Saturday, July 21, 2018

How to Self-Diagnose and Treat (Author) Obsession

First, a quick check to tell whether or not you are obsessed with an author:

1. Do you own more than half of his or her published books?     
2. Do you know right now when his or her next book is coming out? 
3. Alternately, do you regularly check for updates on his or her Facebook, Instagram, website, or Amazon author page to see whether you can expect a new publication soon?
4. Do you regularly check the shelves of your local bookstore or library for new books (or new editions) you don't already own? (And then buy them?)
5. Do you smirk and then snort in derision when you find that a bookstore you thought was probably janky does not in fact carry any titles by the author you know to be one of the best in the world, thus firmly confirming your earlier opinion of said bookstore?
6. Do you own at least one clothing item that proudly declares your admiration (okay, obsession) for this author?

If you answered yes to fewer than half of the above questions, you are just mildly affiliated. If you answered yes to more than half of them, you may are likely to be marginally obsessed. If, however, you are like me and can answer yes (with conviction) to all six of the above, then you, my dear, are in excellent company. You have an author obsession, and it is no small accomplishment. As I thought about this post, I realized that I am a promiscuous obsessive, actually, and there are several authors I adore. Here they are, in no particular order:

David Mitchell
Why I love his books:
David Mitchell creates worlds within worlds, and each one of his books is both completely distinct and unique but also interwoven with the other books in small ways (for a great explanation, see this article on LitHub). He's not easy to classify or quantify, either, which may be why I love his work. BlackSwanGreen is a coming of age story set in a small English village in the 1980s. Cloud Atlas is a mind-bending puzzle of a book, both in its structure and its style. It weaves together six stories, moving from a naive traveler on a 19th century Pacific island to a jaded musician in 1930s Belgium to a dogged journalist in 1970s California to a cheating editor in modern day England to a cloned human in near-future Korea to a curious survivor in far-future Hawaii. Bone Clocks also jumps timelines and places, ranging from 1980s to the possible near future, but it has the extra element of soul-sucking near-immortals, a good guys club and a bad guys club, who have been at war for centuries. And The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is at its most basic level historical fiction, set in Japan in 1799 (for the most part), focusing on traders working at a Dutch trading outpost offshore from Nagasaki. It details the intricate rules and expectations of the Japanese in their trade deals with the west...until it is revealed that a monastery in the mountains has mysterious secrets, and that's when it gets really crazy. And his other books, Number9Dream and Ghostwritten, are excellent as well. Mind blowing, bewildering, excellent.

Emily St. John Mandel

Why I love her books:
Okay, so, if you haven't read Station Eleven yet, you need to get a copy and read it now. This book floors me every single time I've read it, and I have read it several times now. Yes, it is a post-apocalyptic novel, but it is nothing like any other of that genre I've read. Instead of focusing on the chaos and brutality of mankind in the absence of civilization, it focuses on the beauty of humanity--and reminds us to treasure what we have. In its basic story arc, it follows the path of a group of traveling musicians and performers who circuit the shores of Lake Michigan, taking this line from Star Trek Voyager as their motto: "Because survival is insufficient." But it's not just a story about them. It also, through layered narratives, tells the stories of people who lived and worked and loved in the days before the pandemic. If you don't read any of these other books, read this one. And I just finished reading Last Night in Montreal which is, I believe, her first novel. It's excellent. This one's basic story is this: A girl is abducted from her mother's house by her father in the middle of a winter night, and they spend the next ten years on the run. Now, the girl is a young woman, and she can't stay in one place. She is compelled to keep moving, never to settle. Like in Station Eleven, Mandel doesn't tell a linear story, but she keeps circling back and back and back again on this basic story line, telling it again and again from different angles and characters, eventually revealing the whole, beautiful thing. It's gorgeous. I have also read The Lola Quartet, but only once, and it was a library book, so my only comment is that it was good and I should probably get my own copy.

J.K. Rowling

Why I love her books:
I mean, do I even need to say it? This one is pretty much a no-brainer. I have read each one of the Harry Potter books so many times, I feel like I know the characters inside and out. Each time I read one of the books, I fall more in love with the characters, the story, the world Rowling created. I feel a deep sense of loss that I will never again get to read the series for the first time. Pick my favorite book? Ask me to tell you which of my children is my favorite. Can't be done.

