My Favorite Books of 2017

Here are the books I enjoyed reading the most in the past year. They fall into various categories of fiction and non-fiction, old and new, and are listed in the order that I read them. The only thing they all have in common are that they are generally positive and upbeat!

I Remember Nothing by Norah Ephron © 2010 – some quite humorous essays

The Man of the Desert by Grace Livingston Hill ©1914 – inspiring characters, excellent Christian romance

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen (fiction) by Siri James © 2008 – absolutely incredibly awesome.

The New Year © 1968, by the amazing Pearl S. Buck, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature – characters of strength and integrity – a perfect marriage is rocked by a letter from 12-year-old Korean son of wartime romance

Refuse to Choose: A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything that you Love by Barbara Sher © 2006 – thank you Barbara for saying that scanners are unique and intelligent and valued!

The Year Without a Purchase by Scott Dannemiller © 2015. Hilarious! And it does have some good solid advice and thoughts for people addicted to buying.

Venetia by Georgette Heyer © 1958. Humorous Victorian romance – one of her very best!

The Sojourner © 1958 by Marjorie Rawlings, author of Pulitzer Prize-winning The Yearling – wonderful, I reviewed this here.

Selected Stories by P.G. Wodehouse © 1958 – even the author’s foreword is funny, every story is laugh-out-loud hilarious (to me, anyway!).

Charmed Particles: A Novel by Chrissy Kolaya ©2015 – a theoretical physicist, his wife and daughter assimilating into suburban America, the last great gentleman explorer and his politician wife and their precocious daughter; all living near the superconductor supercollider in Illinois. Fascinating on so many levels, I couldn’t put it down (a debut novel—wow!).

WWII poster, U.S. Office of War Information–still relevant!

 

And for a few more, here is my post from last year: Positive Uplifting Humorous Reads

What are YOUR favorites?

Happy New Year of Reading in 2018!

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Images:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A%22In_a_War-Torn_World%2C_Let_Good_Books_Help_You%22_-_NARA_-_514614.jpg

Thanks to ulleo at pixabay for the creative commons photo of book heart https://pixabay.com/en/book-pitched-book-pages-browse-1975830/

Book review of The Sojourner by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

If you had offered me a book with a rather off-putting cover drawing about a family who endured the hardships of trying to make a living on a farm in the late 1800’s, I’d have probably declined. That’s been done in various scenarios, and sounds depressing. I’d have preferred something with more pizzazz and originality.

But when I found this book on the shelf of a thrift store, I discovered some key information to change my mind. It was published in 1953, the author’s name was familiar, she had won a Pulitzer Prize, and it was $2.50 that would go toward a good cause. Seemed like a good bet, and a good book to bring home. And was it ever.

The story centers around Ase, whose brother Ben is the apple of his mother’s eye. After his father dies, Ben leaves the farm to seek fortune and adventure. Their mother grieves his loss, and will not believe that he went on his own volition. She never pretends to have any affection for Ase, but he nevertheless devotes himself to her care and making a success of their farm. He marries energetic trickster Nellie and they start a family. He is a thoughtful philosophical dreamer, yet too responsible to let his own longings interfere with his duties.

Ase is wise, yet timid and unable to articulate what is in his huge heart and his keen mind, so others find him an easy target, including his own children. He opens his home to those down on their luck, and finds true friendship in unlikely places. Through hopeful and sad events, despite all the years that go by without any word of  him, Ase never stops hoping for the return of his brother.

From page one The Sojourner was too gripping to put down, and I didn’t want to miss one single word. Each character in turn was introduced in a few pages to make you feel as if you had known them for a lifetime. Each had their own strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and failures. The intense commitment of the farming community to their livelihood and to one another show the stoicism and dedication that built the powerful American society of the early twentieth century.

Reading it was a quiet experience. I don’t just mean that I read it in silence; it also calmed my mind. The longer I read, the more I joined this family miles away from the nearest neighbor, and enjoyed the restful evenings without electricity, as though I could hear the silent breeze rustling the grass in their distant field. All of these combined to make a quality story of depth, common yet uncommon humanity, spiritual truth, and a satisfying outcome.

Following the motivations, decisions and outcomes in each of their journeys was illuminating. It makes me feel like I understand those in my little circle, and people all around the world, even more. It is the kind of book I keep hoping to discover in contemporary fiction and rarely seem to find. (Please enlighten me if you have found otherwise, I’d love to find some great contemporary fiction!) And the wonderful thing is that in learning more about her, I have discovered nine more novels of hers to read.

Marjorie Rawlings’ classic novel is a great example of why I comb the vintage book sections and why I trust the classic authors of fifty or more years ago. Tell me: where else can you get a heartwarming, inspiring experience every evening for three weeks…all for the grand total of two-and-a-half dollars?

What to Read Next?

How do you decide what to read? Do you scan the latest bestseller lists? Do you have a library of unread books where you just close your eyes and reach for one? Does a friend inspire you to read the great book they just finished?

I had a lot of time to ponder this question when I was supervising a test at school. I realized, after having moved among the students with nothing to occupy my mind for several hours, that I don’t have a very good way of choosing my next book.

