Sunday, January 1, 2012

Day 1: Writing

A couple years ago, I heard a statistic on NPR one day that said that 42% of college graduates never read another book after college. This was shocking and terribly sad to me!  It made me question why I read…and why I didn’t read more. 

The book, Art & Fear, put it nicely when they said, “Making art depends upon noticing things.” Authors observe the world around us and try to put some meaning to the chaos all around us. There is a universal human need for meaning and with every book I read, I either find a kindred spirit in the questions that they ask…or they push me to see and think differently. Stories remind me that no matter how different we may be, there is a basic humanness that connects us all. There is something so vulnerable about putting into words how you view the world and I love the opportunity to connect with another human being.

Books explore the beauty and sadness that we see every day. In the book, The Art of Faith, they explain that “writing is a tool that expresses and probes our deepest longings: for God, for immortality, for the fulfilled life.”  In trying to express the yearning, writers discover more about it.  So often when I read a book, I gasp at how they finally articulated something that I’ve been feeling for a long time and could never put into words. Moments like that are reasons enough for me to keep reading. Simply put, reading nourishes my soul.
So for those reasons, I decided to try to read six books per month in 2011. For me, it was a reasonable goal while working full time. Once I reached 72, I decided that 75 was a nice number to aim for. Then once I reached 75, I decided to go for 80. Here are the books that have nourished my soul, pushed me to see the world differently, and connected me with God.  The * indicate the kindred spirits I found.
Books I’ve Read in 2011
1) *Tinkers  by Paul Harding   (Fiction/Poetry)
This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. It is complex and simple at the same time.  The story moves throughout time, grasping at flirting memories of the dying man’s well worn life. Harding’s prose is poetic as he explores the realm of dying.  

