A Reader’s Review
Every year I make a reading list and set goals. But how many plans were seen to the end last year. I think most people found the quarantine of 2020 to be a great thing for their reading list. On social media I kept seeing stacks of books labeled as #booksIreadthismonth. I was about to jump through the screen and punch the young professions thirty somethings on Instagram. For me the work of six people being home all the time was crushing. The unanswered questions around this virus and a 24/7 news cycle of fear was so disorienting. The life of my soul really suffered through those months. I could not concentrate long enough to read much of anything and that only got worse as there was no relief through the summer of riots. So I did not meet my reading goals for the year, but I was able to pretty much stay up on my book club reads and looking forward to meeting with my bookclub ladies is what helped me make it through those months.
Book club Reading List
February- This Is My God by Herman Wouk
We chose this title specifically to come after reading Andrew Klavan’s The Great Good Thing at the end of 2019. This book is a great contrast to Klavan’s memoire. Like him, Wouk is serious about being a Jew. Unlike Klavan he rejects the claims of Christ as the Messiah he is waiting for. The title of this book claims to be about God, but I found little of God and a lot of religion. It was fascinating to read about orthodox Judaism, but in the end there was a hollowness to his conclusion because I think his God is his religion. Those are hard things to say and I don’t want it to confuse you about this one fact, Herman Wouk is still one of my favorite authors of all time. I have more than a single paragraph to write on these two books so stay tuned. And know this, I loved this book.
March- Andy Catlett by Wendel Berry
This book feels like Wendell Berry himself is coming to visit Port William in the character of Andy Catlett. It was the perfect read at the perfect moment. Just when we were shrinking into quarantine we had Wendell Berry to lead us to a quieter and simpler time when the world was not so big. This is the story of a young man who goes on his first adventure alone. The bus takes him over to the next town to visit with his grandparents. We have met all the characters of Port William over the years, but we have never seen them through the eyes of a child. This was a very short story with so much to say about the world around us.
April- Virgil Wander by Leif Enger
Oh goodness this book is so full of surprises. It is going to be hard and not quite satisfying to talk about it here because I don’t want to give any of the goodness away. I love Leif Enger’s writing. It is slow and purposefully so full of meaning. Enger drops easter eggs for his readers everywhere. I am looking forward to doing a second reading of his books, because I am sure I missed a great deal. This is the story of a town with very bad luck and all the people who are sucked into it through generations and circumstances. It shows clearly that everything is connected, even the raven that comes and sits with a grieving old man from Norway. Pay attention to that raven when you read it.
May- Four Seasons In Rome by Anthony Doerr
We read this one at just the right moment when we were all craving a trip and questioning if “THEY” would ever let us travel again. It made it on the list because one of us was supposed to be in Italy for the month of June. She couldn’t go and now we are all wondering if we will ever be allowed to go. This memoire was so rich and beautiful that we had to be thankful for it in the absence of a plane ticket. We read All The Light We Cannot See in 2019 and we were anxious to let this author build a world for us again. When you can’t actually go to Rome, you can read and be there. Isn’t that the promise of stories from all time for all time?
June – 84 Charing Cross and The Duchess of Bloomsbury by Helene Hanf
In the middle of a dark and disorienting summer this book came to us like a cheerful bouquet of fresh flowers. I was so excited to read this book because it went so well with my word of the year for 2020, Letters. What we have compiled between the covers of this book are real letters written by a reader in search of exceptional books to a book shop in England. When I started this book I did not know that I was reading a true story of friendship that grew over the years as letters and parcels traveled back and forth across the ocean. These little books are charming. They make a great beach read because they are so short and sweet.
July and August- The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
I have to admit I started this book but was not able to finish it. Everything was so dark and heavy as America’s cities broke into violence. Businesses were burned and stores looted and the lives of people in these cities were made even worse. It just made me so sad and the injustice chronicled in these true stories was too much for me at an already hard time. I think I will try to finish it this summer because I know there is something so good here.
