As I started to think about my 2018 reader’s review, I saw a post on Facebook that a book blogger and podcaster read something like 200 books last year and I thought, “I’ll never catch up to that.” 200 books is like three or four years of reading for me. I asked my Facebook friends how much they read this year and I was pretty impressed with their numbers too. I stopped and thought about why I am reading and do I need to do anything differently to get through my stacks of books faster? My answer was no. I am a slow reader, some people are fast readers. My eyes just don’t scan the page that fast, I have always been a struggling reader. I was always in the slow group in elementary school, everyone knew who the slow group was when we left the room for “reading lab.” My words per minute may be low, but my ability to understand, retain and make connections is pretty high and I think it is because I am a slow reader and a re-reader. I can put a book down and puzzle over a passage and go back and reread it sometimes for days. So I decided I would not sacrifice that for speed. As for this matter of blogging about what I am reading, I want to be real with my readers who may also struggle in this area, and inspire them to just read a little today and try to read the best things since we won’t be able to read all the things.
I have broken my books down into a few categories. I mostly read in community. I read a book every month and discuss it with my book club when we have finished it. I have another group made up of homeschool moms that I read with this summer and we read a chapter and then discussed that chapter. I loved reading that way. So when my church offered a book club on that model I signed up and fast. Then there are the books I read as part of my quiet time or listen to as I do house work or drive around town. I totally count the books I listen to as a reading experience, because I don’t listen mindlessly. I often stop a recording and get my notebook out and go back to have the passage dictated to me as I copy it down or I go get the book and follow along as it is being read to me and I underline. I take notes and write things down just as I do with reading. Sometimes a book I listen to can effect me more deeply than one I read silently to myself. Listening to a book totally counts as reading in my book and on my blog. So here are my thoughts on what I read this year. They are short and without spoilers, I am working on longer articles on some of the important books and how they are connected in my mind. I will link to them as I finish each one.
Book Club Reads
February Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim
February is the best time to read this book and lately I’ve been recommending this book to everyone who has asked me what they should read next. It is about a group of ladies who escaped the dull and rainy climate of England and find themselves surrounded by the flowers of Italy that grow in a the garden of their rented castle. It is sweet and so funny. There is so much talk of heaven joined by the redemption of individuals and relationships that made me long for heaven. It is certainly not a christian book, nor is it written by a christian author but it is one of the most christian story I have read in a long long time.
March Nathan Coulter by Wendell Berry
We chose this story because we read Hannah Coulter the previous year so we needed to know the rest of that story or how the story begins is really what this book is about. It explains a lot about Nathan and his family and the Coulters who we have come to love over the years. We read a Wendell Berry every year and this was our dose of Port William.
April Washington Square by Henry James
We added this to our list after the book, Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. It is one of the books on the list that the author taught to her class. Henry James was really controversial for her class and we thought this must be a be really powerful so we should read it. We expected to have an amazing discussion and to reread parts of Reading Lolita in Tehran, but we never met as a group to talk about this one. We were all traveling in different directions that month and only a few of us could find time to snatch a coffee one morning to talk this one out. It is the story of an unloved girl. She is kind and yet unloved, worthy but devalued. It is a sad story and not at all revolutionary, which makes me feel like I need to reread the chapter on Henry James in Nafisi’s book. This is the first time I have read Henry James and it won’t be the last.
May – Flannery O’Connor Short Stories which include:
“The Life You Save May Be Your Own”
“Good Country People”
“A Good Man is Hard to Find”
“The Artificial Nigger”
Flannery O’Connor is not the kind of author I can binge read. But I find myself puzzling over her stories and going back to reread them in order to digest what she is trying to say. I read her stories slower than usual and it takes a long time to get comfortable with the picture she paints. I highly recommend that you read them in community. We did not have a lot to say about our June choice so we ended up reading one aloud and discussing it, which turned out to be one of our best book club meetings EVER!
June – The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
This book was listed at the bottom of the Amazon page, if you liked Excellent Women, you will like this one. Excellent Women was a really good one we read the year before, but this book did not hold up to that standard. It was super funny to start with but there was not much to discuss. It was such a contrast to the month before when we did not have time to say everything that needed to be said. I think any book is going to suffer when it is followed by Flannery O’Connor.
July – Gilead by Marilyn Robinson
I am a little ashamed to say this was not my favorite. People, and by that I mean smart people that I admire, love this book. I have a whole article on this one that I am working on so these thoughts will be short. I am surprised that I don’t love this book. The sentences, the characters, the story are all so beautiful. I am going to try it again. Just be warned there are no chapter breaks in this book and for some reason that made this book so hard for me to read. In fact, it drove me nuts.
August- The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
We had to cancel this book and put it on hold because no one could meet this month. It happens and we will put this on the list for another time. If you have read it, leave a comment with your thoughts. Did you love it? What translation did you use? I think I have to read this book, just look at the cover!
September- The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John La Carre
I was traveling and could not make this meeting, so I also did not finish this book. I thought it was hard to get into, but I also think it was the wrong place to start as this is the third book in the series. I am going to back up to the first book in the series and give it another try. This is a perfect series to listen to with my husband on a road trip. We love the travel the highways and byways with a good mystery on the stereo. Here is the correct order of the novels:
October – Screwtape Letters By C.S. Lewis
We like to read something creepy in October. There is so much in this little book. It is fascinating, but you have to read it with the understanding that Lewis is so clearly painting the demons as earnest liars and that was the most fascinating part of this book to me. The lies they tell themselves about what motivates God and the way the Church works say so much about how we surrender to the father of lies. I will come back to this one, but until then I still think about how the demons call some in the church, apostate puritans. A title that has been ringing in my head for a while. I am still trying to work that phrase out, but it feels like I have met a few of them. They love the letter of the law and hold themselves above others as they sacrifice all the good and true things God has given them to the exercise of keeping each law with perfection.
