ability to tell a satisfying story with just an image and a line of text is amazing. There are some unforgettable stories in these pages and as always, the reminder that we all have something incredible to share. Well worth your time.
completed: 10/15 - as others have said, this book is worth it just for the essays by Wendell Berry and John Taylor Gatto, but I enjoyed many of the other essays as well. Most are written by Quaker or Amish writers who share their vision of a simple life without the crutch and distraction of machinery and technology. I found much of it insightful and true even if I don't see myself getting rid of my car or computer any time soon. What's truly valuable here is the understanding of community and what it requires. There's much to be learned from these quiet, thoughtful people.
completed: 10/15 - OK, maybe not the best writing ever. But it gets three stars for being basically my life story. Like the author, I've got a truck load of baggage from my Pentacostal upbringing and I laughed and cringed and cried my way through these stories. The book gets better toward the end, as we start to see where Riley is going with all these church visits and what is happening to her spiritually. It's not what her fundamentalist family wants to have happen to her, but you can't help but recognize the healing and the spirit of grace over the whole journey. Left me with plenty to think about.
completed: 9/15 - A sprawling, intricate book following a handful of families living in the new Edwardian age. Politics, philosophy and art get entangled in fantastical worlds of imagination and costume, storybooks and puppets and theater and change the lives of parents, children, lovers, friends. There are brilliant, beautiful sections. And yet I think it gets a little long in the middle, a little too intricately wound up in the history of, for example, anarchism, and obscure philosophers and artists, but the characters are compelling and their fates of enough interest to keep you going all the way to the end.
completed: 9/15 - Layers of faith, longing, woundedness, resiliency, memory. "Nonviolence" took my breath away. A moving collection.
completed: 9/15 - audiobook //I listened to this book over a long period of time, so I might have felt differently if I had sat down to read it straight through, but I found Ruth's tale of redemption very enjoyable and even inspiring in places. For sure there are times when the Victorian sensibilities make you want to pull your hair out, but the novel is populated with good, kind people who behave the way anyone might hope they would behave in trying times. And of course there are recognizable scoundrels too for counterpoint. I always enjoy Gaskill's ability to keep her characters human and relatable.
completed: 9/15 - Not as exciting as Jane Eyre, but a good read nonetheless. Anne Bronte definitely plays the sober counterpoint to her sisters' stories with her sense of morality and realism, but there is a goodness and honesty to her work that is worthwhile in its own right.
completed: 8/15 - A beautiful story about the intersection of lives, of friendship, of want. So intimate, so particular. Stegner is one of my favorite writers and he never disappoints. Wise and brave and honest.
completed: 8/15 - audio book
completed: 8/15 - big on the creep factor (if you're connected online, that is), light on the writing.
completed: 8/15 - Amber is a gorgeous writer. She makes you believe her world is deeper, brighter, more colorful, more desperate, more wonderful than anything you've ever lived. She writes with fierce honesty in this memoir, revealing herself and allowing us to walk beside her hunger and need. Stories like this illustrate the importance of community. We are better because we've heard her truth.
completed: 7/15 - I don't want to give spoilers, but I do want to say that the book is worth your time. I'm rather in awe of Lee's foresight and awareness of the human tendency to set up icons of virtue for ourselves. I will say this: Mockingbird is a child's view of the world, Watchman is the view of a maturing young woman. Guess which one is more complicated and human? Please, read it.
completed: 7/15 - My introduction to May Sarton. A deep and thoughtful look at the life of a woman writer/poet in old age. Also a surprising book for its time (1965) in that the characters speak openly about their sexuality. There is a lot to mine here, especially about the cost of writing, the reality of womanhood, and the way our choices weave our futures for us.