September- Beloved by Toni Morrison
This a book I read years ago. I love Toni Morrison’s writing but this was a new book and a new author for everyone else in my book club. We really do have to ask a serious question about our timing though. Our July through August picks were all serious books about race at a moment when we were all asking questions about race in our country. We plan and choose our books in January so it felt a bit spooky that these were our choices for theses months. We were at the breaking point personally and this book requires real fortitude. I knew that I would be crying from page one and I had already been crying off and on for months so we put this one on a back burner for a later date.
Alternate- City Boy by Herman Wouk
We needed something lite and lovely and real. We needed to laugh! Herman Wouk always delivers. We read outloud to each other when we met and we laughed and laughed. This is the story of Herbie Bookbinder 11 year old boy of Brooklyn. He falls in love easily and medicates himself with food. I was just like him in a lot of ways. Herman Wouk writes the best inner dialogue for his characters so this boy has a rich inner life that we all loved having a window into.
October- 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Here is another book I was not able to finish this year. But my husband, my daughter and my bookclub all finished it. It was a great choice for October and now that my oldest daughter is done with it, it is sitting here at my desk ready to go to the beach with me when things warm up a bit.
November- The Splendid and The Vile by Erik Larson
Think about this title and think about our world in November 2020, it was mostly vile. Again we had enough drama and turmoil in our lives we did not need to take a deep dive into the life of Winston Churchill. I don’t even know what we talked about this night but I don’t think anyone read this one. Again don’t let that confuse you into thinking we don’t love Erik Larson because we do love his books. This was just the wrong book at the wrong time.
December- Nancy and Plum by Betty McDonald
We always look for a nice Christmas story to read in December. While this one was not all about Christmas, it does open and close in the Christmas season. It is also a children’s story so it made for an easy read during a busy month. I was not convinced I would enjoy this book as it starts with two Orphans all alone for Christmas. But it won me over pretty quickly. We even chose a memoire written by this author for or 2021 reading list.
Audiobook Reading List
A Million Little Ways by Emily P Freeman
January was the perfect moment to listen this book. I feel like I will listen to it again when I am needing a boost. This book just gave me gas in my tank to get the Christmas mess cleaned up and get busy continuing my work to become a writer. It felt like a clean start in a fresh year. It helped me start 2020 knowing that the little things matter and that really carried me through a hard year.
Essentialism by Greg McKeown
Everyone loves this book. I am late to the game with this one, but it really is as good as everyone says. The first chapter is one of the best sermons I have ever heard and I have to say as it drew to a close it felt just like an altar call. Listening to Greg McKeown read his book in his English accent was so powerful! By the end I was ready for it to wrap up though as I am with most sermons I agree with. There is a lot of truth here.
The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald
This is the sequel in a series of allegories about a princess and a common miner. I listened to the first one, The Princess and the Goblin in 2017 and it changed and informed me on the nature of the struggle we had been through in our first foster care journey. Listening to this story gave me a picture for what we were doing as we went into the darkness to rescue children. This second story was just as much of a revelation about the world we live in today. It is the story of corrupt government officials who set out to overthrow the government to enrich themselves and enslave the people. (Does that sound familiar?) The power of allegory to give us a picture of something true and intangible is why I think Jesus so often spoke in parables. Reading George MacDonald feels like what it must have been like to sit on a hillside and hear Jesus tell stories that were eternally true.
Interview With The Robot by Lee Bacon
This is a dramatized audio that I got for free. Did you know that audible has free exclusive audible recordings? I listened to it with my 11 year old over a couple of weeks of driving to school and piano and around town. We really enjoyed it. There were lots of moments to stop and discuss. It is a short audio with lots of action so it is easy to get through. There is a twist that even I did not see coming and that was so fun for both of us. This is a great preparation for reading Frankenstein and Pinocchio and you should totally read both of those with your kids this summer.
