It has been another fun year of reading!
- New favorite authors that I look forward to reading more from include Fredrik Backman (I read his entire body of work this year), Jasper Fforde, Cassie Beasley, and Amor Towles.
- I don’t reread often because there’s so much out there I’ve never read, but I did enjoy rereading Til We Have Faces (this might become a yearly read), the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Running on Empty. But I’ve figured out there are some amazing works that are worth the time to reread to allow a deeper delving into the book, and I look forward to some different rereads next year.
- Experimenting with a book flight was a very interesting way to read – although, I suggest picking a topic less depressing than WWII, or at least end with one less depressing than Night.
This year for my devotional reading I worked through Voices from the Past: Puritan Devotional Readings and the six-volume Reader’s Edition of the Bible. Voices from the Past is a collection of Puritan writings specifically for devotional time, a page for each day of the year. I was intimidated to read the Puritans, afraid of archaic language and complex thoughts above my comprehension. But these writings are so far from archaic or academic – they are rich and deep, delving into the grief and struggles of the Christian life, and rejoicing in its blessings and treasures provided for us through the work of Christ. They are immensely relatable and brimming with wisdom from godly men that aimed to live a life pleasing to the Lord. I highly recommend it if you are looking for something short yet rich to add to your devotional time.
Earlier this year we got Crossway’s six-volume Reader’s Bible. This set not only looks lovely, it formats the Bible without any chapter or verse numbers, and it’s printed on real paper (not tissue paper like most Bible), so it looks and feels more like a real book. I love this edition because it helps me see the Bible as a cohesive work, each book relating to the whole, whereas with chapters and verses it is easy to read it as segmented, unrelated chunks. I enjoyed working through it this year for the first time, following Ligonier’s Bible Reading Plan (2018’s is available here), and look forward to reading through it again using this reading plan that goes through each volume at a time. This set is a bit pricey, but Amazon has the best deal and I have found it very helpful in my reading and understanding of the Bible.
And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer is another of Backman’s novellas, short enough to read in one sitting. This story is about a grandfather, his son, and grandson as the grandfather begins to lose his memories. In such a short span of story, Backman captures the intense poignancy of such a difficult situation. Like his other novella, it’s a little trippy and fantastical, but like all his works this story is emotionally gripping and sweet, displaying the trials and bonds of family.
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal is one of those novels that’s hard to describe. It’s a young adult novel, but at it’s core it is a modern day fairy tale in the vein of Neil Gaiman. The book is narrated by the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one of the Grimm Brothers, lending to its fairy tale feel. Jacob has met Jeremy, a teenage boy who can hear the ancient ghost. Jacob becomes a companion for Jeremy but, unawares to Jeremy, he is also his protector from the Finder of Occasions, an unidentified evil force at work in Jeremy’s town of Never Better. Like most fairy tales, this novel celebrates the outworking of justice on evil and the triumph of virtue. It’s an easy, engaging read with unique characters and an intricate plot. McNeal’s mix of modern day and fairy tale is creative and well-done, giving this book a distinctive flair. It’s a novel that took me for a loop, I had no idea what to expect as it progressed, and I enjoyed the surprise.
To continue my Backman streak, I read his novel released earlier this year, Beartown. This story is about the people of Beartown and their love for hockey. It consumes them: everyone plays hockey, everyone is a fan of the local club team, and everyone knows that hockey can make or break their hometown. This year, they finally have a chance at winning the finals. A victory could mean a new hockey training center, new businesses, more jobs, a better economy, and a better life for Beartown citizens. But after a horrific, violent incident, the town is threatened with losing their chance at revitalization. Some react to this with wisdom and grace, some with cowardice and anger. This is unlike any of Backman’s other novels. He deals with sensitive subject matter, and the overall tone is much darker, the characters more grittier. It’s an excellent story with complex characters and plot, and, like all his other novels, it is emotionally gripping. This novel reads like a culmination of his writing – crafting a tale more intricate and piercing than any before.
To continue my Fredrik Backman stint I grabbed his newest work, a Christmas novella called The Deal of a Lifetime. It’s a short story about a father talking to his son on Christmas eve. After meeting a young girl dying of cancer, the father reflects on his life – his triumphs and mistakes, joys and regrets – and considers his future. Backman asks the question what and who would you give your life for? It’s a very quick read; I read it in one sitting, maybe about forty-five minutes. Backman, as usual, delivers a sweet, tender story that evokes many emotions in the reader, even in such a short form. I expected something marketed as a Christmas story to be a bit more happy, but regardless it is an endearing tale of reflection, longing, and second chances.
