Rules of Civility is Amor Towles’ first novel, and the second I’ve read. He is a wonderful writer, the likes of which is hard to find in contemporary fiction. The novel chronicles a particularly eventful year in the life of Katherine Kontent that set the direction of her future. Katey came from a working-class family in New York City and works in a secretarial pool for a law firm. While celebrating New Years Eve in 1937, Katey and her friend, Eve, have a chance encounter with Tinker Grey, a charming man from the upper echelons of New York, and through association with him they are brought into this life of high society. Katey lives the next year navigating the social circles of her own status and those she meets through Tinker, while figuring out what kind of woman she wants to be in this socially stratified city. The characters are so life-like, seen at their best and worst, that they’re not all loveable, though immensly relatable. It’s a sad story at times of the mistakes we make and the hard truths we learn throughout life, thought not without hope. It reminded me a lot of The Great Gatsby (a favorite) and Fitzgerald’s sharp commentary of the New York upper class. A really great read and I look forward to Towles writing more novels.
Greenglass House by Kate Milford is a really fun children’s mystery. Milo lives with his parents, the Pines, at Greenglass House, an inn decorated with beautiful stained glass and popular with the smuggler’s coming through Nagspeake. Usually, business is slow around Christmas and Milo and his parents have the whole house to themselves. But this year, new guests keep arriving one after another, each one with a strange connection to the house, changing the Pines’ holiday from quiet to chaotic. Problems really start to arise once items go missing. Milo and his friend, Meddy, decide they are going to delve into each guest’s past in order to discover the thief and untangle the mysterious connections surrounding the house. It’s a really engaging story in a creative setting. The novel looks at themes of adoption, identity, and history. I enjoyed Milford’s writing, and look forward to reading some of her other novels.
I didn’t pick up The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg at first because it sounded like a self-help book. But after hearing a guest talk about it on my favorite book podcast, I realized it’s more in the vein of The Shallows (though not as good) looking at the science and how our brain works with regard to habits, the actions we do without thinking. Duhigg walks through the neuroscience of how habits are formed, how they’re changed, and how some habits can cause a ripple effect on the others in our lives, looking at the habits of individuals, organizations, and societies. The anecdotes he uses to explain habits in these three spheres were so very interesting. The most fascinating was how marketing for large organizations manipulate buyers’ spending habits in order to get them to buy more. He lost me a little some on the habits of societies – it seems a bit simplistic to dwindle down the cause of the Civil Rights Movement to habits, which he does admit himself though to even attempt it seems far-fetched. His last chapter briefly poses a question of ethics (are people responsible for habits they’re not in control of?), and I would have appreciated him delving into that more. It does get a little self-helpy at the end, plus an Appendix that discusses how to apply the principles of habits to change your own. Overall, it was a very compelling book. It’s always enjoyable to understand more of how our complex brains work.
I picked up The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin on our last vacation when we were wandering downtown and came upon a bookstore going out of business. (Yay for close-out sales. Boo for less bookstores.) This novel had been on my wish list because it’s about a bookstore owner with lots of literary references. After the death of his wife, A. J.’s life and business are spiraling out of control. But some chance encounters set his life on a new course. It was an easy and enjoyable read for vacation, though for the sake of moving along quickly I thought some of the plot wasn’t quite fleshed out. But I appreciated the characters and the literary references woven in.
C. S. Lewis Through the Shadowlands: The Story of His Life with Joy Davidman by Brian Sibley is sort of a biography of Lewis, but with specific focus on his relationship with his wife of only four short years. The book gives some background on both Jack (Lewis’ chosen name all his life) and Joy prior to meeting each other, then delves into their friendship and married life when they were both middle-aged. Jack was a confirmed bachelor who never planned to marry when he met Joy, but she turns out to be such an engaging and well-matched partner for him that he is taken with her. Sibley does a good job of showing how Jack’s personal life was affected and can be seen in his writings. It was a very interesting read and shows a side of the author not seen in his own autobiography (written before his marriage) which rounds out who this talented and brilliant man was.
I enjoyed reading N. D. Wilson’s fiction, The Ashtown Burials and 100 Cupboards series, and have heard a few interesting interviews from him about his writing and worldview. So I figured a nonfiction book by him would also be good. Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl is a collection of essays about…well, who knows. It seems to be a bunch of stream-of-consciousness observations about the world around us. But honestly, I can’t tell what the point is. I gave this a few chapters, but then just felt like I was wasting my time. I’ll stick to his fiction from now on.
Rosaria Butterfield referenced Missional Motherhood: The Everyday Ministry of Motherhood in the Grand Plans of God by Gloria Furman in The Gospel Comes with a House Key as her favorite book on motherhood. Since I really appreciate Butterfield’s view on things, I ordered this to give it a go. This is my second Furman book, and I am beginning to enjoy her writing and insight. From the outset, Furman asserts that the role of motherhood falls to all women because it is the role of nurturing – one we all instinctively do whether towards our own children, others’ children, our husband, younger women, etc. The first half of Missional Motherhood is a broad overview of Scripture, drawing out the thread of the redemptive story of God throughout. With this foundation, Furman then embarks on the second half which applies these big ideas of who Christ is – our Creator, Redeemer, Prophet, Priest, King, and Resurrection life – to our specific role as women. She shows how the person of Jesus affects and allows us to fulfill our role as nurturers, lifting the burdens placed on us by ourselves, our sin, and the world, and freeing us to trust and serve Him. This is a wonderful book that lifts our eyes higher than the day-to-day mundane grind to see the grand plan of God at work through our lives and the roles and responsibilities He’s given us. It was really helpful to remind me that my life is not about me, but about God’s glory. This is a wonderful book for women of any age and station in life.
Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison is a memoir about his years growing up as an undiagnosed Aspergian. From his earliest memories, Robison portrays how he struggled to communicate and fit in, and how the difficulties in his home life forced him to learn to adapt in the world. He provides an inside view of how he sees and processes the world around him, and how some of his Aspergian traits helped in his career path. It was very interesting to get someone’s perspective of the world that is so wholly different from the way my own brain works. I especially appreciated his message that while his Asperger’s makes him unique, he came to learn it also makes him like everyone else – we all feel like misfits at times in life and long to be accepted for who we are.
Devoted: Great Men and Their Godly Moms by Tim Challies is a slim little collection of mini-biographies about great men of the faith and the influence of their mothers. Covering men of church history, past and present, Challies looks at the role their mothers played in their salvation and spiritual development. It was an easy, enjoyable read with meaty though short chapters you can read through real quickly. Each chapter also points out some practical lessons we can learn from these women of the past in how we nurture those God has placed in our lives. I really enjoyed this and got a ton of book recommendations out of it.
Grendel by John Gardner tells the story of Beowulf from the famous villain’s point of view. This novel provides a backstory for the monster leading up to his battle with Beowulf. It’s an interesting take on the story, lending some sympathy for Grendel. Gardner also uses this point of view to provide an outsider’s view of humankind, looking at some of its worst aspects. It was an interesting book, though some of it was pretty heady and philosophical, and over my head. Not one of my favorites.