Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Reading in Review

This has been a year of quantity, though not necessarily quality.  I read 73 books this year - the most I've read since I started tracking 12 years ago.  Almost half (31) were fiction, with many memoirs (10) and non-fiction (13) titles in there too.  To my chagrin, there were two or three I'd read before though I didn't realize it until the first couple of chapters and couldn't remember the endings anyway.  There were only 11 titles I flagged as recommendations, proving the addage that you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince.  My top 5 reads for this year are:

  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  I was drawn into this story from the beginning and was very impressed with such a young author's imagination.
  • The First Muslim by Lesley Hazleton.  I found this historical account of the life of the Prophet Mohammed a well presented and thoughtful read for our times.
  • The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey.  A slim auto-biography that I won't mind re-reading regularly, reflecting on the scale of life, however we are given to live it.
  • Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott.  A funny, on point, realistic example of living every moment with God.
  • Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rolvaag.  A classic that tells the story of Norweigan settlers in the Dakota territory.  Beautiful prose and heartbreaking lives.
The year's close brings the total books I've read since the beginning of 2001 to 699.  I was tempted to speed read something just to round off that number, but reality is more honest.  I keep a "TBR" or To Be Read list on my phone for shopping at used bookstores and I'm going to concentrate on those for reading in 2014. I think I made the same promise last year and got distracted with my reading groups, interesting looking titles at the library and "the-only-available-book" conundrum while travelling.  Truth be told, reading is like eating -- I have good intentions of only devouring the most healthy and hearty choices and find both habits are also sources of comfort, diversion and indulgence.  Oh well.

I spend a good part of every day reading other things than books.  My job has me reading and writing about technical solutions and I have a Feedly list of 74 blog subscriptions that I peruse regularly.  I get most of my news online from Google News.  I didn't read anyting on my Kindle (I'll probably get rid of it) and while I listen to podcasts while on the treadmill or riding in the car, I don't listen to audio books.  It's obvious that I love reading.  I plan to be reading until my last breath!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Welsh Family History - John Rowlands (Editor)

As my family well knows (and groans when I mention it) I have become nuts about genealogy.  Both the maternal and fraternal side of my father's family have people from Wales so this was a great tool for learning more about researching those ancestors.

It turns out one of the big problems with Welsh ancestry is that until the mid-1800's the people of Wales did not use surnames consistently.  Instead, they would call a son after a father, e.g., David son of John and his name would evolve into David John or David Johns.  It means that the names in my pedigree (Davis, Phillips) were very common and figuring out who was who can be next to impossible.  At least I got a lot of direction on how, if I ever "cross the pond" in my research, to go about tracking down these branches.

Just reading the multiple essays provided on different genealogical research issues with Welsh ancestry, helped me become familiar with the country and its counties and cities.  I also learned new terminology, like "Interregnum" that sheds light on why my ancestors may have left Wales.  It's just the tip of the iceberg and I feel like I'm just blowing warm breath on it, but I'm getting closer.

Published: 1993  Read: November-December 2013  Genre: Non-fiction

The Wonders of Solitude - Dale Salwak (editor)

This is a collection of prose and poetry on the topic of solitude: the different places it can be experienced, how to find it, how to savor it.  I read snippets of it before bed over several weeks.  It was charming and had quotes from many famous authors and poets.  A nice little reference with an extensive bibliography.

Published:  1995  Read:  December 2013  Genre: Non-fiction

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Angry Conversations with God - Susan E Isaacs

Subtitle: A snarky but authentic spiritual memoir.

This is the autobiographical story of a woman's evolution of faith and belief in God.  The author is an actress and comedian and choses to "take God to couples counseling" to straighten out their relationship when she turns 40 because she sees it as the reason for all the problems in her life.  In the conversations played out in front of her therapist, a former pastor, she unveils her frustrations, anger and disappointment in how her life has taken place and blames God for her problems.  She comes to understand her own role in the relationship and her beliefs.  It's funny, but serious, and gave me thoughts to re-examine in my own life.

Some comments I bookmarked:

"Was it possible that Almighty God was limited not by himself but by his people?  By who was available to help?  It was a hard task to stand outside my life and see it from God's perspective."

[Susan]            "Forgiveness feels like I'm supposed to let the other person get away with it."
[Counselor]      "Forgiveness means you turn the burden of justice over to God.  Let him take it.  You can't                            mete out justice yourself."
[Susan]             "But if I let go, then the losses will finally be real."

The author was raised in a very Christian atmosphere but with parents in an unhappy relationship.  This peek inside her experience as a Christian in the world of Hollywood and the rest of the secular world is a different perspective for me.  I thought the writing style made her struggles to understand God more familiar and removed the lecturing, teaching presentation of similiar attempts at explanation.    I'd recommend it.

Published:  2009   Read:  November 2013   Genre: Auto-biography, memoir

Rules for Old Men Waiting - Peter Pouncey

This was an engrossing read, unfolding quietly, leading the reader to an understanding of one individual's loneliness at the end of life.  MacIver is a recent widow, living alone near a northeast coast, facing a cold winter and a terminal illness.  A former journalist and historian, he embarks on writing a fictional story of soldiers he interviewed in the past.  In spinning their tales, he tells the story of his own life and family and comes to acceptance of the closing of his time.

The story is tightly written and we understand his sorrow and depression that he battles to have meaning and purpose in his life.  He explains at one time when reflecting on a conversation with his wife:

"You know, the cruel thing about depression is not that it makes you see the world darkly....[it's that it] removes all flashes of energy or concentration, ensures that you can never complete anything.  Depression as depth fatigue".

I enjoyed getting inside the old man's head, understanding his life and admiring his courage.

Published:  2003   Read: November 2013   Genre: Fiction

The Silver Star - Jeannette Walls

I really enjoyed the autobiographical novels written previously by this author.  The Glass Castle and Hal Broke Horses were both moving and well written stories of her parents and grandparents.

This is a fictional story of two young girls with a flighty mother who take off on their own to their uncle's home and discover the story of their mother's past.  I didn't like this book as much as her earlier ones.  Unlike real life, the characters are a little to perfect, the story line a little too neatly wrapped up.

I suspect the author draws on her own experience with eccentric parents to create a story of the struggles of young children bullied and abused by adults.   As other reviewers have noted, this book doesn't live up to the author's previous ones.

Published:  2013  Read: November 2013  Genre: Fiction