There’s a tower of books next to my bed which is beginning to cast rather long shadows in my room. So many books. So little time. The list of books I have lined up to read is dizzyingly exciting and terrifying all at once.
But the good news is: I actually have been reading! Sometimes two or three at a time. And so, in case you were wondering, here (in no particular order) are my 10-second snapshot reviews of the various titles that have crossed my path this year. And if you, like me, are one who wants BOOKS above all else for Christmas, perhaps here are some things to put on your wish list (or gift list!) this year:
When We Were On Fire (Addie Zierman)
LOVED this. Mesmerizing and insightful memoir of a girl who could have been the poster child for American evangelicalism… and how that hurt, and frayed, and eventually gave way to a quieter and more questioning faith, but a truer one.
Faith Unraveled (Rachel Held Evans)
The story of how a girl who had all the answers learned to ask questions. If Addie’s memoir is about how her heart changed post evangelicalism, Rachel’s is about what happened in her head. Funny, smart, and so winsome. Also, Rachel signed my copy of this book – so it’s definitely a keeper 🙂
The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman)
A very short adult fantasy: not usually my genre but brilliantly written. Only thing is: I’m still not sure what this book was about. I felt a little like I was in The Emperor’s New Clothes and I was supposed to be oohing and aahing (and really, the writing is sumptuous), but a big part of me kept asking “What the heck is going on here???” My friend Rebecca calls this a “genre problem”. I think she’s right.
The Fault in Our Stars (John Green)
I just discovered YA lit this year. LOVE it, and The Fault in Our Stars is the best of the best in Young Adult Fiction. TFIOS is laugh-out-loud-funny, break-your-heart real, stay-awake-til-2-am readable. Who would have thought a book about teens with cancer could be so fantastic, but it is. I watched the movie recently too: *****
Paper Towns (John Green)
I loved TFIOS so much I had to read another John Green immediately. This one also funny, poignant, and brilliantly insightful about relationships with friends and family, and the little things we do which make or break bridges between people. Plot: a teen girl goes missing, and leaves clues that only her neighbor (with whom she hasn’t really spoken in years, but who has loved her from a distance) can follow.
Growing Up Social (Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane)
A book about raising relational kids in a screen-driven world. Lots of helpful insight on some of the big things we are trying to teach our kids in becoming emotionally intelligent (and, secondarily, how too much screen time deprives us of opportunities to practice relationships in real life). Good stuff, and very accessible. Read a fuller review here.
My Name is Memory (Ann Brashares)
My bookclub did not love this book. And, given that the blurb on the cover said “If you liked Twilight, you’ll like this”, I didn’t rate my chances of liking it very highly. But I did: it was a curious story of a person who had lived many lives trying to find his true love. Not my genre of choice, but well told.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Ann Brashares)
This is pretty much the perfect summer read. 4 girls coming of age, one pair of pants to unite them all. But of course, I am probably the last person in the world to have read this, so you all know that already.
A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)
This is the first Dickens I have ever read voluntarily: part of my attempt to give myself a second chance at the classics. And? I LOVE it. Will read it again.
Madame Bovary (Gustav Flaubert)
Another classic: even in translation, this was astonishingly witty. What an incredible book – SO many brilliant descriptions of the human condition, the way we make decisions, the way we size people up… and all in the midst of a story of one bored woman. If you haven’t yet, read Karen Swallow Prior’s post on Ennui, based on this book.
A Minor (Margaret Philbrick)
A novel written by friend and fellow Redbud about love, music and memory. This story of a teen prodigy in piano’s tutelage under a woman with Alzheimer’s weaves together some powerful themes and is also the first novel I have ever read with a soundtrack. I wrote a full review of it here. The kindle version of this book is currently on sale for $1.99 – so this week is the perfect time to nab it!
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Rachel Joyce)
This is a must-read delight: a gentle tale of an elderly man who undertakes to walk across the United Kingdom, believing it will save an old friend from cancer. As he walks, both he and the wife he leaves behind take an internal journey to process loss, and learn much about how we all have so much in common, and yet all are completely unique. It’s gorgeous. I read this until 2am also.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (E. Lockhart)
Loved this too: one of the first YA novels I read, and young Frankie captivated me from page 1. This is a page-turner of a story (I kept wondering what was going to happen), but along the way asks some very profound questions about what it means to be a woman, to be privileged, to be adult… and whether it is possible to challenge any people’s assumptions about those things and still maintain relationships we are happy with. Such a delightful read.