Neil Gaiman

Why I love his books:
I think Gaiman is an author for certain types of readers and sometimes, I surprise myself with how much I love his books because I don't think the content is really my style. I am convinced, though, that he is very, very smart, and maybe that is why I love his work so much. I think my favorite is Neverwhere, and one of the reasons I love this book is that it has an alternate world just beyond the edges of ours--and sometimes the worlds overlap. I love books like this. This book has a love story and a quest and humor and mystery--and also bad guys who sometimes eat their victims. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is considerably less brutal, as is Stardust, although they both have disgusting moments. Both have sweetness, though, and magic and humor. And if you don't mind a good deal of gore and other graphic content, American Gods and Anansi Boys both are excellent. Great stories, vivid characters, and a solid dose of the supernatural. (Note: A couple of my copies of Gaiman's books didn't make this picture because I've lent them out.)

Julia Stuart

Why I love her books:
Sadly, Stuart has only written three books so far, but I own each of them and have read them multiple times. Each book is brimming over with quirky, dear characters living out their quiet lives. The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is probably my favorite, even though the back story is so, so sad. Balthazar Jones and his wife live in the Tower of London, where he is a guard. Their young son has recently died, and Balthazar, in his grief, turns to silence. He collects rain in bottles, convinced different rains have different scents. He takes care of the animals at the zoo (temporarily housed at the Tower). He talks to his friends. But he doesn't talk to his wife, and he doesn't talk about his son. Other characters, a priest who writes amorous fiction, his wife's co-worker who likes to wear outlandish costumes at work, and his wife herself are among the cast of outrageous characters who make this novel so, so fascinating. Her other novels The Matchmaker of Perigord and The Pigeon Pie Mystery are similarly populated with interesting, complex, quirky characters. I just love her books and wish she'd write more of them.

Joanne Harris

Why I love her books:
Joanne Harris, like some of the other authors I love, isn't easily classified or contained. Probably her most well-known book, Chocolat, tells of an unconventional woman who breezes into a sleepy French village on Shrove Tuesday and opens a chocolaterie, much to the dismay of the priest whose parish is just across the square. He believes she is only there to draw his congregation away from their Lenten vows and is operating her shop and simply living in direct opposition to the Church. The book is populated with memorable characters and glossed with delicious descriptions of food and, of course, chocolate. And while Harris has also written two books that are sequels to Chocolat, telling more of Vianne Rocher and her children and their friends (The Girl with No Shadow and Peaches for Father Francis), Harris has also written Holy Fools, a novel set in an abbey in 17th century France; two intense suspense books set at an elite boys' school in modern England, Gentlemen and Players and Different Class; and a couple books set in country villages with long-held dark secrets, Five Quarters of the Orange and Blackberry Wine. Her novels are rich and textured. Great reads.

Patricia McKillip
Why I love her books: I think I've read everything she's written at least once. McKillip writes gorgeous fantasy, lovely books that rely more on character and setting than on magic. I think my favorite is The Bell at Sealey Head, a book in which most of the characters are firmly prosaic people living on the coast of an almost-English village, where every day at sunset they all hear (and have come to ignore) the mysterious tolling of a bell. They are innkeepers and merchants and fishermen, busy with daily life until one day a stranger comes who begins to dig deeper into the story of the bell, unleashing the long-buried magical world just beyond the edges of their world. Her other books are great, too. I have read and re-read Od Magic (a school for wizards trains those who will both protect the kingdom from invaders and keep any wizards from becoming too powerful until one day...) and The Bards of Bone Plain (which also features a school...hmm...for musicians whose music can sometimes--if they have the gift--summon and weave magic). They are just beautifully crafted books, each of them.

George Saunders

Why I love his books:
Okay, I have just discovered Saunders. I first heard about Lincoln in the Bardo, and I was so convinced I was going to love it that I put off reading it for months after I bought it so that I could savor it. (Do you do this?) It was definitely worth the wait. Here's the premise: The bardo is like limbo or purgatory, a place where souls wait--sometimes for a very long time--before passing on. In this book, they wait in the cemetery where they have been interred. And these souls form friendships and alliances with each other and have long conversations about their former lives and their present state and what they most miss. They can see living people but cannot interact with them. Into the bardo comes Abraham Lincoln, mourning the death of his beloved son. Of course, Lincoln is not dead, so he isn't really IN the bardo, but the spirits can all see him, and they talk to his son and try to ease him into understanding that he is dead but his father isn't, and his father needs to let him go. But Lincoln cannot. That's a great story, but what makes it even MORE interesting is Saunders's style. He writes in short, short sections--paragraphs, basically--each narrated by an observer. Most of these sections are narrated by the inhabitants of the bardo, but some of the sections tell the story of the boy's illness, death, and funeral from the perspective of friends, family members, and other witnesses to the events. It is so, so interesting. I've never read a book like it. So then, I had to see what else Saunders has written. Just short stories, which I'm not usually a fan of. But I loved Lincoln in the Bardo, so I picked up Tenth of December a little while ago and it is SO STRANGE. Each story is its own package of bizarre. And right now I'm reading In Persuasion Nation. So far, three stories in, equally strange. The stories are funny, but even as I'm laughing, I'm shaking my head in dismay. Saunders is very, very smart. Very satirical. The worlds he's imagining here are so wrong. I hope he's not prophetic. I'm afraid he might be.

