Once I finished book #52 for 2016, I immediately picked up another thinking it’d be my first of 2017. I finished this one quicker than I expected, so it’s not technically in 2017, but it’s a great one to start off a new year of reading.
On the surface, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a post-apocalyptic novel, but truly is so much more. The novel is set in a world destroyed by a pandemic; only a fraction of humanity is left and they live in small towns dotted here and there around the globe. Kirsten was eight when the pandemic struck, her last night in the former world spent as a child actor in a production of King Lear. Twenty years later, she travels throughout North America with the Traveling Symphony, a group of musicians and actors that perform music and Shakespearean plays in the towns they pass through.
If the idea of sci-fi/post-apocalyptic would turn you away, don’t let that dissuade you from this novel. Mandel not only writes an engaging, fast-paced story, but she delves into some inspiring themes. By jumping back and forth between pre-pandemic and post-pandemic, she explores the role of art in difficulty, the numerous everyday things we take for granted, and, in a world where we can get anything we want with the press of a few keys, what is truly important in life. I loved this book and couldn’t put it down.
What a fun year of reading now come to an end! Not only did I finally get around to reading things that had been on my list for years, I also learned a bit about my reading habits and preferences: Continue reading
My final book of 2016 for the reading challenge was Call the Sabbath a Delight by Walter Chantry, which I put in the category of “a book published by the Banner of Truth.” Ben gave this to me for Christmas on the recommendation of a friend.
In Call the Sabbath a Delight, Chantry discusses the fourth commandment as given in Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15. Using other Biblical texts, he walks through the meaning of the commandment, our need of a day of rest, whether the command applies to the church today, and how we can discern how best to observe the Sabbath. Chantry points out our modern culture’s failure to appropriately observe the Sabbath and how, by ignoring such an important commandment to set aside a day for the worship of God, we are forgoing a great blessing that the Lord has created for us. “Because so many never give a day to the contemplation of heavenly and spiritual realities, their shoulders are bent over and their eyes are riveted upon the clay of this earth.” But when we set ourselves aside and give the day God has claimed to Him, our souls find satisfaction and joy that we can find nowhere else. Chantry does not give a list of “dos” and “don’ts,” but points out that the application of the fourth commandment is about where our heart is focused – on ourselves or on God – and we must train and discipline ourselves to discern what is most pleasing to Him on that day. “The thing which matters is whether the heart is crying, ‘Thy face will I seek, O Lord.'” A quick read, this little book of about a hundred pages is a wonderfully encouraging, convicting, and challenging book that anyone seeking to better understand and obey the fourth commandment should read.
For the reading challenge category “a book with a great cover” I read A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman.
A Man Called Ove is written by a Swedish author, hence the unfamiliar name of the main character – the back of the book makes “Ove” rhyme with “love,” so that was how I read it, though, apparently, the audiobook and the appropriate Swedish pronunciation is “Oovah.” It is the story of the neighborhood curmudgeon who thinks he’s the only one that knows how to do anything useful in a world that’s gone to rot. Everyone else is too busy staring at screens and disregarding responsibilities and rules, and Ove wants nothing to do with them. Backman creates wonderful characters that I grew very attached to while he explores the questions of what in life is worth living for, and what is worth dying for? Backman is a Swedish author who wrote in English and every now and then his syntax and diction are just a bit off, but not enough to jar the flow of the novel. It is also possible that he used some European phrases I’m just not familiar with. Reading Ove’s sour attitude about everyone around him helped me realize my own curmudgeonly tendencies, as well as develop an empathy for the hidden history of individuals and why we should give people the benefit of the doubt. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot because Backman’s pacing and unfolding of the story is very well done to draw the reader deeper and deeper in. I will say he explores some darker themes without getting too depressing or making those themes seem trivial. It is an engaging, fast-paced story that I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend.
For the reading challenge category “a book written by an author with initials in their name” I read That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis, the last book in his Space Trilogy.
The final book in Lewis’ Space Trilogy is quite different from the other two. This novel follows the stories of numerous characters. Dr. Ransom, the main character from the other two novels, is in the book though in a minor role. That Hideous Strength shows the forces of good and evil that readers met in the previous two novels battling for Earth. This story is a bit darker and more science fiction than the others, though it moved at a much quicker pace with less long philosophical sections. Honestly, I don’t really know what to make of this Space Trilogy, especially this last book. It had numerous themes running throughout and left me with a sense that I just didn’t understand what Lewis was trying to do. I love Lewis, but this series was not very interesting to me. Ultimately, I’m just proud to have finally finished these books as they’ve been on my bookshelf for over a decade.
For the reading challenge category “a book written by someone of a different ethnicity than you” I read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. This book has been sitting on my shelf for at least ten years and I had never read it. So I was determined to read it this year.