Third Grade Read aloud
We are doing our chapter book read alouds on Audible this year. It has been so nice to listen and not always be the one reading. Another new thing for us is that I am teaching a third grade boy this year and I am having so much fun.
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
This marks a second time through for me and I forgot how much I love this book. We listened to the first chapter and when it ended I looked at my little guy and said, “Maybe we should find a different book? What do you think?” I thought he would be so board with a story of a little girl in Switzerland. Well, was I ever wrong. He looked at me and said, “What? Now I don’t even get to see what happens to her?” So we kept going and I cried through parts of it just like I did the first time. Except this time I knew what it was like for Grandfather to loose Heidi, because I lost this sweet boy sitting next me and yet here he is returned to me and finally safe. Listening to this book with this boy was just so perfect.
How To Train You Dragon by Cressida Cowell
Oh goodness this was laugh out loud funny. We read this because I wanted to show my little guy the movie. It is almost a completely different story than the book and the contrast is so interesting because both the book and movie are really good. I was curious what he would think of that and how he would process two parallel and different stories. I love those discussions. This is a great book for boys who are learning to be brave and find their place in the world . . . and for girls who never seem to find themselves in the “in Crowd”.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
I have read this book more times than I can count. But this time I listened with a little boy and was it ever so fun to experience again for the first time through him. He is only 9 so we are taking this series slowly instead of binging. This series gets dark and heavy pretty fast but this one still examines areas of injustice and malice on a level that young kids can process.
Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
Have you read E. Nesbit? She is a delightful genius. She has a wonderful collection of Shakespeare retellings that make a great read aloud for all ages. I love listening to her stories on Audible! They are inevitably read by an English narrator. It’s probably a requirement. The moral of this story is to be careful what you wish for. This is a great choice to listen to in the car on a short day trip. It is so funny and pretty short. It also leaves you wanting more from Edith Nesbit. She writes such wonderful stories about kids who live in their own world mostly free from adult intervention. It’s how I grew up and I want to inspire my kids to want that kind of freedom in a world of experts ready to tell you what to do all day, everyday.
I always like to have a book I am reading on my Kindle as an alternative to the endless scroll of social media or meaningless of playing games on my phone. The books that I finish here are usually slow because I jump in and out quickly over time. I also read on my Kindle when I travel, but 2020 was not so full of travel or running around town so I did not use it too much.
Shane by Jack Shafer
It took me a very long time to read this one, not because it was hard or long. It was a short story full of short sentences and yet I kept highlighting and sharing on facebook, because it is so easy on Kindle. I have seen the movie and it was just not nearly as good as the book. That is not because it changes the story, but because it is the same story from the page to screen. Every sentence is tight and lean and powerful just like Shane, the mysterious protagonist. You never hear a word of this man’s backstory. And yet it is clear who he is and what brought him to the Scarett ranch. I can’t wait to pick up another of Jack Schafer’s books. It is some of the best writing I have ever read.
Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart
I chose this book because I wanted to read more letters as my word of the year was letters for 2020. Imagine how surprised I was to be reading the letters of a woman who traveled to Wyoming for a new life just as I was traveling through Wyoming last summer. This book was so surprising and funny. They are real letters written by a strong woman who was not afraid of hard work or adventure. She meets all kinds of sadness and want and never runs from it. When she sees children who will have no Christmas or young woman without a wedding dress, she meets those moments and pulls together what she has to provide for others in every situation. These writings come to us from a different time and there is some offensive language in them. If you can’t look over that don’t read it. But if you can take the good and the bad in the world and understand that people live in real time and struggle with real problems, then you might enjoy it.
That is my list and my thoughts on my 2020 reading list. I made it through 16 books about half of those were audio books and most of them were enjoyed with my kids and I don’t regret that even if I missed my goal by a wide stretch. The important thing is that I read some really good books that fed my soul in a dark time.
I share on social media about the books I am reading. Join me on Facebook or Instagram to stay caught up book by book.