So. What do you think? Are you an author-obsessed reader? Have you read any of the above books? I'd love to hear what you're reading. And of course, I'm happy to talk more about any of these books.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Even a Tooth

When I look back over my life, I can't help but wonder at all the times I've received just the right thing at just the right time. Like the time Clint and I were looking at our stove and thinking it had to be at least twenty years old (or came with the house when we bought it thirteen years ago), thinking we should start setting aside money to replace it, and then Dad texted and asked us whether we needed a practically-new (free) stove because his friend just wanted to get rid of it. And it's beautiful and works so well. Blessings like this, both big and small, fall into our days time and again. And let's not forget the blessings we don't even know about, right? Like the time we leave the house later than expected and thus avoid hitting the deer that crossed the road two minutes ago. Stuff like that.
And of course, we have done nothing to earn or deserve these blessings. We just live, thanking God and praising Him for the way He works in our lives. (And that's grace, isn't it?)
Well, we saw grace in action a few days ago. It started like this:
We were spending some time with the extended family the day after Lauren's wedding, just hanging out in and out of the pool, sitting around and swapping stories, eating leftovers from the wedding. You know. Family time. Good time. Important time.
And as we were driving home, Jared mentioned that he thought he had chipped a tooth while "wrestling" with his older cousin. I told him that he probably didn't chip it. It was probably just a sharp spot. No, he said, he had spit out a piece of tooth in his hand.
How hard did he hit you, I asked.
I can't remember getting hit at all, he said. And we weren't even really wrestling. Just, you know.
We figured it wasn't a big deal. It was probably a baby tooth that would come out soon anyway.
When we got home, he pointed out the tooth. I couldn't see anything. We checked online to see whether he would indeed lose his third molar back, soon learning that this one was an adult tooth. A little niggling worry set in, but nothing much. I still figured it couldn't be that bad.
And we began to pack for a week's vacation in northern Michigan. As we packed, I resolved to call the dentist from the road first thing Monday morning, just to feel safe.
When I called, the dentist asked about sensitivity or pain; Jared reported none. They said it should be fine, then.
But that night, when we looked more closely in his mouth with a flashlight and zoomed-in phone camera, we could see a pretty sizable hole in his molar. Clint talked about caps and crowns and root canals. That niggling worry grew.
I called the dentist back the next day and asked for their earliest appointment for the following week. She had an opening early Monday morning.
Still, Jared had no pain, no sensitivity. He promised to keep his tooth extra clean (he's conscientious like that) and didn't seem worried at all.
The vacation was a blessing, a time of rest and family time and great adventure. He never complained about his tooth, and I stopped worrying.
When we got home, I reminded him of his dentist appointment and had to pry him out of bed hours before he usually gets up in the summer. Rubbing sleep from his eyes, we walked into the dentist's office, where we were the first patients of the day.
They called him back and I sat alone for several minutes. Then, his dentist came back to see me, a smile on her face. She said there had been the beginning of a cavity in that tooth--in that spot--that they'd been keeping an eye on, and that part of his tooth had a weak spot, and he must have been "hit" (if he even was...maybe he was just clenching his teeth) at just the right spot, and it just cracked. But it wasn't a deep hole, and it could be fixed with a simple filling.
Oh, I said, what good news. Can I set up an appointment for the filling today?
No need, she said, my next patient hasn't shown up yet. I can do it right now. It won't take long.
And it didn't. Within half an hour, Jared was back in the waiting room with me, tooth fixed.
The dentist said he had done a remarkable job keeping it clean in the eight days since it cracked; that had kept infection from setting in, which made her repair a very simple one.
God is good, people. Even in small things, His care is evident. I am thankful for this reminder to praise Him in all things.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)

Monday, July 2, 2018

Books Read in 2017

I'll get caught up soon with my lists at this rate! Here are the books I read last year. Again, rating is a 1 for a truly awful book and a 10 for a book of great genius. All books with an 8 or higher are also marked in bold font. Leave a comment if you have a question about any of them!

