With over a foot of snow on the ground – and more falling – it seems like a good time to write an evaluation of 2019’s books. I felt that my desire to build a reading habit in 2018 bore fruit this year as I maintained a steady stack of books to be read despite an always busy calendar. I followed the #vtreading challenge a bit more loosely, while attempting to pay attention to the balance between fiction and non-fiction, challenging and brain-massage. Truth be told, the brain-massage qualifier took over with a vengeance beginning in October and soon evolved into only the safest and coziest of re-reads. To everything there is a season.
I finished a grand total of 54 books (up two from last year!) which was managed by including audio books and read-alouds for our homeschool. Those living books most definitely count!
Like my reading review from 2018, I’ll include a brief synopsis of the book (thanks to Amazon.com!) and a few sentences about why the book makes the 2019 notable reads list.
Best Fiction – Adult
In this gorgeously wrought story—equal parts character study and mystery—a young woman asks Celine, a badass Brooklyn private eye, to investigate the death of her father, a nature photographer who may or may not have been mauled and eaten by bears in Yellowstone.
I approached this one with fear and trepidation (as I was not in the mood for anything violent or disturbing) and found it to be an excellently written, touching book that I couldn’t put down. I loved the depiction of a loving older couple: their respect for individualism paired with healthy mutual dependence. I also loved how the non-linear timeline wove together, with the present actions of the characters having a basis in past events. Well done!
Best Fiction – Young Adult
The Four-Story Mistake (Melendy Quartet)
Into the Four-Story Mistake, an odd-looking house with a confused architectural history, move the Melendy family — Mona, Rush, Randy, Oliver, Father, and Cuffy, the housekeeper. Though disappointed about leaving their old brownstone in New York City, and apprehensive about living the country life, the four Melendy kids soon settle into this unusual new home. Here, they become absorbed in the adventures of the country, adjusting themselves with all their accustomed resourcefulness and discovering the many hidden attractions that the Four-Story Mistake has to offer.
This was a read-aloud with the kids and we have fallen head-over-heels for the Melendy quartet. I appreciate an author who can accurately relate the natural dynamics between siblings – the squabbles and the collaborations – without feeling contrived. I think we all want a four-story mistake next to a little stream.
Best Non-Fiction – Christian Living
What Christ Thinks of the Church: An Exposition of Revelation 1-3
What does Christ think of the church? In chapters 1-3 of the Book of Revelation, Christ reveals, by praise and reproach, by warning and exhortation, what he wants his church to be like in all places and at all times. Now in this insightful book John Stott, known worldwide for his scholarly yet accessible writing, explores these fascinating letters to seven churches of the ancient world. He helps you discover the message and many insights the letters hold for our church today.
This was a recommendation from Steve and, as it is a commentary on the first three chapters of Revelation, fully expected to have to apply extra brain power. It was remarkably readable and applicable. Months later, I find myself thinking about the spiritual themes he addresses. Having stood on the steps of All Soul’s in London, I was reminded that he was writing from a church surrounded by secularism and that seems to make his exposition have more impact.
The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West
Drawn in great part from a rare and all-but-unknown collection of diaries and letters by the key figures, The Pioneers is a uniquely American story of people whose ambition and courage led them to remarkable accomplishments. “A tale of uplift” (The New York Times Book Review), this is a quintessentially American story, written with David McCullough’s signature narrative energy.
My one seriously long non-fiction read of the year, because it’s not a year of reading without a McCullough history book. I listened to this one on audio and learned so much about the early American westward expansion into the Ohio River Valley. I was impressed by the Puritan-influenced ideals of the original settlers with their respect for human dignity for all people – including slaves and native peoples. A true living book as the names, places, and stories are forever in my brain.
The Pilgrim’s Progress: From This World to That Which Is to Come
For more than three centuries both Christians and non-Christians, young and old, have been fascinated by the characters and story of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress: From This World to That Which Is to Come-regarded as one of the most significant works of English literature. Along the way, readers encounter Evangelist, Mr. Worldly Wisdom, the Interpreter, Hypocrisy, Watchful, Faithful, Talkative, Hopeful, Ignorance, and others. Through word and picture, readers will better understand the obstacles and encouragements they will face as they live out the Christian life this side of heaven.