Their Eyes Were Watching God is the story of Janie searching for her identity as she fights against the family and societal expectations that direct her life. The story follows her over a long period of her life and through several marriages, each helping her to learn more about who she is and what she desires. Hurston tells a moving story the reader can easily relate to, and her writing is beautiful and poetic. Though the dialogue is written in dialect and can be difficult to follow at times, once I got used to reading it, it was much easier. Hurston creates life-life, sympathetic characters and explores themes we all wrestle with. I honestly was hesitant to read this novel because I thought it would be depressing, but it was excellent and I’m glad it’s not longer just collecting dust on my shelf.
I don’t know how I missed the Anne books when I was a girl. I faintly remember other girls talking about the PBS series, but it was never anything that piqued my interest. As an adult, I’ve heard it newly raised in conversation because of another PBS movie and upcoming Netflix series. There seems to be such a love of this heroine, whether from the book or the screen, so when I stumbled upon a five cent copy at the thrift store, I decided I had to give it a go. I’m counting Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery for the reading challenge category “a book about adoption.” (There are so many pretty copies of Anne it puts my banged up thrift store copy to shame. So here’s the Puffin in Bloom cover.)
Anne of Green Gables is the story of a young orphan girl who is accidentally sent to Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, a middle-aged brother and sister who wanted a boy to help around the farm. Though Marilla is intent that Anne must go back, the girl soon captures their hearts and they decide to adopt her. The novel is written in episodes as Anne settles in to her new home at Green Gables and in to her new town, Avonlea on Prince Edward Island. Anne is a delightfully quirky character who loves imagining, hates her red hair and freckles, and gets into all kinds of humorous predicaments. Through her, the reader gets to meet the other inhabitants of Avonlea and watch Anne grow up and become part of a family. It is no wonder that Anne is such a beloved heroine of literature, though over a hundred years old. Montgomery created not only a wonderfully winsome heroine, but a charming town and community. Anne of Green Gables is the first in a series of eight books that follow Anne’s life, though I’ve been told the first is by far the best. It was a delightful, sweet read and, though I probably won’t read more Anne books, I look forward to reading the first in Montgomery’s Emily books which is supposed to be just as great.
A friend of mine gave me The Shallows for my birthday. It had been on my wish list for a long time, and she gave such a hearty recommendation of it that I read it immediately. I’m counting it for my reading challenge category of “a book about science.”
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr looks at the changes caused in our brains and culture by our increasing use of the Internet. This thoroughly researched and engaging book discusses the history of media and technology, and the science behind brain plasticity and memory, all to show what we are forfeiting by our continuous connectivity. Carr argues, supported by scientific and experimental data, that as our brains adapt to the multitasking culture of distraction on the Internet, we lose our ability for deep thought – being able to focus on one thing for a long amount of time. Instead, the Internet retrains our brains to read and think in short snippets, scanning and skimming in order to quickly and efficiently process information. While Carr acknowledges the benefits of having access to such limitless knowledge, he urges his readers to consider the costs of its use. The Shallows is fascinating and frightening, and makes me think much more about how much I pick up my phone or open my computer.
I have recently gotten into listening to a podcast called What Should I Read Next? with Anne Bogel. On it, Anne discusses books with a guest in order to do some “literary matchmaking.” One book she has often recommended is called The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work” by Kathleen Norris. I was very intrigued by the content and her recommendation, so I read it. After the fact, I’m sticking it in the reading challenge category “a book from a theological viewpoint you disagree with.” (I only stuck it here because she mentions Christian mysticism in passing.)
The Quotidian Mysteries is the transcript of a lecture Norris gave about finding the spiritual in the everyday. We tend to think poorly of housework and other everyday chores, though these are essential to life functioning. Norris draws a correlation between liturgies and chores to show that the need for repetition, such as daily prayers or daily laundry, does not demean the action itself. Norris is a poet and her writing evidences that with descriptive and sensory language. This little book offers some interesting anecdotes of her own struggles to find her purpose and value as a woman. I expected The Quotidian Mysteries to be a Christian living book that addressed a struggle and offered solutions. But I don’t feel that she uncovers any startling revelation, merely expresses a feeling with which many women wrestle. Considering it as a memoir, though, I can appreciate her take on the value of “women’s work.”
For the reading challenge category “a book written by an Anglican” I read the second book of C. S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, Perelandra.
The second novel follows Ransom as he heads to the planet Perelandra, a young world inhabited only by the King and Lady and their creatures. Ransom is sent to fight on behalf of this fledgling world as evil forces attempt to ruin it. Again, Lewis’ imagination and creativity is impressive in this new world he creates. The focus of the novel is less the progression of the plot and more the exploration of the nature of man, temptation, and obedience. If you like interesting stories that deal with weighty philosophical themes, you’ll appreciate this book.