  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (9)
  • Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin (8)
  • Grave Goods by Ariana Franklin (8)
  • The Thousands Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (10)
  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (10) 
  • In a Dark Wood by Ruth Ware (5)
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (10)
  • Coastliners by Joanne Harris (7)
  • Run by Ann Patchett (6)
  • The Wonder by Emma Donoghue (8)
  • Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (8)
  • The Changling Sea by Patricia McKillip (8)
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry (9)
  • The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel (6)
  • Stern Men by Elizabeth Gilbert (5)
  • Hector and the Search for Love by Francois Lelord (5)
  • Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman (9)
  • Feed by Matthew Anderson (7)
  • Timothy: Or, the Notes of an Abject Reptile by Verlyn Klinkenborg (2)
  • The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards (2)
  • The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich (7)
  • A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab (7)
  • The Cartographer of No Man's Land by P.S. Duffy (9)
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (6)
  • The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl (6)
  • Toujours Provence by Peter Mayle (8)
  • Chocolat by Joanne Harris (10)
  • The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway (9)
  • The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (9)
  • A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka (6)
  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (6)
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (9)
  • Mrs. Queen Takes the Train (1)
  • Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach (7)
  • Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (6)
  • White Dog Fell from the Sky by Eleanor Morse (10)
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (9)
  • The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (9)
  • MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood (9)
  • On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman (5)
  • Different Class by Joanne Harris (8)
  • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (10)
  • In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl (2) (and oddly, I read it in...2014 or so and liked it)
  • My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith (7)
  • Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All by Jonas Jonasson (9)
  • City of Shadows by Ariana Franklin (9)
  • Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris (8)
  • Bear Town by Frederik Backman (8)
  • Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson (7)
  • Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell (7)
  • The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett (8)
  • Bone Season by Samantha Shannon (8)
  • The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon (8)
  • The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon (7)
  • Plague Land by S.D. Sykes (2)
  • The Little French Bistro by Nina George (8)
  • The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an IKEA Wardrobe by Romain Puertolas (8)
  • Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuval (8)
  • Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuval (8)
  • Keeper by Kathi Appelt (4)
  • The Templars' Last Secret by Martin Walker (5)
  • The Rise of the Iron Moon by Stephen Hunt (8)
  • The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti (10)
  • The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson (9)
  • New Boy by Tracy Chevalier (6)
  • The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt (8)
  • The Kingdom Beyond the Waves by Stephen Hunt (8)
  • The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonah Jonasson (9)
  • A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell (10)
  • Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse (5)
  • Paris Wife by Paula McLain (6)
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (10)
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (9)
  • A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle (9)
  • A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle (10)
  • Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (8)
  • When the English Fall by David Williams (5)
  • The Devil's Feast by M.J. Carter (8)
  • Waking Land by Callie Bates (8)
  • Ghostwritten by David Mitchell (9)
  • BlackSwanGreen by David Mitchell (10)
  • Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan (8)
  • Mister Memory by Martin Sedgwick (7)
  • The Muse by Jessie Burton (7)
  • Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (4)
  • The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova (8)
  • The Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel Wilson (8)
  • Eva Luna by Isabel Allende (8)
  • Number 9 Dream by David Mitchell (9)
  • First Impressions by Charlie Lovett (6)
  • The Blind Astronomer's Daughter by John Pipkin (7)
  • Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen (9)
  • The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (9)
  • Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle (8)
  • Dog Stars by Peter Heller (9)
  • At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier (6)
  • Nora Webster by Colm Toibin (7)
  • The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Harsuyker (7)
  • The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go (8)
  • The Painter by Peter Heller (8)
  • Celine by Peter Heller (7)
  • Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson (7) (a history of cooking utensils....)
  • The History of Bees by Maja Lunde (7)
  • My Abandonment by Peter Rock (8)
  • Hum If You Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais (8)
  • Bats of the Republic by Zachary Dodson Thomas (8)
  • The Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart (10)
  • Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse (2)
  • Sourdough by Robin Sloan (4)
  • Hanna Who Fell from the Sky by Christopher Meades (4)
  • The Necklace by Claire McMillan (5)
  • Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (5)
  • The Reason You're Alive by Matthew Quick (9)
  • The After-Room by Maile Meloy (8)
  • The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick (8)
  • Love May Fail by Matthew Quick (7)
  • The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami (7)
  • The Man Who Spoke Snakish by Andrus Kivirahk (7)
  • IQ84 by Haruki Murakami (7)
  • BlackSwanGreen by David Mitchell (10)
  • Ghostwritten by David Mitchell (9)
  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (10)
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (10)
  • The Thousand Autums of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (10)
  • Faith Bass Darling's Last Garage Sale by Lynda Stephenson (4)
  • Grayson by Lynne Cox (7)
  • The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti (8)
  • The Inner Life of Animals by Peter Wollheben (9)

Pages Read in 2016

And here are the books I read in 2016. Ratings are in parentheses after the author, with 1 being a complete waste of ink and 10 being amazing.