This was the first time I’ve read Pilgrim’s Progress in its entirety (shock!) and since it was a read aloud for Harriet’s schoolwork, it was a glorious shared experience. I understand now why it has endured as a classic as I received so much spiritual encouragement – never mind the context for cultural references. Harriet and I read the original version, and now Edmund and I are going through a slightly modified version that still retains the original language. I’m thrilled and delighted how much we are both getting out of it this time, too. Having read Bunyan’s Grace Abounding last year adds increased value.
In the book’s preface Chesterton states the purpose is to “attempt an explanation, not of whether the Christian faith can be believed, but of how he personally has come to believe it.” In it, Chesterton presents an original view of Christian religion. He sees it as the answer to natural human needs, the “answer to a riddle” in his own words, and not simply as an arbitrary truth received from somewhere outside the boundaries of human experience.
I made the false assumption that since it seems like everyone has read Orthodoxy (or at least appears to, based on how often it is quoted) that it would be a straightforward read. Nope. It was a struggle for me to stay on task with Chesterton’s winding style and pithy statements, but I think it was worth the effort. (At least I have better context for the oft-quoted lines.) I’m comforted by one blogger’s confession to having re-read Orthodoxy many times in order to grasp its true value – so it’s probably worth a re-read of my own.
The Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength) by C.S. Lewis (2011) Paperback
OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET
Dr Ransom, a Cambridge academic, is abducted and taken on a spaceship to the red planet of Malacandra, which he knows as Mars. His captors are plotting to plunder the planet’s treasures and offer Ransom as a sacrifice to the creatures who live there…
Having escaped from Mars, Dr Ransom is called to the paradise planet of Perelandra, or Venus. When his old enemy also arrives and is taken over by the forces of evil, Ransom finds himself in a desperate struggle to save the innocence of this Eden-like world…
THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH
Investigating the truth about her prophetic dreams, Jane Studdock encounters the fabled Dr Ransom, who is in great pain after his travels. A sinister society run by his old adversaries intends to harness the ancient powers of a resurrected Merlin in their ambition to subjugate the people of Earth…
I wholeheartedly indulged in Lewis’ Space Trilogy and was reminded of its brilliance as I caught even more nuance and depth on a second go-round. Listening on audio helped me focus on visualizing the abstract descriptions of the planets instead of skimming. And can you even compare with the final scenes of warfare and celebration in Perelandra? Lewis’ themes of redemption, humanity, celebration, and utter joy prevailed, and he is forever my favorite.
Best of 2019
Set against the lush backdrop of Crosswicks, her family’s farmhouse in rural Connecticut, this deeply personal memoir details Madeleine L’Engle’s journey to find balance between her career as a Newbery Medal–winning author and her responsibilities as a wife, mother, teacher, and Christian. Written in simple, profound, and often humorous prose, A Circle of Quiet is an insightful woman’s elegant search for the meaning and purpose of her life.
I knew I was going to love this book when L’Engle writes early on about having to escape the bustle of her busy and noisy house in order to make her brain work again. This book takes the cake for having the most entries in my Commonplace. I finally just gave up and took pictures of the (many) pages of quotes to remember. I adored her thoughts on family life, marriage, creativity, and the round-about ways she tied it all together. A joy to read and one that I will return to again and again.
Bonus: Other Notable Titles
Lords and Ladies (Discworld) – I read this as part of our marvelous Terry Pratchett book club, and having not read it previously, was completely surprised and utterly delighted by the witches, wizards, and general fairytale parody.
The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery – I honestly thought I read this last year (it’s been a long year) but apparently not. It is notable because reading this book was the beginning of a lot of growth for me and for our marriage.
My Ãntonia – Since I live in Nebraska, I’m proud to have finally read a book by Willa Cather. Her writing made me feel nearly sentimental about this state (it’s obvious that Cather has lived through a Nebraska winter). I was surprised by the themes of resilience and redemption. (Plus the version in the link has a fabulous cover.)
Phew! As I look ahead to 2020, my reading aspirations are to focus on quality over the pressure for quantity. I’m planning on following the Schole Sisters 5×5 Challenge and This Literary Life’s 20 for 2020 list.
Cheers! And many happy returns of time in good books.
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