Saturday, January 14, 2017

My Year in Reading: 2016 (Part 2)

By late Spring, I had hit a reading slump. I had read a series of meh books. The weather outside was warming up and I was burnt out from homeschooling. To try and inspire the kids to read, I printed off a summer reading challenge I had downloaded from Pam Barnhill called Traveling the Pages: An Enchanted Journey.
The fairy-tale map had different squares with challenges on them to color in when you completed it. The kids decided that I should participate too. I turned to my beloved children's literature to keep up with the kids, and I ended up enjoying reading again and discovering some delightful books like:

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale (Read a Fairytale Square)
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (Read a fantasy book)
Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter (Read a Classic)
My Mrs. Brown by William Norwich (Read a book about a voyage, vacations or adventure) (Not a children's book, but a delightful story about an older woman and her journey to buy the perfect dress.)

I also found a way to fit in some books from my recent favorite time period: the period between World War I and World War II in Europe. 

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson (I have been missing my British tv shows Downton Abbey and Larkrise to Candleford, and this helped fill the void.)
Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear (As an adult, I've discovered that I love character-driven, not too gruesome mystery series, and the Maisie Dobbs series is excellent. Maisie is a former WWI nurse, turned detective, and now Secret Service agent who finds herself in Germany right before WWII in the latest installment.)
 Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World's Deadliest Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (compelling children's non-fiction that will fascinate adults.)

Fall brought us The Most Anticipated Book of the Year: 
Ember Falls by S. D. Smith.
We have been anxiously awaiting the sequel to The Green Ember. I have loved all of Smith's books, but only recently introduced my kids to them. So they were super excited when our Kickstarter package came. I kept finding tiny rabbits with swords all around the house. We passed the books along to our friends.The kids loved them, their parents loved them, even their grandparents loved it. Right before we got to the end of the book, I was telling the kids how some authors are cruel enough to have a cliff-hanger ending. Then the book ended. That's all I'll say, but we are all begging, "Please, Mr. Smith, write the next book soon!"

My Favorite Book of the Year
The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton-Porter
I discovered Stratton-Porter as an adult and I seem to like each book I read by her more than the last one, I started with Girl of the Limberlost, then Freckles, but her last book, The Keeper of the Bees, is her masterpiece. This is the story of a WWI veteran named Jamie who escapes a hospital and finds himself in the home of a beekeeper in California, where he is soon woven into a new community and family. A beautiful story of healing and faith and nature. Very moralistic and old-fashioned by today's standards, which is probably why I loved it.

Fall also brought a lot of nasty politics, which made me want to only read books about baking cookies. But I did tip my toe into the world of politics by reading Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance. Because he's Appalachian and he had something to say. I also made my way through the first debate by reading The Plain Reader: a collection of essays by Amish, Quakers, and Luddites.

Then came the holiday season. My reading took a more religious tone. I discovered Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John. When I picked this up, I thought because of its setting in Switzerland, that it would just be a Heidi knockoff. But I was so wrong. This is a deeply Christian children's book, which talks beautifully about the power of forgiveness and salvation in two children's life (one a bully, and one the persecuted). I still find myself thinking about some of her images. I definitely want to read more of her books.
In December, I discovered that I had reached the end of the year, and had not read a single Elizabeth Goudge book. I had several on my shelf, and had picked up The Dean's Watch more than once and just couldn't get into it. This time I picked up the book and couldn't stop reading. It turns out that the whole arc of the story leads to Advent and Christmas, and this was the perfect time to read it. This is the story of the unlikely friendship between a local clockmaker and the Dean of the Cathedral. As with all of her books, it was full of healing and redemption and beautiful religious symbolism.

For my final book of the year, I decided to reread my favorite book of 2015: The Awakening of Miss Prim. A modern book that reads like an old-fashioned one about a community that has built a refuge from modern life.While the main character is hardly sympathetic, I fell in love with everyone in the town. If you are at all inclined to want to have huge libraries in your house and stop by friend's house for a cup of tea and slice of cake, while you discuss classic literature, faith, and the failings of modern society, you will want to read this book.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

My Year in Reading: 2016 (Part 1)

If you haven't guessed already, I love books. At one of my annual check-ups, the doctor always asked if I have any hobbies, and I always reply, "Yes, I read." Then I spend the rest of the check-up feeling guilty that I don't have a healthier hobby like running marathons or making green smoothies.

But, a few years ago, I realized that for my particular personality and spirit, I need a steady inflow (and an occasional outflow) of beautiful words or my soul starts to wither. So I read-- for my health.

For the past three years or so, I've been keeping a book journal to track my progress and make a central place for all the quotes I scribble down in my notebooks haphazardly next to the menu plan and the kids' school stuff. I've also been setting myself a goal of books to read, and this is the first year that I actually exceeded my goal. I aimed for 52 books and read 62.

January always leaves me with a big stack of books from Christmas and my birthday. Looking back over the past few years, the books that have spoken to me most have been stories of the healing and transformative power of home and community.  Some of my favorites this year were: 

For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macauley (great homeschool inspiration)

The Life-giving Home by Sally and Sarah Clarkson (adding beauty and traditions to your home)

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (I decided to reread this since we were hoping to move somewhere that I could grow things. We didn't end up moving or growing anything, but it did inspire me to fill my freezer with veggies from my farmshare.)

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (I hadn't read this since sixth grade. So worth a reread as an adult. Marmee is so wise. She will inspire you in all new ways as a mom.)

In the House of Brede by Rumer Godden (A book about nuns that speaks beautifully about living a life of sacrifice and devotion.)

Most Disappointing Books of the Year
Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs and Emily's Quest by L. M. Montgomery
I hate to criticize L. M. Montgomery as she has always been one of my favorite authors. I received a new set of the Emily series with the most beautiful covers, and was looking forward to rereading them. These books were a favorite in childhood. I probably would have even said I preferred Emily to Anne. But sometimes when you reread books as a parent, you find you have different feelings. It's why my husband find himself always shaking his head at Pa Ingall's adventures. As a mother of young daughters, I found myself creeped out, especially by Dean Priest's character. No older man needs to be skulking around young girls and claiming that they owe them anything.

The Book I Finally Conquered
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I rarely feel compelled to read books because I should, but this year I did challenge myself a bit. You see, I've always had this shameful little secret. I've never liked Jane Austen. I've tried, but there was always just so much talking. I know so many people who love these books, though, so I decided to try again. First off, I watched the BBC miniseries. I tried to watch furtively in the kitchen while cooking, but I soon discovered the kids hanging around. What I did not expect was that they got totally into P & P. They loved the dresses and they thought it was really funny. I had never noticed the humor before! Then I listened to the book on audiobook, which made all the difference. It turns out that so much talking makes a great audiobook. That is how I finally enjoyed Jane Austen. I might even read more.

Most Inspiring Real People I Learned About This Year: Hannah More and William Wilberforce
Fierce Covictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More--Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior
Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxes
This year I discovered this fascinating group of British Christian friends who shaped the moral imagination and history of their entire country (and I'm not talking about the Inklings). The Clapham Circle, included William Wilberforce and Hannah More and other abolitionists: he a politician, she a writer; both fierce abolitionists who helped abolish slavery in Britain, as well as make a host of other societal changes. Who wouldn't want their home to be described as "the favored seat of intellectual and religious sunshine" as Hannah More's was? I also had to rewatch the excellent movie Amazing Grace, when I was finished.

Stay tuned for Part 2.