  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (10) (read it if you want to pleasurably hurt your brain)
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (10)
  • Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard by Lawrence Schoen (7)
  • The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris (5)
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (9)
  • The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon (8)
  • The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon (7)
  • The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Finollera (10)
  • Lock In by John Scalzi (5)
  • The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay (6)
  • Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Watkins (9)
  • Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington (6)
  • Mrs. Bennett Has Her Say by Jane Juska (4)
  • The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald (8)
  • The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley (8)
  • Snuff by Terry Pratchett (9)
  • The Ludwig Conspiracy by Oliver Potzsch (6)
  • The Dogs of Littlefield by Suzanne Berne (1)
  • Chocolat by Joanne Harris (10)
  • A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab (8)
  • Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie (8)
  • Sidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of Sins by James Runcie (8)
  • The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan (8) 
  • Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food by Megan Kimble (8) 
  • The Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart (9)
  • The Last Days of Magic by Mark Tomkins (3)
  • Bell Weather by Dennis Mahoney (8)
  • Rooms by Lauren Oliver (6)
  • Death in the Vines by M. L. Longworth (8)
  • The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai (7)
  • Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa (9)
  • Fallen Land by Taylor Brown (9)
  • The Wild Robot by Peter Brown (10)
  • Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me by Mindy Kaling (3)
  • Incarceron by Catherine Fisher (6)
  • Kingfisher by Patricia McKillip (10)
  • Jane and the Waterloo Map by Stephanie Barron (7)
  • Language Arts by Stephanie Kallos (7)
  • The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth (9)
  • Be Frank with Me by Julia Johnson (10)
  • The Gardener of Versailles by Alain Baraton (6)
  • Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave (10)
  • The Quick by Lauren Owen (8)
  • Syndrome E by Franck Thilliez (7)
  • The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillip (8)
  • City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte (7)
  • City of Lost Dreams by Magnus Flyte (7)
  • The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig (5)
  • Longbourn by Jo Baker (10)
  • Pax by Sara Pennypacker (10)
  • Solstice Wood by Patricia McKillip (10)
  • Britt-Marie Was Here by Frederik Backman (10)
  • The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia McKillip (10) (one of my favorite authors; I have read these books many times)
  • The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia McKillip (10)
  • Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia McKillip (10)
  • In the Forests of Serre by Patricia McKillip (10)
  • The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia McKillip (10)
  • Od Magic by Patricia McKillip (10)
  • The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick (6)
  • A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman (10)
  • Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia McKillip (10)
  • The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins by Antonia Hodgson (7)
  • The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman (7)
  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (9)
  • Deerskin by Robin McKinley (9)
  • The Centurion's Empire by Sean McMullen (1)
  • The Mangle Street Murders by M. R. C. Kasasian (8)
  • The Curse of the House of Foskett by M. R. C. Kasasian (7)
  • Archipelago by Monique Roffey (7)
  • The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler (8)
  • The Apprentices by Maile Meloy (8)
  • Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling by Michael Boccacino (8)
  • Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel (8)
  • The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared by Jonah Jonasson (10)
  • The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (4)
  • The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni (6)
  • Time Siege by Wesley Chu (6)
  • Roses and Rot by Kat Howard (7)
  • The Hemingway Thief by Shaun Harris (7)
  • The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson (7)
  • The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel (9)
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling (kind of) (4)
  • How to Party with an Infant by Kaui Hemmings (7)
  • The Secret of Raven Point by Jennifer Vanderbes (9)
  • Red Rising by Pierce Brown (9)
  • Golden Son by Pierce Brown (9)
  • Morning Star by Pierce Brown (9)
  • The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan (9)
  • Invincible Summer by Alice Adams (5)
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel (9)
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (10)
  • Menagerie Manor by Gerald Durrell (8)
  • A Zoo in My Luggage by Gerald Durrell (8)
  • Night of the Animals by Bill Broun (7)
  • It's Your Life, Harriet Chance by Jonathan Evison (4)
  • The Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood (9)
  • Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery (10)
  • The Light between Oceans by M. L. Stedman (10)
  • The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper (10)
  • The Grey King by Susan Cooper (9)
  • Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper (9)
  • The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway (8)
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman (9)
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (10) (yep, read it again)
  • The Shipping News by Annie Proulx (10)
  • My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Frederik Backman (9)
  • The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Fenollera (10) (yep, read this one again too)
  • What a Plant Knows by Daniel Chamovitz (8)
  • The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (9)

Pages Read in 2015

In 2015, I read a fair number of great books with a few duds thrown in for flavor. I quit reading the truly awful ones, and I won't even add those to the list, but everything I finished gets a place on the list. On this list, I'll add my own rating in parentheses after each one; a 1 is awful and a 10 is pretty much one of the best books I've ever read. Anything 8 or higher is HIGHLY recommended.