Last Days of Summer (Steve Kluger)
It has been a long time since I read a book so heart-warming and hilarious that my husband had to suffer several days of me reading portions of it aloud to him. This book was sheer delight: the story of wise-cracking 12 year old Joey Margolis, and how we badgers a baseball hero into a most unlikely relationship. FANTASTIC read.
Surprised by Motherhood (Lisa-Jo Baker)
My favorite gift for baby showers used to be a Boppy: a customized nursing pillow. No longer. Now, my go to baby shower gift will be this gem of a book – because Lisa-Jo really GETS it about motherhood. This book is full of the glory and grit of motherhood: telling it like it is, and helping us to BRAVE. Lisa-Jo believes that motherhood should come with its own superhero cape, and reading this book feels like she’s issued you one.
Eleanor and Park (Rainbow Rowell)
If you are a lover of books, you should follow Anne Bogel’s blog at Modern Mrs Darcy: she has regular and fantastic suggestions for books. And if you do follow Modern Mrs Darcy’s blog, you will have heard her recommend Eleanor and Park more than once. I finally got to read it – and LOVED this book so very much. It was another “couldn’t put it down” read about a pair of 16 year old’s unlikely love (and the loss of it). This book deals with some very real, hard things; it has echoes of (and references to) Romeo and Juliet; and is a masterful and utterly delightful read. It was well worth the MONTHS-LONG WAIT for it at the library.
Flight Behavior (Barbara Kingsolver)
Another person whose book recommendations I really enjoy are Rachel Held Evans’, and I read Flight Behavior after reading her enthusiastic endorsement (Follow her on twitter @rachelheldevans: she’s also great at letting readers know when there are great kindle deals on books!) Flight Behavior is a novel which tells the story of the threat of climate change by putting us into the world of Dellarobia, a young mom who comes across a displaced colony of Monarch Butterflies. Kingsolver is a an incredible and very thought provoking story teller… and having seen a colony of Monarchs this past weekend in Santa Cruz, I’m all the more excited to pass on the word.
The Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion)
I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t enjoy this book: male or female, young or old, married or single. It is the fantastic, hilarious, heartfelt and completely rational story of the brilliant but socially inept scientist, Don, who takes on a dating “experiment”. In his evidence-based manner, he draws up a 16 page survey for prospective women, which he titles “The Wife Project”, and seeks to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, and the late arrivers. During the course of the project, he meets Rosie (whom he immediately disqualifies as a candidate), but whose cause he takes up in an effort to find her biological father. The story unfolds in a most marvelous way: if you haven’t read it yet, this is a can’t-go-wrong book. I loved it!
Fierce Convictions (Karen Swallow Prior)
This biography is a gem of a book: a story of a woman who changed the landscape of her generation, and whose work has directly impacted the way I, as a woman, experience life 200 years later. Were it not for this magnificently told story, I would not have known about Hannah More. It is a story worth reading for understanding the past, but more importantly – for calling us to understanding the present and why we need people with Fierce Convictions as much as ever. (My full review here)
Teach Us To Want (Jen Pollock Michel)
This was one of the most transformative books I’ve read in recent memory: easy reading and yet DEEP in biblical truth, it is a book about the things we really, really want (our ambitions, longings and desires): whether we should have them at all, how they can be our tyrants or they can be our tools in God’s service. So often I have found myself wondering what to do with this feeling of longing in my soul: should I “die to self” and ignore it? Or did God, in fact, give us some desires in our hearts which we should explore? Using the cruciform pattern of the Lord’s Prayer, Jen’s book is an incredibly helpful and insightful book: one worth reading yourself, and giving to a friend so you’ll have someone to discuss it with! (My full review here)
Happy reading! And happy Christmas shopping!
Photo Credit: Pimthida “Books” (Flickr Creative Commons) – edited by Bronwyn Lea