Books in Review – 2015

In these busy days with many very small children time to write (let alone edit) is precious and rare. I don’t pressure myself to blog regularly but get to it when I can in little snatches and bursts. I enjoy having a written record of anything I’ve managed to blog, even if it’s only a snapshot of one brief season in our lives. Whatever slips through the written cracks is still life fully lived, and there’s nothing to regret in that.

Every year I record new books I’ve read, not counting books only read partially, books re-read, or picture books read with the kids. At the end of the year I write a review. In 2015 I read 74 new books. I read a lot fewer old classics than usual this year and a lot more 20th century literature. In this brief season of tiny children I lean toward lighter or quicker reading because there just aren’t wide blocks of time to engage deeply and work through heavy topics. I don’t mind. Children are tiny for a very short period, and there are likely many seasons of meatier reading ahead. Memoirs took up a big chunk of my reading list this year, as did gleefully binging on Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series. The Modern Mrs. Darcy site sparked a lot of my reading choices this year as well. It’s always a bit hard to categorize books, as some cross genres (e.g., many of the parenting or marriage books I read are also Christian, some memoirs are classics, etc.).

MY FAVORITES

  • Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker. There’s a lot of food for thought packed into this concise and practical volume. Drucker discusses analyzing strengths and weaknesses, learning and performance styles, ethics and values, relationships, communication, and developing interests and strengths. He speaks from a business viewpoint but his ideas are widely applicable.
  • Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges. It is easy to become preoccupied with society’s “big” sins while ignoring or even condoning sins in our own lives or our Christian communities. Bridges briefly tackles “respectable” sins like frustration, discontentment, pride, impatience, irritability, gossip, lack of self-control, and others. So-so writing but meaty ideas.
  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I’m not usually a big Steinbeck fan but, as promised by others, this one completely hooked me. The Hamilton and Trask families’ stories are often dark but they’re also full of tremendous warmth and beauty.
  • Laughing Without an Accent by Firoozeh Dumas. Dumas has a wonderful sense of humor, and her stories will have a special ring of familiarity to anyone who is the child or relative of immigrants. I like that Dumas approaches both Iran and the US with a gently critical eye and with appreciation vs. blanket generalizations. I also like that this book poked fun without humiliating the subjects. The same cannot be said for her first book, Funny in Farsi, which left me cringing for the objects of her jokes.
  • Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache books. I discovered this series about a detective in Quebec via Modern Mrs. Darcy. I succumbed to addiction and only emerged after bingeing my way through the entire saga during midnight feedings with the newborn. You know books are fun if you’re happy when the baby wakes you in the wee hours! Beautiful writing, enjoyable characters, and good dialogue. I appreciate that Penny thoughtfully tackles issues of ethics, honor, and virtue. While I don’t always agree with her conclusions or base assumptions, these books are more thought-provoking than your typical mystery. They follow both individual stories in each book as well as a broader story arc so they are best read in order. Not all of the books are equally good (especially toward the end of the series) but overall I loved them.
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. My sister-in-law introduced me to Gaiman. This is his newest book. Gaiman’s writing tends to be spooky and macabre but also beautiful and evocative. His writings freely explore evil, but always in contrast to good. The Man and I both loved this book although the ending feels a bit weak. Like the Narnia books it is also an allegory of the central themes of Christianity – someone has evil/darkness placed in his heart and owes his life to dark forces because of it. There is a Christ figure, a trinity, incarnation, the second coming… Frankly the choices surprised me as Gaiman publicly rejects Christianity.
  • The Martian by Andy Weir. I picked this up because it was getting such good press, and because I wanted to read it before seeing the movie. For the first chapter or two I had a pretty “meh” reaction, thought it wasn’t for me, and wondered why it got the good reviews. I’m glad I stuck with it though – creative and so much fun, a perfect vacation read!
  • My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. I loved this book. Durrell later became a famous naturalist and conservationist. This memoir covers his boyhood on the Greek island of Corfu. Think Cheaper by the Dozen with a splash of P.G. Wodehouse and several hundred animals and bugs shaken in. I laughed like a loon while my husband shot me concerned looks, then passed it on to my Mom. I can’t wait to try Durrell’s other books.
  • Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne. I never actually read this one as a kid. The twins love Pooh bear so I read them the novel and was surprised by how much fun it is. A lot of the humor is over kids’ heads, but it’s so clever and wry for adult readers.

Here’s the full list for this year:

BUSINESS/LEADERSHIP

Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker

Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life by Donald Rumsfeld

 

PARENTING/MARRIAGE/HOUSEHOLD/HABITS

I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-Conscious World by Marguerite A. Wright

Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford

Beyond Ordinary by Justin and Trisha Davis (could also file under memoir)

The Fringe Hours by Jessica N. Turner

The Four Seasons of Marriage by Gary Chapman

The House that Cleans Itself by Mindy Starns Clark

How to Really Love Your Child by D. Ross Campbell

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne

The Mission of Motherhood by Sally Clarkson

 

CLASSICS

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

The Professor by Charlotte Bronte

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

A Legacy by Sybille Bedford

Here is New York by E.B. White

 

CHRISTIAN

Talking with God by Francois Fenelon

Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges

Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp

A Homemade Year by Jerusalem Greer – a tough one to categorize

 

MODERN FICTION

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

the curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon

I Am One of You Forever by Fred Chappell

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers by Alexander McCall Smith

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Martian by Andy Weir

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

 

AUTOBIOGRAPHY/MEMOIR

The Antelope in the Living Room by Melanie Shankle

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

The Telling Room by Michael Paterniti

Going Solo by Roald Dahl

Boy by Roald Dahl

Laughing Without an Accent by Firoozeh Dumas

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

Life from Scratch by Sasha Martin

A Spoonful of Sugar: A Nanny’s Story by Brenda Ashford

The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

 

CHILDREN’S NOVELS

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne (read with the kids)

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Garnett (read with the kids)

The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (read with the kids)

 

MYSTERY

The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin

Still Life by Louise Penny

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny

A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny

The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall

 

CHILDBIRTH

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer

Husband-Coached Childbirth by Robert A. Bradley

Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way: Revised Edition by Susan McCutcheon

 

What did you read this year? Any favorites? Do you have a preferred way of tracking books like Goodreads? I used to record everything in a notebook, but prefer Pinterest these days.

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