  • Don't Let Me Go by Catherine Ryan Hyde (1)
  • In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl (8)
  • Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee (8)
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (10) (you MUST read this book)
  • City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare (6)
  • City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare (6)
  • All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (9)
  • The Dead in their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley (7)
  • Murder on the Ile Sordou by M. L. Longworth (7)
  • The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale (8)
  • The River Wife by Jonis Agee (6)
  • The Magician's Book by Laura Miller (8)
  • The Cleaner of Chartres by Sally Vickers (7)
  • Procession of the Dead by Darren Shan (4)
  • The Anatomy Lesson by Nina Siegal (7)
  • The Commoner by John Schwartz (7)
  • Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer (7)
  • Savage Girl by Jean Zimmerman (5)
  • Butterflies in November by Audur Olafsdottir (9)
  • The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (10) (you MUST read this one too)
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (10) (READ it)
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2)
  • Postcards from a Dead Girl by Kirk Farber (3)
  • Peaches for Father Francis by Joanne Harris (7)
  • The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier (6)
  • The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon (4)
  • Chocolat by Joanne Harris (10) (I re-read this book every year. That's how much I love it.)
  • The One and Only Ivan by Emily Giffin (9)
  • Iceland by Betsy Tobin (5)
  • Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia McKillip (8)
  • Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (10)
  • Meeting the English by Kate Clanchy (5)
  • The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons (7)
  • Journal of a UFO Investigator by David Halperin (5)
  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (8)
  • The Bookman's Obsession by Charles Lovett (6)
  • The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart (10) (one of my favorite authors)
  • As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley (7)
  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (10) (mind bending and amazing)
  • Animal Vegetable Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver (9) (non-fiction)
  • The Pilgrims by Will Elliott (7)
  • The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan (7)
  • Orphan Train by Christina Kline (5)
  • Story of Land and Sea by Katy Smith (6)
  • The Technologists by Matthew Pearl (5)
  • When the Doves Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen (8)
  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab (9)
  • Shadow by Will Elliott (5)
  • River of No Return by Bee Ridgway (8)
  • South of Superior by Ellen Airgood (7)
  • Emma, a Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith (6)
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (4)
  • Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville (8)
  • When We Were Animals by Joshua Gaylord (7)
  • H Is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald (7)
  • The Strangler Vine by M. J. Carter (6)
  • We Are Pirates by David Handler (5)
  • The Alchemist by Paolo Coehlo (7)
  • Arcadia by Lauren Groff (8)
  • The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (10) 
  • The Age of Miracles by Karen Walker (9)
  • Look Who's Back by Timur Vermes (6)
  • boy, snow, bird by Helen Oyeymi (10)
  • The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi (7)
  • The Likeness by Tana French (8)
  • In the Woods by Tana French (8)
  • Faithful Place by Tana French (6)
  • Broken Harbor by Tana French (6)
  • The Secret Place by Tana French (6)
  • What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty (4)
  • Winds of Fate by Mercedes Lackey (5)
  • Winds of Change by Mercedes Lackey (5)
  • Winds of Fury by Mercedes Lackey (5)
  • Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill (4)
  • A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Mitchell (8)
  • The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero (10)
  • The Dog Master by W. Bruce Cameron (7)
  • The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny (8)
  • The Chosen by Elizabeth Valente (8)
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (10)
  • Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (8)
  • The Killing Lessons by Saul Black (6)
  • The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins (8)
  • The Bees by Laline Paull (7)
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (10) (yes, I read it twice in one year)
  • The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (6)
  • The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry (10) (yup, this one too)
  • Ship of Theseus by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst (10)
  • First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen (6)
  • The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George (9)
  • Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal (6)
  • Early One Morning by Virginia Baily (7)
  • Wool by Hugh Howey (9)
  • Stardust by Neil Gaiman (9)
  • The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (5)
  • The Circle by Dave Eggers (6)
  • Room by Emma Donoghue (7)
  • Slade House by David Mitchell (7)
  • Night by Elie Wiesel (7)
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (9)
  • The Just City by Jo Walton (5)
  • The Martian by Andy Weir (10)
  • Vintage by David Baker (6)
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (10)
  • Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo (9)
  • Bristol House by Beverly Swerling (9)
  • Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom (6)
  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (10) (yep, read this one twice too)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Pages Read in 2014

In 2014, I started keeping a list of the books I read, and it's always fun to look back and think about my reading journey. Here I'll just list the books (in order of reading, starting with January) I read that year. Books I would highly recommend are in bold font.