"Woman's work?...Never to categorize, never to separate one thing from another - intellect, the senses, the imagination....some total gathering together where the most realistic and the most mystical can be joined in a celebration of life itself. Woman's work is always toward wholeness."
completed: 7/15 - My first introduction to Gladys Taber. I absolutely love her grateful approach to life (even though I found through research that her life was not as placid or joyful as it appears). Her prose is beautiful and the stories of her day to day life at Stillmeadow are enriching and edifying.
completed: 7/15 - A good book with sound, no-excuses advice on using nutrition to reverse diabetes. My main complaint is that the book is not as user-friendly as it could be. A chapter with a clear, point by point outline of both phases of the diet would make this a much better book. As it is, the diet details are hidden within random paragraphs and sometimes seem contradictory.
completed: 6/15 - I'm a little mixed on this book. Griffith's writing and research are terrific. I did have a bit of a time following all the names and obscure kingdoms and locations, but it's not that much of a problem as far as the story goes. I really love Griffith's approach to humanizing a woman who would one day become a saint and illustrating a world transitioning from paganism to Christianity. (Not very flattering to the Christians, but then, it's realistic.) It's something of a stretch to see how the supposedly young Hild navigates her role as the King's seer, but it's also fascinating and rather brilliant. Wonderful characters populate the book: a scheming and daring mother, childhood friends, a paranoid king. The medieval world spinning along in the background is rich and deep and tangible. Some readers will probably be uncomfortable with the sexual themes that emerge, but overall this is a good read and I will read the sequel when it arrives!
completed: 6/15 - I have enjoyed the Bess Crawford series, but this one seems like it was just dialed in. Really, really poorly done. Or maybe I've just grown out of this series.
completed: 6/15 - A modern-ish take on the Snow White story told from the step-mother's perspective. A nice twist on race and how we perceive beauty. Often unexpected.
completed: 6/15 - Amazing book. I haven't read much Zola, but, here at least, he's something of a French Dickens, shining a light on the poverty and inequities of life in a rural French mining town. The brutality of the miner's lives is truly hard to read, but Zola manages to humanize them without sentimentalizing them. He also humanizes the idealists who come to save them from themselves and overthrow the bourgeois. Compelling reading, lots of misery, plenty of opportunities to find yourself among the idealists and the bourgeois.
completed: 6/15 - The most revolutionary part of this book is Kondo's unabashed passion for organizing and her relationship with objects themselves. I grinned all the way through and enjoyed it. And more importantly, I came away with some really good ideas for tackling the remaining bits of clutter in my own life. Thumbs up.
completed: 6/15 - French is a fantastic novelist. Her mysteries are tightly written, poetic and creepy all at the same time. More than a hint of another world winds its way through the backgrounds of her stories. Loved this one.
completed: 5/15 - Yes. Beautiful, thoughtful, emotional, wonderful.
completed: 5/15 - Wiman is a relentless questioner. So much so that his book becomes uncomfortable at times. Every time he seems to come to terms with his faith and you relax a little, he comes right back around with another but, another question. It was a good uncomfortable though, and a familiar one. In the end, he seems to be as stuck as the rest of us, flipping between doubt and faith, two sides of the same coin.
completed: 4/15 - Craig Childs is one of my favorite nature writers. He writes mainly about landscapes that are foreign to me - the deserts of the American Southwest - but he writes with such sensuality and soulfulness that I am drawn in every time. Beautiful language and a deep, slow dive into the natural world.
completed: 4/15 - I really enjoyed this one. Elizabeth Gilbert is certainly a good story-teller and this is a good story. Love the characters, love their personal development and discoveries. There's a sexual theme woven through that will bother some, but I found it...honest. Good book.
completed: 4/15 - translated from French, won the Nobel Prize last year. Three stories of Paris, told in a kind of slanted haze. But clever. So clever. I'm itching to reread.
completed: 3/15 - Set in Colorado after a flu pandemic has changed everything, Heller creates a deep and moving world out of a handful of characters, a decimated landscape and the faint whiff of hope. I love his voice.
completed: 3/15 - Sometimes a poet just speaks your heart. I am going through the book again, using the poems during my devotion times. These poems ask questions and peer into dark spaces, but they lead me over and over to God.
completed: 3/15 - Please read Kent Haruf. His work is so full of plain goodness and quiet love. Among my favorites.
completed: 3/15 - I love the quiet and subtlety of Ishiguro's writing but this isn't my favorite of his books. Maybe it was just the wrong book at the wrong time.
completed: 1/15 - Started last year and finished in the new year. Great writing, great read, amazing story.