I love to browse physical shelves of books, touch the books, open the covers and flip through them. So, sitting on my book shelves I have a load of random books that are a result of “impulse buying”: they caught my eye and ignited my curiosity (and were too good of a deal to pass up!). I also love to browse online bookstores and making wish lists. It’s exciting to me how many different kinds of texts exist, and I want to read so many of them.  And that’s how I’ve been choosing what to read next.

But I just ran across my very old list of books that includes classics, award-winners and recommendations by friends, the media, the church, the library or websites I visit. I forgot about my Books to Read List because I stopped carrying it in my wallet. It got too long (to get all the titles typed on both sides of a single sheet of paper, which could fold to fit in my wallet, it had to be a 9-point font), and I didn’t seem to have much time to read anyway.  Even though the books I look at every day at home look like excellent books, I resolved that I was going to return to my list, as it is far less impulsive.

Image by Eder Capobianco, Flickr
Classic Novels – Image by Eder Capobianco, Flickr

I generally try to read books that will have eternal value, and change me for the better.  I think fiction affects me more than non-fiction, but it has to be well-written fiction. Classic novels seem trustworthy choices for quality fiction, and when I run across references to classic novels that I haven’t read, it bothers me to be missing so many stories that have stood the test of time for hundreds of years. So a section of my Books to Read List developed by browsing lists of the best books, such as the ones I found in the Appendix of James Wood’s book How Fiction Works, or an online list, such as Open Culture’s list of “The 10 Greatest Books Ever, According to 125 Top Authors”. I take great pleasure in the rare times I can tick off another one from this list of distinguished, admired books from authors around the world.

So what to read this summer? One fiction book from my Books to Read List is Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I have planned to read it ever since my son read and discussed it with me when he was in junior high school (about fifteen years ago). Not only that, the movie is out, and I don’t want to watch the movie until I’ve read the book, so the pressure’s on. Les Miserables is on the top of my fiction list.  I have recently started reading it on my Kindle, and with my larger font preference, I seem to be making slow progress! I get a bit overwhelmed when reading a huge book, but am staying interested.

For my next non-fiction book, I’m reading a book recommended to me by a friend, What are You Afraid Of? by David Jeremiah, with the hope of taking a frank look at my fears, and my faith. I’ve checked it out of the library and am about a fifth the way through it. So far, it is practical and straightforward yet empathetic.

What are at the top of your lists? What is the best book you’ve ever read? I’d love to read your comments.

5 Hours in the Library and No Reading Allowed

Our grade 12 students did their final exams last week and I helped supervise the tests. I was with students in the library, and as supervisors, our job is to move among the students to ensure security, so we are not allowed to sit, catch up on our work, or check emails. Or read!

 

After several hours, most students had finished and left, and there were only a handful remaining which were well spaced apart. As I cruised in circles around the library, I began to scan the sets of books stacked on the counters and in the returns carts as I walked by. MacBeth, To Kill a Mockingbird, Life of Pi, Tuesdays with Morrie, War Child, A Long Way Gone, The Kite Runner, Of Mice and Men, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. How many of these had I read?

 

I mentally ticked off A Long Way Gone, as this was our school-wide reading project this year, a first hand account of the horrors of life as a child soldier in Africa. I’d read MacBeth when I was in high school, and more recently read Life of Pi, Tuesdays with Morrie, and Of Mice and Men, so I ticked those off, too. It was tempting to try to read one of the others on the sly during the next hour or so.

 

Soon there was one student left, and I found myself scanning all the shelves. Did they have any 808.02 books (writing books)? (To my disappointment, they did not.) What could a book called Guns, Germs and Steel be about? There were many intriguing titles. I found a sticky note and jotted down some of them to add to my reading list.

 

On the counter I also saw a sign that said “Summer Reading”, and nabbed one of the sheets of paper in the box. I was happy to see that I’d read a few of the ones on the list (but not many), and now have more recommendations of new works to balance out my many old books that I’ve recently acquired.

 

Here are the books that one teacher is recommending to our students. See how many you’ve read. Should they be on a list of top-notch books? Did you enjoy them, or not? Do any of the others strike your interest?

 

1984 – Orwell

The AshGarden – Bock

The Bean Trees – Kingsolver

The Chosen – Potok

Crime and Punishment – Dostoevsky

CrowLake – Lawson

Davita’s Harp – Potok

Fifth Business – Davies

The Grapes of Wrath – Steinbeck

Great Expectations – Dickens

The Great Gatsby – Fitzgerald

Heart of Darkness – Conrad

The Hero’s Walk – Badami

The Kite Runner – Hosseini

House of the Spirits – Allende

The Lovely Bones – Sebold

Life of Pi – Martel

The Metamorphosis – Kafta

Monsignor Quixote – Greene

The Mosquito Coast – Theroux

My Name is Asher Lev – Potok

Frankenstein – Shelley

No Great Mischief – MacLeod

Obasan – Kogawa

The Outsider – Camus

The Poisonwood Bible – Kingsolver

Pride and Prejudice – Austen

A Separate Peace – Knowles

Snow Falling on Cedars – Guterson

The Stone Angel – Laurence

Things Fall Apart – Achebe

Under the Ribs of Death – Marlyn

The Wars – Findley

Wild Geese – Ostenso

Windflower – Roy

WutheringHeights – Bronte

Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, MacBeth, The Tempest – Shakespeare

 

Happy Summer Reading!