Picnic at Hanging Rock is a mystery novel by Australian writer Joan Lindsay. I have not read many mysteries, so this was a new kind of experience. The novel is about the young ladies of Appleyard College, a boarding school in Australia. On St. Valentine’s day in the year 1900, they venture to Hanging Rock, a unique, naturally-formed stone formation, for a picnic. Four girls climb higher up on the rock to explore, and three of them are never seen again. If you like stories tied up neatly, you may not like this one. The emphasis of the story is less on explaining the disappearances and more about the ripple effects these disappearances have in the lives of those that remain at Appleyard College, the surrounding towns, and all Australia. It is well-written with interesting characters and a story that carries the reader along. Lindsay also provides an interesting exploration of the consequences of “civilized” British society imposing on the wild, mysterious Australian bush. Apparently, a cornerstone novel in Australian literature, it was an enjoyable book to read.
The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall explores how our lives are completely steeped in story – from our dreams to entertainment to even our memory. Written from a humanist perspective, Gottschall provides research showing that story is all around us, and how this differentiates us from other creatures. We are drawn to story in all contexts, from children to adults, though the manifestation of how we partake of story changes. The research he presents is very interesting and eye-opening to truly how immersed in story we are. Gottschall attempts to explain why this is true, but falls a bit flat. He shows how story provides structure to society, empathy toward others, and common morality, but is never quite able to hone in on why, from an evolutionary point of view, we maintained the need for stories versus animals. It might seem simple, but factoring God into the equation gives the answer: we’re drawn to stories because we were made in the image of a story-telling God. A great book along these same lines, but written from a God-centered worldview, is The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth by Mike Cosper. Though I read Cosper’s book a couple years ago, it could easily pick up where The Storytelling Animal stops. Cosper focuses less on the scientific research and more on drawing out the repeating themes found in the stories we love – themes originating in God’s Word. They’re both great books and make me appreciate this great gift of story God has given us.
My husband got me Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands by Shona and David Murray after he read the companion book, Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture by David Murray, one written for women and one for men. The premise of each is that we are all filling our days and time up with more than we can handle just heading for an inevitable breakdown. The Murrays take a look at the causes of burnout and exhaustion and specific, practical ways to slow down the pace of life. I appreciate that they not only look at the spiritual aspect of burnout, but physical, emotional, and mental as well, rooting their work in much Scripture and scientific research. The main idea I took from the book is that, as humans, we must realize we are finite and limited; we are not able to do any and every thing that others – or even ourselves – might expect of us. We must have our priorities in order, but we also need to have grace with ourselves, recognizing that it’s ok if we have to say no to some commitments or if our to-do list isn’t finished. We need to take care of ourselves spiritually and physically. And sometimes we just need to take a nap. If you feel caught up in a whirlwind of busyness and are afraid you can see breakdown on the horizon, this is a very helpful and practical book. I also appreciate the companion book, which is the same material but tweaked a bit for men. I found it helpful for Ben and I to have read them both so we had a common frame of reference to discuss the material. My favorite quote:
The key is to grasp that pacing ourselves is biblical, whereas living the fast, frantic life is not. It takes faith to believe that and to follow through with it. To live it is in fact a dying to self – a dying to our self-will, our self-sufficiency, and our self-image.”
I’ve recently discovered Philip K. Dick, a science-fiction author who has had several novels turned into well-known films. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is the source novel for the Blade Runner movies. I’ve never seen them, but the story sounded intriguing (I’ve since learned that the movie and novel are not the same story, fyi). The novel takes place in a futuristic 2021 following World War Terminus, a nuclear war that has left the earth decimated. Most animals have died and most humans have relocated to a colony on Mars to avoid the damaging effects of the lingering nuclear fallout. The colonists are given androids to help with the rough living on Mars. However, some androids are not content with their servitude and kill their human owners and escape to Earth where they attempt to live as humans. Rick Deckard has remained on Earth. Like all the others left on the planet, he dreams of having enough money to afford to own one of the rare surviving animals, the ultimate status symbol. Those that can’t afford real animals buy electric substitutes that look so real they’re indistinguishable. Rick longs to replace his electric sheep with a real animal. His job is as a bounty hunter for the San Fransisco Police, tasked with hunting down rogue androids and “retiring” (killing) them. He is given the assignment to retire six of the newest and most advanced androids that are hiding in San Fransisco. Dick’s novel is classic sci-fi that explores deep philosophical questions in a dystopian, futuristic setting. He questions what makes us human and the answer he offers is empathy – the only way to tell the difference between androids and humans is by a test that measures empathy. Androids have none, and can only fake it. This makes them cold and unfeeling, unable to perform a selfless act; they’re calculated and willing to do whatever it takes to protect themselves. As Deckard hunts the androids down one by one, he begins to question his identity and the morality of his quest. He fears he cannot do his job anymore because he realizes he empathizes with the androids and even the electric animals. Ultimately, he comes to see this not as a weakness but exactly what makes him human. It’s a fantastic tale fans of science-fiction will enjoy.