  2)  One Hundred Years of Solitude  by Gabriel Garcia Marquez  (Classics/Magical Realism)
  3)  *Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (Classics/Fiction)
I had read Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice in high school and while I really enjoyed them, I kind of figured that once you read one, you’ve read them all. I know—I’m sorry literature lovers out there. I know that is a horrible sentence to write…especially now that I’ve read Jane Eyre and completely fell in love with it. It is such a rich character study of a girl that survives every trial that stands in her way. It is much more than a love story…it is dark, mysterious, full of life. This book pulled me through it so quickly I somehow ended up finishing it in a day!
  4)  Catcher in the Rye  by J.D. Salinger   (Classics/Fiction)
  5)  Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy    (Memoir)
  6)  The Road by Cormac McCarthy  (Classics/Science Fiction)
  7)  Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary Schmidt (Young Adult Historical Fiction)
  8)  Bittersweet  by Shauna Niequist (Christian Nonfiction)
  9)  Wicked by Gregory Maguire   (Fantasy)
  10)   *Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer  (Fiction)
I was hesitant to pick this up, to be honest. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a book about 9/11…especially from the point of view of a child who lost his dad. But that is what makes this book so good. This smart, quirky child brings you along on his journey…and it is well worth the trip. Keep your tissues close, though. 
  11)   A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle   (Young Adult Science Fiction)
  12)   *The Help by Kathryn Stockett  (Historical Fiction)
I’ve read a lot of books about this time period so I was really wondering if this book was any different and if it would live up to all the attention it was receiving. It took me 88 pages but now I’m a firm believer in this book! It takes a fresh look on the civil rights movement and gives a voice to a group of women who may not have been heard. 
  13)   The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel  (Fiction)
  14)   Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White   (Young Adult)
  15)   White Teeth by Zadie Smith  (Fiction)
  16)   Gathering Blue  by Lois Lowry  (Young Adult Fantasy)
  17)   Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro  (Short Stories)
  18)   Love Wins by Rob Bell  (Christian Nonfiction)
  19)   *Room by Emma Donoghue   (Fiction)
First of all, I love the cover of this book. I most definitely judge a book by its cover so I appreciate a good one when I see it! The story is told by a five year old who has lived in one room (no windows, not ever leaving it) his entire life. Donaghue does an amazing job imagining what it would be like for a child to go from a one room life to suddenly the big ol’ world!
  20)   *The Red Tent by Anita Diamant   (Historical Fiction)
I had refused to read this book for many years because I absolutely hate the cover. I finally read the back of it though and after reading something about the book offering a view of the Bible had it been written by women…I was lured in. The well-known Bible story of Jacob and his wives, Leah and Rachel comes alive in this book—all through the character of his daughter Dinah.
  21)   A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan  (Fiction)
  22)   The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins   (Young Adult Fantasy)
  23)   Show Me the Way by Henri Nouwen    (Christian Nonfiction)
  24)   *Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card   (Young Adult Science Fiction)
Nathan told me that Ender’s Game is a good gateway for the Science Fiction genre and that he thought I’d like it. And he was right! It is a great story and has a nice twist at the end that I didn’t see coming. It is iced with morals but not too sweetly. It is a definite read for anyone—even those who aren’t too sure about the world(s) of Science Fiction.
  25)   Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt (Young Adult Historical Fiction)
  26)   Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins   (Young Adult Fantasy)
  27)   Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins  (Young Adult Fantasy)
  28)   The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde   (Classics/Fiction)
  29)   Cannery Row by John Steinbeck      (Classics/Fiction)
  30)   Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist  (Christian Nonfiction)
  31)   *Still Alice by Lisa Genova   (Fiction)
This book is about a woman who begins the journey with early onset Alzheimer’s. It is hard to believe when reading this that it is fiction because it feels so real. You feel like you are right there alongside as she and her family struggle with such a demanding disease. Really well written and definitely gives good insights---quite the tear jerker though.
  32)   *The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot  (Nonfiction/Science)
I loved this book so much that I tried to bring it up into every conversation I had. I don’t typically read books that are Science Nonfiction but there is a well-defined story that pulled me through the whole book. It is a true story of woman whose cells were taken from her body and were the first cells to reproduce in a lab. In fact—they wouldn’t die! It is a story about Henrietta’s family, about the medical community, and about Henrietta herself.  Such an interesting story! Read it!
  33)   Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling   (Fantasy)
  34)   Losing My Mind by Thomas Debaggio   (Nonfiction/Memoir)
  35)   Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling  (Fantasy)
  36)   Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling   (Fantasy)
  37)   *Bossypants by Tina Fey   (Nonfiction/Humor/Memoir)
  I laughed so much with this book! And for that, I’ll give it a star!
  38)   Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling  (Fantasy)
  39)   Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix by J.K. Rowling   (Fantasy)
  40)   Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K.Rowling   (Fantasy)
  41)   Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows by J. K. Rowling   (Fantasy)
  42)   Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen  (Classics, Fiction)
  43)   Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery    (Classics, Young Adult)
  44)   The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery   (Fiction)
  45)   The White Mountain by John Christopher  (Young Adult Science Fiction)
  46)   The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls  (Memoir)
  47)   The Magician by Lev Grossman     (Fantasy)
  48)   Atonement by Ian McEwan  (Historical Fiction)
  49)   The Hours by Michael Cunningham   (Fiction)
  50)   Something Rising by Haven Kimmel  (Fiction)
  51) *The Book Thief by Markus Zusak  (Historical Young Adult Fiction)
This is a story about Nazi Germany but there is quite the twist to it…it is narrated by Death.  How can you not be intrigued by that? I’ve read a gazillion books about World War II and this one, with its quirky viewpoint, definitely stood out above the rest. It is about a little girl that keeps encountering Death—it is about her story of losing and loving and the story of the many others who Death met during those hauntingly dark years.  
  52)   Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls   (Fiction/Memoir)
  53)   The Art of Faith by Kathy Coffey   (Christian Nonfiction)
  54)   Born Standing Up by Steve Martin   (Nonfiction/Memoir)
  55)   The Mysterious Benedict Society (M.B.S.) by Trenton Lee Stewart(Young Adult)
  56)   *The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett   (Fiction)
It felt like I had struck gold in finding this book because it reminded me of what a book can be. This book is well written and thought provoking. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I wanted to read constantly! This story is about a woman who enters a home for pregnant unwed mothers in the 60’s—only she is married. It is about her struggle with staying and going, loving and being loved….but also about this community and how one person can affect others.  
  57)   The M.B.S. & the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart  (Young Adult)
  58)   The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard  (Fiction)
  59)   *Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland  (Art, Nonfiction)
I very much connected with this book because it talked about the struggle artists have in creating. It goes through why artists set down their paint brushes and never paint again…and it talks about what needs to happen in order to avoid that. In some chapters, I ended up underlining at least every other sentence! A definite read for any college graduate with a focus in art.
  60)   Lit by Mary Karr    (Memoir)
  61)   The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson    (Mystery)
  62)   The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr   (Memoir)
  63)   How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents by Julia Alvarez (Fiction)
  64)   Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate  (Young Adult/Poetry)
  65)   Brooklyn by Colm Toibin  (Historical Fiction)
  66)   Mothers and Sons by Colm Toibin   (Short Stories)
  67)   Seriously…I’m Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres  (Nonfiction/Memoir)
  68)   The M.B.S. & the Prisoner’s Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart  (Young Adult)
  69)   *The History of Love by Nicole Kraus  (Fiction)
This book is hard to explain because it is very complicated in its timeline. But don’t let this dissuade you. It is, by far, one of the most intriguing, unique, and well written books that I’ve read in a long time.  It is so cleverly written! Such a delight!
  70)   Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys    (Young Adult Historical Fiction)
  71)   Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine    (Young Adult Fiction)
  72)   In the Woods by  French Tana  (Mystery)
  73)   Bel Canto by Ann Patchett   (Fiction)
  74)   The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly  (Young Adult Fantasy)
  75)   Jimmy Corrigan the Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware  (Graphic Novels)
  76)   Sarah’s Key by Tiatiana de Rosnay   (Historical Fiction)
  77)   This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper    (Fiction)
  78)   *Daytripper by Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon   (Graphic Novel)
I don’t tend to be a huge graphic novel fan, but I loved this one! It is a story about one man who dies after every day that he lives. In one chapter, he might be a boy who ends up dying from a freak accident. Then the next chapter begins and he is a 25 year old man struggling with his job of writing obituaries—only to die by the end of it. And so on and so on. It sounds weird but it deals with the big struggles of living and dying. Such a good find!  
  79)   *Crazy Love by Francis Chan   (Christian Nonfiction)
I favorite this book due solely to how much it made me think about how I’ve been living my life and how I’m called to be living. It was often a slap in the face—and for that, I’m grateful!
  80)   If You Ask Me: And of Course You Won’t by Betty White (Nonfiction/Memoir)