  • Prisoner of Heaven--Carlos Ruis Zafon
  • Wildwood--Colin Meloy (illustrated by Carson Ellis)
  • Under Wildwood--Colin Meloy illustrated by Carson Ellis)
  • The Snow Child--Eowyn Ivey
  • The Good Dream--Donna VanLiere
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane--Neil Gaiman
  • Beauty--Sheri Tepper
  • Divergent--Veronica Roth
  • Insurgent--Veronica Roth
  • Peter and the Starcatchers--Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
  • The Bell at Sealey Head--Patricia McKillip
  • The Bards of Bone Plain--Patricia McKillip
  • Alphabet of Thorn--Patricia McKillip
  • Ombria in Shadow--Patricia McKillip
  • Allegiant--Veronica Roth
  • Tower at Stony Wood--Patricia McKillip
  • Od Magic--Patricia McKillip
  • In the Forests of Serre--Patricia McKillip
  • Winter Rose--Patricia McKillip
  • The Book of Atrix Wolfe--Patricia McKillip
  • Killing Jesus--Bill O'Reilly
  • Chocolat--Joanne Harris
  • Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone--J.K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets--J.K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban--J.K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire--J.K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix--J.K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince--J.K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows--J.K. Rowling
  • The House Girl--Tara Conklin
  • The Kitchen House--Kathleen Grissom
  • The Secret Lives of Dresses--Erin McKean
  • Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English--Natasha Solomons
  • The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise--Julia Stuart
  • The Matchmaker of Perigord--Julia Stuart
  • The Pigeon Pie Mystery--Julia Stuart
  • The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag--Alan Bradley
  • Speaking from among the Bones--Alan Bradley
  • A Red Herring without Mustard--Alan Bradley
  • Lost Lake--Sarah Addison Allen
  • Longbourn--Jo Baker
  • I Am Malala--Malala Yousafzai
  • Bellman and Black--Diane Setterfield
  • Chateau beyond Time--Michael Tobias
  • The Magicians--Lev Grossman
  • Under Wildwood--Colin Meloy (illustrated by Carson Ellis)
  • Wildwood Imperium--Colin Meloy (illustrated by Carson Ellis)
  • Garden Spells--Sarah Addison Allen
  • The Passion of the Purple Plumeria--Lauren Willig
  • The Good Fairies of New York--Martin Millar
  • Citadel--Kate Mosse
  • The Call--Yannick Murphy
  • Kisses from Katie--Katie Davis
  • Rush Home Road--Lori Lansens
  • The Rathbones--Janice Clark
  • Unusual Uses for Olive Oil--Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Fault in our Stars--John Green
  • Seven: An Experimental Mutiny against Excess--Jen Hatmaker
  • Notes from a Small Island--Bill Bryson
  • Vaclav and Lena--Haley Tanner
  • Heroes of the Valley--Jonathan Stroud
  • She Rises--Kate Worsley
  • Love and Lament--John Thompson
  • One Thousand Gifts--Ann Voskamp
  • Sixpence House--Paul Collins
  • The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair--Joel Dicker
  • Murder on the Rue Dumas--M.L. Longworth
  • The Girl with the Glass Feet--Ali Shaw
  • The Kings and Queens of Roam--Daniel wallace
  • Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore--Robin Sloan
  • Watermark--Vanitha Sankaran
  • The Story of Forgetting--Stefan Merrill Block
  • Julie and Julia--Julie Powell
  • Salmon Fishing in the Yemen--Paul Torday
  • The Invisible Code--Christopher Fowler
  • The Long Way Home--Louise Penny
  • Emma--Jane Austen
  • Rose Daughter--Robin McKinley
  • Possession--A.S. Byatt
  • Major Pettigrew's Last Stand--Helen Simonson
  • The House of Hades--Rick Riordan
  • American Gods--Neil Gaiman
  • The Apothecary--Maile Meloy
  • A Lesson before Dying--Ernest Gaines
  • The Poe Shadow--Matthew Pearl
  • Death in a Scarlet Cloak--David Dickinson
  • Galapagos--Kurt Vonnegut
  • Beautiful Ruins--Jess Walter
  • Lord Edgeware Dies--Agatha Christie
  • Amy Falls Down--Jincy Willett
  • The River of No Return--Bee Ridgway
  • City of Bones--Cassandra Clare
  • City of Ashes--Cassandra Clare
  • City of Glass--Cassandra Clare
  • City of Fallen Angels--Cassandra Clare
  • Clockwork Angel--Cassandra Clare
  • Clockwork Prince--Cassandra Clare
  • Clockwork Princess--Cassandra Clare
  • The Last Witchfinder--James Morrow
  • Tuesday, August 5, 2014