November – Surprised By Joy By C.S. Lewis
We try to read a memoir together each year and we love C.S. Lewis so this was a perfect match for us. This book explains a lot about our favorite, Clive. We read passages about his dad and home life and laughed out loud remembering people just like Lewis’ dad. We read out loud the section about his perfect day and then talked about our perfect day. We texted and talked a lot about life at a boy’s school in England, because we know all about that as middle age women in America.
December – Life and Adventures of Santa Clause by Frank L. Baum
Oh goodness, this book was a real surprise. We try to read something light, short and in keeping with the season for our December meeting. We have mostly read funny stories, but this one was truly beautiful in the way that only fairy stories can be. There is so much to discuss here!
Other Reading groups
The Gospel Comes with House Keys by Rosaria Butterfield
I read this in a church book club this fall. I have a lot to say about it. It will get its own post. It is a powerful book. I laughed and cried, agreed and disagreed and I grew so much. What sealed this book in my heart was hearing the author speak in person. She was so kind and gracious even when saying hard things. She ended her talk as she ends her book with a call to the church to bring close the lonely, the marginalized and those struggling. What a different world we would live in if we did that as individuals who follow the example of Christ.
Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tis Harrison Warren
I also read this one with a group at church. I liked it a lot and it is a book to read chapter by chapter with a group and then discuss and practice doing the small things in our lives well. When she says ordinary in the title, she means it with chapters like, Making the Bed, Sitting in Traffic and Brushing Your Teeth. I have lots of things underlined in this book, but not huge passages, like in some books. Here is one thing I underlined and added an exclamation point in the margin:
“… Christians either tend to be confused about exactly how their work matters to God and to the church or they pick one or two main emphases and judge those who aren’t living up to their particular take on meaningful work.”
The Memory of Old Jack By Wendell Berry
I read this book chapter by chapter with two other homeschool moms over the summer. I was busy but when my friend asked if I would read a Wendell Berry with her, I could not say no and was not sorry I said yes to this story. It is exactly the place to start with Wendell Berry. This is such a sad story that ends in just the right way. There comes a point that you are thinking, how can this end well? And then it does and you tip your hat once again to the great Wendell Berry who does not disappoint.
Summer Reading and Road Trip Reads
Great Expectations By Charles Dickens
This is a long one that I listened to over the summer. The only Dickens I had read to this point was A Christmas Carol. I have always been a little intimated by the length of his books and people always say that because he was paid by the word there are twice as many words as necessary. Well I loved Great Expectations and I loved Dickens as an author! I was not prepared for the characters that Charles Dickens created. Because I listened over the course of months, I had time to think about and the characters. As they changed for better or for worse, just as we all do over time, it felt real. I listened to this one as I was reading The Memory of Old Jack, chapter by chapter with some friends. The difference in these two authors made each man’s strength shine more brightly. Wendell Berry has a way of making a place sacred and so real. I have visited places that remind me of Port William. While Charles Dickens does that with people. I think we all know a Mr. Pumblechooke and we have watched as wealth and status change people we love for the worst, as it did with Pip. Charles Dickens is a master.
You can listen to the podcast by Center for Lit here or look in iTunes for their podcast Radio Read Along. Adam Andrews reads it with an occasional discussion from the Center for Lit crew. I think that this summer I may listen to David Copperfield the same way as I work and do projects and drive from place to place.
Strong Poison By Dorothy Sayers
You should read some Dorothy Sayers. She is a great example of smart light reading because sometimes you just need a good story. You don’t need your heart-broken and rebuilt, you just need to escape into another world. Take Dorothy with you for those moments but be prepared to fall in love with Lord Peter, everyone does.
Another Kingdom By Andrew Klavan
This is a narrative podcast and I loved it. I’ve been listening to Andrew Klavan solve everyone’s problems on his podcast so I was excited to experience his fiction. The second season has been out for a few months, but I have not started yet. I wanted to wait until all the episodes were released so that I did not have to wait a week to find out what happens next. Can you believe that is how we used to watch tv? I will give this warning that there is swearing and other objectionable things in this story, so if that bothers you, don’t read it or listen to it with your little kids in the car.
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
I am a big fan of Clive Staples Lewis. I am working my way through his canon of literature and essays. The timing of this book coming to me was perfect. I was really struggling with the sovereignty of God as it relates to foreknowledge and predestination. Then I walked around the anti-chamber of heaven with C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald as my guide and he explained a lot of things to me with a picture of how some choose hell over the unfolding mystery that is heaven. It seems to me that C.S. Lewis’ strength is in explaining true things about the universe through setting and character and plot. This is exactly what Christ does when he is answering questions and teaching. He very rarely answers a question straight. He usually makes His point with a parable. I think Lewis learned that from Him and delighted in mastering it.
A Christmas Carol By Charles Dickens
We had a day trip in December and the night before we watched the movie The Man Who Invented Christmas and we wanted to hear the story that came from that dramatization one more time. It was a wonderful combo and one that we will be repeating.
The Golden Key By George MacDonald
I want to read everything George MacDonald has ever written. That is a very long list so I am going to start slowly and read at least one, maybe more every year. I listened to this one as I was wrapping gifts and doing Christmassy things. I listened to it twice over a few days, because the first time I loved it, but I had no clue what it was all about. I’m still not sure I understand it but I feel like it’s the kind of story we will read in heaven and totally get. It is so full of images from other stories and traditions that you could read it over and over and find something new every time.
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