  1. I am saving this list to come back to this year!!! I'm not sure I can commit to 80 books, but I might try for 50! :)

  2. I understood Daytripper more to be about looking at the impact that a single day or event has on the arc of our life from that point, thus the obituary at the end of each chapter. These little snippets explore, for example, how people would remember Bras if he'd died the day he met his wife, before that relationship shaped who he would become. If he'd died the day he realized that his father truly did love him; the day his son was born. Bras doesn't die every day (the chapter with the plane crash spans several weeks), death just serves to highlight the significance of these isolated moments in his life. As we read more, we recognize how these events feed one another in important ways, how his life wouldn't be the same if you removed any one of them.

    ...I just reread Daytripper a week ago, and I still want to go back and page through it right now. Glad you liked it.

  3. Jon! I love it that I actually know someone else who has read this great book! After I finished it, I immediately gave it to Nate to read because I wanted to talk about it!!! He unfortunately has not read it...something about Game of Thrones, blah blah blah. :)

    I like your take on how death highlights significant moments in his life. That is a great way to put it. They even talk about in the book about how he writes about people's lives because of their deaths. I think that because of each dying moment at the end of the chapter, you start the next chapter with a different set of eyes. You know he is going to die, so you appreciate the moments that he is currently living. And you appreciate when the story begins again.

    I think I may reread it again, too!!

  4. I just started reading The History of Love :)