    Book Review: One Thousand Gifts

    I'm a pretty even-keel sort of girl. I don't get angry often, don't usually raise my voice, and I rarely cry. It's a calm and relatively stress-free life I lead, and I am grateful for that. But on the flip side, I also don't often experience the thrill of belly laughs, tears running down my face in glee, pure joy (unless I'm watching a dear sister slide backwards, fully dressed, helpless to stop her progress, into Lime Lake while her husband stands by doing absolutely nothing because he doesn't want to get his new shoes wet). And although I haven't often felt that incandescent feeling of joy, I want to. I've been in pursuit of it now for years, and that search led me to this book, One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp.

    One Thousand Gifts

    Ann is a farmer's wife, a home-schooling mother of six, and a writer whose prose reads like poetry. She has a gift for finding the beautiful in the common-place, in what others might shrug off as mere part and parcel of everyday life. Ann's life has been one of stunning early loss (her young sister was killed in an accident), mental and spiritual anguish as a result, and finally, a sense of peace won through hard-fought battles with her self. She has found this peace only through daily communion with God. And this is the message that threads through the book.
    Here is a transcription of the notes I took as I read:

    - Satan's greatest lie is that God is not good. God is all and only good.
    - Mankind's first sin was ingratitude: God had given everything, and we wanted more.
    - Sin blinds us to God's goodness.
    - Eucharisteo: a Greek word meaning "he gave thanks." This is the foundation of the sacrament of Holy Communion and of this book.
    - Eucharisteo comes from the Greek word charis, which means "grace," but it also comes from that word's root, chara, which means "joy."
    - We are designed and compelled to give thanks in all things and for all things.
    - The act of thanksgiving is integral to faith.
    - Ann began keeping a daily gratitude journal, in which she listed the gifts she already has.
    - Erasmus said: "A nail is driven out by another nail; habit is overcome by habit." We can overcome a bad habit (complaining, discontent, anxiety) by replacing it with another habit (gratitude, peace, service).
    - The importance of naming things goes back to creation. Naming, counting, listing our blessings is a valuable exercise.
    - J.R.R. Tolkein: "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." Words to live by.
    - We stress often because we feel we don't have enough minutes in a day. But giving thanks creates time because the attitude of thanksgiving in all things redeems time we waste in apathy, inattentiveness, and boredom.
    - G.K. Chesterton: "Joy is the gigantic secret of the Christian."
    - All is grace; all is God's plan. Even that which seems bad, ugly, painful. She says: "God is always good, and I am always loved." There is grace in that, and great joy.
    - Faith is in the (constant) gaze of the soul: a soul that is always seeking, seeing God in His creation.
    - Deeply seeing leads to gratitude, which leads to joy.
    - Complaints about setbacks, trials, tribulations: these are actually blasphemy because they doubt God's divine power to work good through all things. This is painful to consider, isn't it?
    - Joy is always present. We must not turn from it but turn toward it and receive God's ever-present gift.
    - G.K. Chesterton: "Our perennial spiritual and psychological task is to look at things familiar until they become unfamiliar again." Recognizing God's gifts to us in the familiar is one of the key steps to the daily practice of gratitude.
    - Although dark times may loom heavy over us, we must remember that it is in those troubled times that God is closest.
    - We must make ourselves small, must humble ourselves in order to truly stand in awe.
    - Anger, pride, fear: these things smother joy.
    - We open our hands wide to receive God's grace and joy--and then we keep them open to give it away. If we clench our fists tight around what we've been given, it molders.
    - This act of service--of giving and sharing grace--is central to the faith-walk. We cannot just sit back and accept. We must in turn share God's goodness.

    This book was full to the ends of each page with moments that made me think, made me breathe deeply, made me ponder who I am and who I can be. After reading it, I set a blank journal near my Bible, on a table in the dining room. In it, I began a list of things I am grateful for, gifts God has given me this day.

    At lunch, with my family gathered around, I read my list, talked about this book, and encouraged Clint and the kids to add to the list. At dinner, I read what had been written: 18 things in one day! We plan to keep adding to the list throughout the year, maybe reaching Ann's goal of one thousand--or maybe surpassing it. It is our first step in a conscious journey toward gratitude for the grace God showers upon us, and in this list and the path it will inevitably take us down, we will all find the joy He longs to give us.
    If you long to find joy, to find a spot of peace in your fast-paced life, I urge you to read this book. Also, Ann's blog is a place to find peace, encouragement, and joy. Check her out; check this book out.