completed: 1/15 - I started off my classics year with the book I was most afraid of. (Only because I'd heard it was boring and long.) But it wasn't boring. It was just methodical, and thorough, and very well-told. Truly, it's a masterpiece of writing. We all know Ahab is hunting the white whale, Moby Dick, but really this story is a treatise of life on an American whaling ship in the early 1900s. Melville goes to great lengths to explain ships, sailors, the danger of the lifestyle, and of course, the whales themselves. It's fascinating. Interwoven into this is the story of mad Ahab and his quest for vengeance. You'll read 600 pages before you get to the climax of that story though. Just settle back and let Ishmael tell you in his magnificent prose about his life and his love of the sea and the great "monsters" of the deep.
A scene from a whale hunt:
"As the boats now more closely surrounded him, the whole upper part of his form, with much of it that is ordinarily submerged, was plainly revealed. His eyes, or rather the places where his eyes had been, were beheld. As strange misgrown masses gather in the knotholes of the noblest oaks when prostrate, so from the points which the whale's eyes had once occupied, now protruded blind bulbs, horribly pitiable to see. But pity there was none. For all his hold age, and his one arm (fluke), and his blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the gay bridals and other merrymakings of men, and also to illuminate the solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness by all to all.
completed: 1/15 - A new author for me. A pretty light-hearted art history mystery.
completed: 1/15 - I remember watching the story of the Chilean miners unfold on TV and being so captivated. This is the story of what happened out of sight of the cameras. A fascinating look at human psyches and what deprivation and fear can do to a person as well as the amazing fortitude they can display. Really interesting. You'll probably cry more than once.
completed: 1/15 - I don't know how to succinctly explain what this book meant to me, but it was the right book at the right time. de Waal's explanations of the Celtic view of spirituality and prayer were like suddenly recognizing the language of my own heart and soul. Certain types of evangelicals might not like this book, but I imagine that other christians will. I'm copying out many of the beautiful prayers into a notebook and using them in my every day.
completed: 1/15 - I love this series.
completed: 1/15 - I liked this book about Safran Foer's personal journey to vegetarianism. It's a pretty straightforward road - he winds through all the usual places: factory farms to family memories. But he makes some good observations about "sustainable" farming and I liked his irreverent, honest tone. He makes a lot of comparisons between eating the family dog and eating other animals, so if that bothers you, you probably won't like it. It's a fair observation though, and one we should be making, in my opinion.
completed: 1/15 - Behold. The reason to read the other two books. This is incomparable.
completed: 1/15 - It took me just a little while to get into this one, but I grew to love the main character. If you are looking for something off the ethno-centric path, you might like this. Written about a 72-year old bibliophile and autodidact in Beirut. Lots of compassion in this narrative, as well as grief and endurance and humanity.
completed: 1/15 - Just taking a little reality check. Yep, I'm as weird as other writers.
completed: 1/15 - A lot of echoes of Jane Eyre in here...though Anne seems concerned with revealing the dark side of the brooding hero. More moralistic than Charlotte, I think, but terrific writing and characters as you would expect from a Bronte.
completed: 2/15 - Oh man, I loved this book. Terrific writing. Post-apocalyptic, with a side of hope. How's that for unexpected? I was so freaked out for the few days I was reading this. St. John imagines how quickly things could change - and how ill-equipped we are for it. Don't worry, no zombies, but it turns out a world without electricity and running water is scary enough.
completed: 2/15 - Flavia never disappoints.
completed 2/15 - Very well written and well presented. It's not actually the kind of book I like reading, but I have such a better picture of the people and agendas behind this hidden war now. Basically, there's nothing altruistic about war. It's run by men with egos and agendas often not obvious to the rest of us and I wish there was a way to help young soldiers understand that before they sign up to give their lives for it.
completed: 3/15 - Masson trains his ethologist's lens on farm animals and asks us to consider the emotional world of animals who are close to us, but not really know to us - except as food. I'm already vegetarian for the most part, but these stories make it even harder to think of eating these intelligent, sensitive, almost completely exploited creatures now.
Completed 3/15 - Every adult needs this book. It's especially for creators and artists, but I would have loved this book as a stay at home, homeschooling mom. All about priority and refusing to give in to what keeps us from our goals.